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COLUMN: From the ‘iron horses’ to SteelHorse

Jack and Roxanna Rutko have run Steelhorse Truck Outfitters on North Railway Street in Okotoks for more than two decades.
Jack and Roxanna Rutko have run Steelhorse Truck Outfitters on North Railway Street since 2001. 

Jack and Roxanna Rutko have run SteelHorse Truck Outfitters on North Railway Street since 2001. 

“We do aftermarket truck accessories,” Jack said, “things like running boards, mudflaps, trailer hitches and trailer wiring, plus a lot of specialty repairs.” 

It’s kind of a niche market that Jack characterizes as ‘big, but not easy.’ Their biggest competitor is Amazon. The competitive advantage that SteelHorse enjoys is that Jack knows how to install the parts properly. 

“We get a lot of people coming in saying that they bought the parts on Amazon and want us to install them,” he said. “It’s the service aspect of our business that’s most important.” 

Roxanna reiterated the importance of their service.

“If someone comes in at five o’clock and they need something done right away, we go above and beyond,” she said. “Jack is often here until late at night making sure everything is perfect.” 

Jack is a real mechanic’s mechanic. “I’ve always liked playing with automotives,” he remembered. “I learned to drive when I was about seven or eight years old. 

“When I was a kid living on an acreage next to a junkyard just outside Estevan, Saskatchewan, my buddy Paul and I pulled the motor out of an old truck after our dads told us they thought we couldn’t do it. Our dads went into town that afternoon, so we got a front-end loader and had that motor sitting on the ground for them by the time they got back.” 

Jack never really had any formal training. As he puts it, he was ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ He grew up in a machine shop and worked customized motorcycles before getting on as a mechanic with the CPR, where he spent 22 years working on the ‘iron horses’ of the railroad. 

Like a lot of people, Jack was caught in a corporate downsizing in the late 1990s.

“We were living in Calgary at the time,” he said. “And I eventually took a job with a truck accessories company. I liked the business and felt I could do well, so a partner and I set up shop here in Okotoks. The partner left about three years later, and Roxanna and I have been on our own ever since.” 

“One reason we set up in Okotoks was because our research showed that there were more trucks per capita here than just about anyplace else,” Roxanna said. “We do accessories and our son Jay recently set up an auto detailing business, JR Mountain Auto Customs, in Diamond Valley.” 

They have customers all across the country.

“I once had a fellow from P.E.I. stop to get something done on his vehicle while on his way out to the coast,” Jack said. “And I recently had a FaceTime call from a customer down in Phoenix. He had a guy who was trying to help him with some wiring. Within about 20 minutes we were able to get the problem fixed.” 

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