‘Living The Dream’

by James Menzies

FERGUS, Ont. –It seems appropriate that the prestigious Truck News Owner/Operator of the Year award went to a guy who’s better known by his nickname ‘Motor’ than his given name.

Michael ‘Motor’ Rosenau of Calgary, Alta. was named the 2009 Truck News Owner/Operator of the Year during a special ceremony at the Fergus Truck Show July 24. He was weighed down with prizes including: $3,000 in cash, a vacation valued at up to $2,500, a diamond ring fit for a champion, a trip for two to the Fergus Truck Show and an armful of other gifts from the award’s sponsors. The award is sponsored by Freightliner, Goodyear and Castrol with supporting sponsors Natural Resources Canada and the Owner-Operators’ Business Association of Canada also contributing.

Since early childhood, Rosenau seemed destined for a career in trucking. Eleven years before he was born, his grandfather founded Rosenau’s Delivery which later became Rosenau Transport.

“I grew up in the industry and wanted nothing more than to drive trucks,” Rosenau recalls. “What kid back then didn’t love trucks?”

Rosenau got his start early, under the watchful eyes of his father Len.

“My father was teaching me how to drive when I was eight or nine,” says Rosenau. “A pillow on the seat and a hat on my head and we’d go for a drive in the pick-up truck. He used to take me down the road in the big rig and he’d let me drive and he’d kick my foot off the clutch as we were rolling and he’d say ‘That’s for starting and stopping only’.”

Asked if he uses the clutch today, Rosenau says “For starting and stopping.”

Some of Rosenau’s fondest childhood memories involve riding in the big rigs with his father.

“I grew up with two brothers and a sister and we all liked going with dad whenever we had the chance,” he says. Len would put a small stool between the seats of his Kenworth W900 and bring the kids along. Though they could barely see over the dash, they would all wave at oncoming truckers in unison, their little hands giving the illusion of a four-armed trucker as they waved along with their father at passing truckers.

Back at the Rosenau Transport yard in Edmonton, the younger Rosenau would keep busy by helping out with odd jobs -and climbing behind the wheel whenever possible.

“My grandpa used to have me drive the truck around the yard and load it up with garbage,” recalls Rosenau. “I’d come in and tell him I’m all done cleaning up the yard and he’d say ‘Well, take it to the dump.’ I was just 14 and all I had was my learner’s permit, so I’d say ‘Well grandpa, I don’t have my driver’s licence,’ and he’d look at me and pull his glasses down and say ‘Well then don’t get caught.’ Back then, you could get away with it -they’d slap your fingers and call somebody to come get the truck. I was quite happy to drive that truck to the dump.”

When he finally was old enough to drive trucks legally, Rosenau wasted no time in getting his Class 1 licence. From there, he gathered a wide range of experience, including hauling on the ice roads in the Northwest Territories, pulling a mobile mine museum across the country and even hauling doubles and triples across the prairies.

His dream, however, was to buy his own truck. It all came together for him in 2004, when he learned of a 1997 Freightliner FL120 day cab for sale in Saskatchewan, which once belonged to Rosenau Transport. For reasons unknown, it was back on the block, so Rosenau called his uncle to ask about its condition.

“He said it was a good truck, so I called my uncle Tim and he went and had a look at it. He fired it up, it sounded good so I went down there and I picked it up,” Rosenau recalls. He still drives that truck today, although it looks nothing like it did when he first bought it. Rosenau has slowly dressed the truck up with chrome, LED lighting and custom lettering. His wife Dana’s name appears on the door and a checkered flag on each side carries the names of his sons Mark and James. On the back of the truck, his personal motto reads: “If it don’t shine, it ain’t mine.”

It has more than 1.31 million kilo-metres on it, but the truck looks like it just rolled off the showroom floor. In fact, one weigh scale inspector recently thought that it had.

“I just went through an inspection last month and the inspector thought it was a brand new truck,” Rosenau says with a grin. “He didn’t think it needed an inspection, but when I told him the year and the mileage, he was pretty impressed.”

Needless to say, the truck passed the inspection. Rosenau treats the truck with care and jokes that he may keep running it until he retires. The key to keeping an older truck running like new is all about maintenance, he says.

“Without maintenance, the truck doesn’t run and if the truck doesn’t run you’re not making money and if you’re not making money, you’re pretty much not in the game,” Rosenau reasons.

Motor’s truck has become a crowd favourite at many western Canadian show’n’shines, and he also uses it to give back to the community. He’s been involved in the World’s Largest Truck Convoy for Special Olympics and volunteers his time and his truck hauling a customized trailer around Alberta and Saskatchewan collecting food donated to the 18 Wheels of Christmas campaign. He has also entered the truck in local parades where it’s been put to good use pulling floats for community groups such as a high school jazz band.

“If everybody did a little bit for the community, it would be a whole lot better world that we live in,” he says. “I probably got that instilled in me from a young age through my family and my grandmother. My grandma was always the type of person to say ‘No matter how bad it is for you, it’s probably worse for somebody else’.”

The trucking industry is not without its challenges, and Rosenau counts heavier traffic and lax training standards among its biggest issues. However, his passion for the industry has not faded.

“I had a buddy of mine tell me once that he’s living the dream, and then he laughs and chuckles about it,” Rosenau says. “So I picked that up from him and I say that a lot of the time, I really am living the dream, doing what I want to do…I don’t think I could do anything else and be as happy as I am as a driver.”

Rosenau wears his heart on his sleeve, quite literally. On his left arm he proudly shows a tattoo of his friend Gord Cooper’s 1957 Kenworth. And his right arm carries his nickname, which he earned several years ago. As the story goes, Rosenau was on a bike run with some friends when they stopped for lunch and ended up playing an arcade racing game. Upon winning, Rosenau entered his initials:MTR.

“The guy I was racing looks at me and he goes ‘MOTOR’ and that was it -everybody started calling me that and it just stuck,” he recalls.

Rosenau has spent most of his summer hauling farm chemicals around Saskatchewan. It meant three months away from home, but he was grateful for the work. He knows economic conditions have been tough on owner/operators and credits his wife for helping him steer the business through these turbulent times.

“She’s my controller, I guess you would say,” he says. “She does my books and gets a little bit upset when I’m spending on chrome, but with her guidance and everything else, I do pretty good. My truck’s paid off, so I don’t have a lot of overhead, so as long as I can keep steady through slow times it shouldn’t be a problem as long as the truck holds up.”

Rosenau admits the first months as an owner/operator are the most trying, and offers the following advice to aspiring O/Os: “The first thing you have to remember when you buy a truck is you have to be able to live with no money for two to three months. If you don’t have money in the bank and you’re financing a new truck, it’s going to be a struggle for a while, if you make it, especially with fuel the way it is today. And you want a decent contract so you know you’re going to get a decent paycheck.”

He says buying a used truck is the best way to get started.

“Big and shiny is nice and I wanted big and shiny too, but I bought something I could afford,” he says. “Even if I could have afforded a new truck when I was shopping, I don’t think I would have bought one. I bought what I could afford and slowly fixed it up to where it is today. I didn’t do it overnight -I did a little bit this paycheck and a little bit the next paycheck. And where it is right now is probably where it’s going to stay.”

To see video of our interview with Rosenau, watch the Aug. 5 episode of our WebTV show Transportation Matters at Trucknews.com.Rosenau will also be featured in several future episodes.

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