LaVerne Rentz was early Wadena trucker
Big trucks and Wadena have always been synonymous. Between 1926 and 1994, some 71 semis did business in Wadena. The urge to get into trucking bit LaVerne Rentz soon after he was discharged from the Army in 1946.
On LaVerne's way to becoming the owner of a fleet of 18-wheelers, he worked a short time driving a feed mill out to farms, then owning the Wadena Feed Supply Store to help get on his feet.
A pair of two-ton Ford trucks preceded LaVerne's purchase of a 1956 GMC semi along with a 1959 International. After that, it was a steady climb until in 1978, when there were 12 over the road Rentz rigs cruising the highways.
Over the years Rentz trucks have hauled almost everything that could be moved and was legal: furniture, cattle, feed, produce -- just name it.
Hiring school bus drivers during the summer, farmers with a bit of time who needed cash, as well as friends he knew along with his two sons and eldest daughter kept Rentz's trucks rolling. LaVerne figures he lucked out with able drivers.
Were there problems? Actually, not too many and none he couldn't handle, he said, like that deal at Ada.
On that trip, in the dead of winter, LaVerne was hauling a heavy load of 16 springing Holstein heifers on Highway 2. The road was a challenge, with 10 inches of fresh snow. His truck could scarcely make it; it was working hard when he saw the lights of a patrol car flashing behind him. He was mystified.
LaVerne stepped out of his truck, asking 'What's the problem, officer?"
"The problem is that you were speeding, sir."
"Speeding! On this bad road, with a heavy load, an' that old Dodge 6 cylinder truck? No way!"
The officer, who kept writing a ticket, repeated, "I say you were speeding."
"Officer, if you can get this old rig up to the speed limit I'll give her to you!"
Not interested, the officer said, "I see you've got a smart mouth, too. Be in court on the 15th."
At the trial the judge saw things LaVerne's way.
Each state has its own set of laws. For instance, one of the Rentz trucks had the words "You Call -- We Haul" on the front bumper. He was in the state of Washington when a patrolman pulled him over and made him take it off. They said it was distracting. He had driven without a problem in other states.
LaVerne taught his kids to drive a truck when they were 7 or 8 years old, hardly tall enough to reach the pedals. He still smiles at the memory of seeing a big truck come crawling slowly across a field, with a careful young driver at the controls.
It was not unusual to see LaVerne's wife, Eileen, behind the wheel when they needed an extra driver. If they loaded the truck, she could drive it. One of her last hauls was a load of cattle to Walnut Grove, Minn. Eileen ran a tight ship while LaVerne was on the road. She kept things running, paid the bills, and managed their nine kids. Eileen was a real partner. She died in 2007.
LaVerne had his own system for handling money. Since it was necessary to sometimes borrow, whenever he paid on a debt he put an equal amount in savings. He learned the mechanics of semi engines and did all his own work, becoming debt free in 1960. He never had to borrow again.
How did LaVerne fight to stay awake on those long night drives? What happens when Zeus, Goddess of Sleep, tries to take over? LaVerne said: "Some drivers chew sunflower seeds, but I'll bet I consumed a barrel or more of sugarless lemon drops. Times I was really sleepy I lit a cigar, smoked about an inch of it, and chewed the rest."
LaVerne's last job was a load straight through from here to Texas. When he got there he unloaded, turned around, and drove straight back with no sleep. On one trip he lost sight in one eye.
It was on LaVerne's 62nd birthday the doldrums set in. He was tired. It was getting harder to find drivers, laws were getting more rigid and everything seemed heavier. He had a right to be tired, he told himself.
LaVerne made many good decisions and now he made another. It was no big deal. Everybody had to pull the plug sometime. He and Eileen, with family gone, could live easily on his Social Security check.
LaVerne brought himself to Detroit Lakes, dealt with an outfit who purchased semis, and sold them all 12, his entire fleet. He headed back home, the owner of no more wheels than those on the car, his pickup, and a wheelbarrow.
That first day with nary a truck to keep clean and moving, of not having to pitch for more loads to keep them busy, and to be with the family long term was great. It was what he had been working toward, wasn't it?
The next day and several thereafter were spent doing little jobs around the house, working in the yard, fixing stuff he had been putting off until he had more time, like now.
On the fifth day of retirement, LaVerne barreled to Detroit Lakes soon after breakfast, before they sold his trucks. He leased 10 of his semis back, returning home a happy man. He trucked loads again for almost another seven years.
By this time his 68th birthday had joined the ages and he was absolutely tired. You're getting to be an old man, he told himself. There was more competition now. Well, he still knew the road to that place in Detroit Lakes so that's where he headed.
Again, he came home with no big wheels. It was for keeps this time, wasn't it? You're darned right! Enough was enough.
LaVerne looked their place over. He went up town to drink coffee with the guys. Somehow, he didn't fit in.
LaVerne held out 11 whole days this time before burning tracks back to Detroit Lakes, where he managed to recapture at least two of his semis. Once more contentment held sway in the Rentz household.
A little over seven years later, after his 75th birthday, an unhappy but accepting LaVerne watched his big wheels go down the road without him for the last time.
This time he let them go. It was time.
Both Rentz sons, Leroy and Steve, had big trucks for a time. Now LeRoy drives semis for a big outfit and Steve owns Rentz Trucking.
LaVerne would do it all again if he could. He liked the independence he found in trucking, and he liked moving around, doing business with all kinds of people.
"But you know," LaVerne said, "in all the many miles I've traveled; the interesting, sometimes wondrous places I've been and things I've seen, none of them lifted my heart like coming home, like passing one particularly modest black and white sign with 'Wadena' on it."