Few people own their own cube van. Laurie Allen owned something even rarer—a homemade cube van.
“Every time that van left the yard, I would watch it break down at the corner,” she said. “Robert would come home and get tools to fix it before he could make his deliveries.”
The couple bought the van when they started R&L Freight Services Inc.
The business now has seven semi trucks and employs up to 12 people, freighting into Alberta and BC as well as the Yukon. And they’ve just got permits to start service to Alaska.
It is a big dream, but nothing would be too big for this determined and hard-working woman who combines running her business with raising a family of three girls and working for Liard First Nations in Lands and Resources.
“I thank God for my mother” Laurie says with fervour.
“My dad died before I was five and she raised four of us on her own. She worked at the schools and every morning she would make us a hot breakfast and pack our lunches. There would be a hot meal in the stove for us at night.
“We didn’t have a vehicle. And us kids used to have to haul the laundry every week to the laundromat—
summertime in a wagon, and wintertime on a toboggan.
“I was 15 when we got our first washing machine; it was the old wringer style. One time I got my hair caught in it. Good thing my brother was a quick-thinking kid; he cut the power and knocked the wringers apart.
“We were all expected to help with housework, and if we didn’t go to school, we had to get a job.”
Laurie chose to get a job; she waitressed, she clerked, and she drove a packer on the Alaska Highway before deciding to go back to school—with her son, Charles.
Her son started Grade 1 and Laurie started her upgrading at the Yukon College Watson Lake campus.
She was thinking she might become an accountant until she saw two moose carcasses at the dump.
“The horns were gone from one carcass, and the head from the other; all the meat was still there. I heard this voice in my head telling me I had to do something to protect wild animals.”
The two-year renewable resources course at Yukon College seemed the way to follow that vision.
She remembers those who helped and encouraged her.
“Jenny Skelton was my instructor and my mentor; she was really good to me. When I told her I was interested in the renewable resources program, she put me in touch with the regional biologist, Rob Florkiewiez.
“He got me doing animal surveys in helicopters and airplanes. He taught me how to read maps, how to use a compass and how to compile statistics. He and Jenny were both a huge help to me.”
She moved to Whitehorse, living with her son in residence at Yukon College. Again, she is grateful for the support she got there.
“I was even allowed to take Charles into some of my classes,” she marvels. “The instructors were great.”
Between her first and second year, Rob and his wife Mary, who was a contaminants specialist, hired her. “The best job ever—I got to drive all over the place, camp out, and collect plant specimens. I got a gas and food allowance and got paid. It was awesome.”
After completing her course, she lived and worked in Teslin for two years.
Then, one day, her son said, “You love your job more than you love me.”
That’s when Laurie decided to come home to Watson Lake, taking time off to be with her son.
She ended up doing some substitute teaching before starting work full time again with the Liard First Nation.
Her husband and business partner, Robert, came into her life a year after her move to Watson Lake.
They started freighting, with Laurie’s paycheque sustaining them while they grew the business.
“We bought Northwest Transport—on time, making payments. When it was paid off, we bought a Kenworth—on time again. Kraft Dinner!” she laughs. “We ate so much Kraft Dinner in those days.”
In 2001, Laurie was devastated by the death of her brother.
“It just about destroyed me,” she says. “After awhile, I knew I needed some help to deal with it.”
Grief counseling provided her with the resolution she needed, and the birth of daughter Coral helped her heal.
Four years ago she adopted her sister’s twin girls, Rebecca and Julie, now 12 years old.
The twins are thoroughly integrated into the family—Coral, at five, can’t remember life without them.
“I’d always been involved in their lives,” Laurie says. “I was even there for their mother’s pregnancy test.
“Lucky I got them when they were already toilet-trained.”
This last line is delivered with a grin.
Like every other resident of Watson Lake, Laurie finds small-town gossip unpleasant, but the perks of living in a place where everyone knows everyone are legion.
“It’s safe for our kids,” she says. “If they are in trouble, someone is going to help them, or tell me about it.”
After a lifetime in the community, she has not only got Mom and family, she has good friends here.
This doesn’t stop her from dreaming of retiring to Mexico.
“I really like the Mexican people; they are enough like us (the Kaska) to feel familiar in a way. They’re friendly—it’s comfortable for me there.”
Until then, she continues to invest her formidable energy into those things that make her happy—family and business.
Despite the fullness of her schedule, Laurie finds time to go camping with her family, and to watch her favourite TV program: Dr. House.
She is even finding the time to teach the twins to cook.
Watching them, you sense the beaches of Mexico will be waiting a long time before this woman is ready to retire.
Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer
who lives in Watson Lake.