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Boy, Oh Boyer

by Steve Bouchard
Untitled Document There are truckers, there are people who drive trucks, and then there's Pierre Boyer. His skill and dexterity in shifting and maneuvering his truck, as well as 'feeling' what's going on at pavement level takes steering and gearing to a whole new level. And when it comes to customer service, well, let's just say that Pierre Boyer has a way about him that really works to his advantage.

At 42, Boyer loves what he does, and does what he loves. The son of a truck driver, this well spoken father of two grew-up around trucks and heavy equipment. Starting his career on a straight truck at the age of 18, he earned his class A licence a year later and started hauling chemical products with a tanker. He also had a few years away from the big rigs when he took a job delivering and installing camping trailers with a pickup truck. There was a bit more travel involved, and while he says it was a refreshing change of pace, it wasn't really for him. It wasn't trucking.

"It was a nice job, but I was missing the trucks," he says. "While I was away from real trucking, I became almost obsessed with getting back, but in a good way."

In 1989, he started work as a driver with Montreal-based Unique Personnel Services, and he's been there ever since. They placed him on a contract in his hometown of Granby, Que., hauling pressed paper tubes for Sonoco, covering an area from Montmagny, Que. to Trenton, Ont.

It was 6:00 a.m. on a cold morning in early December when I caught up with Pierre at Sonoco's Granby plant. I had met him at Montreal's Expocam show a few months earlier, and I thought it would be a good idea to get to know him in his day-to-day world.

It was still dark, and Pierre was just wrapping up his pre-trip when I arrived at the plant. I climbed into the passenger seat of his Freightliner FLD 120 and we were ready to roll. As soon as the vehicle started moving, it was obvious that he treated the truck as if it were his own. With great regard for the equipment, and nary a chink or a clunk with the shifter, he wound up through the gears, using the minimum possible rpm to keep it accelerating. He played the gearshift and the throttle like a violin.

We headed for Napierville, Que. with a load of plastic pellets for the TransWest Logistics Services warehouse. But first we had to weigh the load at a privately owned scale nearby. We were unloaded in no time, but the customer wanted the truck weighed before and after delivery, so we had to return to the scale for the tare weight. Back at the scale Pierre turned on the charm, asking the weighmaster if he wouldn't mind faxing the scale ticket back to the warehouse rather than have us return with it. That saved half an hour's travel time winding through Napierville's narrow streets.

"You see," Pierre told me, "when everybody works together, the job goes a lot smoother. It's easy to save a little time here and there, and be more efficient, when you play your cards properly."

Pierre is dedicated to his work, a fierce defender of the industry, and he's a genuinely good man to whom good things are beginning to happen.

He had a fabulous year in 2002. In March, he was named a member of the Quebec Trucking Association's Ambassadeurs de la Route, a group created to promote road safety and the trucking industry in public presentations - an appointment he calls a real honor. Later that year, he reached the million-accident-free-miles mark at Sonoco, a distinction that earned him a place in the Private Motor Truck Council's Hall of Fame. He was inducted in June 2003 at a ceremony in Niagara on the Lake, Ont.

"Not only is Pierre an excellent driver, he is truly passionate about his work and his industry," says Bruno Vallée, manager of Unique Personnel's road safety department. "Pierre is dedicated, extremely professional and always looking for opportunities to improve himself and to learn. At our training sessions, you can be sure he will be at the front of the room, taking notes and asking questions."

Everything started with a driving skill competition staged by Unique Personnel in 2001.

"It was kind of a revelation for me, a fantastic experience," Pierre says. "I did well in the contest, and my bosses saw me there in action, which prompted them to give me a few more opportunities."

A short time later he took part in the Festival des Transporteurs Routiers parade in the streets of St-Augustin de Desmaures, near Quebec City.

"That was a real thrill," he says with obvious pride. "The company allowed me to use the truck in the parade, and even paid to have it washed. I shined it up myself and then drove it in the parade. The best part was that my wife Hélène and my children Marie-Pier and Sébastien were in the truck as well. That was the first time they had seen their father at work. Out there in the parade, I was feeling pretty good."

Pierre caught the attention of a local newspaper reporter, who wrote a short story and took a few pictures during the parade. His bosses at Sonoco and Unique saw it and, as they say, the rest is history.

At 7:15 a.m., the first delivery done, we headed back to Granby to grab a load for St-Leonard, north of Montreal. An unpleasant mix of rain and freezing rain fell, and we arrived around noon. On the narrow streets at the front of the plant, Pierre's truck is an unwanted obstacle for the local four-wheelers. But cool as a cucumber, he waited for his chance and then eased the trailer into the dock on the first shot - only to find the lift operator who was supposed to unload the trailer out for lunch.

Pierre's charm prevails again and another employee agrees to unload us. I suspect that people's willingness to help him has a lot to do with his civility and politeness. We had lunch in the truck while the trailer was unloaded.

As we talked about his life - the son who loves to load dump trucks with a backhoe some weekends and the daughter who introduced him to gymnastics - I asked Pierre how he feels about his role as an Amdassadeur de la Route.

"Better every day," he answers.

Pierre describes himself as very shy, but being an Ambassadeur and talking about the industry, road safety, his experience as a driver, etc., to different audiences - from elementary school kids to future and active drivers, and the general public as well - seems to be an effective cure.

"I was nervous when I made my first presentation, but I'm gaining confidence with my experience. People at QTA give us great support. When we have questions, they give us the answers," he says. "I knew about the Ambassadeurs program, but nothing compares to being part of it and understanding what it brings to the industry. On a personal level, it's an incredible confidence booster, and it makes you feel like you're accomplishing something worthwhile. I wish everyone could have that experience just once."

Where is Pierre Boyer going to be in 10 years? He doesn't know exactly, but he hopes to stay in trucking. Being open-minded, he's not eliminating any possibility. His work as an Ambassadeur has helped him discover a passion for communication and allowed him to share his enthusiasm for the industry. So, maybe a job in safety or driver training?

"Who knows?" he says. "I'm not ready to make any decisions right now."

At 12:45, we left for a warehouse in Lachine, in Montreal's west-end, to pick up 30 tons of paper rolls that Sonoco needed delivered to its plant at Cap-de-la-Madeleine, near Trois-Rivières. That took an hour to load, which gave the weather another hour to worsen.

With the freezing rain changed to snow, I thought it would be a good idea to stop asking questions and let Pierre focus on his driving. But he was completely relaxed and as talkative as ever. Montreal drivers aren't known for cutting truckers any slack, and even with the lousy road conditions, they're as aggressive as ever. But with the finesse of an orchestra conductor, Pierre managed the automobile traffic deftly.

We were backed into the dock by 4:00 p.m., then out and on our way to Granby 30 minutes later. It was 6:30 when Pierre switched off the key, and the truck shuddered into silence. It was a heck of a day with a heck of a driver. After 670 kilometers in almost every type of weather, the snow let up just as we were saying our farewells, like it was falling just to put him to the test for the guy from the magazine. It certainly wasn't a test, but he passed with flying colors anyway. Proof that nice guys can finish first after all.

Steve Bouchard is editor of Transport Routier, our French-language sister magazine based in Montreal.