Truck News


Riding shotgun with a paraplegic truck driver

As I’ve written in the past, one of the things that makes the trucking industry so compelling to write about is its people. The Canadian trucking industry is comprised of hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life. And practically every one of them has an interesting story to tell.
Let me introduce you to Mike Dingler, an owner/operator with International Truckload Services (ITS) in Belleville, Ont. Mike works the nightshift, running drop-and-hook domestic loads between ITS in Belleville and customers in the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton and Brantford to the west and Cornwall and Brockville in the east. What’s extraordinary about Mike, is that he does all this despite being confined to a wheelchair.
I recently spent an evening with Mike, as we ran a load of paper from ITS’s Belleville yard up to the space it leases from Maritime-Ontario in Brantford and then back to Belleville with an assortment of general freight. I’ll be telling his story in the June issues of Truck News and Truck West. But when I have a good story to tell, I have a really hard time keeping it to myself – even just temporarily – so I’ll share a few details with those of you who frequent this blog.
Mike is 44 years old and has always been mechanically inclined, spending his younger days tearing down engines, transmissions and other components and then carefully reassembling them. He lived on a farm in Durham Region and was comfortable operating heavy trucks and farm equipment from a young age. At the age of 20, he fell asleep while driving a pick-up truck with a load of wood and careened 151 feet off a dead-end road before a large tree abruptly stopped the truck in its tracks.
“I never broke one bone in my body but it tore the main aorta from my heart. I don’t remember anything,” he told me. Mike was airlifted to Sunnybrook Hospital and once stabilized, sent to the renowned Lyndhurst Centre for rehab. They were to teach him how to use his wheelchair, but after several weeks of being put off by doctors, Mike called a buddy to come pick him up. He left the rehab centre and learned how to get around in the wheelchair on his own.
Since then, Mike’s been getting by on a $1,000 monthly disability cheque and doing odd jobs to make ends meet. He decided he wanted to earn a better living, get off disability and improve his lifestyle. So, he did what most of us would consider unthinkable and decided to pursue a career in trucking.
Of course it wasn’t easy. There are few, if any, paraplegic truck drivers out there, so off-the-shelf driving aids weren’t readily available. Mike found a 2004 Freightliner with a Meritor automatic transmission on Kijiji and traded his pick-up truck for it in a straight-up swap. He then built his own hydraulic lift system to get him in and out of the truck and installed controls allowing him to work the throttle and brake by hand. Mike then had to get the entire system approved by the MTO.
Next up, he needed a job. Mike went to work with Musket Transportation but when the contract he was serving went away, he moved on to ITS. Chris McMillan, field operations manager with ITS, told me Mike quickly proved his abilities during the road test.
“Belleville has some really interesting corners and after the first hard right-hander at the bridge downtown, I knew that Mike would be a great addition to the ITS family,” Chris told me. Still, the company wasn’t planning to treat Mike any differently than any other company driver or owner/operator. Nor did Mike want special treatment.
Mike’s been working at ITS for a couple months now and by all accounts is doing a great job. He does his own pre-trip inspections and even more remarkably, most of his own maintenance, including oil changes. He has a forklift in his shop to which he’s attached a platform to the forks so he can raise himself up to whatever height is necessary to perform maintenance and repairs. He has also welded together two creepers, so he can get underneath the truck without his feet dragging along the ground. It’s a good thing too, as repairs have been plentiful. In his first weeks with the truck, the starter, clutch and air compressor all needed replacing. Welcome to life as an owner/operator, Mike.
Mike can couple and uncouple the trailers, but many yards park the trailers so closely together that he can’t get to the landing gear in his wheelchair. He has hired his cousin to come along with him to handle coupling and uncoupling. His assistant also earns his keep by running into any offices that aren’t wheelchair-accessible to pick up the required paperwork.
What’s unique about Mike is not only the fact he’s a paraplegic truck driver, but also the fact he goes about his business with a consistently positive attitude. He’s thrilled to be on the road and realizes he’s lucky to be alive. He hopes to one day get daytime work with ITS, but he’ll bide his time and earn it just like everyone else has to. He really doesn’t feel like anyone owes him a thing. His outlook is refreshing and invigorating.
This blog was intended to be a short glimpse into Mike’s life – a teaser, really – for the feature coming out in the June issues of Truck News and Truck West. I failed to keep it short, but believe me, I could go on much longer and I will do so in the print edition. This is a story you don’t want to miss.
Meanwhile, I want to hear your stories. Do you know any professional drivers with disabilities? How have they overcome the challenges that are inherent to the job?
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James Menzies

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.
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9 Comments » for Riding shotgun with a paraplegic truck driver
  1. RFX Inc. says:

    It is amazing to see what people can accomplish when they put their mind to it. Nice to see trucking has given this person a wonderful career.

  2. Ed Wait says:

    Nice story. I remember fueling up in Oklahoma City once and a driver pulled up along side of me to fuel up. I remember thinging to myself whata long time it was taking for him to get out of his truck and start fueling. Finally he exited his truck and once on the ground reached in to grab his crutches. Turns out he had cerebal palsy. He was out there working, making his own way even with that condition. It was very inspiring.
    Thanks for posting this.

  3. Reading the story has certainly humbled me. I’m amazed at how Mike has not only modified his truck, but secured some work for himself straight away. So many of us complain about ‘how hard done by’ we are, and how life should be easier for us. Then, there’s guys like Mike, with a handicap, who doesn’t take the time to whine, but sets his sights on overcoming his obstacles AND succeeds. Where there’s a will, there IS a way… and Mike has found it, by helping himself. Wait a go Mike!

  4. Great article James and giant salute to Mike.
    After reading a story like that I often think about all the whining I have heard over the years from people in the industry. We should all have Mike’s attitude and drive.
    great job!

  5. Tony Godsoe says:

    Fantastic it really shows to the rest of the whiners and lazy people in this country what a positive attitude and a great look at life can do for you. I recently left Alberta from a logging Job which is a whole story by itself. But I met an older trucker there who was in a very bad accident and lucky to be alive. He was told he would never drive again. He walked out of the rehab 21 days later on his own and went to the yard and got another truck and has been driving ever since. Great work Mike keep it up. I am an older person and have been asking Driver’s to take me out and give me some refresher training. But here in N.S. noyone wants to help. But you know what I am going to driver’s school somehow and regain my shifting skills like i used to have you just inspired me more. Thanks Mike

  6. G. Paul Langman says:

    What the world needs is more of this kind of attitude. Overcoming his physical disability is great, amazing, etc. and my strongest possible congratulations to Mike for that. However, what is really wonderful to hear is his attitude – “I am going to look after me”!!
    Reminds me of a trainee I was handed as a driver-trainer back in ’02. This guy was also on a disability pension for a quite different problem (ADHD). He had a very young family and said to me “My little girl isn’t going to school and have to say – my daddy doesn’t work, he’s on disabilty – No damn way! I can earn a living and I am going to!! This company says they will hire me if I can prove I can do the job and I’m going to do it.” And he did. He certainly has his problems, but he proved to me he could drive safely back then, had a heck of a work ethic, was dedicated to his employer, and I seen him recently sitting in the seat of his own truck. I am very proud to have helped him down the road a little. Attitudes like these guys have, make the rest of us look pretty bad some days!

  7. Don Hare says:

    Many thanks for ‘a day in the life’ (and then some) of the remarkable Mike Dingler. So many lessons in his story… I wouldn’t know how to single out the most important one. Mike’s courage– and sheer persistence– prove that ‘ability’ is a state of mind. Instead of asking IF we can do something, maybe we should just start by asking HOW we can do it.

  8. Tony Godsoe says:

    Dear Mike i just re entered the industry and am taking my refresher training with a lady driver she is a great and very humorous person, but also has Cancer what an inspiration you driver’s truly are. She has taught me more in 2 days trucking than i could ever have learned from most Truckers in Alberta. Keep on Trucking.

  9. Jason Pipoly says:

    Hi I would love to find out how Mike used the hydraulic lift to get him up in the seat. I’m 41 and would love to be a owner operator truck driver in Texas. If he could show me I could show the people that do my car and maybe they could help me with a truck. The story inspired me so much I have contacted the Department of motor vehicles here in Texas to see if they allow paraplegics drive the big rigs. I need to get back with them tomorrow. I have been on disability as well and want to earn my way and I tell you what I would love to do what Mike does. Please get back to me if at all possible. Thanks Jason

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