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Riding high: Piloting the big rigs at Elk Valley coal mine

HINTON, Alta. - After a disappointing stretch in log hauling, a former highway driver found refuge by trucking in a more controlled environment.


HINTON, Alta. – After a disappointing stretch in log hauling, a former highway driver found refuge by trucking in a more controlled environment.

Dave Howghton has spent the last year and a half operating a rock dump truck at the Elk Valley Coal mine site, just 40 km south of Hinton, Alta. and is cherishing his fresh start and the lifestyle that comes with it.

For about six and a half years, Howghton worked as on owner/operator with three log trucks and was based at his buffalo farm in Athabasca, Alta.

“I had a buffalo farm and three log trucks and I sold out because it just wasn’t paying,” Howghton explained from the cab of his dump truck.

“I was still young and started to get ill and overweight. I was totally stressed out and decided to do something else.”

So Howghton packed up, headed back to Hinton and began driving for a local outfit.

He put in an application at the Elk Valley Coal mine site and a short four months later found himself behind the wheel of the dump truck; and he’s enjoyed every minute of it.

“It’s less stressful. You come here, you do your job for 12 hours and then you go home,” Howghton said with a smile. “There’s no drivers phoning you at two in the morning and even when I was at home out of the truck, I was out working on the trucks.”

The mine runs its trucks 24 hours a day on two different shifts, which puts the employees on a four-days-on, four-days-off rotation, which allows Howghton time to spend with his family.

“I have two boys and didn’t have time for family, but now with the four days on and four days off I have lots of time for my family,” he added.

Howghton’s highway experience made the adjustment from Class 8 trucks to over-sized dump trucks a little easier.

“It definitely helped. I have to use a lot of mirrors, judge the blindspots and gauge the turning radius,” noted Howghton. “That highway experience really helped; but it’s still a big change. When you sit in one of these things for the first time you still get sweaty palms.”

The overall size of the trucks can be a tad intimidating and the height off the ground once inside the cab is what gets some guys, noted Howghton.

“It’s still different because of the size. This is just a 170 tonner and I usually work the 240 tonner,” he said.

“We know it’s big, but after you’ve been around it a while it’s not the same cause everything out here is big.”

The off-road site also gives Howghton peace of mind by not having to deal with heavy traffic, passenger vehicles and traffic lights; nothing on the service roads other than Howghton and his fellow drivers.

“I used to haul out of Fort Mac and deal with all that traffic and that Fort Mac highway,” said Howghton. “I mean we were dealing with a death every Friday or Saturday on those roads. I was glad to leave that situation with all its hustle and bustle of the mainstream.”


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