AIRDRIE, Alta. – It was more than just the fact that one of Ken Bilben’s trucks was stolen, but from where the truck was stolen.
“It was the show truck of the fleet; the driver put a lot of work detailing it and they took it right out of my yard,” a frustrated Bilben told Truck West. “That pisses me off ’cause they took it right from under my nose. They even closed the gate after to make it look like nothing happened.”
Kootenay Wood Transport has made its home in an Airdrie, Alta. industrial park for the past 13 years. Bilben established his 26-truck operation – 21 of which are owner/operator units – in 1986. He was enjoying a stretch of 11 years without a truck theft until heading to the office one Sunday morning to put in some maintenance time on the trucks.
It didn’t take long before Bilben noticed something was amiss. One of the company trucks was missing from the yard and the driver’s personal vehicle was not on the lot either.
The 2003 Kenworth W900L and its fully loaded flatdeck trailer were stolen the previous night at approximately 11 p.m. Between the truck, the trailer and the load of Weyerhauser paper-wrapped lumber, someone had taken off with about $200,000 of Bilben’s property.
“To replace the equipment with brand new equipment you’re looking at $230,000,” noted Bilben. “On Sunday I could only phone the RCMP and the weigh scales, everyone else was closed until Monday. On Monday I got really aggressive in trying to find my truck.”
Bilben took out an advertisement in the Calgary Sun, appeared on the talk radio program Rutherford on CHQR and also placed an ad in the Vancouver Sun.
The fleet operator placed the advertisement in Vancouver because he had a hunch his stolen rig was heading west after a similar incident involving a different company. Three weeks earlier, a truck of the exact same year, make and model was stolen from Crossfield, Alta. In that incident the truck was stolen in the morning and recovered later that same day.
“Us truckers all get a hold of each other. Another trucker was heading east and spotted it,” explained Bilben. “He CB’d the RCMP and the stolen truck probably had the radio on and heard the radio call and then just abandoned it.”
In addition to the advertisements and in the hopes of a swift recovery, Bilben sweetened the pot and offered a $10,000 reward for the safe recovery of his stolen property.
“There’s not much honour among thieves was my thinking,” commented Bilben.
Unfortunately, the advertisements and reward offer did not end up leading to a flood of useful tips. Instead, Bilben relied on his friends in the trucking industry and the trustworthy fan-out system.
“I posted ads at truck stops,” he explained. “The Internet makes it easier to get the word out. You can take a picture, scan it and e-mail it out to everyone you know.”
The Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) takes a similar approach when it receives word of stolen trucks.
“We just send out an e-mail to everyone on our contact list,” said Mayne Root, executive director with the AMTA. “We get lots of notes back saying, we got our vehicles back.”
“In the past six months or so we haven’t had a lot of requests. There were some more before that so I don’t know whether it’s been a drop-off or if they’re just going with the RCMP because they’re the ones who recover them,” he added.
Whether or not big rig thefts are an increasing trend in Alberta is unknown to the association and the RCMP. All vehicle thefts, regardless of the vehicle size, are classified in the same category and dealt with in the same manner. However, according to a report recently released by Statistics Canada the percentage of vehicle thefts has been on the decline in Canada with a drop of 7% from 2004 to 2005 and by 10% from 1995 to 2005.
In his 20 years of operation, this theft marked the fourth time a truck had been stolen from Kootenay Wood Transport, but the first time from the company yard.
“We’ve always recovered. It’s not always quickly, sometimes a year and a half,” commented Bilben. “Once we found our trailer where the tires were stripped and left sitting on their hubs.”
This time around it only took a few days before the company was able to recover its stolen truck.
Bilben’s initial thought that his stolen truck was heading in the exact same direction as its twin red Kenworth stolen a few weeks before, was the correct assumption. A trucker doing a delivery in Salmon Arm, B.C. happened to look around the back of the gas station he was making a delivery to and noticed the stolen truck. Unfortunately the trailer and its load were nowhere in the vicinity.
The call that the truck had been found came to Bilben on July 12 and after the investigators were finished with it, he was able to pick it up on July 13 and put his truck back to work.
“When we went out there to pick up the truck, the driver said to the investigator, ‘Thanks for finding my wife,’ and she said, ‘Women and trucks are hard to keep a hold of,'” recalled Bilben, of his trek out to B.C.
Immediately following the incident, Bilben took steps to ramp up security at the truck yard and now that Bilben has gotten a hold of his truck again, he plans on taking a few measures to secure its safety; along with the rest of the flatdeck general freight operation.
“As a result we’re going to look at enhanced security, especially with all the technology out there,” he said. “We’ll be looking at GPS on our trucks and trailers.”