CALGARY, Alta. – For nearly five decades Paul Rubak etched out an existence as an employee of the trucking industry, spending the majority of his tenure with Canadian Freightways.
The now retired Calgary resident was able to gain employment because of the groundwork laid by Chris Mikkelsen during the 1930s.
Chris Transport was a one-truck operation established in 1935 to serve rural Alberta between Lethbridge and Coutts.
With a little hard work and tenacity, Mikkelsen overcame the lean economic time of the 1930s and Chris Transport soon transformed into Canadian Freightways.
Mikkelsen’s tale of establishing a large fleet in Alberta is not unique.
All across the province a number of young entrepreneurs hitched their economic livelihoods to one-tonne trucks.
They travelled unpaved roads, worked long hours, drummed up business and paved the way for today’s trucking industry.
As a tribute to honour the trucking pioneers in Alberta, Rubak put pen to paper and in 2003 published his book, Big Wheels Across the Prairie: A History of Trucking in Alberta Prior to 1960.
“I wanted these people who founded the industry recognized and remembered,” noted Rubak from his south Calgary home. “It was an interesting exercise for me talking to all those people about when they started. I had hoped to do that when I retired anyway and this came together not intentionally but by accident.”
The exercise began for Rubak shortly after his retirement from Canadian Freightways in 1992. He began compiling short stories for the Alberta Chapter of the American Truck Historical Society newsletter.
As his base for the stories Rubak used tapes from interviews conducted in 1981 and 1982 by June Drinnan, wife of Bob Drinnan the general manager of the Alberta Trucking Association at the time.
The editor of the society’s newsletter was impressed with the short stories Rubak was compiling and urged him to take his project one step further.
“He said to me, you got the makings of a book here and should put it all together,” Rubak told Truck West.
“So I went and talked to some more people, like the Teamsters and got lists of the all the AMTA past members.”
When he found the time, Rubak continued working on the larger project of putting together the book.
The five-part book begins with a number of short stories on individuals who helped lay the foundation for the industry in Alberta. Many of the stories on the founding companies produce names still seen on today’s highways including Byers Transport, Canadian Freightways, Economy Carriers, Mullen Transportation and Sokil Transportation.
But the book aims to chronicle the founders of the industry, not just its successors and cements in writing the history of some of the pioneers who have faded over time.
“I saw a lot of guys who tried to start and didn’t make it and a lot that did of course,” explained Rubak.
“Some of them faded away, there are all kinds that went in and out of business.”
The overall longevity of the trucking industry in Alberta and its ability to persevere was as much circumstance of the times, as it was hard work.
“Naturally it’s because of the service trucks could give. The only two ways to move things was by rail or truck and that’s what happened in the ’20s and ’30s,” said the author.
“I know one fellow that said when they started in ’33 or ’34, there were no jobs to be had; but you could get a truck off the lot and he never looked back.”
The second part of the book features short paragraphs of trucking company foundations and in the third part, a list of operators is broken down by the cities and towns they were established in.
“I didn’t always have a lot to go on so I did what I could,” said Rubak.
In part four of the book, Rubak recounts the history of the Alberta Motor Transport Association and the Teamsters.
“I don’t know if they should have been put together, but that’s where they are,” he chuckled.
In the fifth and final part of the book the focus shifts away from the founders of trucking operations to a few notable figures that served the industry, which include a few drivers the author felt deserved to have their history recorded.
In his research and writing there were not too many instances where Rubak wandered into unknown territory.
“I started with trucks when I was 17 and quit when I was 63, so I had a pretty good idea what was in the industry,” he explained. “Although, the heavy-haul was interesting and something completely foreign to me; I had been in freight the whole time.”
During his time in the industry, Rubak had seen a number of changes and played a major part with provincial and national associations in developing new programs.
“I guess deregulation of the industry is one of the greatest changes I’ve seen. All of a sudden carriers operating around Alberta expanded all over the US,” he noted.
“I was involved in the first testing of triple trailers and did a lot of experimenting with Rocky Mountain doubles. They have been a boon to the industry.”
Following his tradition of wading into new territory, Rubak went the self-publishing route when the written project was completed in late 2003.
“I had a few extra dollars and just wanted this printed so I just went and had it published on my own,” said Rubak.
Since its release the book has been well-received and Rubak has shipped copies to Australia, Holland and throughout the US. The history book received recognition as the Book of the Year from the Petroleum History Society in 2005 and presented the author with a plaque.
“When he phoned me I thought he said he wanted to give the book as an award, but he wanted to give the book an award,” recalled Rubak. “So much of the history revolves around oil and moving rigs and he was impressed, so they presented me with an award.”
Earlier this year during the AMTA’s management conference, the association presented seminar speakers with a copy of Rubak’s book as a token of appreciation.
The finished product is dedicated to the memory of the pioneers of the trucking industry, but as history goes the stories of Alberta trucking continue to evolve.
“I could have kept going and still can. There’s more stories, but at 500 pages you have to say that’s enough,” noted the author.
For more information on the book or to order a copy, contact Paul Rubak at 403-249-0922.