TORONTO, Ont. - Take a trip to your local library or book store and you'll find plenty of books on the shelves dedicated to the iron that can be found running up and down our highways. But it's much m...
TORONTO, Ont. – Take a trip to your local library or book store and you’ll find plenty of books on the shelves dedicated to the iron that can be found running up and down our highways. But it’s much more difficult to find a good book about the men and women who pilot those big rigs.
I was pleasantly surprised when a copy of a new book about the trucking industry crossed my desk. Every Highway – Riding Shotgun in the Big Rigs is a book written by well-known sports writer Dave Feschuk.
He spends thousands of miles and countless hours travelling with Canadian truck drivers to chronicle their lives and tell their stories.
In the introduction, Feschuk writes “I have chosen to travel with truckers, to mine their stories and probe their feelings, because their work is more important than most people know.”
Throughout his book, this sense of sincerity is omnipresent. Feschuk is clearly enamoured with the oft-misunderstood world of trucking and the people who drive the industry. It’s obvious Feschuk wrote this book from the passenger seat of the big rigs in which he travelled from coast-to-coast-to-coast and not behind a desk in downtown Toronto with a telephone glued to his ear.
It’s written from the trenches, which will be appreciated by anyone who’s been there.
He takes readers along for the ride on a run from the GTA to California, Toronto to Vancouver, from Texas to Arkansas and even along the ice roads of Canada’s Arctic.
The characters he rides with are as colourful and diverse as the scenery he describes seeing through the windshield.
For those familiar with the Canadian trucking industry, reading Every Highway is much like catching up with some old friends at your favourite truck stop. You may even recognize some of the drivers featured in the book.
There’s Denne Kornechuk of St. Mary’s, Ont. for instance – who you may recognize from a past issue of Truck News. He’s a dead ringer for Popeye the Sailor Man, complete with pipe and sailor’s hat. He laments to Feschuk that trucking “has gone all to rat shit.”
He fondly recalls the days when a company would give you 12 hours for a run from Toronto to Windsor along the old one-lane #2 Highway.
While Kornechuk speaks frankly about the industry’s failings, other drivers featured in the book describe the allure of the open road.
Devi is a female trucker (or international freight relocation technician, as she prefers to call herself) for Winnipeg Motor Express. Her usual passenger is a Shar-Pei named Posh (who was begrudgingly relegated to the sleeper while Feschuk stole her usual spot in the front of the cab).
Despite the challenges of toiling in a male-dominated industry, Devi can’t imagine doing anything else.
“Drivers always say they have diesel fuel running through their veins and it totally controls you and runs you,” the 34-year-old female driver told Feschuk. “They say they hate it, but as soon as they get out of the business, most of them, they don’t know what to do with themselves. They get claustrophobic in their own city and their own town, and that’s the way I am now.”
And then there’s Alden Paul, a driver for Robinson Enterprises who takes to the North each year to haul supplies to diamond mines in the Northwest Territories. Despite some unseasonably warm weather, Feschuk was able to accompany Paul on the slow-paced drive to a camp en route to the mines while the northern lights illuminated the sky.
“The sign of the morphing waves of light, which I haven’t seen since I was a child at a Northern Ontario cottage, jolts me further awake,” writes Feschuk. “Aurora borealis bursts through the scattered clouds like a neon green arrow, like alarm-clock numbers in your bedroom. Alden yawns loud and long.”
While paragraphs like that one may make some readers consider trading in their 9-5 job in favour of life on the open road (like Helen, a personal banking officer who gave up a cushy bank job to pursue a career as a trucker), they are tempered with doses of reality that paint a bleak image of the industry and its future.
The drivers Feschuk travels with invariably complain of the long hours, low profit margins and difficulties of living out of their truck.
Feschuk’s commendable research validates their complaints. While most of the statistics and figures Feschuk cites will be familiar to regular readers of Truck News, they will undoubtedly be an eye-opener to readers that aren’t well-informed about the trucking industry.
Not all the stats Feschuk quotes are flattering.
For instance, he writes: The average trucker works 3,000 hours/year compared to the 2,000 hours/year put in by most blue collar workers; the churn rate among drivers is as high as 130%; estimates suggest US truckers put in so many illegal hours that the industry would have to hire 130,000 additional drivers to stay legal; and 19% of truckers reported falling asleep at the wheel at least once. (Feschuk also goes to great lengths to provide Canadian data wherever possible).
But while the book may not do much to alleviate the industry’s driver shortage (and that certainly wasn’t its intent), it’s by no means an attempt to bash the industry.
Instead, it paints a fair (albeit, somewhat disturbing) picture of the industry as it stands today.
Feschuk taps into the conscience of the Canadian truck driver and provides a unique insight into what weighs on their minds and what keeps them going.
Whether you’re a veteran driver or a curious observer of the trucking industry, Feschuk’s Every Highway – Riding Shotgun in the Big Rigs, is a must-read.
The book is published by McLelland & Stewart and is available in book stores such as Chapters now.