"Taking you places you've always dreamed of and beyond"
A Bit of Happy Trails Tours History!
Happy Trails Tours, Inc. (HTT) is so much more than a travel company. Even though it started as a regional motor coach vacation business, it has experienced tremendous growth as its reputation has spread beyond its original boundaries. The customer data base has expanded to include the entire state of Minnesota, the surrounding states, and even Canada.Located in Forbes, a small rural community in the heart of the Minnesota Iron Range, you can find a buzzing office that now
accommodates Diane Olds, the owner, and four employees dedicated to providing amazing experiences within the continental United States and beyond. You only need to travel with Happy Trails once to become a member of its ever-increasing family. The company has come a long way since the humble little home office, located in the residence of Marge Ellis and her husband Grant. In 1983, the current phone number for Happy Trails Tours was the personal home phone number of the Ellis’. All conference and business meetings took place around the kitchen table and no official business hours existed. If one called looking for a tour, the phone would be answered by whomever was closest. Even Marge’s husband Grant would take his turn. Despite its modest beginnings, HTT has become a success and it all started because eleven wonderful local ladies wanted to sing in Nashville. And there is more to that story...
Happy Trails Tours, INC...37 Years Strong!
In 1983, Happy Trails Tours blazed its first trip to Nashville, TN with a local musical group, The Country Songbirds of Zim, another little rural community just South of Forbes. Organizing the tour and making all the travel arrangements was Marge Ellis and good friend, Archie Hill. The 11-member singing group had their own little local fan club and when people heard they were going to Nashville; the phone lines began to ring! Fans of the Country Songbirds, along with folks from the surrounding communities, joined the excited group of travelers. Imagine filling not one but TWO 47-passenger buses! The busses were so packed, Marge and Archie had to sit on the steps because they forgot to save themselves a seat. The proverbial lightbulb-over-head lit up for both Marge and Archie when they spotted a real desire for group travel and a possible business venture. Marge’s head for business and bubbly personality plus Archie’s love for travel and “all things western” could only add up to the birth of Happy Trails Tours.
The Country Songbirds and fellow travelers spent just under $200 per person, double occupancy, for a six-day Nashville tour that started in their back yard. It included motor coach transportation, hotel accommodations, Opryland Theme park, the Grand Ol’ Opry, and a handful of meals. Consider organizing a trip of this magnitude with no experience, no internet, and little knowledge of Nashville other than being the home of Minnie Pearl and Grandpa Jones. Marge and Archie did it and did it well! So well, as a matter of fact, its success spread like wildfire and a second tour was in the works in no time. As a side note, the small and unexpected profit earned from the very first tour was donated to the local Humane Society. As the fledgling company continued to expand, Archie and Marge often filled two coaches. They alternated escorting the coaches and each had their own special draw. For example, Archie was an incredible storyteller who never let the truth get in the way of a good tale! Marge was no slouch in the storytelling department either BUT she had a hook. Those who found themselves on her coach could expect to be treated to her famous homemade oatmeal raisin cookies. More than a few HTT travelers asked for the recipe but she never shared it. One simply does not divulge a secret weapon!
Something in which HTT takes much pride, is being a trendsetter and always taking seriously the health and safety of its guests. Developing new traveling rules and procedures, before other similar travel companies, as well as identifying new and unique destinations has only solidified HTT’s reputation for delivering a wonderful experience. For example, smoking was banned on all HTT motor coaches well before it was mandated by law. As a matter of fact, all tours became smoke-free within the first year. Seat rotation, a common procedure still used by many motor coach vacation companies, was abandoned after the 2007 norovirus outbreaks became widely reported. The concern that customers would reject the necessary changes or that HTT would experience a negative impact on future business was soon put to rest as the changes were welcomed by the travelers. Providing a healthier motor coach environment was a novel approach and appealed to the vast majority. HTT is also one of the first motor coach groups to visit the Precious Moments Park & Chapel in Carthage MO back in the late 1980’s. More recently, HTT has escorted many bus groups to Churchill, Manitoba to see polar bears in their natural habitat. “A once in a lifetime experience” was the common review by all who joined HTT on that epic adventure. To offer even more diversity and excitement, HTT has teamed up with major travel companies such as Collette Vacations, Globus Travel, Mayflower Cruises & Tours, Princess Cruises, Walt Disney Vacations, and Norwegian Cruise Lines. Plus, Diane can customize tours for individuals and families.
An Unexpected Opportunity
It was in early January 2012 that Diane received a call from the RFD Magazine telling her they had stumbled upon a Happy Trails’ tour vacation on the internet. It was HTT first “Old Barns, Tractors, Gardens, and Farms” and RFD wanted to feature it in its March/April 1912 publication. RFD also has a radio station in Nashville, a theater in Branson and a television network. Of course, the idea sounded great to Diane and so she agreed. To her amazement, when the magazine was delivered to nearly 60,000 subscribers, the phone lines began to ring. The first questions every caller asked was, “Where is Forbes and how can I get on this ‘Old Barn tour’?” Passengers coming from all over the country, including, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio, could not wait to join the fun! There were even some Old Barn fans from Minnesota and Wisconsin! Diane remains amazed at the volume and origination of the calls. By the end of each call, a personal connection was formed assuring the new travelers would enjoy a wonderful vacation! This experience was another of the unexpected marketing opportunities that provided HTT a springboard to new growth
A Good Reputation + Adventurous Souls = Growth
As Happy Trails continued to grow, it became evident that Marge and Archie needed help in the office especially when they were both escorting tours. Diane Olds, Marge’s daughter, joined the team in 1991. Archie retired in 2000 and passed away in August of 2010. Marge partially retired in 2010, passing the business to Diane. Up until Marge’s death in February of 2018, she could be found in the office, which had been moved and expanded to the home of Diane and her husband Larry. She answered calls, maintained the books, and filed the various taxes, all while she continued to share her immense wisdom and experience.
“I’ve learned so much from my Mom and Archie over the years and remain honored to carry the torch for such a wonderful company”, says Diane. “Marge and Archie were delightful storytellers who loved traveling and adored their captive audiences
Customers continue to share fond, often hysterical but always precious, memories as they dust off the trails traveled at the time both Marge and Archie personally greeted every traveler as they entered the motor coach. Up until Larry’s death in the spring of 2018, Diane and he continued with the business insuring Marge and Archie’s legacy would continue. Today, Diane remains operating Happy Trails Tours. She writes her own tours, striving to keep things fresh while offering quality vacations that include the old favorites along with new and unique destinations to travel the world.
On the Horizon? After 37 exciting, often surprising but always rewarding years, Happy Trail Tours is still alive and well. Its roots run deep throughout Northeast Minnesota. Like any company, it has come through many changes but continues to thrive and grow. On a typical year, HTT averages about 20 to 30 tours, traveling throughout the U.S, Canada, and wherever our partners can take us.
For those customers who already know and love Happy Trails Tours, Diane and her staff thank you for their loyalty and continued support. As Roy Rogers would say, “Happy trails to you until we meet again”! For those considering your first Happy Trails Tours adventure, you can be certain there is a seat on the coach just for you. Just remember, Happy Trails Tours is “Taking You Places You’ve Only Dreamed of and Beyond”!
Meet the Happy Trails Family
Diane Olds, Owner
The late 1980’s ushered in substantial business growth for Happy Trails Tours and it seemed only natural for Marge and Archie to reach out to Diane. Her first duties included answering the phone, filing, typing, and some destination research. By the fall of 1991, she was escorting tours! Every day, Diane would travel the one mile from her home to her parent’s home and get to work. Her pay was adequate, but the real benefit was lunch. Each day, either Marge or Diane’s dad, Grant, would prepare and serve up a feast. How many employees can boast about a “lunch included” clause in their employment contract? After the HTT office moved to Diane and Larry’s home, Marge continued to help whenever needed. That is when the roles reversed, and Diane prepared and served lunch for her mom, Marge. After the office move to its current location, her first essential employee was her sweetheart, Larry. He became the Corporate OMG or the Official Mail Getter. You could say he started in the mailroom and could only climb higher on the corporate ladder. But Larry did so much more. One of his favorite tasks was to lay out the maps and draw out the routes for the destination points of a new tour. He was always helping with general maintenance and even answering the phone on occasion. He enjoyed accompanying Diane on tours and loved flirting with all the ladies as he would help them off the coach. He was an integral part of Happy Trails Tours and Diane’s life partner. He is missed by all and it will be forever impossible to fill his shoes. Today, Diane puts her heart and soul in writing each tour and designing the brochures. She spends hours on the computer looking for neat places, offering new and exciting travel experiences. She is committed to keeping every tour, even the old standards, fresh and exciting. When she needs a change of scenery from the office and the computer ... she jumps on board one of those big beautiful motor coaches and escorts a group on one of the tours she created! For your information, she possesses the recipe for Marge’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, too! Come along on one of the tours she is escorting and experience one for yourself.
Diane remains surrounded by the love and support of her beautiful daughters and their husbands, Jeni & Chris, Andi & Mike, and Cyndi & Kerry. They have blessed her with six wonderful grandchildren, ages 5 to 20, who provide immeasurable joy
Family is everything to Diane.
She knows she would appear ungrateful if she did not acknowledge from whom all her blessings come. Throughout her life, she has relied on and thanked God for all those things that have brought her comfort, strength, and happiness.
Diane still resides in the home she and Larry built together. She is the proud owner of two rescue dogs, Rosie and Patches, who provide the much-desired unconditional love in her every day home life!
Then there's Lynnie Aro.
Lynnie joined the Happy Trails family in August 2005 and has really been a vital part of the business. She has solidified her position as HTT lead tour manager. After Lynnie's first time escorting experience on a tour to Branson, Missouri ... it became evident that the travel business was her "calling". She possesses all the skills necessary to provide a memorable experience for every traveler. Her outgoing personality is laced with humor. She knows her geography and is constantly filling her travel basket with tidbits of knowledge that will keep HTT travelers engaged. She is enthusiastic, punctual, and has a memory like a steal trap. She knows all the best out-of-the-way places for local cuisine and many of the hidden treasures that are often missed. Lynnie is also a delightful storyteller ... so if you happen to be on one of her tours, you are sure to have a wonderful time. Lynnie resides in Zim, just south of Forbes, with her musician husband Casey and an ever-changing menagerie of fur babies. Her quaint family home is situated on the beautiful Oxbow banks of the St Louis River.
Meet Sharon Holcomb.
Sharon is sister to Diane, eldest daughter of Marge, and a recent addition to the Happy Trails family. What started as a temporary lending hand in the early spring of 2018 has grown to a fulltime position as office manager and occasional tour manager. Sharon brings her office, computer, and organizational skills to HTT, allowing Diane to concentrate on writing more tours and developing the enticing brochures for each vacation package. “What could be more fun than working with your sister?”, she asks. She possesses a quick wit, great sense of humor, and a “get it done” attitude that is a perfect fit for Happy Trails. Sharon fills in wherever needed and loves a good challenge. Like Lynnie and Diane, she is a “people person” and will immediately welcomes you into the HTT family. She continues to improve her guiding skills and you can expect to see her more often as she greets and escorts travelers on future tours. Sharon resides in rural Gilbert on one of Minnesota’s beautiful 10,000 lakes with her husband Tom and their rescue dog, Winnie Cooper. She is a proud grandma, accomplished seamstress, and never goes to bed before reading a chapter or two of a good mystery.
Let us not forget Roberta Morrow & Lori Cuff-Rosdobutko The office for Happy Trails could not operate efficiently without Roberta and Lori! Their professionalism and years of experience allows a small home office to operate like that of any well-organized big business. Roberta, a long-time friend, and neighbor of Diane’s came to Happy Trails in 2017. She had recently retired and was looking for a little part-time position to keep her busy. Diane needed someone to help a little and the timing was perfect. On the days Roberta is in the office, she is usually the first voice a caller hears. She is involved in every step of the travel process from registration to making your name badge. Besides her expertise and computer savvy, Roberta adds warmth and humor to the Happy Trails family.
Roberta resides in Hibbing, MN with her fur babies, Suki and Britney. She is an accomplished seamstress who has created more than a few gorgeous wedding gowns. She also loves crafting and you can find her at many craft shows selling her beautiful handmade items.
Lori is another member of Diane’s family and the most recent addition to the Happy Trails office. Lori assumed many of the financial tasks originally belonging to Marge. Her head for numbers ensures the books are in order, and both accounts payable and receivable are handled promptly and accurately. She handles all financial reporting and the daily accounting tasks. Of course, she is also responsible for payroll which makes her extremely popular with the rest of the HTT employees. Lori brings a calmness and practical approach to everything she does. Lori resides in Forbes with her sweetheart, Bob, brother to Diane and Sharon. She and Bob have Telli, an American Quarter Horse and Tara, a recently rescued Collie. When not in the office, one can find Lori outside in her beautiful yard working on her flowerbeds.