BANFF, Alta. — An innovative trucker who has had a versatile career, including developing clever mechanical devices, was the recipient of the Alberta Motor Transport Association Historical award at last weekend’s AMTA convention.
Phil Walton of Walton Enterprises Hauling, was born in Calgary and learned early on to be self-reliant, according to the presenter of the award, Paul Rubak.
“Like many of the youngsters growing up in the era of World War II and the aftermath, schooling was not a priority,” said Rubak, who represented the American Truck Historical Society (ATHS). “Jobs were plentiful even for youngsters quitting school at age 15. This year’s recipient figured working and earning some money, was a better deal than sitting in school.”
At age 14, Walton worked at Rehn Equipment in Calgary where he had his first opportunity to drive a truck. But he was soon relegated to the company shop, after his employer learned that his new hire was only 14 years old and without a driver’s licence.
Not long after, Walton began working with his older brother on road construction, riding the back end of an asphalt truck, a position known as the ‘tar baby.’ He went from that job to the oil industry, working initially with United Geophysical. “It was on this job, where he established contacts with people that would serve him well in later years,” said Rubak.
In 1956 he bought his first truck, a 1954 F-700 Ford, which was equipped with a gravel box. He used that truck for hauling gravel required for highway construction. The winter months that first year were spent hauling weaney boards and logs in the Grande Prairie region, according to Rubak. By 1958 he was back in Calgary hauling gravel for Galleli Brothers. However, that first truck had “seen its best days,” said Rubak, which resulted in a trade for a new Fargo truck – but the deal excluded the gravel box. Walton kept that revenue generator for the new truck. “A pole trailer was quickly put together, and it was back to the bush, hauling logs,” said Rubak.
In the spring of the following year, Walton started pulling trailers for Western Asphalt. When work slowed for that job, a winch was mounted onto the truck and a flatdeck trailer was acquired. This allowed entry to the heavy-haul business, and Walton helped with rig moves in the oil patch. After a winter in the oil patch, the ever flexible Walton switched regions once again, hauling bagged cement from Exshaw, Alta. to the East Kootenays in B.C.
Following the cement haul, Walton returned to the lucrative oil patch, which paid off. By 1965 he had a fleet of seven tractors and 10 trailers, according to Rubak. The business continued to grow, with specialty hauls becoming a large part of the business and a fleet of trucks and trailers designed to meet his customers’ needs. Walton’s thriving business was given a boost by his earlier exposure to the oil industry and the geophysical business, as well as Walton’s ability to innovate and diversify.
“Much of that business was in the Arctic where trucks couldn’t travel,” said Rubak. “This caused him to become a specialist in transporting goods and materials required by the oil industry, to operate in these harsh environments.”
One of the specialty outfits built by Walton, added Rubak, was a large land locomotive.
“Powered by a large diesel engine driving an electric generator, (it) supplied power to the electric motors driving the wheels. This unit was used to pull trailers loaded with fuel and supplies in the building of microwave bases for CN Communications in the Old Crow region of the Yukon Territories.”
Walton’s Calgary-based business is now run by his sons. However, the industry still beckons for the veteran transport operator, who remains hands-on with the business. In addition to the trucking operation, he and his sons have acquired a fleet of tracked vehicles, which are rented to companies for use in remote areas, some of which were recently used in Russia’s oil industry.
“Through the years our hero has always tried as much as possible to be out with his crews, driving and working with them,” added Rubak. “He is still doing what he loves best, making the odd trip with his sons and a crew, moving material around the country.”
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