BADEN, Ont. — Juliaan Wellens gets a lot of attention on the road. No, not because of what he’s hauling or how fast or how slow he’s going. It’s not even because of the bright orange paint job on his truck.
Wellens turns heads and sometimes is the cause for traffic because of his 1992 Scania 143.
For the unfamiliar, Scanias are classically European with an almost flat face that sets it apart from all the conventional North American trucks that dominate the highway. Wellens’ Scania is equipped with a V8 engine, a GR900 transmission and a 13-speed gearbox. And he bought it here in Canada just three years ago.
Juliaan Wellens, an owner/op originally from Belgium and the proud owner of four rare Scanias in Ontario, claims Scania blood runs in his veins.
Wellens is currently an owner/operator for Erb Group in Baden, Ont. and has been with the company for more than two years now, but like his truck, his roots are embedded overseas. Wellens is from Belgium and has been driving trucks professionally since he was 17 years old (he is 53 now). He worked and drove over most of Europe hauling food to and from Holland, France, Italy and Spain. He decided to move to Canada when he got a divorce in 2001 (which he says is his “biggest mistake”). He officially moved to Canada in October of 2002.
Two years later in 2004, he locked eyes with a Scania on Canadian soil – a 1986 model 142 at a Mississauga second-hand dealership and the truck won his heart over as it reconnected him with a sense of home.
“A guy from Scotland had already imported it,” said Wellens. “He got kicked out of the country so he put it up for sale. The truck was in an accident because the tie rod was bent so I fixed it up and I still have it.”
Wellens says he always loved Scanias ever since his early days in Belgium.
“When I started in 1977 the company I worked for had three Scanias and one Volvo,” he said. “One day even though we had a Volvo, I just got stuck with a Scania. And I just loved the sound. I’ve been driving Scanias most of my life. I love them, I always did and I always will. It’s like I have Scania blood in my veins – at least that’s what it feels like. I was hoping to bring one here to Canada when I moved, but it didn’t work out.”
After he bought his first Scania in North America, it was like an addiction and he needed more. In total, Wellens is the current owner of four Scanias, though he only drives the 1992 orange model 143.The others (a 1995 143 with 450 hp and a 1996 model 143 with 420 hp and the 1986 model 142) are up for sale.
“I can only drive one and I hate to see them rusting away,” he said. “They are expensive compared to other North American trucks but that’s because of the import and they are V8 so they’re going to last a long time.”
Luckily for Wellens all of the Scanias he has were already imported for him. But he does run into other complications driving a European truck in North America.
“It is a little harder to maintain but once you get to know where to go and you get to know different people and mechanics and dealers it’s not bad,” he says.
Juliaan Wellens says it’s not uncommon for other truckers on the road to drive up beside him and snap a picture of his rig with their cell phones.
Wellens says he gets a majority of his parts from a dealer in Newark and since his routes with Erb normally take him to New Jersey, it’s not that hard for him to keep his truck in working order. He gives a lot of credit to his employer for understanding his unique situation.
“That’s the nice thing about working with Erb – they’re helping me,” he said. “Everything on the truck is 24-volt so I can’t just get it fixed on the road. The only major problem I’ve run into once was when my alternator broke. I can get the parts here but I can’t get it fixed. The rims are different too, so it’s harder to calibrate my wheels. I can’t complain though, even though it’s a European truck, I think I’m faster getting back on the road than some North American trucks.”
Wellens also says that it’s harder to drive the Scania here in Canada because of our incredibly harsh (not to mention long) winters.
“I’ve got to be more cautious when turning and all that,” he said. “Because my fifth wheel is behind my drive axle.”
Despite these small setbacks, Wellens says the fuel mileage he gets makes driving the Scania all worth it.
“Last month I got 6.88 miles to the gallon,” he said. “I’m averaging 6.5-6.8 miles this year. But I only drive 60 miles an hour. I don’t believe in driving fast. I save $1,000 a month just because I drive a little slower.”
Of course this speed causes other drivers to deliver sly remarks over the CB radio or pass Wellens on the highway with a glare.
“Just last week, I was coming back from Memphis and it was a 70 mph zone,” he said. “And over the CB I heard, ‘Hey, driver, it’s 70 miles per hour not 70 kilometres per hour!’ and I just responded with, ‘You drive your truck and I’ll drive mine’.”
Wellens says he normally shuts off his radio because of these types of comments on his speed but that he doesn’t care all that much because of the great fuel mileage he gets. He claims the comments he gets from other drivers aren’t generally good or bad, but mixed.
“Some people will tell me to get my piece of junk off the road,” he said. “But sometimes I’ll catch other truck drivers on the highway taking pictures of my truck as I’m driving by them.”
He says the craziest experience he’s had on the road involving his truck was when one driver in a 70 mph zone, went into the left-hand lane beside him, put his four ways on, slowed down to 55 mph and took out his cell phone to take a picture of his truck.
“I switched on my CB and told him ‘You’ve got to stop doing this. If you want a picture just follow me to the next truck stop and you can have a picture.’ But they just want a photo on their cell phone so they can show their friends,” he said. “It’s really crazy sometimes but that was just dangerous.”
So what does he think of the ride despite receiving comments on the truck’s appearance and speed on a daily basis? “It’s awesome,” he says with a laugh. “Driving a Scania is better than sex.”
Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface. All posts by Sonia Straface