by Rolf Lockwood
Dave O'Donnell is a veteran of the trucking wars, and if he were actually a solider
he'd probably have medals on his chest. As it is, he has a brand new Mack to show
for his bravery in battle, his first new truck in 35 years of roaming the highways,
mostly northern ones. Quiet, modest, and pretty shy, the 52-year-old lease operator
sees it as his reward.
Like many Maritimers, he went west, young man, leaving his native New Brunswick
21 years ago. Nowadays he calls Hinds Creek, Alberta, home and he's been leased
to Reimer Bulk Systems out of Fort Saskatchewan for the last nine months or so.
He pulls tankers, mostly around north Peace River country and into northern B.C.
Dave's trucking career has seen him do many things, but for the last eight
years he's been an owner-operator. Before getting on with Reimer he was independent,
finding loads on his own, mostly hauling grain into western feedlots. There
were 10 years before that hauling explosives and grinding balls and the like
into mines, much of it in northern Ontario. Like we said, he's been around,
almost never hauling cherry freight along easy four-laners.
And just two weeks before we met him back in August, Dave took delivery of
his very first new truck. It's a shiny white Mack with a 220-in. wheelbase and
a 70-in. sleeper, on which he traded a 1995 'Bulldog' that he'd bought used.
Power comes from a 460 Mack motor, and it shoves torque through a triple-countershaft
Mack 18-speed to 46,000-lb Eaton rears. "It's basically loaded," says
Dave with pride in his voice, and that includes small touches like the coffee-maker
and microwave that mean he can be pretty independent as far as meals go.
Among the options on his Mack is a very strong 'roo bar' up front. It cost
him $2200, but he says there's a saving to be made on insurance when you equip
a truck this way. And it only takes one contact with a moose to lose that $2200
and much more besides.
"We never really wanted the payments, but I love it," says a smiling
Dave. "It's so much easier to drive. And it's basically got everything
that I've ever dreamed of having in a truck."
The "we" in that sentence refers to his wife - and, I'd guess, his
best friend - Dorothy. They've been married for 27 years, together for 28. "And
I figure we'll be together for a good many more," says Dave. For many of
those years after their three children were grown up, they drove team and saw
a lot of North America together, loving every minute of it.
"That was a lot of fun," says Dorothy, as modest and unassuming as
But tragedy struck in 1998, a parent's very worst nightmare, when their daughter
was murdered by their son-in-law. As if that horror wasn't enough, just 18 months
later one of their two sons drowned in the Peace River. It goes without saying
that their lives were changed enormously, not least because they fought to formally
adopt their daughter's boy, Austin. With their remaining son more or less on
his own at the age of 23, but their adopted grandson just seven, Dorothy found
herself a stay-at-home Mom once again.
It's hard to imagine the kind of grief Dave and Dorothy have had to deal with,
but Austin's wide smile must be a tonic in itself.
"It's been a hard old struggle," Dave admits, "but we're still
trucking. Some people seem to have worse luck than others. But you look next
door and you can see somebody else having a worse time. You just have to keep
"We were down for a while, but we bounced back. Now we've got a new truck
and the future doesn't look quite so bad. It's far from easy, but you can't
look to the past. You have to live for the future."
With luck, that future will see Dave and Dorothy driving team once again after
young Austin graduates and is able to fend for himself.
"That's what we want for our retirement," says Dave. "We want
to go back on the road for the rest of our time. We had a taste of it for a
few years before, and we want to do it again."
In the meantime they've got a truck to pay for, and they may not see a whole
lot of each other before it's done. Dorothy jokes that before they got the new
Mack, she said she'd take a picture of it when they took delivery, but didn't
expect to see it again for another photo until 60 months or so had passed -
when it was paid for. She really was kidding, but you get the impression that
the O'Donnells are pretty hard working folks, so maybe her joke wasn't so far
off the mark.
We wish them well.