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O/O of the Year boasts safe 50-year career

FERGUS, Ont. – Fifty years. Four million miles. No accidents. That stat line alone was enough to garner Harvey McDonald of Brantford, Ont. some special attention as a nominee for the 2012 Owner/Operator of the Year award.


FERGUS, Ont. – Fifty years. Four million miles. No accidents. That stat line alone was enough to garner Harvey McDonald of Brantford, Ont. some special attention as a nominee for the 2012 Owner/Operator of the Year award.

Digging further, however, it became clear there was a lot more to this year’s winner than just an ability to stay out of trouble on the road. McDonald was crowned the 2012 O/O of the Year at the Fergus Truck Show in front of hundreds of spectators. He was presented with a cheque for $6,000, a diamond ring, a special commemorative plaque and several armfuls of additional gifts from the award’s sponsors, Castrol, Mack and Goodyear. Supporting sponsor the Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada (OBAC) also presented him with a lifetime membership, and McDonald is clearly a fine addition to the organization’s ranks.

The soft-spoken McDonald began his trucking career a half-century ago when he started driving for his father, hauling gravel and wood around Kenora, Ont. Before long, the call of the open road beckoned and he began looking around for a truck to call his own. That first truck turned out to be a 1970 cabover GMC Astro that had been repossessed from its previous owner. McDonald leapt at the opportunity to go into business for himself and in 1974, he took the plunge. McDonald remembers the truck as though it were his first love – and in a sense, it was.

“It had been repossessed,” he recalled. “The truck had 20,000 miles on it and it was four years old. The people I worked for at the time picked it up and I bought it through them.”

Since then, McDonald has owned a dozen trucks, each of them driven only by himself. Some simple math reveals he traded in his tractor about every four years, tops. More impressively, he has stayed true to a commitment to never go into debt to fund a new ride. Trading trucks in early means they retain their value and earn a good down payment towards the next ride, McDonald explained. It also keeps maintenance costs low. McDonald is a believer in the full extended warranty, which gives him piece of mind and assures him he’s not likely to be sidelined long-term for mechanical reasons as long as he owns the vehicle.

The formula seems to have worked. “It has always worked well for me. I’ve always made a good living at it,” McDonald said. McDonald went over-the-road in 1983 and hasn’t looked back. His current truck is a 2011 Volvo VN780 affectionately dubbed ‘Big Blue’ and McDonald figures it’ll be his last. He usually runs a triangular route for TransX that takes him from Aberfoyle, Ont. to Winnipeg, Man., down south into the US Midwest and then back home.

Peter McDonald, director of safety and central terminal operations and Shawn Gallant, recruiter, with TransX both made the trip to Fergus to congratulate the 19th annual O/O of the Year.

McDonald appreciated the gesture. “They’re good to work for,” he said. “You get the miles you need.”

This current stint with TransX is McDonald’s second with the Winnipeg-based company.

He worked for them nearly 20 years ago before switching to Transport America hauling freight up from the US for just over 10 years. When the contract he was serving was lost, he turned back to TransX and was hired pretty much immediately.

“I’ve never been on unemployment insurance,” McDonald said proudly. “In this racket, there’s always work. When I went to TransX, I phoned them and told them I’d been there before. They flew me into Winnipeg and the next week I was on the road.”

McDonald has another philosophy some would question: he never refuses a load. For that to work, however, you need to be leased to a carrier that provides steady miles and a decent rate, he noted. It bothers him to see some – mostly younger – drivers who are too selective or don’t want to put in the miles to be successful.

“Some guys will never make it, no matter what,” he said with a shake of the head. “We talked to a guy in Red Deer who was trying to get on at TransX. But he watched some show at 5 o’clock he didn’t want to miss and he didn’t want to pull reefers.”

McDonald puts in about 125,000 miles a year. He’ll go wherever TransX sends him, but he prefers the trips that allow him to reset his hours at home in Brantford, Ont. While he’s on the road, McDonald’s never in a hurry and he has stayed true to the ‘Knights of the Road’ code that once widely governed the industry.

McDonald recalled coming across a herd of cattle in the middle of the road near Edmonton. A cowgirl was trying unsuccessfully to round up the beasts and get them back into the pasture. McDonald parked his truck and rounded up the cattle and then stayed behind to help her rebuild the fence.

Another time, he came across a female driver who was having trouble closing the hood of her long-nose Peterbilt in some gale-force Texas winds. He pulled up, wrestled with the hood to get it closed and then secured it with some extra belts he was carrying. He always carries a variety of tools with him so he can help others whenever the opportunity arises. In fact, he even volunteers to work through Christmas and other holidays so drivers with younger families can enjoy the time off.

It is his selflessness that inspired Margaret Oakley, a Brantford neighbour who also happens to be his new bride, to nominate him for the award. Yes, there’s a love story here, too. Oakley got to know McDonald from seeing him in the neighbourhood they both called home. They became close friends and one day, when he was on the road, McDonald called Oakley and told her he was in love with her.

“We kind of fell in love at the same time, but I wouldn’t tell him,” Oakley admitted. “I said ‘Oh my gosh, he’s a truck driver. He’s going to be away so much.’ But I feel he’s safe out there, he stays in touch with me, we say ‘I love you’ every night before we go to bed. And it’s always a nice thing when he comes home.”

The two got married in mid-June and spent their honeymoon in McDonald’s truck. Oakley takes McDonalds’ copies of Truck News when he’s finished reading them and passes them along to a former driver who lives in a nearby seniors’ residence and it was during one of these visits that she noticed the ad for the Owner/Operator of the Year award.

Not long before, she had followed McDonald on the highway for 1,200 miles from Winnipeg to Brantford in her personal vehicle and was awed by his professionalism and his ability to maintain his position in the centre of his lane.

She decided to nominate him – but it wasn’t until McDonald was notified he was selected as a finalist that she told him what she had done.

The humble McDonald was floored when he was chosen as the winner.

“It’s very nice to be picked for that,” he said. “It means a lot to me because this will be my last kick at the can.”

McDonald has survived cancer, a scare that took him off the road for two months five years ago. He has renewed his focus on his health, usually eating healthy meals in the truck and foregoing the truck stop buffets.

McDonald’s usual travelling partner is a poodle named Micky, which has been from Yellowknife, N.W.T. to Laredo, Texas with him. Oakley also travels with her new hubby whenever possible.

As his career winds down, McDonald is grateful for everything it has afforded him.

As for the 50 years without a single accident, he shrugs that off to plain ol’ good luck.

“It’s more luck than good management,” he shrugs. “If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you’ve had’er no matter what. I think the key is, don’t follow too close, stay away from other cars and stay on the inside lane in the cities if you can, because you can always get on the shoulder. I think those are the keys to staying out of trouble.”

McDonald runs a top speed of 100 km/h, which benefits his fuel mileage and gives him more time to react to situations that arise ahead of him. He averages between seven and eight miles per gallon.

When asked if he’d consider buying one last truck in two years, when he turns 71, he chuckles and shakes his head. “You’ve gotta quit sometime.”

With a new marriage to enjoy, the timing seems right. Oakley gushes with admiration when she talks about her new beau.
“He’s sort of like the Lone Ranger and John Wayne,” she said. “He’s my hero. He’s a real pro. He’s quiet, but he’s a deep thinker. He has a lot of emotion and a lot of passion. He’ll show you a lot of respect and I love that. We’re good for each other, because he’s calm and I’m up and down like a toilet seat in a co-ed dorm.”


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1 Comment » for O/O of the Year boasts safe 50-year career
  1. Rick Blatter says:

    CONGRATULATIONS!

    In your retirement… if you get lonely, you might consider working “part-time” as a guest speaker/ lecturer/ driver trainer to impart some of your vast experience & professionalism on new recruits.

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