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Ontario truck school bails out Hay West

DESERONTO, Ont. - When Ian Gardner decided to donate hay to help drought-stricken farmers in Western Canada he quickly learned what all former e-commerce executives have come to realize: without trans...

DESERONTO, Ont. – When Ian Gardner decided to donate hay to help drought-stricken farmers in Western Canada he quickly learned what all former e-commerce executives have come to realize: without transportation, even the best intentions stall.

A Hay West volunteer, Gardner seems to epitomize what the aid campaign’s initial organizer, John Williamson, feared most.

“Transporting the hay is a concern I’ve had from day one,” Williamson has now admitted in numerous media interviews.

That’s where Crossroads Training Academy comes in. In an effort to flesh out the campaign’s supply chain, students and instructors use company power and a flatbed borrowed from Kingston, Ont.-based Collins Trucking to pick up donations.

“It’s so sad that in this area, no other trucking companies have come out to help,” says the school’s head trainer, John McKegney.

With campuses in Kingston, Trenton and Ottawa, the school is perfectly positioned around the areas where most of the shipments need to be picked up.

Truck News caught up with the folks from Crossroads at Gardner’s field as they moved what was their second load – the first actually came from the Frontenac Institution, one of several Kingston area prisons.

He insists the volunteer work has really served the students well.

“They’re getting hands-on experience with load securement,” says McKegney. “As well, they get a chance to handle loads of different weight and types … a load of hay reacts very differently from other things in the wind.”

Under the tutelage of Al Dykstra, students from the Trenton campus made the run to Gardner’s place, including Beverley Middel, of Marmora, and Belleville resident Todd Holmes.

“I think it’s neat helping out with this,” says Middel. “I feel for the farmers.”

With both students less than two weeks away from their Class A road tests each appreciated the chance to get a little more wheel time.

“We also get to experience what it’s like dealing with shippers and receivers,” adds Holmes.

The fact their indoctrination into the trucking world involves a large scale aid campaign, is another benefit the industry on the whole should look to replicate. Perhaps if learning to be a white knight of the road went hand-in-hand with learning to jam gears, maybe the industry would enjoy a much more favorable public image than it does.

Certainly farmers on both sides of the country won’t forget what these soon-to-be-minted truckers have done.

“The response has been great so far,” says McKegney. “We’ve got 20 other farmers ready to go as soon as we have some place to drop it off.”

Sadly, getting the hay from the farm to the rail head has not been the only weak link in the chain. The lengthy roll out west has been complicated by the politics of the rail industry.

The Canadian National Railway (CN) is largely based in the West and it’s also the line volunteering cars to haul the animal feed from Eastern Ontario.

The rail giant doesn’t have yards in the communities where the support is coming from in most cases.

“They have to use the Canadian Pacific property,” explains McKegney. In order for competitors start using each others’ facilities, you can imagine the tap-dancing that first needs to occur. This is why there has been a real shortage of rail cars to move the donations.

“CN is setting up a depot in Kingston that will have about 12 cars,” says McKegney. “There’s also supposed to be one setting up in Belleville with about 15 cars.”

He adds, once the cars are there, everything will work smoothly. Hopefully the railroads can fast track the project so farmers to the West get the much-needed support.

To contact Kingston Crossroads’ office, call 888-282-6605. As well, to make cash donations to Hay West, call 866-429-9378 or visit any Scotiabank branch.

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