Auto Pilot

by Passenger Service: State troopers ride-along with truckers in crash study

Wally Horodnyk has the best trucking job in the world. No, really. Sure, there’s lots to be said about pushing a herd of heifers into a cattleliner, but Horodnyk’s freight is a collection of every red-blooded guy’s dream machines: Ferraris, Porsches, ‘vettes, Rolls-Royces, F1 racecars, choppers — the two-wheeled road hogs and those that fly –and anything else you once drooled over on a showroom floor.

Horodnyk liked the work so much, he bought three tractor-trailers right away. In 1998 he gave away the $15-million brokerage end to his partner in return for the $2.7-million car-hauling business, which he now runs under the name TFX International with his wife and company president, Christine.

Today, he’s up to 10 heavy trucks — all Western Star 4900 SAs under three years old, with a mix of Detroit Series 60 and MBE4000 engines — as well as five city trucks.

So how does one evolve from hauling Hondas to the ultra rare Ferrari Enzo — yup, he’s moved it a couple times — in a few short years?

Ten years ago he was a freight broker. Today he has a multi-million dollar business hauling everything from your next-door neighbours’ 106 hp Chevy Cavalier to comedian Tim Allen’s’ priceless Saleen Mustangs. Good move.

“One day a client asked if we could [get] a move for a Honda Civic from Flint, Mich. to Toronto,” Horodnyk recalls of his days working the phones. “It paid $1,700.

“I said ‘how much?’ I went out and rented a truck and moved it myself. We were so careful not to get a scratch on it. But it turned out that it was a crash car. So we unloaded it and they crashed it anyway.”

“Reputation is everything,” Horodnyk says from his home base of Etobicoke, Ont. “You get it by slugging it out in the trenches and delivering exactly what you say. I run this place like an army camp –everything is under my scrutiny. We don’t broker a thing out.

You don’t get to be the official carrier of record for Ferrari by making mistakes and scratching doors. A door on an Enzo is $40,000.”

At any given time, Horodnyk could be handling a Lamborghini Diablo, Lotus GT1, or Mats Sundin’s Mercedes.

On this day there’s no Maple Leaf wheels at the shop, but the Toronto Blue Jays’ entire fleet arrives in phases. Horodnyk’s drivers unload the cars and wash and detail them before rolling them back into the trailer for their long trip to the players’ off-season homes in Florida and Texas.

Parked in the garage, ready for shipment, are a couple of Ferrari 360 Modenas, a CART Circuit pacecar, a 1934 Rolls Royce, and the last car John Lennon owned before he died. It’s a yellowish Mercedes diesel station wagon, by the way.”Don’t ask me why it’s here,” Horodnyk says. “Someone wants it moved somewhere.”

When you have millions of dollars worth of exotic rides in your possession, it’s safe to say that your reputation is in large part an extension of your security system. And as Horodnyk says, reputation in his business is everything.

He describes his customized tractor-trailers as armed moving warehouses. “You can’t steal this thing,” he says without a hint of self-doubt. “It’s like an armadillo. When it’s attacked it goes into a shell.”

The completely enclosed, 12-ft high NASCAR-style trailers –customized by Kentucky Trailer Technologies — have absolutely no visible locks or locking mechanisms. Both trailer and tractor are wired bumper to bumper with sensors, and a driver’s biometric info is needed to start the truck.

The system, created by Toronto-based BSM Wireless, not only has GPS and microburst technologies, but is also Internet-based and is live 24/7 — meaning the trucks can be remotely controlled and monitored from anywhere in the world with an Internet or wireless connection. “I could be on the beach in the Cayman Islands and kill the engine or the hydraulics on the liftgate with a cell phone,” Horodnyk says.

Furthermore, Horodnyk is on top of a truck’s every move. If an individual alarm sounds, if a strobe goes off, if the driver stops the truck, even if a door is opened and closed, Horodnyk is notified within seconds.

A message is automatically sent to BSM, dispatch, and to Horodnyk’s personal Blackberry, which — like a cowboy who’s just a trigger finger away from his most important tool — sits in a holster on his belt. In fact, you could say Horodnyk runs his entire fleet from his hip.

“If a driver speeds, a message will automatically go to him in the cab,” he explains. “I can even customize the message to say: ‘you are speeding. Pick up your phone because Wally will be calling you in 10 seconds.'”

By doubling as Big Brother and a fleet owner, where does Horodnyk find the time to do anything else? Judging by his appointment book, he doesn’t, really. His desk is layered with business cards — Ferrari, Porsche Canada, Lotus Canada. There’re tons of suppliers, too.
That’s because these days, everybody loves Wally.

“People love us because we’re a beta test company. They use us to benchmark their products,” he says. “And why not? I’ll try it. I make money, so I want to spend money.”

Just a few of the extra toys each of Horodnyk’s trucks and trailers are spec’ed with, include:

Vulcan on-board weigh scales, which calculate weight per axle as the cars are rolled into the trailer; Spectra Inc.’s Brake Inspector, which automatically measures brake stroke; Rigmaster Power generators, so his drivers don’t have to idle; and customized air tabs that divert wind away from the back of the trailer.

Horodnyk makes sure he’s well versed on every device or technology put on his trucks. “If I don’t understand something, I don’t put it in.”

He can also fix just about anything on the vehicle himself. “I’m a hydraulics specialist,” he says. “You think I want to be? But if the liftgate breaks in the winter at 4:00 am and I have seven Mercedes in there, you think the hydraulics guy is getting out of bed and coming out? Only one person is going to do that — me.”

In many ways Horodnyk is as meticulous about his own trucks as his clients are about their prized rides. They’re new, constantly washed and polished, and beaming with as much chrome as you’ll see on a fleet vehicle. “We have an image to protect as well,” he says. “The last thing you want to do is roll up to a house in the Hamptons to pick up a guy’s Rolls-Royce and there’s rust on the back of your truck. You just can’t have that.”

But it’s not all about the rich and famous. As tempting as it might be to want to stay stuck to the high-margin, exotic-car transport business, Horodnyk made a commitment years ago to stay as diversified as possible. That’s why you’ll see a Jeep Eagle parked right next to a Lamborghini at his facility.

“My biggest customer is 3 percent of my total business,” he says. “If for whatever reason they left us, it would hardly affect us … You need to be able to perform as well for that guy who bought his dream car, that 1967 Chevy Nova, as you would for the guy with the Enzo.”

Horodnyk isn’t sure he’s done anything special to get where he is. And he doesn’t think he’s any more business savvy than the next guy. What separates him, he believes, is his ability to react instantaneously to just about anything thrown his way.

“I don’t know what to expect when I wake up,” he says. “One day I’ll be driving a Ferrari Enzo into the car show downtown, and the next I’ll be lying under a truck, swearing, and covered in grease. I’ve learned to prepare for anything.”

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