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O/O of the year: Cream of the crop – Hank Rensink named Canada’s top owner/operator

TORONTO, Ont. - For Hank Rensink, 1974 was a pivotal year of his life. He had recently moved away from his hometown of Picton, Ont. and admittedly had a bit of an attitude at the time.With hardly any ...


TORONTO, Ont. – For Hank Rensink, 1974 was a pivotal year of his life. He had recently moved away from his hometown of Picton, Ont. and admittedly had a bit of an attitude at the time.

With hardly any money to his name, the 19-year-old’s goal of owning his own truck was virtually a pipe dream.

That was, until he met Jon Vantente, an owner/operator with Harkema Express Lines who was nearing retirement and looking to sell his 1967 Autocar.

The deal was sealed with a handshake.

There were no credit checks, no written contracts, just a $500 down payment and the promise to pay the remaining $3,000 over the course of the next 10 months.

For Vantente, it was his final day as an owner/operator, but for Rensink, the first.

And now, 28 years later, Rensink has earned the distinction of being Canada’s Owner/Operator of the Year.

The prestigious award, presented by Truck News with sponsors Western Star, Cummins and Goodyear, was awarded to Rensink at Truck World on Sept. 28.

After being nominated by his wife Fran without his knowledge, Rensink was still in a state of disbelief when he accepted the prize: a trip for two virtually anywhere in the world; a diamond ring; a $3,000 RESP and several leather jackets embroidered with the sponsors’ logos.

He was also presented with a lifetime membership in the Owner-Operator’s Business Association of Canada.

“This is pretty overwhelming,” says Rensink.

“I mean, you read about it but I never would have expected my name to be on there. It’s quite something.”

While Rensink was shocked to hear he has been named the 2002 Canadian Owner/Operator of the Year, it came as no surprise to those who know him.

Upon learning of the award, Tanya Muise of shipper NCR Canada says “Mr. Rensink not only outshines the other drivers, he is in a class of his own. The logistics department even created a spot for Mr. Rensink complete with his own desk and homemade nameplate.”

Elvira Vetrano, the Canadian manager of Hank’s fleet – North American Logistics – says Hank “is one of the truly exceptional owner/operators.

“We have customers that work their distribution schedules around Hank’s availability.”

For Rensink, winning the award just came as a result of doing his job. After driving for 31 years, Rensink has accumulated three million accident-free miles.

In the meantime, he volunteers within his community, assisting with an organization called Out in the Cold.

Each Sunday morning during the winter, Rensink gets up at 5 a.m. to help cook breakfast for the occupants of a homeless shelter in his hometown of St. Catharines, Ont.

Then, he proceeds to clean washrooms and mattresses and help out around the facility.

“It’s a stress-relief thing,” says Rensink.

“It makes you really appreciate what you have when you’re dealing with the homeless.”

For Rensink, driving truck isn’t simply a way to earn a paycheck – it’s a way of life.

“I really like the highway,” says Rensink.

“I used to run Vancouver for a number of years and every time I go out there it’s different. The sun sets in a different spot and the moon comes up in a different area and it’s just a surreal feeling.”

It’s that love of the highway that has kept Rensink going for nearly three decades as an owner/operator.

The early years would have been enough to scare most people out of the business. Rensink was making runs into Northern Ontario with a heater that didn’t work.

“I couldn’t afford to get the heater fixed so I drove in the winter times with two Coleman tent heaters,” says Rensink.

“I thought trucking was just great.”

While his equipment has improved since those first few years on the road, Rensink says there are still many challenges facing today’s owner/operators.

He’s seen many of them fall by the wayside in recent years, and has relied on his business sense to get him through the tough times.

“I love fancy things just as much as anyone else, but I’ve always been against guys who buy something they can’t afford because they don’t know their costs,” says Rensink.

“I think the big thing that’s gotten a lot of guys in trouble lately is not knowing their costs.”

Rensink is a meticulous bookkeeper, and keeping on top of his costs enables him to stay afloat when times are tough.

“I’ve got a pocket calculator and I’m always playing with it,” he says.

“I can still tell you what I paid for fuel in 1972.”

Another key to his success has been ensuring he keeps the job enjoyable by leaving a little early and taking time out for the odd break.

It’s frustrating for Rensink when he meets some friends on the road who say they can’t spare a moment for a coffee because they are running late.

“You don’t have to be a truck stop lollygagger but you have to set yourself a schedule,” says Rensink.

“There are days when you are on a tight schedule but if I see someone I haven’t seen in a year, I’ll go to the next exit and turn around and have a coffee with them. To me, that’s part of being on the road and that’s what I love about the road…the camaraderie.”

That philosophy certainly hasn’t cost him in the productivity department – he hasn’t been late for a single delivery his entire career.

Not even in 1992, when he stopped to help an elderly couple stranded alongside the highway in Glechen, Alta. The Portugese couple was travelling from New Brunswick to Calgary to visit their daughter when their Buick’s radiator broke.

Rensink tried his best to fix it, but lacked the proper tools for the job.

“These people were terrified about being alone in the Prairies,” recalls Rensink.

“I got to thinking I had some room in the trailer so I moved some freight ahead, threw my ramps out and loaded the car on.”

With the elderly couple in his cab, and their Buick safely stowed in his trailer, Rensink proceeded to drive them to the Deerfoot Mall in Calgary.

“It made me proud to be a trucker,” says Rensink.

With Rensink’s current run hauling ATM machines to Columbus, Ohio, he gets the opportunity to spend more time with his family than many over-the-road drivers.

But it wasn’t always easy being away from home so much.

“I have the best wife in the world,” he says of Fran, his wife of 28-years.

“There are many women that couldn’t put up with it. I was gone for years.”

However it was Fran who nominated Rensink for the award, without even telling him.

Before Hank and Fran even tied the knot, he told her he was getting out of the trucking business so they could settle down together.

In 1988, she made him paint the words Last One on the back of his rig.

Today, he’s driving his fifth truck with the words Last One painted on the back.

In fact, the words ‘For Sure’ have been added underneath in parentheses.

In order to make a life on the road more bearable for his family, Hank takes Fran along with him for the odd vacation.

“I usually go with him about once a year,” says Fran.

“That’s the nice thing about Hank being a driver.” In fact, not long ago the couple went on a memorable vacation to Victoria, B.C. With Rensink entering the autumn of his career, he hopes he will one day have the opportunity to help out an aspiring owner-op.

Although Vantente has passed away, Rensink has never forgotten the man who gave him his first break.

“I hope someday I can be in the same position where there’s a young guy starting out that I can help,” says Rensink.

It just may be a future Owner/Operator of the Year.


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