ORMISTON, Sask. — Like a naïve child with a longing to see the world through the looking glass of a “big truck”, Jadran Svestka was unaware what the life of a truck driver would entail.
But after 30 years behind the wheel, Svestka has found his stride, and has seen and learned a lot about the industry.
Before launching Jadran Svestka Global Transportation – one of the more recent members of the Saskatchewan Trucking Association – the Dutchman went to school for something much different than truck driving, to be a journalist. But if there was one thing he learned from his studies, it was that working in an office setting was not for him.
“Working in factories, I saw the big trucks, and the little boy in me wanted to drive such a big machine,” said Svestka. “I had read stories about drivers going all the way to Afghanistan, and oh yes, I wanted to be an adventurer.”
Despite his desire to be the Indiana Jones of the trucking industry, Svestka realized after getting his license that for someone lacking a technical mindset, driving a truck was scary.
And even now, after so many years in the industry, he still looks up to those he refers to as “real drivers.”
Svestka never made it to Afghanistan, but his driving took him across Europe and into Africa, and he often reminisces about what he called his adventurous years, when he drove old trucks that lacked the comforts of today’s, and living an independent life filled with a sense of freedom.
Those days ended for Svestka after losing his job due to downsizing, but it’s also when Canada first became a possibility to progress in his career.
“The only available jobs were supermarket distribution for agencies,” Svestka said of the European market. “I was done and needed something new, another horizon. I started thinking of Canada.”
He got a job with Rockport Carrier in Saskatchewan, but soon wanted to branch out and so something more.
“I arranged my departure in strange and intense months, wondering if I was doing the right thing and feeling like I was betraying my family and girlfriend,” Svestka admitted, who still hauls for Rockport but as an owner-operator.
It was then, that a Western Star 5700 with long, dark solar panels caught his eye, and everything came together.
Today, things are going well for Svestka. The months of planning and preparation had paid off, and he not only looks after his fuel-efficient truck, but takes what he does very seriously.
Svestka hauls mostly food in a dry van, a lot of potash, and anything else that he can into the U.S. and back into Canada.
Svestka is now building a shop that he can use to do aftermarket work on his truck, and save a few bucks in labor while he’s at it that can be better used to fly home a couple of times a year to visit family and friends.
Despite “the lousy salary he pays himself,” Svestka’s next endeavor is to see what it’s like to be an employer.
“My profit is big enough to pay a driver,” he said, adding that he had a chat with one of the owners of Rockport and was given the green light to pursue hiring an additional driver. “I am his best performing owner-operator. He finds me to be a weird man, but respects the way I operate.”
Svestka has yet to dig deep into the idea of hiring a new driver and has not done the math on whether it would work, but he has spoken to some old-school drivers who had some rather unexpected insights into the industry.
“Much to my surprise, both said that we have to get rid of combustion engines,” Svestka said. “The technology is completely outdated.”
Svestka said he rarely sleeps anymore at truck stops, as the noise and fumes from diesel engines bother him too much, and points out how truck manufacturers like Volvo and Nikola Motor Company are providing alternatives to the traditional combustion engine.
“I think the momentum is there…the technology is also there,” he said. “We don’t need to dig holes, pump up liquefied dead material in order to burn it to get power to get wheels rolling. It is time for something new.”
Svestka’s Western Star is a step in that direction. It enabled him to go idle-free without having to use an auxiliary power unit (APU).
Svestka found Mid Prairie Body Centre to install a solar panel on the hood and two on the roof that power a deep-cycle battery bank which powers all his in-cab components, such as the fridge, inverter, roof vent, and Webasto heating, cooling, and roof system.
“I can switch off the main power switch when I’m parked and have power for a few days,” Svestka said. “It’s wonderful…no fuel, no smells, no noise.”
Other features of his Western Star 5700 include an integrated driveline, downsped engine, automatic gearbox, and a self-installed single fuel tank. Though it only boast 400 hp, the truck packs 1,750 lb.-ft. of torque, more than enough, Svestka says, for 80,000lbs gross vehicle weight. He also wanted to go with a 6×2 single drive axle, but pointed out that they are not yet legal, something he hopes will change in the near future.
Svestka’s favorite feature, however, is adaptive cruise.
“The thing knows the grades, and shifts into e- coast when possible, sometimes even before reaching the summit,” he said. “Imagine, shifting your engine in idle, going upgrade, and it is always exactly the right moment.”
One thing that cannot be denied is that Svestka has embraced what technology the industry has at its disposal.
And others have noticed.
“Virtually always when I park up at a truck stop somebody comes to me for a chat about the truck,” he said, “but mainly because of the panels. The interest is clearly there. Quite a few colleagues told me they were thinking about putting them on, and I think they should.
“A shipper once thanked me for trying to make the world for his children a little cleaner.”