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highwaySTAR of the Year

by Jim Park
Untitled Document


The sponsors of the 'highwaySTAR of the Year' contest, from left to right: Stephen White, Caterpillar; winner René Robert and his partner Catherine Maxsom; Brad Thiessen, Freightliner Canada; Dr. Volker Hohensee, Espar Heater Systems; Joanne Ritchie, OBAC; John Dennehy, Espar Heater Systems; Glenn Caldwell, National Truck League; Ray Wellman, ChevronTexaco Canada; and Jack Meli, highwaySTAR magazine. Among the prizes brought to the table by our sponsors were: an Espar Heater System from Espar, an insurance package and a leather jacket from National Truck League, a laptop computer loaded with trucking software from OBAC, a special-edition 'highwaySTAR of the Year' jacket, a commemorative belt buckle, and a $10,000 cheque. In addition, René will be invited to participate in a future new-truck test drive for publication in highwaySTAR. And, we have been passing René's story along to the newspapers around his hometown of Magog, Que.

 

Rene Robert was chosen as our very first 'highwaySTAR of the Year' after a search spanning several months. He's a very worthy winner, as our cover story profile shows. Through his own company, Classy Transport, he and his 1999 Freightliner Classic XL are leased to SLH Transport out of Calgary.

Rene, 47, collected his award -- including a cheque for $10,000 -- at a ceremony held during the Truck World 2004 show in April. Accompanied by his long-time partner, co-driver, and now his fiancee, Catherine Maxsom, the native of Magog, Que. also took home a trucker-friendly laptop computer and an Espar heater system, among other prizes.

While Rene was definitely the right choice, selecting the winner was a tougher job than we bargained for, and it underscored how one-dimensional our view of the truck driver can be. We expected to see nominees who do their trucking well, who take pride in both themselves and the industry. What we didn't quite expect was the diversity in what they do outside of their professional lives. In fact, the nominations we received for this contest revealed an astonishing amount of public service work, a deep caring for their communities, and a dedication to improving the industry they work in. So in judging the 200 or so candidates, we went beyond the steering wheel stuff to that other side of the person that we don't often read or hear about, and probably don't do enough to promote.

Much to our regret, we had to whittle the list of nominees down to one. Your editors, Lockwood and Park, reviewed every nomination looking specifically for something extra - maybe community involvement or extraordinary dedication to the industry. We understand fully the difficulty in maintaining ties with community given the scarcity of time many owner-operators have to spend at home, but some do manage it.

Many nominations came from employers who praised their candidate in terms of how well they do their jobs, but it's telling that many of them either weren't aware of how much their nominees do outside the terminal walls, or didn't think to mention it. It was different, of course, when the nomination came from a wife or other family member.

Our first challenge was to get the list down to just 20 people. The criteria included community involvement, professional operating practices, good driving records, and remarks about how the person approached the job in a general way. We weren't looking for veteran owner-ops, either, and several guys with less than two years experience made the first cut. Roger Driedger of Big Freight Systems, for example. He's been a driver less than five years, and an owner-op for only one year, yet he had made a significant impression on his boss - and on us.

Others, like Irvine Duncan of Barons, Alberta, have been on their own for quite some time, 47 years in his case: or George Fletcher of Fredericton. He's been trucking for 52 years, with 15 years as an owner-operator.

Interestingly, the collection of names we amassed, and the personal and professional information we gathered revealed that a large percentage of the nominees had been trucking for a very long time (20 to 30 years), but had gone the owner-op route in just the past five years or so.

From 20 names, we cut to 10 and then to five. We applied the same criteria, but from 10, we interviewed the nominators and the nominees themselves. From there, five owner-operators emerged as potential highwaySTARs of the Year, so we enlisted the help of three experts to help us choose a winner: Andy Roberts of Mountain Training Institute in Castlegar, B.C.; Dan Simcock of Trappers Transport in Winnipeg; and Joan MacDonald of JVI Driver Training in Summerside, PEI.

These three reviewed the notes and comments Park and Lockwood had collected and made their own evaluations. There was to be no second-place finisher, no runner up, simply pick the winning candidate. René Robert was their unanimous choice.


The Top 5
Elwood (Al) Inwood of Don Mills, Ont. has been an owner-operator for 11 of the past 38 years, with 4 million accident-free miles to his credit. He works for Trimac Transportation, and holds a seat on his terminal's health and safety committee. A three-time winner of Trimac Transportation President's Award (1995, 1997, 2003), he's a past member of the Ontario Trucking Association Road Knights Team (2001-2002). Al coached amateur hockey for a number of years, and actually created a league for mentally or physically disabled players from scratch. It now has some 1000 players. Once named both volunteer and coach of the year, he's still actively involved in the organization of an adult recreational hockey league.

Malcolm Horton lives in Lombardy, Ont. in the Ottawa Valley. He's been in the business for 25 years, and seven years ago he took the leap from company driver to owner-operator. Today he owns four trucks, all contracted to Laidlaw Bulk. Malcolm is also a pilot and soon to be owner-operator of a small air field and flying club near Carleton Place. His flying experience and his aircraft are put to good use as a volunteer helper in search-and-rescue efforts in his area. He recently saved the lives of two women pinned in a vehicle following a serious accident.

Roger Perry, at 41, is a dedicated family man with a wife and three sons. He works with T.H. Schneider Trucking near Hamilton, Ont., but his life's work is helping inner-city kids experience a bit of what our privileged life has to offer. He's involved with the Fresh Air Fund, a program that brings inner-city kids from spots like New York City to better places for a summer holiday. Roger sponsors a couple of youngsters each year, driving to Brooklyn to pick them up and bring them to his home in Beamsville, Ont. for part of the summer. From there, they enjoy camping, fishing, etc., and Roger absorbs all costs. He's been an owner-op for 15 years, and by all accounts he's a diligent and caring professional driver who constantly goes beyond what's demanded of him.

Herbie Walker has been an owner-operator with his own authority for 35 years now, faithfully serving the same handful of shippers for all that time. More remarkably, he has had only two trucks during that stretch. Herbie was nominated by his daughter Karen, who described him simply "as the best owner-operator on the planet", and more importantly, "the best father on the planet."

You'll get the chance "meet" these folks in upcoming issues of highwaySTAR. They're all worthy of a profile, and then some, so stay tuned.