RED DEER, Alta. -They came from across the prairies, big rigs festooned with the latest and greatest add-ons, accessories, gewgaws, and gadgets. They came to show off, to hang out, and to catch up.
The Alberta Big Rig weekend, held this year in conjunction with the AMTA’s Alberta Provincial Truck Driving Championships, staked out a location at Red Deer’s Westerner Park, a new venue for the event. But the concept -and the camaraderie -has been around for a while.
“We don’t try to make it too formal,” says event organizer John White. “The weekend itself is a truckers’ family weekend. You’ll see trucks pull up and there’ll be someone sitting in the jump seat and a couple of faces peeking out from the sleeper and they’ll stay all weekend.”
White says the original concept, as proposed to him by a trucker, was for just such a family weekend, “and it’s worked out really well.” The Alberta event, which ran June 19-20, included such kid-friendly attractions as a “bouncy castle” and friendship-enhancing things like a Saturday afternoon dance and light show.
“We used to have racing when we were at the race track,” White remembers, “but unfortunately that’s not happening anymore; it’s just too difficult to coordinate, to get the times and the weekends that work for us.” Despite the loss of the attraction, however, White stresses that the event remains popular more for its fellowship quotient than its overall excitement.
“Guys will come out and they’ll know 75% of all the people here,” White says, “and of those people they’ll probably not see 70% of them until the next year’s show, and they just pick up where they left off. That’s the way it is and that’s the whole idea of the show.”
It’s also a good way to put a human face on the truckers that so many in the public appear to choose to hate.
“These are the guys out on the highway who really project the right image to the public,” White says. “When somebody sees a nice truck (like these) going down the road they don’t say ‘There’s one of those rotten truckers’ or anything like that, they say ‘Wow, look at that truck!’ And that’s what we really want to try to do, to get that (impression) out.”
The six previous Big Rig Weekends were held in Calgary, and before that the bash kicked off originally at Budweiser Park in Nisku, south of Edmonton, at the racetrack there. “The guys in Calgary were great,” White says, “and they saved us when we needed somebody, but circumstances changed (and we had to move on).”
Another compelling reason to choose the Red Deer venue was to coordinate the event with the AMTA Roadeo. “They’ve been asking us for a while now to see if there’s some way we could work together,” White says. “The whole idea is to get the full coverage, so you have more than one thing going on. The Truck Roadeo is great if you’re involved in it but it’s not a real spectator sport -it’s precision driving and the guys who do it are the best of the best, but at the same time you really have to be a driver or know someone who’s competing to appreciate it. You can’t just sit there and watch it.”
Which makes the Big Rig showcase a good fit, a chance for people who may be restless at the championships, to get up and do something that’s still truck-related.
Beyond the trucks, White says it’s also the quality of the truckers and their families who turn out that helps make the event so popular.
“Of all the shows we’ve ever held and every place we’ve held them,” he says, “the management of the venues have always said the truck drivers who come out to our shows are the most well-mannered they’ve ever had from a large group.”
That, he says, really says something for the truckers in general: that they’re good people, professionals who are there for the long, er, haul. “It’s not just a job with them,” he says. “I think that’s the basis of our show. We attract the guys that are here for a long time; they bring their families out and they come out for the weekend.”
This is the first year a tow truck category has been included in the shown’n’shine, White says. “Up to this point they’ve always competed in Specialty Trucks, but the (organizers) wanted to bring out more trucks and more guys and to compete against each other.” Another category split up this year was truck/trailers, which now includes company truck/trailer and owner/operator truck/trailer. And the sleeper unit category was divided in three: 1999 and older, 2000-2005 and 2006 and up.
Hot on the heels of Red Deer came the 10th annual B.C. Big Rig Weekend, held at Heritage Park in Chilliwack. “That one has consistently been the largest one in western Canada,” says White. “We get anywhere from 120 to 175 trucks out to that show. It’s not as big as the ones back east -it’s not a Fergus show by any means -but we don’t have the big fleets like they get there.”
White says it’s mostly owner/operators who turn out, including participants from Vancouver Island and “a lot of unusual trucks that you don’t often see that come over. We get quite a few more antiques from the different areas, too.”
White says he’s noticed a trend over the past decade or so in which trucks in general have picked up in appearance, a good part of which he credits to the various truck shows. “Truck shows themselves put the pride in there and the guys want to keep their trucks clean all year round and the public sees that,” he says. “It’s a great image to project for the public, and that’s huge for us.”