OSHAWA, Ont. — At 85, you’d think Ross Mackie would be happy to take it slow during his golden years. After all, the Mackie companies are in the capable hands of his four sons, he’s got a barn full of antique trucks, and there is a myriad of trucking friends he can call up anytime for a lunch date.
But most weekdays you can find him down at Boundary Road in Whitby, Ont., looking in on Ross Mackie Transport, or visiting at Mackie Moving Systems on Bloor Street, or he might just zip across the 401 to drop in on Mackie’s Harley-Davidson dealership.
He’s had to give up his licence – macular degeneration is playing havoc with his retinas – and he’s thinking about getting a new left knee (a lifetime of double-clutching has taken its toll). But these days he is chauffeured by Becky, a young woman from the office who takes him around to all the terminals.
“I love connecting with the employees, the drivers and the office staff, that’s the heart of this company,” he says.
For the sons of Ross Mackie: Paul, Dean, Norm and Scott, it was almost expected that they would work in the family business. Dean Mackie, now president of Ross Mackie Transport, remembers sitting in high school and watching a Mackie truck on Adelaide Street. “I wished I was driving instead of sitting in class, and I knew my dad was probably wishing the same thing,” he recalls.
Family is what Mackie is about, and this includes the families of employees, at times multiple generations who have worked for Ross in one capacity or another. That bond also extends to other trucking companies and their broods.
“We still socialize and associate with the owners of trucking companies’ families, and even with our supplier base, some of whom are still family-run businesses,” adds Dean.
“Dad was always loyal to local suppliers and vendors.”
Those Mackies who choose to become involved in the business are expected to “learn the ropes.” Grandson Shawn Mackie recalls: “For my first job, grandpa had me sweeping the parking lot. When I got good at that, he let me sweep the warehouse.”
Shawn eventually had his own truck on with the company before taking on a managerial position. His sister Sara, now a director at Mackie Transportation, had her own truck for years running Windsor, delivering high-value shipments.
Certainly, some bigger carriers must have looked covetously at Mackie assets and feelers have probably been sent out. At the same time, to stay competitive, the boys have been acquiring some companies themselves. “We still enjoy the business and the industry – we grew up in it,” says Dean. “So far no one’s taken the money and run.”
The fact the company was founded in 1928 as the country was slipping into depression may say something about its longevity. Ross attributes much of the success to surrounding himself with good people and being in the right place at the right time. But certainly, perseverance and good service are also a part of that formula. Take, for instance, the Mackies’ long-standing relationship with General Motors (GM) Canada.
Merle Mackie had been trying to get some work out of GM for years without any success. Exasperated, he told his son to buy a suit and see if he could make some headway with the auto giant. After a few meetings with the traffic manager, Mackie-the-Mover was contracted to relocate one of the GM executives.
Things snowballed from there. Mackie started transporting GM’s show cars and exhibits. Freight soon followed, and in the late 1980s, Mackie Automotive was chosen by GM to head up a new outsourcing initiative that eventually led to the company opening 10 sub-assembly plants located in Canada, the U.S., England and Germany, employing 2,000 people worldwide.
Most of Mackie Automotive was sold off in the late ’90s, in another case of good timing. “There have definitely been some good opportunities with our customers, some of which we still deal with today,” according to Dean Mackie.
Although Ross no longer drives, his driving career has been robust and lengthy. He has probably done hundreds of trips out west and shared the road with legendary drivers like Highway Hank Stroud, William Weatherstone and Tom Stewart. His friend Mark Couture calls him a living Hank Snow.
At 17 years of age, in 1951, Ross took a load of furniture from Oshawa to Dawson City, Yukon, long before there was anything called the Trans-Canada Highway. Ross and his team were among the first Canadian carriers to truck into Mexico; he has also traversed every U.S. state including Alaska and Hawaii. Ross recalls the beach parties after delivering trailers to Honolulu for the Mervish production of Miss Saigon.
But any story about Ross Mackie would be incomplete without mentioning his passion for history and antique trucks. Ross describes himself as “truck-crazy” from a very young age.
“I used to sit on our front steps on King Street and watch the trucks from Kingsway and Smith Transport roll by. My mother practically had to tie me to the porch to keep me from running after them,” he says.
He’s still got the first truck he bought to restore, a 1948 GMC gas-powered single-axle tractor that was originally one of six ordered by Smith Transport. The unit was instead intercepted and purchased by General Motors magnate R.S. McLaughlin to be used by his driver Clarence Lowry to haul racehorses to Kentucky.
Among the other rarities in Ross’s collection are a 1950 Kenworth and 1954 White. The vintage trucks provide the patriarch with tangible pieces of trucking history.
“I enjoy going out to Tackaberry’s truck show (in Athens, Ont.), or taking a bunch of my trucks up to Clifford in June. I really love those truck shows and I’ve been lucky enough to acquire some neat pieces that way,” he says.
The Mackie family underwent a fairly smooth succession six years ago, and now Dean, at 61 years, is starting to think about succession for his company Ross Mackie Transport.
But with all the Mackies involved in different aspects of the transportation industry, it’s clear this family dynasty will be around for a long time to come, right? “As long as it’s profitable,” replies Dean.
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