That little is written about truck culture and history might surprise some. After all, it’s been such an important trade on this continent since early European settlement, and only until recently (2006 census) has it been displaced as the number one occupation for Canadian males. But compared to the volumes of text devoted to railways, we’re almost an empty shelf. This is puzzling considering the large numbers of people involved in antique truck collecting and restoring. Surely they understand that there’s a narrative accompanying their recreations and treasures. But the lore, stories, canon, and historical record of trucking is largely oral, and not enough of it gets passed down.
That’s why it was such a treat to discover 100 years on Trucking in British Columbia by Andy Craig (Hancock House, 1977). I found it several years ago in the stacks of the Scott library at York University (I hope it’s still there). Athough long out of print, some used copies can be bought on Amazon.ca from $90 to $248. This is a far cry from the golden days when Andy himself used to travel to truck shows and sell the book out of his 1936 Indiana open top 2 ton. He had a narrow bunk built into the box’s nose where he slept when he was on the road.
You can see his red and silver Indiana near the front door of the Teamsters and Freight Carriers Museum in Port Coquitlam, BC ( a suburb of Vancouver), where it still gets out for parades and Canada Day celebrations. He and his Indiana were honoured by the citizens of British Columbia when they were the first to roll across the newly-completed Coquihalla Highway in 1986, a year before he passed away. The highway is an engineering marvel that runs from mountaiin hip to mountain hip, between Merritt and Hope, B.C., and cuts a couple of hours off the old Franser Canyon route.
Andy Craig was an industry pioneer who started trucking for his father in 1929 driving a Model TT Ford dump truck with an “Armstrong” manual hoist. In 1937, along with a couple of associates he started Inland Motor Freight running the Indiana between Vancouver and Penticton. He must have cut quite a figure. Early photos show him in knee-high boots wearing a rakish cap. As he writes in 100 Years of Trucking: “High boots, jaunty caps and leather breeches were the truck drivers’ garb for the long and hard treks through the Fraser Canyon in the 20s and 30s.
“In those days we hauled everything you can imagine on the up trips; and on the down-trips we searched the country over to get contracts on ore, mercury, hides horses, cattle, pigs, wool, canned goods, kegs, empty beer bottles, and everything else that would make up a load.”
Wayfreighting, was a means by which drivers could supplement their income. As the driver drove through the towns, he’d often be asked to deliver a suitcase or a crate to a destination along his route.
“Way-freighting wasn’t much fun in the worst seasons of the year, when we were fighting miles of unploughed snow, or in the spring break slugging through gumbo. It still makes me shudder to think of those stops in deep winter, when you dropped from the heat of the cab into the shock of freezing weather, then the trip around to the tail-gate, and frozen ropes. And the tarp stiff as a piece of steel. Before you got the tarp on the roof, and sorted through the load for the pieces to be delivered, then wrapped everything up again and collected monies due, and got the waybill signed, your fingers would be so stiff and chilled that for miles after you would be sitting first on one hand then on the other to bring back the circulation—and man, how they would hurt! And meanwhile you were still trying to shift gears and keep the rig on the road, and thinking, “Damn the way-freight!” You modern drivers are lucky; you don’t have a clue what it was like. All you do now is drop off a semi-trailer, couple on another and away you go.”
Craig goes on to describe the very tough driving conditions of that era: “Washboard, slides, gumbo, and narrow twisting up and down, in and out, on rutted, rotten, dirty roads…We seldom made a trip without finding some unlucky soul who had hit a rock slide, or gone over the bank, or broken through an old bridge…Two of the worst problems for drivers were metal fatigue, where a ball socket or spindle might break; and brake failure, when you really had to look out because the load of freight was so high behind it usually rolled the truck over…Most of us had gray hair prematurely, and a nervous stomach, and the bad habit of smoking two or more packs of Millbanks a day.”
Craig enlisted in the army during the second world war and worked at various logging operations in the post-war period, finishing off his career at Hayes Mfg.–a fitting role for a great Canadian trucker, to end up working for a great Canadian truck manufacturer (Hayes trucks are legendary throughout the world, especially in the logging industry). Andy must have shed a tear when the plant was closed in 1975 after being sold successively to Mack and Paccar.
But it’s the writer Andy Craig that I’d like to thank. The rest of Canada has its share of trucking history (although it’s disappearing almost daily with the passing of the old masters), but it was in the mountains of British Columbia that the real trucking was done.
Early Hayes pulling more than its share!
End notes: One more crack at the Dave Nemo trucking show on XM Sirius radio this Wednesday Dec. 9th at 9am Central, 10 am Eastern. This is the legendary Dave Nemo who should also take a bow…the Larry King of Truck Radio, he’s been the trucker’s friend and companion since I can recall picking up Dave Nemo’s Road Gang on AM radio early in the morning in the 1970s, usually from WWVA, Wheeling West Virginia, or somewheres like that. He should write a book, too. These days he does his show for satellite radio from Nashville, Tenn.
Kudos to Nemo for taking an interest in trucking history and my Canadian contributions. This week, I think we’re going to talk about the Alaska/Canada highway built in response to the expectation of a Japanese attack on Alaska.; trucking heros like Andy Craig, Highway Hank Stroud, and maybe the Cannonball TV show that was filmed in Toronto in 1958 and had repercussions right into the Whitehouse, with supporting actors like JFK, Sam Giancana, Old Blue Eyes and of course the Klingon Empire. You’ll have to tune in to find out more. Keep the shiny side up!
Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.
With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude. All posts by Harry Rudolfs