Honouring Art Van Camp: a “human rolodex” of heavy equipment

Art van camp

Art Van Camp has been a fixture in the heavy equipment community. His efforts were recently honoured with an induction into the ORBA Hall of Fame.

Since his childhood, Art Van Camp has been captivated by construction and the machines used to get the job done. 

A “human Rolodex” of heavy equipment knowledge, according to Cox Construction President Regan Cox, Van Camp developed his fascination for machinery at an early age. And throughout his career, his resume has grown to mirror his enthusiasm. 

Van Camp has worked as an operator, a heavy equipment dealer, a director of the Ontario Road Building Association (ORBA), a director of the John Deere Dealership association, a director of the Historical Construction Equipment Association (HCEA) Canada, president of the Canadian Association of Equipment Distributors and a committee member of the Ontario Stone Sand and Gravel Association.  

“Work was my hobby as well as my job. I never really thought of it as a job and I don’t really have any other hobbies,” Van Camp said. 

Hall of Famer

Earlier this year, Van Camp’s dedication to heavy equipment was honoured with an induction into the ORBA Hall of Fame. For Van Camp, the nomination was, to say the least, surprising.

“I almost fell over. I never anticipated that happening and I was just totally shocked. Being inducted is one of the highlights of my career,” he said. “You’re elected by peers and you’re elected among people that I never thought I was of the same calibre.” 

Michael Rugeroni, vice president of Nortrax Canada, submitted Van Camp’s nomination papers for the ORBA Hall of Fame. 

“He’s been a huge contributor to our world. He’s been a friend of the business, a friend of the manufacturer, a friend of the dealer and a friend of the customer,” Rugeroni said. “Everything he’s done in his life has been dedicated to making construction, roadbuilding and construction equipment better. 

Van camp at ORBA
Van Camp (left) receives the ORBA Hall of Fame jacket by ORBA COO Bryan Hocking at the 2019 ORBA Convention.

“He happened to do most of it with a John Deere flag on his shoulder, and it made it an exciting time for most of us.” 

Rugeroni added Van Camp is one of few Hall of Fame inductees that followed a career path in heavy equipment sales. 

“Not very many equipment salesmen get in. It’s usually the contractors that get inducted,” Rugeroni said. “It was a proud moment.”

Following his induction at ORBA’s 92nd annual convention and general meeting, Van Camp becomes the association’s 23rd member to join the Hall of Fame. 

“Art is probably the most knowledgeable man I’ve ever met in the world of construction equipment,” Ted Arscott, president of Roto-Mill, said in ORBA’s Hall of Fame video. “He’s been supplying advice to the road building industry for over 40 years. Art is the kind of people we need in our industry and our Hall of Fame.” 

Allis Chalmers HD-5 crawler loader
A nine-year-old Van Camp operating a 1954 Allis Chalmers HD-5 crawler loader.

Van Camp in the cab

As a teenager, Van Camp began working at his family’s sand and gravel business in Port Perry, Ontario. It was there that he developed a reputation as a dozer operator. 

“I had a desire to be the best at what I did,” he said. “I’m not bragging, but it got to the point where people would ask for a bulldozer with me operating it.”

After a few years working as an operator at his family’s business, his passion for heavy iron caught the attention of a friend in equipment sales, and Van Camp was offered a job selling motor graders. He was tasked with the territory of Eastern Ontario, covering Mattawa to Hastings to Quebec. 

“My first year in sales I think I drove 116,000 miles,” Van Camp said. 

A life-changing ConExpo

Van Camp would set his sights on a new career path after attending the 1975 ConExpo in Chicago. At the show, Deere unveiled its plans to manufacture bigger construction machines.

“That was the year John Deere stole the show. That was the year they showed the world they weren’t just going to build little crawlers and backhoes, they were going to go full time in heavy construction equipment,” Van Camp said. “It was just so impressive. I came back from there and made the goal for myself that one day I was going to be a John Deere dealer.”

About a year and a half after ConExpo, Van Camp achieved his goal. John Deere had an opening for a dealer covering the Hamilton and Niagara regions, and A.H. Van Camp Equipment was born in Stoney Creek, Ontario. 

Although his feet were planted in the equipment sales side of construction, Van Camp would still make room for some stick time. 

His dealership included space for equipment testing. During stressful days, he’d instruct his staff that he wasn’t taking any phone calls, and ask the mechanics if there were any machines that required testing for leaks.  

“That’s how I would get rid of frustration. I can tell you if there was going to be a leak, I would have found it,” Van Camp said. 

“I’d go out there and work for a half hour. I’d take it back in and say, ‘wash it up, it’s ready to go.’” 

van camp equipment

Dealer advocacy

His knowledge as an operator also helped to fine tune many products from John Deere Construction. Van Camp came up with idea of establishing dealer and customer advocacy groups that would help shape the abilities of new product releases. 

“Before you bring a product out, don’t just let engineers design something. I said you need to have customers, you need to have operators and dealers provide input,” Van Camp said. 

During a drive to Niagara Falls in 1985, he pitched the advocacy group idea to Jim White, who at the time was senior vice president of John Deere. 

“Jim used to come up and travel with me. That program was conceived in my car,” Van Camp said. 

“He said, ‘that’s an idea.’ He was an ex-marine, and when he decided on something, that was it. The decision was made.”

From there, Van Camp would contribute to the development of about 34 Deere machines. His last contribution to the advocacy group was working on the development of the 944K wheel loader, which was released in 2015. 

“That was a part of my career I really enjoyed. Being an ex-operator made it even better,” he said. 

Creating Ontrac 

In 1998, A.H Van Camp merged with Woodland Tractor and formed Ontrac Equipment Services Inc.

“Back in the 1990s, consolidated was the buzzword for any manufacturer,” Van Camp recalled. 

With the new company, Ontrac began to acquire dealerships across Eastern Canada. By 2002, Ontrac grew to include 22 heavy equipment dealerships, spread out across Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. 

“At that time, we crossed three and a half time zones, because Newfoundland is a half hour ahead of Atlantic,” Van Camp said.  

Deere would eventually buy a third of Ontrac, before outright purchasing the network of dealerships in 2004. The company would transform into Nortrax Canada in 2008.

RELATED: Brandt is acquiring Nortrax in Canada 

Van Camp became the executive vice president of Nortrax, where he worked until retirement in 2014. 

“I did what I loved my entire working life,” Van Camp said.