Those who truck together, stay together

by Sonia Straface

SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Many professional truck drivers will tell you that one of the selling features of trucking for a living is that every run is an adventure and exploring North America is an experience not many people get to enjoy. However, there are notable downsides to the job. The cab can be lonely and if you’re driving all across Canada and the U.S., nights spent at home with loved ones are limited. So why not take your loved ones with you in the truck?

Wendy and Don

That was the idea of Don and Wendy Underhill some 23 years ago when they decided to abandon their first careers – Don was in road construction and Wendy ran a small diner – and see what life would look like from behind the wheel.

Through the diner, Wendy had met and spoken with countless truckers who told her about their runs, and about what the career entailed. So, she thought, why not?

“She has this keen sense of adventure,” Don, 72, said about his wife of 46 years. “So, I went along with the idea as I already had about 30 years in road construction and it was time for a change. You know what they say, happy wife, happy life. Our family was grown and moved out so we had no one to hold us back.”

Don and Wendy enrolled in trucking school together, along with their son Jamie. All three graduated, though after a few years in trucking, Jamie left the industry for the oil field business in Alberta. After graduation, finding work was tough, but they eventually landed a job at TransX in Winnipeg, Man.

“Not many places were looking for drivers with no experience, especially women with no experience,” Wendy recalled.

“But we both knew the only way we would do this job was to drive team,” Don said. “That part Wendy made clear from the start.”

From there, the career blossomed and Wendy and Don drove for many different trucking companies, which eventually took them back home to New Brunswick. Today, they work for Sunbury Transport, a company based out of Saint John.

Along the way, Wendy took care of the paperwork and border crossing setups, while Don took on the responsibility of making sure the truck was mechanically sound at all times.

And while many can’t grasp the concept of working with your spouse, the Underhills say it’s second nature to them to work together as a team, both on and off the road. Wendy suspects their chemistry and differences have made their marriage and trucking career a success.

“We love working together and exploring new places,” Wendy said. “We provide a safety net for each other. We are totally opposite so maybe that’s the magic. Don gives me stability and I give him adventure. I respect his decisions and ability to keep everything running smoothly, he is my rock. On the good days, which are most, we feel like we are in a motor home and being paid to see the countryside. We have been to every province and every state – most jobs would never give us this opportunity.”

Today the Underhills generally haul paper products like facial tissues, or larger rolls of tissue that eventually get made into paper towels. They usually travel to Albany, N.Y., and then to Mississauga, Ont., and then back home. But sometimes you can find them in the Carolinas or Tennessee, Kentucky, Kansas or Oklahoma. Unlike most teams, they don’t have a dedicated run, and according to Wendy, they don’t want one.

“We don’t have a dedicated run like some teams, and have never asked for one,” she said. “Maybe we thought it might ruin the adventure or were scared I might get bored.”

Their home at Sunbury is one both Wendy and Don appreciate, especially during the winter months – which the Underhills named as the worst part of the job.

“The worst part of trucking is probably the winter,” Wendy said. “It’s stressful worrying about yourself and the cars around you, but fortunately Sunbury is awesome for doing mandatory shutdowns when the road conditions are bad, as a late load is better than no load at all. We love all the help and support Sunbury’s given us and we are glad to call them home.”

At 72 and 64, Don and Wendy believe they will officially retire in the next year or two, after an abundant career they didn’t know would last so long.

“The last 22 years have been an education in itself,” Don said. “We’ve seen so much of North America. We’ve experienced how goods are produced and delivered, and getting to do it all with my wife – only a long-haul driver would know what we mean by seeing so much.”

During retirement, Don says they will enjoy spending time with their children and three grandchildren.

And since retirement often forces reflection, the Underhills say they would recommend the driving career and experience of exploring North America to anyone who will listen.

“We began this adventure as a team and it’s what we wanted from the start and it’s offered us lots,” said Wendy. “We feel so blessed to have the opportunity to see all of North America and I hope that when we retire, a big old map will get us talking about all the places and adventures we have seen by being out here on the road.”

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