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Smilin' George

by Rolf Lockwood

One more payment. That's where George Postoluk was with his 1997 Mack when I first met him last September in a truckstop parking lot. A smiling Winnipegger with his truck almost paid for, he was in a pretty nice spot for sure. He wasn't sure what to do next - buy a new truck or gamble a little on another year with Ol' Betsy?

Pulling tridem reefer loads for Atlas Cold Logistics out of Winnipeg, he runs across Canada anywhere between Calgary and Halifax, and he puts lots of road behind him. There were just shy of 1.5 million clicks on his CH613 when we caught up with him again in mid-December during a one-hour stopover at home en route to Alberta from Toronto. Despite that odometer reading, he says he's decided to run the Mack for at least another year.

And with the last installment made this past October, why not? It's been a pretty good ride, after all. So good, in fact, that aside from replacing the radiator once, he's never really had anything to deal with in repair terms. Batteries and ordinary consumables, sure, but he's never touched even the injectors in his Mack 427 engine, with 18-speed Mack tranny behind it. Still gets 7.1 mpg.

"I can't afford to give it up," he says. "It's been too good a truck. If something goes wrong, fine, I'll fix it.

"I've been lucky with it," he adds, but we have to wonder how much luck has to do with it. Sounds like he treats his Bulldog pretty well, just like he treated his previous Mack, an R-model that he bought new in 1986. And that tractor had almost 1.8 million km on the clock - 1.1 million miles - when he traded it on his '97. Given that it spent its entire life on 700-or-so-mile peddle runs for Burns Meats between Winnipeg and northwestern Ontario - with 30 or more drops each trip - Postoluk figures it actually had the equivalent of another 300,000 miles on it, what with all the idling and such.

The only major repairs in all that time? A busted frame rail, thanks to northern Ontario roads, and head gaskets once. Otherwise, it was just tires and brake linings and the usual wear items.

This impressive record implies that he's a pretty gentle driver, and he is, but there's obviously more to it than that.

"It's all about maintenance," George says. "You just have to look after it. You spend a dollar today to save five tomorrow." That logic made him book the CH for a bottom-end job on the engine over Christmas, a move he sees as simple insurance.

One of the secrets to keeping his trucks rolling trouble-free is the garage he rents. He's not qualified to do much more than tinker, he says, leaving serious service work to the Mack dealership in Winnipeg. But that tinkering includes regular greasing - "It's a pretty cheap commodity" - and pressure washes after every trip to keep Ontario salt from doing its thing.

"I think the shop is worth its weight in gold," he says. "In the long run it pays for itself."

Just turned 60, Postoluk figures he'll keep trucking while his health holds up, so there's probably another new truck in the picture somewhere down the line. But he's clearly not a guy who likes change for its own sake, so who knows?

This past summer he celebrated his 20th year as an owner-operator, and all those years have been with Burns in one form or another - from Burns to TCT Canada, which was owned by Burns, then to TCT Logistics hauling Burns loads, and, after another corporate purchase, to Atlas Cold Logistics. He spent the previous couple of years driving for his cousin, who had a few trucks on with the meat-packing outfit, and the 10 before that working in the plant. He bought his very first rig, a 1981 Ford L9000 straight truck with a 20-foot box, in July of 1982.

Trucking has been good to him, and he says he's enjoyed it all, even though those peddle-run years were pretty demanding. On his regular run to Fort Frances in the old R-model, for example, he'd be out and rolling at 4:30 a.m., eating on the run and not getting home 'til 9:00 at night. In other words, he paid his dues, but he's never seen a reason to complain.

"I love trucking," George says, with feeling. "I really enjoy it. You're on your own, you've got nobody looking over your shoulder. I like meeting people too, and talking with the guys at a truckstop."

Typically, he even sees the silver lining in that rough schedule he used to run in his first Mack. "I was in pretty good shape back then," he says with a chuckle, "what with jumping on and off the trailer 30 times a night."

Things aren't all that much easier now. He's gone for a fair stretch at a time, usually heading to Toronto, then back through Winnipeg on his way to Calgary, where he picks up another Toronto-bound load before heading home again. He gets the odd day in Winnipeg through that time, of course, or maybe it's just an hour or so.

George figures trucking's been good to his family too, and he attributes his success to his very supportive wife Dorothy. They've been married 35 years and raised two kids in that time, a son and daughter now in their twenties. Dorothy doesn't drive, but she looks after the books and takes the odd run with her guy, as long as her pet Pekinese can go too. Independently, they both told me that the secret to maintaining a good marriage despite the rigours of trucking is simply to communicate.

"I have no problem with trucking," Dorothy says. "We talk a lot on the phone when George is on the road."

George admits that trucking is pretty tough and very stressful for some folks these days, but he figures it's a matter of maintaining a positive attitude.

"I think the business is what you make it," he says. "A guy's got to live within his means, for example. And you have to take advantage of your truck while it's under warranty."

That pragmatic approach to life shows in the truck he drives. "It's a pretty basic truck," he says, "but it makes me as much money as the next one." Consider too that he's owned just three trucks in 20 years. It's hard to argue with the Postoluk logic.

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