Eyeing the future, remembering the past

by Derek Clouthier

EDMONTON, Alta. — With the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) celebrating its 80th anniversary at its Leadership Conference and AGM this year, Truck West takes a look at the association’s history, one that stretches back to a time when trucking was in its infancy.

History tells us that the first truck manufactured in Canada was by the Canadian Motor Syndicate in 1898. The start of the Alberta trucking industry occurred in the 1920s, with 4,362 trucks registered in the province by 1926.

In the U.S., Winton Motor Carriage Company also came up with the concept of the truck trailer in 1898. In the early 1900s during the First World War, the use of semi-trucks took off south of the border with the U.S. military using them to move supplies. By 1920, millions of trucks had hit North American roadways.

A year after the Canadian Trucking Association was formed, the AMTA was established in 1938 – the association later changed its name to the Alberta Trucking Association and back to the AMTA in 2008 – with Jim McGregor acting as its president until 1952. Its first female president was Sherry Orr in 1998.

Though much has changed since the association’s beginnings, the last couple of decades have seen several transitions in the industry due to an array of factors such as technology, regulations, and the attitudes of those involved.

Sherry Barge was the first and only woman to hold the position of AMTA board chairwoman from 1998-99.

Now vice-president, client executive and national transportation leader with BFL Insurance, Barge said trucking companies were not only willing to pay an association looking to improve the industry, but many senior leaders took the time to discuss and come up with solutions to problems.

“The AMTA board used to be up to 40 senior individuals. There was a strong networking component to the association,” said Barge. “However, with a board of 40, it took a long time to have decisions made and implemented. In many respects, the trucking industry was smaller but once deregulation happened in 1988, the industry was open to all who wanted to get into trucking.”

Despite those within the industry willing to give their time to help, Barge said attitudes from those on the outside toward those in trucking were not what they are today.

“In many ways, I found the public in the ’80s and ’90s did not respect the role that the trucking industry played in the economy. Truck driving and working at a trucking company was viewed as a lower class position,” said Barge. “Today, the image of the trucking industry has improved immensely. There is far more appreciation and respect for those working in the industry.”

Former AMTA president Lorraine Card said the association has evolved by traversing several potential roadblocks over time.

With a growing membership and stakeholder base, as well as the ever-increasing strength of its board of directors, Card underscored the AMTA’s designation as a certifying Partner through Partnerships in conjunction with the WCB, the addition of a second training facility when the Edmonton office was established, acquiring two mobile simulators, and the current development of a new facility at the Edmonton International Airport, complete with a five-acre driver training track as examples of progress.

Like Barge, Card is also proud of what Partners in Compliance (PIC) has accomplished over the years.

“We work closely with Alberta Transportation to continue to grow the program and recognize the carriers that continuously demonstrate safety excellence,” said Card.

Coming into the industry with experience in government and the transportation sector, Card said she cannot speak to how women in the industry have been treated over the last 80 years. She did say, however, that in her discussions with Paul Rubak, the author of the book Big Wheels Across the Prairie, he said that women have been the “steady hand of the industry.”

“The AMTA is currently in the midst of a big push to bring even more women to the industry through a number of initiatives,” said Card.

Some of those initiatives include bringing the Western Women with Drive Leadership Conference to Alberta, as well as the Bridging the Gap program to address workplace shortages of women, Indigenous people, and visible minorities – both efforts in collaboration with Trucking HR Canada.

The AMTA has also partnered with Women Building Futures, which trains women in traditionally male industries, and includes a Class 1 driver training program.

“It’s important to note that as more women enter the industry that we ensure the safety and security of all industry employees,” said Card, “and we continue to meet with the Alberta government on the development of appropriate commercial rest areas.”

In the face of all that has changed over the last eight decades, the most significant is yet to come, said Card.

The AMTA’s newly-minted head honcho will be tasked with managing all that future change. But that does not mean Chris Nash has lost vision of the past.

A former driver, Nash hauled freight along the Alaska Highway thinking he was a “super trucker” in his air-ride Kenworth.

“I was quickly humbled passing places like Sikanni Chief or Steamboat Mountain and looking at the old decommissioned roads alongside the highway I was driving on,” recalled Nash. “It made me think about past drivers running those old roads in a rubber block truck with a five-speed, 250 hp engine, split rims, no communication, scraping the windows from the inside in the winter, and driving in full winter gear because the heaters could not handle the cold.”

Nash said many drivers back then used to put their lives in danger on a daily basis, and were “much tougher than him.”

“The resilience needed to truck 80 years ago resulted in a lot of pride and a tightknit driver community,” said Nash. “I think trucking back then would be a shock to the 2018 driver, but thankfully we have all worked, and continue to work, to create a much safer world for drivers today.”

The challenges of today’s industry are different, but can be equally as daunting.

Creating regulations to help make the job safer, establishing better infrastructure, and more advanced vehicle designs were keys to the last 80 years, and like Card, Nash believes the next 80 will be most impacted by technology.

“Driver-assist technology, along with what will propel our trucks will dominate the next 80 years,” said Nash, adding that he feels the word “autonomous” is tossed around way too much. “The closest to autonomous we have now is rail, and they still have engineers, so our roads will need drivers for many years.”

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