Rising to the challenge

CAMBRIDGE, Ont. – For Terry Van Ooyen, a professional driver with Challenger Motor Freight, the biggest concern on the road these days is picking up the Covid-19 virus and bringing it home to his family.

But he’s also thankful to still be earning an income, and is doing everything possible to ensure his rig is regularly disinfected.

Terry Van Ooyen

“Every time, before and after I touch paperwork, I have a bottle of hand sanitizer I use,” he told Today’s Trucking before heading out on a run this week. “When I wake up in the morning, I wipe down my truck with Lysol wipes. And around lunchtime when I take my half-hour break, I do another wipe-down just in case I’ve picked up anything.”

But there are benefits to trucking in the age of Covid-19, some of which give him back the time spent sanitizing his rig.

“There’s less traffic on the roads. Shorter wait times at borders. Fewer people at shippers and receivers,” Van Ooyen said.

He can’t help but feel somewhat ostracized when he comes back into Canada, and sees signs in stores banning people who’ve been to the U.S.

“We have to do it,” he said of his cross-border runs. “It needs to get done for the economy.”

“A lot of my friends are sitting at home twiddling their thumbs saying ‘I can’t pay my bills.’”

Terry Van Ooyen

Van Ooyen has a dedicated run, which has stayed steady through the Covid-19 crisis. He has noticed billboards popping up along the highway thanking truckers for the work they’re doing. Van Ooyen has resisted requests from his girlfriend to stay home, saying he’s grateful for the work.

“A lot of my friends are sitting at home twiddling their thumbs saying ‘I can’t pay my bills,’” he said, adding he’ll continue to work as long as he can find the supplies he needs to keep himself safe.

Debbie and David Urquhart

For David and Debbie Urquhart, a husband-wife owner-operator team, the biggest difference when it comes to life on the road is taking extra precautions and practicing social distancing.

“We’re just staying in the truck more,” David Urquhart told Today’s Trucking from the truck near Cincinnati, Ohio. “Just one of us goes into the truck stops. We stay in the truck as much as we can.”

The Urquhart’s feel fortunate that they don’t have young children at home and they don’t have to worry about picking up Covid-19 and bringing it home to family. When they get back from a trip, they order groceries online.

“We’re together all week in the truck,” Urquhart said.

The team’s business has been steady – in fact, it has picked up since the outbreak. What is usually an empty southbound trip was recently loaded with 34,000 lbs of freight.

Urquhart said he practices social distancing while at shipper/receiver facilities. Instead of visiting with dockworkers, he keeps his distance. Urquhart hasn’t had any issues finding food and restrooms at the truck stops, but said they’re all adapting their business practices and enforcing social distancing. Border crossings have been a breeze, and rest areas haven’t been packed as they were before the outbreak.

Nighttime traffic is way down, but overall truck traffic seems steady, he said. He’s grateful for his company keeping him constantly informed about the crisis.

“I would like to give Geoff Topping and the entire staff at Challenger credit for going the distance and keeping us updated every day with emails,” he said.

This one in a series of reports on the experiences of truck drivers and other members of the trucking industry amid the fight against Covid-19

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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