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Trucking along

‘So You Wanna Be a Trucker?” is the headline in a short piece in April’s Fifty Plus magazine.

‘So You Wanna Be a Trucker?” is the headline in a short piece in April’s Fifty Plus magazine.

The enticement is brief: “Now that the corny old trucker song Convoy is a country and western hit again, maybe it’s time to revisit that fantasy you’ve kept secret all these years. We’re talking about the lure of the long-haul truck.

“Seriously. The industry is desperate for drivers. Younger men and women aren’t attracted to trucking; they’d rather stay home with the kids. But empty nesters looking for a second career?”

Frankly, I prefer Johnny Cash’s Six Days on the Road for trucking music, though whatever your preference, evidently the romance, the mystique, the pull of the road, whatever it is, holds firm in the Model A generation of Canadians, or Fifty Plus thinks so.

Such songs, and the myths, paint the long-distance trucker as the modern cowboy, a free spirit roaming the land alone. A modern knight of the road, eh?

Yes, like any group of people, most, not all of them would give you the shirt off their back, and many of them have, though sometimes they make judgments too, as this story I came across tells.

“The Lincoln owner misjudged the icy corner, ending up to his windows in snow in the ditch.

“A knight of the road pulled his 70-foot rig to the shoulder, smiled, waved, dragged his chains off the headache rack and was pulling them toward the Lincoln through boot-filling snow when the Lincoln driver zapped his window down, and hollered, ‘Be careful of that bumper, boy!’

“Trucker Doug spun on his cowboy-boot heels, hung his chains back on the rack, smiled and waved as he drove away.”

Attitude counts on, and off, the road. Actually, it’s an essential element.

When you toss in arrogance, it’s a mix that begs trouble, somewhere, sometime down the road.

“I’ve heard that story a hundred times,” some truckers say, so it has a life of its own, joining many, far more serious, mind-boggling, true tales of highway idiocy.

Surely a man wouldn’t tape his laptop computer to the steering wheel so he could work, on his way to work? He would, and he did. It’s in police records in Ontario. The woman eating her morning cornflakes, milk and all, in a bowl on her lap on the 401 is there too.

Out West, another man was spotted from the trucker’s high-rise seat, eating his lunch with a fork. So he was minding his manners and the speed limit of course.

There’s a word for them, but which one?

Here’s some from the dictionary so you can choose your own: Blockhead, boob, cretin, dimwit, donkey, dumbbell, dunce, fool, halfwit, ignoramus, imbecile, jackass, meathead, nitwit, pinhead, simpleton and stupid.

I hasten to add these are stories are from southern Canada, but remember when you’re traveling, those people are still out there — somewhere, and I’m told they could be here too.

This list won’t offend everyone because, according to sources, there are people driving our highways who can’t read road signs.

Which begs the question, which bureaucracy tested these people and issued them licences? Should the list of words be applied here too?

There’s only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience.

All these terrible tales faded as I fulfilled a boyhood dream, climbed into the cab of a Peterbilt tractor hooked to a super-B, with 2,000 kilometres ahead.

Driving with a pro in a rig almost 20 times heavier, and almost 10 times longer than your average four wheeler puts you in a driving world you’ve really never seen, nor imagined.

We began the journey fully loaded, in rush-hour traffic. The first shift is smooth, the second, third and fourth smoother, the rig is purring like a kitten, OK, like a big 550-horsepower cat. In five minutes I’ve counted 16 shifts, up and down; there’s 18 gears to choose from, so I have no idea which one he’s using, so forget trying to learn that in a few minutes.

He positions the rig in the centre of the three westbound lanes on Edmonton’s Yellowhead, a concession to four-wheelers flitting around us. It’s like traffic chess, and he times it so well we’re stopped by one red light, through the whole city, and I don’t think he’s used the clutch since the first shift.

Now that’s experience, that’s timing — that’s driving! There’s some learning ahead, and it’ll be relaxing too, because you’ve learned one thing, you’re in the hands of a pro. A pro working in one of the biggest workplaces in the world — Canada’s highways and byways.

Real pros have the knack of making their work look easy. Even a cheechako, like me, could do it, I think.

A glance, front and rear at a rig 25.5 metres long, weighing in at 63.5 tonnes, and knowing there’s 50,000 litres of fuel behind you, kept from sloshing you off the road by baffles in the tanks, and super-B reality hits home. 

It’s 64 tonnes of fire moving at 70 to 90 kilometres per hour, and you wonder why all those people around you aren’t playing close attention to you?

They don’t.

One possibility, the road is merely a way to get to and from work; for the trucker the road, everyone, and everything on it is part of his work, including the weather.

We’re an hour west of the pumps on the east side of the city where our weight more than doubled when we filled the tanks with more than 18,000 kilograms of fuel.

That’s when the rig settled down like a weightlifter readying for a lift, and now rolls as smoothly and as comfortably as a Cadillac, but the comparison ends there.

You realize weight is the name of the game. He’s playing the weight, the length too, but the rolling weight must be under control every minute the rig is rolling.

Truckers partner the transmission, the engine and the “Jake,” controlling the weight of their rig like a skilful fisherman plays a fish when the fish is bigger and stronger than his line.

Brakes are a safety line too, but they can’t do it alone, as we can in our four-wheelers.

Four-wheelers is truck talk, mainly in truck magazines, describing the rest of us on the roads. 

Four-wheelers, they say, seldom use the braking power of the engine. We just hit the ABS brakes for Stop, and put the transmission in D for Go.

Some four-wheelers team them together, but they’re apparently a minority.

The safety experts tell us we’re missing the use of an essential element in the package of safety gadgets we have.

Maybe that’s the difference, and the problem together.

We’re proud of our work, but our workplace is stationery and the road is just how we get there.

The truckers are proud of their work, too, but the road is their workplace. A workplace as big as all outdoors, where everything is in motion; a workplace they must know intimately, including how their machine will react to the ups and downs, and the ever-changing conditions and players entering and leaving this unique workplace.

Despite the hard fact that over 90 per cent of everything we need, and use, comes to us by truck, many still curse trucks and truckers, especially on hills.

Four-wheelers are noted for it, and some of our remarks are inane, to say the least.

One woman told a local driver last summer they shouldn’t be allowed on the highways in the summer; they interfere with other people’s holidays.

Another wanted them banned from all roads during the day, which is a self-fulfilling wish in a way.

I guess he didn’t ask the obvious question, Why many truckers drive the midnight shift?

Almost all four-wheelers are in bed!

Pros have attitude. Their attitude is a calm demeanor, with the calmness emanating from experience, knowledge and comfort with their craft.

He’s at work, he enjoys it and he’s good at it. It’s as if he’s part of the machine, sensing its moods, its moves, playing the highway traffic chess game, anticipating the moves ahead, reading the sky, the gauges, planning 10, 20, 100 kilometres ahead — where to stop, where to eat, checking with brothers at the wheel on conditions around, ahead and even behind.

It is indeed a fascinating never-ending, ever-changing workplace, with beauty and danger at every corner, variety almost beyond belief.

Canada moves by truck. If it’s a mountain you want moved, it’ll take time, but one day it’ll be where you want it and truckers will have done it.

If you’re interested in a job behind the wheel, contact the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council at  or write Ste 203, 720 Belfast Rd., Ottawa, ON, K1G 0Z5, phone 613-244-4800. Part of a series.