Peter Klassen has finally hung up his keys after 65 years on the road and clocking about 9 million miles.
“I think I am the oldest long-haul, cross-border truck driver in Canada,” said the 90-year-old who lives in St. Catharines, Ont.
Klassen has been to every state in mainland U.S. and in Canada he’s only not been to Newfoundland.
“It became an addiction, sort of, and I enjoyed it. I didn’t want a dedicated run, that’s too boring. I chose the other route – here and there and everywhere. It just became a way of life,” he said.
Klassen started driving a truck in 1955 after he was laid off his job at General Motors in St. Catharines. “A friend had some trucks, and I went there. I could drive a straight truck. I got a job with him and that led me into the industry,” he said.
After working at Premium Transportation in Centralia, Ont., for 20 years, Klassen finally retired in August. Owner Mike Hogan said, “Peter was a model driver, a rock star. You would never ever guess he was 89, he is 90 now. You would take him for 65 every day of the week. I was lucky to have him as an employee.”
Klassen said he never called in sick at Premium Transportation. “I never was sick. There were some loads that I did not like, or their destinations. I could have called in sick, so I didn’t have to go. But someone must do it. I did not like going to Chicago, but I went anyways.”
He said one must be a good employee, so your employer keeps you on. “The bottom line is you must want to work. I hate to say this, but especially the younger generation doesn’t want to work,” he said.
“I was kind of a workaholic, I did a lot for Premium, and they did lots for me. It’s probably the best company I worked for,” he said.
Klassen said customers are very important. If you do a good job, they want you back. “Premium’s customers have asked dispatch if I was available,” he said.
When asked about how he stayed healthy, he said, “I have never smoked or drunk alcohol. I did not need it.”
Klassen said one must be careful about the food choices made on the road. “If you wanna go get cheapskate then you won’t get good food.” He also warned against getting addicted to pop, chips “and that kind of stuff.” A lot of drivers do that to keep awake, he says and the next thing you know is they are putting some pounds on.
If he had spare time on the road, Klassen would take in a ball game or attend a Nascar race. He does not watch much TV and calls it “very bad entertainment.”
Klassen has seen many changes since he started driving. Better trucks, trailers, and roads. “When I started trucking, the only interstate there was Buffalo, N.Y. to Boston, Mass., in California, Interstate 5. The rest were all two-lane highways,” he said.
He’s also driven pretty much all the major brands of trucks. He started on a Diamond Rio in 1955. He recently moved on to an automatic transmission after driving standards most of his career.
“I didn’t like the automatic at first, the left foot had nothing to do. I kept using it ’coz I’d done it for so many years. But now I find automatics are great, they are really super,” he says.
He said there is also a price to pay for trucking all your life. “For me, it was a good life. For my family, not so.
“If you are married, it’s very, very hard on your family. Your wife and kids are home, and you are on the road. A round-trip to Vancouver or Seattle will take 8 to 9 days. You return home for 36 hours and you are back on the road again.”
He says you also lose most of your friends. “At my age, most of my friends have passed away. I’m outliving everybody.”
Klassen’s son passed away a few years ago. His daughter lives in Hamilton, Ont. and two grandchildren live in Alberta. He also has two brothers and a sister, and 15 nieces and nephews. “I have to get to know them again. I used to see them just periodically,” he said.
Does he have any retirement plans? “I don’t golf and am not much of a fisherman. I really haven’t decided. I am now totally, officially retired. Or let’s just I just quit working,” Klassen said with a big grin.
“For me it’s been a good life. I should be doing something, unless I can handle doing nothing, which I don’t think I can.”
By Leo Barros