Recognizing six decades behind the wheel

CALGARY, Alta. – Not many people can claim to have a perfectly clean driving record, and even fewer can say they have operated a transport truck accident-free for 60 years.

Harold Westendorp, however, can make both statements.

Watching the trucks scream down the highway between Calgary and Lethbridge, Alta., at the age of 13, Westendorp knew right away that someday he would be behind the wheel of a big rig.

“Unlike today, that someday came quick, as my first driving job at 16 years of age was for Early Bird Express out of Calgary hauling newspapers and light general freight in a body job. I was hooked,” said Westendorp. “I knew then that driving was going to be my career.”

It wasn’t long before Westendorp moved to a tractor-trailer wash service at Westland Truck Wash and was shunting trucks and trailers in and out of the wash bays. His career continued to progress, driving for B-Line Express, Midland Superior, and then Mercury Tank Lines, where he hauled across Canada and the U.S.

In 1974, Sandy deWaal hired Westendorp to work for Canyon Distributors. Westendorp met deWaal while washing his Autocar tractor during his time at Westland Truck Wash. To this day, Westendorp has remained with deWaal, now driving for East-West Express.

“Harold has been a part of our trucking family for the past 45 years, both as a company driver, and also a lease-operator,” wrote East-West operations manager Tim deWaal. “My father, Sandy deWaal, and Harold have known one another for over 62 years. Harold was a teenager working at the truck wash in Calgary, and dad was a lease-operator with Midland Superior when they first met.”

The admiration Westendorp held as a young boy for truck drivers has not changed over the years.

“With all the challenges and changes presented in this career, at the end of the day, I still love driving,” said Westendorp, who also taught his wife, Ann, how to drive truck, the two becoming a team.

Ann recently passed away after retiring from the industry, but for Westendorp, driving is something he will continue to do as long as his health allows.

“Retirement is not on my mind at the moment even though I know the day must come,” he said. “I am on my own now with my dog going down the road. When the day comes that I have to hand in the keys, I will surely miss the open road, the fellow drivers I have come to know, and mostly the 45-year career that I have been blessed with the East-West Express family.”

Acknowledging greatness

Westendorp was recently honored by the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) for 60 years of accident-free driving. But it was only because fellow East-West driver Gordon Jones was being awarded that a spotlight was placed on Westendorp’s career.

Jones, who was receiving recognition for 40 years of accident-free driving, brought Westendorp along with him to the AMTA office to celebrate his friend’s 60 years behind the wheel – the two combining for over 100 years behind the wheel.

“If cloning was an option, we would have more Harold Westendorps behind the wheel of our trucks.”

Dick Heikoop, East-West Express

The AMTA had long run a Safe Driving Award program, which presented drivers with a pin for every year of driving without a preventable accident. As carriers began adopting similar programs, the AMTA stopped handing out the pins, but Jones continued to submit his yearly application, visiting the AMTA office to share stories with staff and ask about any remaining pins.

Accompanying Jones and Westendorp to the awards presentation was East-West safety director Dick Heikoop, who has nothing but praise for what each man has accomplished in their lengthy careers.

Heikoop said Westendorp exemplifies what a professional truck driver is all about, with unprecedented love and commitment to the job.

“Harold by far is a go-to driver for the younger generation,” said Heikoop. “If cloning was an option, we would have more Harold Westendorps behind the wheel of our trucks.”

A lot has changed

Since Westendorp first started driving as a teenager, a lot has changed in the trucking industry, some he sees as progress and others not as much. Rules and regulations, Westendorp says, have had a positive effect on the industry, adding a safety aspect to what was once a free-for-all.

From left: AMTA executive director Kimberley Burfoot, East-West Express driver Harold Westendorp, East-West Express driver Gordon ‘Gordie’ Jones, and East-West Express safety director Dick Heikoop. (Photo: Alberta Motor Transport Association)

“The early days of trucking were probably considered a little bit of the wild west,” he said. “We all had fun and loved our jobs. Over time, changes to equipment and rules and regulations settled us down somewhat to promote a controlled and safe environment for the drivers.”

That love for the truck driving profession, however, has changed over the years, and many drivers today do not see driving as a career the way they did in the past.

“The industry has continuously attempted to have truck driving considered as a professional trade, and yet to this day it is not recognized as such. As a professional trade it would give our young workforce the incentive to make this a career,” he said.

Westendorp added with all the training they go through today, young drivers should consider themselves professionals, and respect and enjoy the road ahead.

“Life seems to be a race each day. Do your job, do not let yourself be controlled by others who will hinder your safety and the safety of others,” urged Westendorp. “Follow the rules and regulations that come with this career even though you may not agree with all of them 100%. Expect the unexpected.”

Dealing with a pandemic

Covid-19 has changed a lot in the trucking industry of late, including how drivers are perceived.

With trucking considered an essential service, Heikoop said it’s challenging for drivers to stay safe while out on the road delivering supplies.

“They are out there every day and their everyday way of life has changed drastically,” said Heikoop. “Just to have a decent meal to eat, shower, and restroom facilities, maintaining social distancing has now become a huge part of their job.”

To keep drivers, particularly the more experienced ones like Westendorp, East-West does its best to keep its trucks and office sanitized, and during the rare times when drivers slipseat, the truck is completely disinfected and sanitized.

“We are on the web each day to collect information and forward on to drivers and facilities that they can use for their working day going up and down the highway,” said Heikoop. “One only needs to consider the challenges we would face without our drivers.”

A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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