FERGUS, Ont. - Personable, professional and punctual. These were just a few of the ways customers described Frank Vanderhoeff, the recently crowned Truck News Owner/Operator of the Year, in their nomi...
A SHINING AMBASSADOR: Frank Vanderhoeff proudly wears the diamond ring he won as the 2007 Owner/Operator of the Year.
biggest supporter: Frank Vanderhoeff receives congratulations from his partner, and biggest supporter, Judy Scanlon.
special thanks: Vanderhoeff is flanked by (L-R) Joanne Ritchie, OBAC; Judy Scanlon; Dwight McGill, Goodyear; Evelyn Cartmill, Markel; and John Bennett of Freightliner.
FERGUS, Ont. – Personable, professional and punctual. These were just a few of the ways customers described Frank Vanderhoeff, the recently crowned Truck News Owner/Operator of the Year, in their nomination letters. Vanderhoeff became the 14th recipient of the annual award during a special ceremony at the Fergus Truck Show July 27. Truck News executive editor James Menzies presented Vanderhoeff with a plaque and an engraved diamond ring at the ceremony. The award also includes $3,000 cash and a paid vacation for two to the destination of the winner’s choice.
Vanderhoeff told Truck News he was wowed when he first got the news that he had won.
“When I got that letter saying I was a finalist, I’m going, ‘Hey, this is cool. It’s like I’ve already won in my mind,'” he told Truck News. “I was happy with just that letter.”
But Vanderhoeff, who is contracted to Associate Carriers in Aurora, Ont., took it one step further by getting his customers involved.
“I thought if I do win it, I’m going to do it for them. They put the effort into it,” he says. Vanderhoeff’s customers, who include Erie Flooring and Wood Products, Rembos and Trailmobile, didn’t disappoint, as each of them sent a glowing report on their dealings with him.
“Over Frank’s time with us, his service and professionalism has been nothing but exemplary. His dedication to on-time delivery and customer service is (shown by the) way he does business, trip-by-trip, day-by-day,” said Chris Austin, director, sales and administration, Erie Flooring and Wood Products, who also called Vanderhoeff the company’s “competitive advantage.”
Wendy Doyle of Trailmobile in Erlanger, Ky. said the staff often joke that they can set their watches by Vanderhoeff’s prompt arrival.
“Guys like Frank are few and far between in this industry. He’s very friendly and genuinely one of the nicest people I have ever met,” Doyle wrote in her nomination letter. “We actually look forward to getting our deliveries as Frank makes it a good experience every time he comes in to see us. He isn’t just our delivery driver, we consider him our friend.”
But perhaps the proudest of the bunch is Vanderhoeff’s partner Judy Scanlon, who nominated him by writing about his passion for the industry.
“He is what I call a die-hard truck driver,” she wrote. “It will always be in his heart and soul ’til the day comes when he has to give up driving, which won’t come for a long time if he has the health and body to do so.”
Vanderhoeff not only joins the company of other great drivers by winning the award, but also the company of friends, as he has befriended 1994 winner Doug Gibson and 2005 winner Herbie Walker during his 33 years on the road.
“It is an honour to even be considered that I may be in the same class as Doug Gibson and Herbie Walker,” Vanderhoeff said. Vanderhoeff even met up with 1996 winner Dale Holman at the 2007 show, who congratulated him after the ceremony.
Vanderhoeff says that in all of this, he just feels an overwhelming sense of thanks. His list of thank-yous includes Scanlon for nominating him, their children; Mary Maxwell at Associate Carriers; Chris Austin, Wendy Doyle and Larry Stroud at Trailmobile, Dave Goos at A&M Lumber; Richard Burbridge from Rembos; and a special thanks to his mechanic Kevin Logan, who keeps his 1995 Mack CH and a 1996 Fruehauf flatbed safely on the road.
“I just want to thank them because without them being part of the team, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. If you don’t have good people to work with, then you’re not going to be a good operator yourself.”
Vanderhoeff’s passion for trucking started at a young age. After moving to Canada from Holland when he was four years old, he grew up on a farm which helped bolster a lifelong love of trucks and other heavy equipment.
“I’ve always had that dream even as a kid to have a steering wheel in my hand,” he says.
His trucking career started in 1972, driving a pick-up truck for Strand Millwork. In the fall of 1973, he moved to London Cartage where he drove a straight truck for a short while before moving up to a full-fledged tractor-trailer.
After he got the “highway bite,” he worked for a few years hauling livestock from Western Canada into Ontario and Quebec with two other companies. Vanderhoeff then started working with Frederick Transport in Chatham, Ont. in 1978, hauling everything from dump trains to vans to flatbeds to dry tanks.
In 1984, Vanderhoeff finally decided he didn’t want to be a company driver anymore and bought a 1984 Ford CL9000, working as an O/O with Frederick, where he stayed until 1988.
Vanderhoeff then spent two years as an owner/operator with Cronkwright Transport in Simcoe, Ont. and a further eight years with Ed Wiersma Trucking in Kitchener, Ont., before settling with Associate Carriers in 1999 where he works with his own customers to this day.
“I’ve been dealing with (my customers) for years. I’m dedicated on that trip. They basically don’t want anybody else delivering that product unless it’s on my truck because I know how they operate, they know how I operate,” he says.
So what makes his customers keep coming back? For starters, Vanderhoeff delivers what he promises – literally.
“I know people like to have their stuff delivered when it’s supposed to be there,” he says. He admits that a common mistake made by both new owner/operators and long-time veterans is booking too many miles, which he says not only lessens the driver’s productivity and punctuality, it can also mean less money coming in.
“Volume of miles does not mean volume of money. Sure you’ve got a big volume (of money) but you’re spending a lot, so what’s the end result?”
Vanderhoeff says that driving 3,000 miles a week as some O/Os do is “crazy” as the costs to maintain wear and tear on equipment will far outweigh any extra income that might be made.
“When you’re an owner/operator you’re still a truck driver, but you can’t operate it with a truck driver mentality. You’ve got to have a businessman’s mentality.”
A simple way to help keep costs down is by driving the speed limit, Vanderhoeff says. “If I go 62, 63 miles an hour, I’m speeding,” says Vanderhoeff, who estimates he has been accident-free for about three million miles. “Some of the people that know me on the road, they always say if it’s red and it’s got a flatbed and it’s got wood on it, it’s Frank and you might as well pass him ’cause he’s not going to pass you. I just don’t get in a hurry. Do what you can today, and if you can’t do it today, do it tomorrow.”
Vanderhoeff says that philosophy is one of his favourite things about being on the road: at the end of the day, he gets to make all his own work decisions.
“My customers tell me what it is that they want me to do but I’m the one who makes the decision as to whether I’m going to do it or not. I usually do do it, but that opportunity is there,” he says. “I also realize if I’m not turning the wheels, I’m not making any money, so I’ve got no one to blame for that but myself. I’ve got nobody to complain to.”
When it comes to home life, Vanderhoeff likes to split his time into two seasons: praying that the Leafs will win the Stanley Cup, and summer.
In the summertime, he loves heading with Scanlon out to their trailer to get away from it all, insisting on no phones and no TV during their stay.
In fact, rather than hopping on a plane and heading south, Vanderhoeff may choose to rent an RV and drive across Canada for the vacation part of his winnings.
“I’ve never really had a vacation since 1983. I’m going to take one to just rejuvenate the body and maybe see some people that I haven’t seen in years.”
But it’s not quite vacation time for Vanderhoeff yet.
There’s still work left to be done and his customers are counting on him.
“It’s not going to change me. I’m just going to go back to work on Monday morning and I’m going to continue with what I’ve been doing, I’m going to operate the same way,” he says.
The Truck News Owner/Operator of the Year award is sponsored by Freightliner, Markel Insurance and Goodyear.