NEW GLASGOW, N.S. - Charles Cooley, a beloved trucking pioneer and innovator, was laid to rest Oct. 27 after a battle with Alzheimer's disease. Cooley launched his trucking career in his mid-20s, as one of the first drivers hired by George and...
NEW GLASGOW, N.S. – Charles Cooley, a beloved trucking pioneer and innovator, was laid to rest Oct. 27 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Cooley launched his trucking career in his mid-20s, as one of the first drivers hired by George and Gloria Holmes when they founded G.W. Holmes Trucking in New Glasgow, N.S. Several years later, George passed away, leaving Cooley in a lurch.
“Charlie had a young family and wondered if he should look for work elsewhere,” recalled niece Jen Reimer. “He turned to (his wife) Marion and asked her what he should do; stay and try to help Gloria build the company, or find another job. She replied ‘Charles, it’s your decision,’ and so he set out to help Gloria build G.W. Holmes into the big steel haulers they became known as, all over the Maritimes.”
Cooley had a mechanical mind, which he inherited from his father Charles Sr. Cooley’s nephew Wayne Walker recalled the story of Cooley’s dad fixing the big diesel engine on a German ship that had been pulled ashore in 1939, despite having never seen a large diesel marine engine. Later, when Cooley’s father lost his eyesight, Walker said he handed him the parts of a disassembled six-cylinder engine from a 1952 Chevy and watched in awe as he rebuilt it, literally blind.
Cooley himself owned a number of trucks, and was partial to Hayes and Western Star trucks that were built in Canada. He purchased glider kits and assembled them himself, including installation of a 335 Cummins that would power his Western Star for many years.
Cooley’s family claims Charles was the first in the region to design a steer axle pole trailer, used to haul oversized bridge beams that were as long as 160 feet and weighed 65 tonnes.
“We remember Charlie and his mechanic ‘Cannonball’ taking the bogeys off a tandem trailer and putting their own steering axle on the unit,” Reimer recalled. “Charlie’s son Ray drove the newly designed steering ‘jeep’ that could negotiate tight corners that others couldn’t, especially in the narrow streets and alleys of Halifax.”
Under Cooley’s guidance, G.W. Holmes became known for its specialized haulage of oversized loads. In the 1970s, some jobs required Cooley to back 160-ft. bridge beams down a mile-long, narrow dirt road, so they could be loaded onto a barge and floated across the river.
“In those days, this was nothing short of a miracle and a task that few others could accomplish or even attempt,” Reimer said.
Cooley is also remembered for his human touch.
“He had such great listening skills,” Walker said. “He was such a friendly guy, he knew everybody and talked to everybody.” Believing you couldn’t work on an empty stomach, Cooley was known for handing lunch money to his drivers before they headed out on a delivery. He carried himself well. Walker recalled, “He was one of those guys who, even in work clothes, looked sharp all the time.”
Cooley instilled in his children and other offspring a passion for trucking. By the late 1980s, he had 19 sons and nephews who carried an A/Z licence. “And every one of those men are career truckers today,” Reimer said.
Cooley’s popularity in the region was evident at his funeral, with hundreds of guests lining up outside the Howard Angus Funeral Home in New Glasgow to pay their respects. He was 79.