BRAMPTON, Ont. - Jacob Froese says trucking saved his life - literally.Four and a half years ago he was a practicing Mennonite minister with a busy parish in Edmonton, Alta. But beneath a rock-like ex...
PEACE OF MIND: Rick Butterworth traded in his hectic life as a freelance consultant for a more rewarding career on the highway.
BRAMPTON, Ont. – Jacob Froese says trucking saved his life – literally.
Four and a half years ago he was a practicing Mennonite minister with a busy parish in Edmonton, Alta. But beneath a rock-like exterior, Froese was dealing with what he describes as suicidal bouts with depression. After 19 years behind the pulpit he was overextended and on the brink of psychological collapse.
Having worked as a trucker while attending seminary, Froese grasped at truck driving as a lifeline.
“I actually suffered a nervous breakdown while heavily involved in urban ministry. My yearning was for the open road because I’d actually tasted it,” he says. “At the worst times, I’d romanticize the sound of the tires on the pavement.”
Froese quickly found a broker from the Yanke Group willing to sign him on. After a few months on the highway, he was both pilot and owner of a ’98 Freightliner.
Born in Saskatchewan, from Old Colony Mennonite descent, he looks like a Prairie boy, tall and tanned. The 54-year-old, Calgary-based trucker has just dropped a trailer at the company yard and is on his way to hook to a load of paper towels bound for Wisconsin.
“I’d wake up in my cab and wonder what meeting I had that day. Then this great feeling of relief came over me when I realized all I had to do was drive 1,000 kilometers,” he says.
But the pastor-come-trucker does not consider his new occupation to be that different from his former calling.
“I’m still touching people. I connect with some of the real things in life, right here in the trucking world,” he says. “Spiritual stuff. You’re dealing with bad communications, frustrated managers and drivers. You know what? I consider that the real world. I have something authentic to participate in.”
For most rookies, getting behind the wheel is less dramatic, with many introduced to the trade by a friend or relative. A good number have agricultural or mechanical backgrounds. Some drivers originally take up trucking as a stepping-stone to a better job and end up sticking around. But a new group of metamorphosed truckers is quickly earning its place among the ranks of professional gear-jammers. This is an oddball assortment of highly educated, frayed and burned out professionals – on the rebound from stressful management and executive jobs.
As counselor at the Humber College Transport Training Centre in Rexdale, Ont., Ron Mikula has seen more than a few anguished white collars come sniffing around his school. Office workers, a former IBM executive, and a stockbroker have all been through the program.
“They’re trying to get away from a high-pressure environment into a different kind of job where they can still call the shots. It’s a different kind of pressure,” says Mikula.
Rick Butterworth of Middleville, Ont. is a perfect example. A year ago he would have been tearing out his hair, designing corporate advertising campaigns from his home in Lanark County. His freelance consulting work once netted him six figures, but he was discontented.
“Every time I wanted to strangle a client over a desk, there was a voice that said, ‘Relax, you can always drive a truck.'”
With the same diligence he applied to his freelance work, Butterworth investigated half a dozen driving schools and companies.
“My research suggested I was suited for long hauls,” he says.
Butterworth chose an Ottawa-area school that streamed him into the Highland Transport system. He obtained his AZ licence late in 1999 and today he is working on the open road.
As he spoke to Truck News he was on his cell phone, cooking dinner for himself at a rest area near Montgomery, Ala.
“It’s been really good for me,” he says with gleeful enthusiasm about his lifestyle change. “Now I’m no longer staring at the computer. I got off the electronic highway and decided to see the real one.”
Butterworth, much like Froese, has been able to balance married life with long road trips.
“Living five hours from the yard, I tend to stay out four to six weeks,” says Butterworth. “My wife is used to having me away from home for long periods of time, anyway. She was tired of this unhappy, grumpy, middle-aged man sitting around the house.”
He admits that he has had to adjust to a new pay scale.
“I make as much in one week as I used to bill for one day in the ’80s,” he says candidly. But one senses that the rewards of his present job are worth many times his previous invoices.
“I always had moral problems with some of the projects I worked on … There’s definitely something honest about driving a truck. It’s definitely a progression from what I’m used to.”
The same can be said for Captain Doug Handforth. He had a long and varied Air Force career behind him, including service as an assistant logistics officer for the Snowbirds aerobatics team out of Moose Jaw, Sask. But he was desperate for a change and tired of pushing pencils.
“There was a lot of pressure from a logistics point of view,” he says. “I was in administration. Everything I was dealing with was paper – emails, memos, telephone calls.”
Handforth wanted a portable trade should his family decide to move out of Kingston, Ont. (two of his sons are fine hockey players and his daughter is a competitive swimmer).
He says, “I thought I had lost touch with my roots. I wanted to get in real life situations with people.”
Trucking has supplied that reality for the former military man. Handforth now runs team between Toronto and Moncton, N.B., twice a week.
Somewhere in the back of each of their highly developed cerebral cortexes, there is an idealistic vision nibbling at the lobes. It is a panorama of endless rosey sunsets, blacktop roads and cross-continental adventure.
For these drivers, long distance trucking is the most romantic job under the sun. n