There is no shortage of father-son stories in trucking. Many of today’s professional drivers followed their fathers’ footsteps into the industry and learned how to shift and back up from their dads.
For Murray Hebblethwaite, trucking stories from his late father Charles F. Hebblethwaite (also known as Chas) date back to the late 1800s, and a time when his father had to literally build the roads before he could drive on them.
“He told stories about these old corduroy roads,” Murray recalled. “They would help build these corduroy roads through the bogs. They’d have to put these logs in and then put gravel over top of them.”
Living on the north shore of Lake Erie, Murray’s father would deliver gravel from the various gravel pits for use in roadbuilding. These early deliveries were done by horse-drawn wagon and later by truck.
“They’d have to load these wagons by hand,” Murray recalls. “When the pit got to be deep in the ground, one farmer would bring a team in and help pull the other team out of the pit and then at the end of the day, he was expected to get his own load out of the pit.”
While the work was backbreaking, these early transporters had some fun as well. Murray recounts one story his father told him about a farmer who wanted to show off the swimming ability of his team of horses.
When the horses waded out into the water with the wagon still in tow, the wagon’s floorboards lifted off the frame and floated away.
“They had to wait until they floated back in to get them,” Murray says with a laugh.
The sand along the Lake Erie shores was a magnet to truck drivers and construction workers. They’d haul it out by the truckload and use it for mixing cement.
Murray’s dad became a fertilizer distributor and got to know all the local farmers. Murray rode with his father whenever he could.
“I used to ride with him and just watched him,” he says. “That was the extent of my lessons. Once I became 16, I got my own driver’s licence and chauffeur’s licence.”
Sadly, Chas died in 1965 when Murray was only 15 years old and never got to see him earn his trucking licence.
In fact, after a life of hard work, Murray’s father told him before he died not to become a trucker. Of course, Murray couldn’t resist the urge to acquire his licence and drive professionally, whether it be tractor-trailer or dump truck, he often had a heavy truck at his disposal.
“I’ve been around these trucks all my life and just can’t get it out of my system,” Murray says. At the age of 63, he’s also a farmer.
Today, Murray has mixed feelings about the industry he and his father spent so many years working in. He still winces at the memory of his father getting fined for running overweight due to no fault of his own.
“It was one of his last loads and he was coming back from the Niagara area with a load of fertilizer, licensed for 18 tonnes,” Murray remembers. “It was the winter time and he scaled it and he’d picked up all this ice and he scaled over. We were on the verge of losing everything and he didn’t have the money to pay for the fine, so they dropped his licence down to carry 17.5 tonnes. When you load up your truck legally at your point of pickup and then you take off and go down the road and you gather all this salt and snow and ice and there is no allowance for it – come on, cut the guy a break.”
Murray says his father left an impression on many of the enforcement officers, local farmers and other drivers. A few years back when he pulled through a scale, an MTO officer looked at Murray’s licence and asked if his father used to drive truck.
“This scale master knew my father and this was just east of London. Here I am, 80 miles away from home and as soon as he sees my last name, he says ‘Was your dad a truck driver?’”