by Duff McCutcheon
The teenage years of the Rev. Mel Calhoun of Harvey Station, NB must have been more conflicted than your standard youth growing up along the Miramichi.
The young Calhoun had a great love of trucking, something that had been shaped by his love of trucks and the road, as well as growing up in a family that was full of truckers; so becoming a driver when he grew up just seemed like a natural fit.
But there was a second calling that was also tugging at him – and a calling in the religious sense of the word. Calhoun also felt very strongly that he should be a preacher.
In the long run, the church won out. While he still manages a few trips hauling peat moss down to the Southern U.S. every year, he's been behind the pulpit every Sunday for the past two decades, the last 10 years at the United Pentecostal Church in Harvey Station.
He chose the church, but not before Calhoun had indulged his infatuation with trucks and trucking. He started out as a diesel apprentice with a local bus company. Within a year he was behind the wheel, running at various times for Midland, Coca-Cola, Brookville Transport, and Armour Transport. He did it all; drove a straight truck around Moncton and Fredericton, hauled Coke between Montreal and New Brunswick, and ran longhaul down to Texas.
From driving a 1974 International straight truck to longhaul runs with Coca-Cola, driving a 1975 Ford Louisville with a 335 Cummins down to Montreal and back, Calhoun looks back fondly at his life on the road. "I loved the traveling, I loved driving, and I love the industry. There's a real camaraderie among truckers that you don't find in other industries.”
He hadn't spent much time in church in those intervening years, partly out of fear that he'd be moved to start preaching, but the day eventually came when he found himself in the pulpit again.
"I was 26 and decided to give church another shot,” he says. It took one night in church for Calhoun to realize he had to make the switch.” In the fall of 1984 I went to Bible college, working at Armour Transport part-time, and then took over a tiny church with a congregation of 11 in Bathurst, NB.”
He later moved on to a church in small-town Maine and eventually came back to New Brunswick to take over United Pentecostal Church in Harvey Station where he's spent the last 11 years ministering to the 138 people that make up his congregation. He says there are some important parallels between the ministry and trucking and says his time behind the wheel has made him a better preacher.
Being a minister, he says, is basically about helping people, and that's the key reason he felt compelled to serve.
"I love helping people. If someone's hurting, I like coming alongside them and trying to make their lives better,” he says.
Likewise, truckers, especially in the early days, were known as guardians of the road, and quick to give aid to those in need. "In the old days it was just a given that a trucker would stop to help someone out – that's the mentality we had in the early days. If you see someone in need, you stop and help.”
Calhoun also feels that his time driving truck helps him relate better to his charges. "I've found that by keeping in touch with the secular world, by driving a truck among other things, it helps me relate to people and their problems and their tiredness.”
But it's the drive itself, and the few times a year he gets to indulge his love of trucking by taking a load down south for friends in the industry, where he finds he can really contemplate and think – kind of like spending 40 days alone in the desert.
"I think just being by yourself and being on the road is conducive to meditation, plus I find the beauty of the natural world to be very stimulating – you can't drive down I-81 and not be impacted, that's some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
"That's one of the best parts of driving. People tell me that after I come back from a trip I preach with more passion. You've got so much time to think,” he says.