50-year journey nears its end

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REXDALE, Ont. – Paul Clancy is about to take a break after 50 years at the wheel – 40 of which he has spent as an owner/operator.

He’s retiring from the world of High-Tech Express. And he’s retiring from a business that’s far different now from the one he joined in 1949, when he filled an opening at a Toronto moving company after his cousin quit.

He still remembers that first White truck, powered by a Number 16 gasoline engine, that was fueled at a cost of about 18 cents per Imperial gallon.

“And cold. Holy geez they were cold!” he says. During a run to Winnipeg, Clancy picked up a heater and returned with the bill. “I thought they were going to fire me,” he says. “But I had to do it.”

Duties lasted 80 to 90 hours per week before the world of logbooks, and workers were paid 57 cents per hour for their time on a straight truck. It wasn’t long before Clancy eyed the trucks with 32-foot trailers, since those drivers were making an additional 35 cents per hour. By the time he was assigned to a run between Winnipeg in Toronto, he was making $1.05 per hour.

“That was a pretty good wage,” he says.

Top speeds hit 40 mph with the weights that still fell below 25,000 lb. And the trip to Winnipeg took four days.

“Now they want you to go to Vancouver in that.”

But there was no such thing as the Trans-Canada Highway to follow, since that route wouldn’t officially open until 1962. “We used to get towed by the bulldozers,” he says of trips through Northern Ontario, referring to the days when the highway was still being built. “You’d end up in the bush for a while … the mud was a foot on the road.”

But like many long-time truckers, Clancy laments the loss of days gone by.

“People don’t help people like they used to,” he says. “If you saw somebody stuck, you stopped to help.

“It’s different altogether today… Before, we were pretty well our own boss. Now it’s just a big rush.”

He doesn’t think many industry newcomers will last in trucking as long as he has. “I don’t think you’ll find many young fellows to stay out there that long,” he says. “They’re just looking for a quick buck.”

He’s turning the truck over to his son-in-law, Doug Birchard, who has shared driving duties with Clancy as a team for the past 15 years. n

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