The lucky drove during the hungry ’30s

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CALGARY, Alta. – Today many truckers complain the rates are too low, but Lyle Lebbert can remember driving during the Great Depression when people drove truck for free.

“It went with the times, everybody was scratching like hell and we never paid drivers,” says the 84-year-old trucking pioneer. “If we wanted a truck driver, all I had to do was let the kids I went to school with know and they’d go for a week. Just as long as we’d feed them.”

Lebbert got his start in 1932 hauling gasoline in the largest tanker of the day, his father’s 1,000-gallon rig.

“Everybody was unemployed in those days,” says Lebbert. “So he borrowed $100, bought a 1932 three-ton Chevy truck and started hauling gasoline from Alberta to Saskatchewan.”

He says there weren’t any pre-arranged deals at first, either. “Usually you’d get where you were going and have to peddle the gas yourself,” he says.

By the mid-1930s, his father’s business was lost to drivers who left to start their own competing companies – some things never seem to change – but that was only the beginning of Lebbert’s lifetime involvement in the trucking industry.

He insists it would be nice to turn back the clock on some elements of the business, such as the way truckers were treated by enforcement officers.

“The only time the Mounties stopped you was because they wanted someone to talk to,” he jokes. But Lebbert can remember border crossings were as bad if not worse than today. “The Customs officers would make you pull everything off your truck so they could inspect the cargo”

There was one time, however, he had a much smoother trip through Customs.

“I was the first guy to haul fruit out of California into Calgary,” he says. The load of Santa Rosa plums was cooled the whole way back from the southern state by nothing more than two barrels of ice. The only things holding in the cold were the trailer doors that stayed shut for the entire trip.

“We got to the border and told the guard what we had … We told him the ‘fella that sold us the plums said to keep the doors shut.”

Since he’d never seen anyone bring fruit across the border, there was no procedure for searching it and the guard obliged. “We never lost a plum,” he adds. n

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