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?
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