Growing up in a boy’s home in Montreal, alongside about 200 other young guys with equally unenviable childhoods, the two constants in Cliff Lammeren’s youth were fighting and alcohol.
Trouble was never hard to find and a learning disability made it easy for Lammeren to neglect school and spend more time on the streets. He worked as a busboy to make a bit of money, but it wasn’t a good life, and he knew it.
On a whim, he answered an ad in the local paper for a job as a busboy at the U.S. Air Force NCO Club in Goose Bay, Labrador, and it was a move that changed everything.
One sergeant there, impressed by Lammeren, spent time helping him and left Cliff with some advice: set goals, work hard to achieve them, and stay focused.
“He told me, yeah you’re a busboy now, but you’re a hard worker,” recalls Lammeren. “If you keep working hard you will be successful.
“It changed my life.”
When Lammeren later returned to Montreal he was determined to continue down the right path and help as many people as he could along the way, just like the sergeant helped him.
“That’s how I became the type of person who tries to fix problems. I just remember what it was like for me,” he says.
Decades later, the Edmonton-based driver has a long and very full history of volunteering his time to numerous community initiatives. On top of that, he won the Bridgestone/Firestone Canadian Truck Hero award in 1988 and was named the Private Motor Truck Council driver of the year in 1999, which put him in the PMTC Driver Hall of Fame.
You can add highwaySTAR of the Year to the list now.
When Dave Marvin, his boss at the Praxair facility in Edmonton, told Cliff he was being nominated for the highwaySTAR award, Lammeren thanked him but didn’t give it much thought.
Natural humility wouldn’t let him get his hopes up, and he knew there were plenty of other worthy drivers and owner-operators out on the road. He wasn’t wrong. The nominations that came into our office made a long and impressive list.
But in the end, with his 41 years of accident-free driving and a real dedication to community involvement, Lammeren was chosen as the 2010 highwaySTAR of the Year.
The criteria? We look for a company driver or owner-operator who sets himself well apart from the rest. The winner must have a first-rate safety record, of course, and a history of contributing to his community in significant ways. Our sponsors for this prestigious award are Freightliner Trucks, ArvinMeritor, Espar Heater Systems, Chevron, and the Owner-Operator Business Association of Canada.
The winner gets a trip to Toronto and a special-edition highwaySTAR jacket. Then there’s a road-ready laptop computer from OBAC and an efficient diesel-fired cab heater from Espar. And then there’s a fat cheque for $10,000.
With his wife Margaret beside him, Lammeren was given that big cheque at a ceremony during the recent Truck World 2010 show in Toronto. To top it off, his bosses at Praxair sent the Lammerens out to Niagara Falls for two nights of rest and relaxation prior to the show.
The 64-year-old, a year away from retirement, was shocked when he learned he’d won.
“I was overwhelmed and couldn’t believe it, and nearly welled up with tears,” he says. At the time—and he pulled to the side of the road to take that call—he even compared his excitement to the day he asked Margaret to marry him 41 years ago.
Lammeren first got behind the wheel of a truck at 23, but it took a lie to get the job. At the interview he was asked if he’d driven truck before, and he said yes, but that wasn’t exactly true. He got the job anyway and soon he was hauling paper products all around Quebec and into Ottawa, so he had to learn the driving ropes pretty quickly.
“I learned how to drive the hard way, listening to the older drivers,” he says with a laugh. “They taught me in their spare time. That’s how I made it.”
In the mid-‘70s, Lammeren moved to Alberta to make a better life for his wife and two children – Cliff Jr. and Kim, who are now 40 and 34 respectively. Ashley, 22, came later, and there are five grandchildren too.
Settling into Alberta’s capital city, Lammeren spent time hauling gravel, fuel and mail before settling in at Union Carbide, which is now Praxair, and he’s been there ever since. For the past 28 years, Lammeren has delivered cryogenic liquid gases throughout western Canada. Today his route involves hauling a pair of Super B’s full of liquid oxygen to a pulp mill in Peace River, Alta. He runs four days on and four days off.
Delivering liquid gases in the Praxair fleet requires an extremely high level of care and Lammeren is quick to acknowledge the company for aiding in his safety record.
“They look after us pretty good. No matter the changes or the new people in management or new drivers, they’re all highly focused on company safety,” he explains. “They hand-pick drivers on safety and personality, and they look
deep into backgrounds.”
For Lammeren though, doing his job safely isn’t enough. He wants everyone on the highway to feel safe and to understand the trucker, which is what landed him on a talk-radio program in Edmonton one day.
“I was sick of people bashing truckers all the time,” he explains, listing off a host of misguided stereotypes. “If people knew what truck drivers put up with and what we did, they wouldn’t talk like that. People don’t think about how things get to the stores, they just take it for granted.
“It went off really good. Lots of people phoned in, even some other truckers,” he adds.
And Lammeren walks the talk like ‘knights of the road’ used to do. When he sees someone in need of a helping hand he doesn’t hesitate to offer one. He’s pulled more than a few cars out of snowy ditches and flagged down motorists who looked lost—and they were—to give them directions and a road map.
“I became a truck driver, but I became the best truck driver I could be and I take pride in my work,” says Lammeren.
Peace of Art
One of the things Lammeren still enjoys about trucking is the freedom of being on the road and the scenery outside his window.
“Because I’m an artist I love the scenery. I take a mental picture and put it on canvas,” he says.
His love for art is what led Lammeren into his latest volunteer gig. For a couple of years he’s been teaching painting to a group of seniors at a home in Edmonton. One day, while picking up art supplies at Walmart, he started chatting with a lady who was doing the same thing.
It turned out she was a teacher at Austin O’Brien High School and had a number of special-needs students. When she learned that Cliff taught painting to seniors and had spent time volunteering in schools before, she thought he might be able to do the same for her students.
“They had never done anything like it before, but she thought we could try it and see how it worked,” notes Lammeren. “There were 59 of them, and I went in and was like, oh man there’s a
lot of kids.”
It did work, and now, when Lammeren is home on his four days off, he’ll spend one or two of them at the school teaching special-needs children to express themselves through painting. He even buys the supplies himself.
“It’s very time consuming, but so enjoyable,” he explains. “They treat me like family and when they see me they light up.”
“When you see the blind children painting, their smiles, hugs and touches, that’s an award in itself,” he adds. “It’s the best reward you could
Lammeren volunteers his time elsewhere too. He initiated a program to inspect unsafe inner-city playgrounds in Edmonton, as well as raise funding to build safe ones. He’s also spent time volunteering at Edmonton’s Sexual Assault Centre and its Youth Emergency
“Not enough people volunteer because people are too wrapped up in their own lives. People don’t see the sadness and the suffering, but I do because I was there and somebody helped me,” he adds. “One day, if one of these kids looks back and says, ‘that Cliff really helped me,’ that would be the best award I could get.”
It’s unfortunate for the trucking community that 2010 will be Lammeren’s last year on the road.
He’s waging an ongoing battle with a lung disease that nearly ended his trucking career two years ago. Instead of an oxygen tank, Lammeren went on medication and it’s working. Regardless, his retirement is scheduled for Jan. 2, 2011.
“It couldn’t have happened without my wife of 41 years,” says Lammeren. “If I wasn’t volunteering, I probably would have been in jail because that’s the path I was on, and I had a lot of anger and guilt… She made me realize it wasn’t my fault.”
While it will be a loss to Praxair and to trucking, his retirement will be a win for the people in Cliff’s community because he says, if his health holds up, he’ll have more time to spend volunteering. And he’s just as good at that as he is at the wheel.
Have your say
We won't publish or share your data