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The man behind the lens

LANGLEY, B.C. - Ever had a hankering for some really great shots of some fine-looking wheels?


LANGLEY, B.C. –Ever had a hankering for some really great shots of some fine-looking wheels?

If so, chances are you’ve heard of Hank’s Truck Pictures (.com), an absolute cornucopia of truck-related photography that’s been years in development. It features Hank’s own work as well as galleries of favourite photos from other aficionados on everything truck-related.

And that isn’t all. There’s even a selection of truck-focused articles from a variety of sources, links to relevant railroad-related -real and model – content, car show shots and more.

“Hank” is Hank Suderman and Hank’s Truck Pictures grew out of a lifelong love for long vehicles, and to him it’s pretty well the stuff that dreams are made of.

“It sort of started with my Dad,” Suderman says of his father, Henry senior. “He was the trucker in the family.” The senior Suderman -who Hank lost in 2007 -started driving trucks around 1939 and continued until he decided to buy a farm in about 1953. Hank’s Dad’s career on the road saw him driving logging trucks near Hope, B.C. where he was away from home often.

“He had a lot of logging stories and he had a lot of driving stories of going up the mountains and stuff like that,” Suderman says. “As a kid, I just loved hearing them and I’ve been interested in transportation of one form or another since.”

His interest has been well grounded, though. He focuses not so much on planes as he does on anything that travels on land. He started collecting car brochures and, as he got holder, he’d write to different companies and get truck brochures, route maps, and the like -a lot of which he still has, though “some of it kind of disappeared over the years.”

Growing boys often have a love of models and toys, too, and young Suderman was no different. “Growing up, there were always toys I wanted,” he says, remembering one particular replica that got away. “It was Dinky Toy die-cast that was expensive then and it’s even worse now, if you can find one.” He’s been finding plenty of other die-cast models in a stream of new models coming out over the past decade or so, though, and has been buying them “like crazy, catching up on stuff I’d missed.”

Suderman still has all the truck models he’s had since the ’70s, too.

Despite his love for anything truck-related, Hank Suderman has never driven a big rig professionally, though he was a bus driver for the better part of 20 years before his doctor forbade him from driving professionally after a 1990 injury.

“After weighing things out for over a year,” he says, “my wife suggested I get into computers because I was always goofing off with the one at home.” So he went back to school, which he describes as a tough two years for the whole family. But they got through it, and he’s been working with computers ever since.

It was in about 1972 when the photography bug bit him, big time.

“I was the yearbook photographer at college and that got me used to using an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera and a year after that I bought my own and upgraded it a bunch of times.”

Until about 1999, his focus was on manually-adjusting cameras, and when he made the change to auto-focus and weighed the different models available, he ended up switching from Canon to Nikon and has been a Nikon user ever since. It wasn’t that the Canon wasn’t of a high enough caliber, though.

“They were both good cameras,” he says. “But the Nikon was the only one that would actually focus on the object inside a reflective glass display case” instead of on the glass itself.

Abandoning “negative” thinking or having to wait, like Snow White, for his “prints” to come, Suderman moved from pictures to pixels in 2004, joining the digital camera revolution. He used his wife’s two-year-old digital at first, looking for the right deal for his own camera.

“I was kind of saving up,” he says, noting “when the one I eventually bought came out they were asking $3,700 for it but it was under $2,000 when I bought it.” Such is the way of electronics…

Suderman’s current full-time gig is with Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., where he’s hung his hat since 1995.

“I was with computer support, a techie,” he says, “but the library is my main area now, looking after the lab computers, the staff computers, and stuff.”

He describes the photography and the Hank’s Truck Pictures Web site as his leisure time activities.

Hanks Truck Pictures first saw the light of day after Suderman had started at the University.

“I had an office co-worker who had a little class of maybe six people and he’d show people how to do a Web page -and I thought it was kind of neat how you can just do some typing and have it end up as a Web page. Good ol’ HTML!”

Of course a Web page needs content, so Suderman started creating a page using downloaded pictures “because I didn’t have a scanner,” he says. His getting a scanner created a monster: “I just went to town -I was scanning every night because I’ve got a lot of slides, a lot of friends. And I started putting more train pictures on the Web site and a few pictures from my Dad’s collection and some of the brochures that I had.”

After a couple of years, Suderman says, word of mouth about the site was getting around. “People would find it and ask if I have pictures of this or that truck,” he says. “And I’d stick it up and more word of mouth got around.”

He was eventually contacted by a man from Oregon City, Ore., who had a wealth of history from Pacific Northwest trucking in the US and parts of Canada.

“He started sending me pictures,” he says. “And then other people started sending me pictures -I’ve got hundreds of people now contributing pictures to the Web site as well as all the ones I’ve taken.”

Such a wide variety of pictures and sources can make for a cataloguing nightmare, and Suderman admits it’s been a challenge.

“It started off where I tried to categorize everything -Kenworth, Peterbilt, International and stuff -but when people would just send me a whack of pictures it just got to be too much. So I thought it would be easier just to tie them up in individual collections, which is what I did, categorizing them by their name, company name or something like that.”

Being in possession of such a wide variety of photos and sources -and posting them on the Internet for all to see -also raises the questions of “photographees” -the subjects -and how they felt about having their pictures taken. Then there’s the issue of copyright.

Suderman admits it has been a problem.

“I had one company from the US contact me -actually, it was their legal department -saying they didn’t like me using pictures of their trucks,” he says. “They wanted me to remove all the pictures until they figured out what to do because, I guess, they thought I was making money off their logo. But pretty much 90% of the pictures were taken on public roads.”

After this unnamed company looked over his pictures and Suderman explained what he was doing, he says, they said he could use the pictures he’d already posted, but that going forward they wanted him to check with them before putting up a new one.

“So every day I was sending stuff to their legal department and they just got tired of it,” he says. “And then one of the last times I spoke to them on the phone they told me any time I had a picture of one of their trucks they wanted to link back to their Web site. I said I wouldn’t do it -that if they wanted me to do that it would cost them money. I never heard back.”

Not surprisingly, Suderman says he’s “kind of been avoiding taking pictures of their stuff.”

More problematic for Suderman than run-ins with reluctant subjects, however, is people taking pictures from his site and reusing them, putting them on their Flickr or YouTube pages. “They’re all over the place,” he says. “They crop out the names and it takes a lot of work to convince the site owners that a picture’s yours -even if your name’s on it. They have t
his little template of words you have to give them before they remove and it just takes a lot of time to do it.”

Which proves that, even in cyberspace, there’s bureaucracy and BS.

Suderman has never charged to display someone’s pictures on his site, preferring instead to use advertising to help defray expenses. He’s even held a few “virtual telethons” to help keep the site going.

“Before 2001, I had all my images on my computer and every link and every image had to point to a virtual page on our campus Web site that only me and two others in our IT department knew about. That worked until they told me to move my Web site someplace else. That kind of floored me; it was nice having all this for free.”

So he put a notice on his page saying that Hank’s Truck Pictures could be going down because what had been free would now cost -and he didn’t have enough money to put into it.

It worked. “Probably within three days I had more than enough money to get a host,” Suderman says. He tried a couple of Web hosts, including a Calgary-based company that promised unlimited bandwidth and unlimited disk space, but “within less than eight months I got a notice from them staying they’d decided to put a cap on and that I owed them $300 for the past month alone for my overage.”

The “telethon” concept having worked so well before, he put up another announcement telling everybody what had happened and, as it turned out, an American company with a recruiting business “thought they could make some money from me having stuff on their Web site -so they set it up for me and I transferred all of my files over to them. But within a month they said they couldn’t do it -my bandwidth was killing them.”

Third time’s the charm, it seems. “So another announcement went on the Web site,” he recalls. “In my searching for another host I was looking at people who wanted to charge me close to $5,000 a month because my bandwidth was probably 500 gigabytes a month, my hard drive space was up to 50 gigs. So I got a bunch of different quotes, found one I liked and I’ve been with them since 2003. They’ve been the best. Anybody hacks my site they work to get it fixed, and on other issues they’ve been really quick at responding.”

All appears well for Hankstruckpictures. com going forward, at least until the next “virtual monkey-wrench” is thrown into the business. As for advertising to defray his costs, Suderman has had several advertisers.

He also uses Google ads to generate income.

“I was amazed,” he says. “The first three months I was getting over $1,200 a month from their ads and it has kind of gone up and down since then.”

Meanwhile, the picture libraries just keep getting bigger and better, spurred by Suderman’s own work as official and unofficial photographer for various trucking events, and it keeps him busy enough that it’s a wonder he has time to do his “real” work at the university.

“Every year I go to at least three or four truck shows,” he says, citing the national convention of the ATHS (American Truck Historical Society) in California as one example.

“I drove down there and for about three or four days took pictures of the trucks lined up there, came back home, worked like crazy to get the pictures on the Web site.”

From there he zoomed over the Red Deer, Alta., to take up his unofficial photographer duties for the Alberta Big Rig Weekend, then followed up with the B.C. version in early July. He likes to take in the Vancouver Island truck shows, including another ATHS-sponsored show in Duncan and a three-day truck show at an old steam mill in Port Alberni over the Labour Day weekend. The cost of the ferries means he usually limits himself to one show per year, however, and this year he was favouring Port Alberni.

“There’s a lot of off-highway logging trucks and other vintage trucks that guys have restored,” he says. “They combine it with a big salmon derby and a big parade -in which I get to drive one of the trucks -so that’ll be fun.”

Suderman also tries to turn unrelated business trips -ones he makes for his full-time employer -into photo shoots as well, and has recruited his wife and daughter to the cause.

“I’ve been down to Virginia a few times,” he says. “Work sent me to do software training and once I went there with my daughter and there was a trucking company next door. About a year later my daughter went for training and I asked her to get some pictures -she brought back about a dozen.”

He and his daughter went there once more after he found an excuse.

“They had changed the database software a little bit and so I made a case that we both had to go -we both did report writing for them -but the whole reason was to take pictures at that trucking company.”

His daughter has also brings back pictures from her globetrotting to such places as Ontario, Cal., South Africa and Malaysia. “Every time she travels she tries to take some pictures for me,” he says.

Suderman expects to retire from his job in the next three years or so and hopes to spend more time on the Web site. “The way it’s working out now it’s a nice income,” he says. “And when living on a pension it’ll probably come in really handy.”

With such passion for trucks, does he think he’ll ever actually drive them other than in parades? “My parents tried to discourage me from driving truck because my dad was away from home so often,” he says, “But I’d still at the drop of a hat go out and drive one.”


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1 Comment » for The man behind the lens
  1. J Gregg says:

    Great article, although there should be a picture with it. Hank is an international hero of the trucking comunity and thus the article should be published in your other publications, not just Truck West.

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