Mark Dalton delivers the goods on fuel consumption

by Ingrid Phaneuf

TORONTO, Ont. – If a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, then it comes as no surprise that wise-cracking adventurer Mark Dalton, hero of the fictional series published in Truck News, should make it all that easier for old timers to stomach tips on how to reduce fuel consumption and save on costs.

After all, if the seasoned and smart-aleck Dalton is willing to learn a few new things, why shouldn’t they?

It was this kind of reasoning that led Natural Resources Canada’s FleetSmart program managers to approach Mark Dalton creator Edo van Belkom in 2003, with the idea of getting him to put Mark Dalton back on the road to deliver their message on fuel savings.

“FleetSmart contacted me around November 2003 about writing the book,” said van Belkom, who was recently presented with his third Aurora Award at the 2005 Canadian National Science Fiction Convention in Calgary, Alta., for his young adult fantasy novel Wolf Pack.

“It was Lynda Harvey who called me – she said she was a regular reader of Truck News and a big fan of the series and that she knew it was also very popular with truck drivers. Then she asked if I’d be interested in writing a novel with Mark Dalton that would incorporate the FleetSmart program.”

Until recently, the FleetSmart program was delivered to drivers in a classroom setting, when and if the company they worked for had the time or the inclination to provide it.

But this new three-part version, which includes a CD, the novel and a test to earn a certificate at the end, literally takes the program out of the classroom to the streets.

“We’re absolutely pleased with the book,” said Lynda Harvey, senior manager for the FleetSmart program.

“Not only did we get a great story that’s fun to read, but it’s also got great info in it. Obviously I’m biased, but even the editors that worked on it for the government, and you know how many edits something published by the government has to go through, said they enjoyed reading the book – even though they didn’t know anything about trucking…Edo did an extraordinary job of factoring all of the FleetSmart and SmartDriver info into the story.”

Classic Dalton

Indeed, the novel really does read like your classic Mark Dalton adventure, with the requisite truck jackings, chases and shoot’em ups, all the while imparting tips on fuel saving and safety measures like progressive shifting and circle checks.

But just because it looks easy, doesn’t mean it was, said van Belkom, adding he had a hard time at first coming up with a story line that would provide a believable context for the information that had to be included.

“They gave me the program and I read it through but it took me a while to devise a story line in which all the points of the Smart Driver program could be mentioned,” said Belkom.

“It took me a while to figure out a framework in which that would be possible – after all, Mark usually drives alone. In this case it was obvious he would need someone else to talk to, and as a novelist I know it’s always best if that person is antagonistic – a little friction is always good. To get all the information in I figured Bud would have a nephew, a young man who wants to be a driver, and that Bud would con Mark into driving with him and coaching him with some nice loads.

The caveat is that Jimmy (the nephew) has taken the FleetSmart program in a classroom situation and thinks he knows everything.”

On the way, the two learn more than a little from each other when it comes to fuel smarts and safety, and develop the kind of relationship comedy thrives on.

To make a long story short, it’s a great read and well worth the ride, especially given that it’s free.

Just contact Natural Resources Canada at 1-800-387-2000 or via Internet at

Available in English and French

The book is available in English and French and as an audio novel as well, on CD or cassette.

It’s part of a three-part program, so you have to order the first part – which is a CD with information about smart driving habits on it, and fill out and return the form requesting the book, also available in audio.

Part Three involves taking an online test, which will earn you a certificate that you can include in your portfolio. Getting credit for your all your hard work was never so much fun.

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