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Looking Back: It takes a steady hand to shift this vehicle

The Truck News family would be justified in thinking that this is the year their baby comes of age. Twenty-one, after all, is an important year ... it's when we all become adults in the eyes of those ...


The Truck News family would be justified in thinking that this is the year their baby comes of age. Twenty-one, after all, is an important year … it’s when we all become adults in the eyes of those who serve beer across the border.

But if we are to think in the terms of Truck News coming of age, I guess that I have the distinction of saying I was editor during the magazine’s formative years, when it was an irreverent teenager.

It’s funny, really, when you look at the memories that stick with you. I can recall everything about my first day on the job and attempting to wrap my head around a Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminar presentation describing the way driveline angles affect torsional vibrations. For that matter, I can still clearly picture the Toronto pool hall in which I was interviewed for the job only a few weeks before.

Granted, the seminar wasn’t the story that would dominate these pages in the months to come. My introduction to the trucking industry marked the year when the names of the late Angela Worona and James Tyrrell came to be synonymous with the deadly power of runaway truck wheels. Truck safety blitzes that hardly captured any attention in the past became front-page news. For a while, anyway, the general public actually demonized the trucks that stocked their store shelves.

Of course, the life of the trucker is never easy. The years that followed included promises of new hours of service rules (that never came), pledges for common safety standards (that never materialized), and never-before-seen spikes in fuel prices (that bankrupted all too many truckers). Those crossing the border had to face drug tests for the first time, emission controls moved to the fore, and – like all things mechanical – trucks found new ways to break down.

But our team always endeavored to tell the truckers’ story when nobody else would listen, to dig up the facts that truckers needed, and to offer a perspective on issues that actually meant something to those who sat with their belly to the wheel.

That was no easy job. Pat Cancilla (now the editor of the National Post’s automotive section) and I were the sole editorial staff when I first joined the Truck News team.

But our business – just like many fleets – grew in the industry’s boom times. Two editors became three when I hired John Curran as an assistant editor from his job at The Daily Press in Timmins. Motortruck, once a competitor from the standpoint of collecting information, became a true partner.

The Internet became a part of our jobs when we launched trucknews.com and the idea of a daily news service. Pages printed exclusively on newsprint switched to a slick, glossy paper. I managed to earn a Class A licence of my own. A former co-worker by the name of Edo van Belkom became the writer of a fiction serial that, for once, showed truckers as the heroes. Jamie Bowen offered his ink and wit to a new editorial cartoon.

And on, and on.

Don’t let me lead you to believe that this was a Utopia. We had our share of frustrations. Computers locked up at the worst possible time. Nerves frayed after weeks on the job without a break.

Editors argued with sales people, who battled with the production department, who argued with editors, and ’round we went.

But I believe beyond a doubt that we were passionate about Truck News because we cared about this magazine like it was a member of our family.

It’s not unlike the reason that truckers remain behind the wheel despite the hardships they often face.

Let’s face it. Trucking can be a grimy, demanding and oft-thankless job. It certainly isn’t as pristine as the rigs that roll along open highways in promotional videos. But I can tell you that after you step away from the industry, you seem to filter out those images in favor of the ones that bring a smile to your face.

I can still hear the sound that a General’s gears made as I attempted to downshift a truck for the first time. Since Brenda Grant admitted last month to kissing a cod fish, I should also admit to vague memories of tossing a few too many toasts with Canada’s Driver of the Year in Halifax, with a sou’wester hat perched on my head. (It’s strange that both our favorite memories of the East Coast involved alcohol!)

Then there were the intense travel schedules with truck writers from across North America who became a fraternity of sorts, in which the term “truck writer” was a badge of honor.

Some truisms will always stick with me because of my time in the editor’s chair.

I know that truckers, for example, will always be the most down-to-earth people that I will ever know. Truck stops will always serve the best breakfasts, whether you’re at the Husky in Brandon, Man., the Ten Acre in Belleville, Ont., or the Flying J outside Nashville, Tenn. And you’ll never see a look of pride that equals the look on a trucker’s face as he shows off his rig at a show and shine.

Perhaps that’s why I feel there will always be a trace of diesel in my veins, no matter what job I hold.

Without a doubt, there will always be a trace of Truck News.

Happy birthday kid.

John G. Smith was the editorial director of Truck News, Truck West and trucknews.com from 1995 to 2000.

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Truck News

Truck News

Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.
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