No Heroics Please, We’re Truck Drivers

Avatar photo

The term “hero” is greatly overused these days. The meaning has been watered down so that it no longer means an exceptional person who does a great deed while disregarding an elevated degree of personal risk so that he or she can save others from peril. One television commercial I recently watched suggested that one can become a hero by merely buying the right kind of automobile insurance.
But many members of the trucking community really are heroes and sponsors like Bridgestone and Goodyear run yearly competitions and nominations to celebrate those acts of bravery and self-sacrifice. Truckers are the backbone of the highway community and it only makes sense that they sometimes function as first responders at an accident scene.
Take the case of Mel Farnell, a driver for Tupling Farms Produce, who was making a delivery May 13, 2011 when a car veered int his path, colliding with his truck head on. The collision caused Farnell’s tractor trailer to jacknife and begin leaking fuel. Farnell was able to approach the car and rescue a semi-conscious motorist from his vehicle shortly before the car exploded. For his actions, Farnell was given the runner up award in Goodyear’s annual Highway Hero Award—one wonders what the winner had to do to beat this!
There are many cases of extraordinary bravery among Canadian truck drivers. Even in my workplace at Purolator, I can cite several selfless actions that saved lives among my fellow drivers. Johnny “Five” Van Lubeek, taken from us too soon by Lou Gehrig’s disease, rescued and elderly motorist from a burning car in Scarborough back in 1994. A few years ago, my colleague Harveen Bajwa came across a bad truck crash on the 401 near Morrisburg. One driver was in shock and pinned in the wreckage. Bajwa put out the fire in the truck and stayed with the driver until help arrived (it was 20 below Celsius at the time). More recently, Paul Homier witnessed a small vehicle being smashed by a run away dump truck on the 400 highway (the truck driver had apparently passed out from an insulin reaction), and offered first aid and comfort to the stricken family in the car until an ambulance arrived.
To be clear, I’m not downplaying the hero aspect when it comes to truck drivers. But it’s not like these acts of bravery in this profession are rare. Rather, the kind of life-saving actions mentioned above are usually the norm, rather than the exception when it comes to truckers.
Years ago, I did I ride along with constable Bettina Schwartze of the Brighton, Ont. OPP, who was at the time better known as “Goldielocks”, her CB handle in that particular corridor of the 401. I’ve lost track of Ms Schwarze since that time but I made some notes on what she told me. She related several events where truck drivers had helped her in difficult or dangerous situations, whether by helping her to close down a highway, slowing down an intoxicated driver or reporting on a wrong-way vehicle. “They’re up and down the highway and see so many things,” she said. “Often they’re the first ones to come on an accident.”
But it’s what she told me next that has stuck with me. “Most of the good truck drivers are very humble,” she said. “They’re life-smart. I’ve always admired people who could deal with practical situations.”
So heroics aside, it’s this life-smart, quiet dignity that I’m looking for as an example for an upcoming feature. I think there’s a Yiddish word that best exemplifies this kind of character. The word is “mensch” and it literally means a person of honour and integrity. A mensch always puts in an honest day’s work, and will never let you down in the crunch. Nor will a mensch ever mess with you. Rather, a mensch will do everything to make sure a load is delivered safely and on time. A mensch is someone you can count on; you can trust your family or any cargo with a mensch. A mensch will never do a half-assed job, or cut corners or rip you off. A mensch is not a whiner, whinger or a con artist. You can put your trust in a person like this, and you know they will do the best they can in every situation and bring all their abilties to bear on a problem. A mensch is someone who is good to have around when things go teribly wrong.
And the trucking industry is full of drivers like this. You don’t see them or hear them because they’re almost invisible. They do their job but don’t expect any kind of adulation. For them, a job well-done and a full and fair pay packet is reward enough.
I want to hear from you if you know a driver like this. How can you tell who they are? Their work ethic is paramount to them, these are not filchers or doggers. These are drivers that would go out of their way to help you with a problem whether they are on or off duty. These are ethical and responsible people, usually family people, and usually made of high moral fiber, the kind of people we’d like to have as neighbours or colleagues. These drivers are highly competent, skilled at what they do and love their jobs. When they say or do something, they mean it, and there’s this thread of dignity, decency and humility that runs through these folks—simply the best people in our profession. Do you know someone like this?

Avatar photo

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.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.


  • I fyou ask me ever trucker out there deserves a medal yearly. There 400000 truck drivers in Canada so I am told if you go by that you can they avoid 3 accident a week with the 4 wheeler and I am not talking about the 4 wheeler who made a mistake every person who has driven has made one behind the wheel.I am talking about the 4 wheeler that thinks the trucker life is there for him to play games with. So do the math 400000 times 3 times 52 = . This number should be subtracted from the amount of accident we are involved in every year where we are a fault see how that compares. Like I said we all make mistakes behind the wheel.

  • I think you’re right Terry. Truckers save lives just by being truckers. Years ago I came across a crash on ramp between 427 north and 401 west. This steel hauler, coming southbound, had left the hammer down and rolled right off the ramp onto the one I was taking. As I recall an Erb driver was right behind the rollover when it happened and worked hard to get this guy out. I never saw the aftermath as an OPP had me back up down the ramp, but that guy worked on this driver and stayed with him until the jaws of life could arrive.
    This happened about 8 years ago, when I was driving for Weston’s, and I asked Erb safety manager Tom Boehler about this driver. He couldn’t recall the incident but he told me a couple of other things that had happened since: one of his drivers came across a person lying on the road near Burford, and another driver assisted in getting a load of pipe of a driver who couldn’t breath up in Peterborough.
    Erb recognizes these drivers with their superb award, but I have a feeling every carrier or fleet has drivers like this who have given first responder assistance. That’s why I was making the point that truck drivers, the good ones at least, aren’t heroes, their truck drivers. The hero stuff comes with the job naturally
    By the way I’m off to the last annual Loggers’ Games in Maynooth Ont. this long weekend. This is a great event, with prizes for the best load of logs, best load of lumber, fastest forklift driver, chainsaw carving, and you can win a tandem load of firewood.
    It seems the committee was getting tired of holding this event, the nature of trucking and logging is changing in the area, and the same guys seemed to win the prizes year after year. But I’m really impressed with this beautiful area of the North Hastings Highlands, lots of new businesses, butter tarts, the Arlington Hotel even has a jazz festival now. I’ll post some pictures on my return.

  • yes i would say 99.99 % of truckers are the greatest people on earth me i have saved uncoutable lives and every one i know has many true stories that just make me shutter me i have pulled a guy out of the wabasquaw river north of slave lake alberta 1983 after my truck broke threw the ice bridge my buddy mike stoped a 40 ft f/d and truck with his bare hands so it wouldnt squish his friend that later drove a pilot car for me the stories go on and on, larry from abbotsford still laffin and luvin cause i had a invisable rider to help out now and again i’ve been driving these toys since 1974