Over the years, many people have come to Canada to drive trucks. Some have been successful, and some have not. This issue’s feature driver is one of the successful ones.
My name is Sean Leatherland, and I was born in 1969 in Whitby, North Yorkshire, England. I have been interested in trucks and trucking for as long as I can remember. The main reason is I grew up around trucks. I am a third-generation driver as both my father and grandfather were in the transportation business. Dad had his own small road transport company.
When I first left school, I worked in an auto body repair shop, where I worked on small cars until I was old enough to work for my dad. I started driving 7.5-ton trucks on a car license. I drove all over the UK, delivering doors and building materials to brand new housing developments, but I always wanted to drive bigger trucks.
At the age of 21, which is the legal age to get your class 1 in the UK, I was itching to get out and start driving a truck. In February of 1990, when I was finally old enough, I tested for my class one, but I hit a roundabout and failed miserably. I retook the test 2 days later and passed with no problem. I wanted to drive big trucks, but first, I had to prove myself to my father. I started on small rigid trucks and then graduated to bigger rigid trucks that could carry 15 tons. I was eventually allowed to drive class 1 trucks as a lease operator for my father, hauling general merchandise, lumber and steel bars for Slater’s Transport in Malton, New Yorkshire. I had many mentors. I worked with many old-school drivers, who taught me, among other things, to rope and sheet a load. (tarping in Canada). They were all old names in the industry.
I was given a 1982 Volvo F10 while working for Slater’s Transport, and I stayed there for 2-3 years. After that, I left the family company and went to work doing UK bulk haulage for Jeff Sayers Bulk Haulage. Jeff gave me the chance to buy my own truck and work for him as a subcontractor. I bought my first truck, a 1989 Volvo F10, from Slater’s Transport, with the help of Maurice Foxton, who was the director of Slator’s. They sold it to me at a reasonable price, and then I worked for Jeff for 3 or 4 years. But I always wanted to do more things like travel Europe.
I spent some time at JGB Transport in Aberdeen, moving oilfield equipment and then at Bulmers Transport, moving 30’ bulk intermodal containers. But the longing to do more was still driving me. I wanted to get into European Bulk work.
One day while loading road de-icing salt in Middlesborough in the northeast of England, I got talking to a guy who was loading next door. He was loading scrap aluminum for Germany, and I thought that I would love to be doing that, so I decided to make it happen.
I made some telephone calls and got on with Avalon European, predominantly hauling potatoes from France and Holland. They had a bulk tipper (end dump) division, which I eventually progressed to. In the bulk division, we hauled animal feeds and grains to Italy, Greece, France, Germany. Even as far away as to Russia with scrap metal.
It seems I have never been satisfied with staying in one place, and I was getting restless again. I wanted to gain more experience and see new places. In mid-2011, I was interviewed by a company hiring for a Canadian Company. In October of 2011, I went for another interview in Manchester, after which my wife and I decided to sell everything and move to Canada.
On January 4th, 2012, I flew over to start my training with The Alliance Group, working on a contract with Manitoulin Transport. I did two weeks of the classroom with hands-on training, but I failed my first road test. Then two days later, I retook the test and passed. It seems there is a bit of a pattern here.
I had a driver coach for a week, going to Whitehorse, Prince George, and North Battleford and then I drove team, leaving Acheson, AB, on a weekly run to Toronto. It was not long before I was bored with that run. I didn’t want to see Toronto anymore. I wanted to see the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, so Manitoulin gave us the chance to do 2 Whitehorse loads a week. We did that run for six months, and then I was allowed to go as a single driver going to Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Fort Simpson, Hay River, Inuvik. do 2 Whitehorse loads a week. We did that run for six months, and then I was allowed to go as a single driver going to Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Fort Simpson, Hay River, Inuvik.
As a trainer on the road, our freight for Prince George used to leave at 10 pm from Acheson. On one trip, a guy I was training was driving, and I was in the passenger seat when he started to fall asleep. I asked him if he was okay to drive, and he said he was tired. We were only at Edson, which is 3 hours from Edmonton. I took over driving and drove the rest of the trip while he slept. When we got to Prince George, we got a hotel, and I told him that we had to leave at 1800 local time, which is 1900 Edmonton time. He slept in, and I had to wake him up, so we ended up leaving later than we were supposed to.
He was driving when we left Prince George, and as we got near McBride, BC, it was dark and snowy. We were only doing 50-60 kph up the hill when a huge moose came over the snowbank. There was plenty of time for us to stop, but he didn’t - he hit it, so we stopped to check things out. The moose was dead, and the rad was pushed in, but there was no coolant leak, so I figured we could limp the truck back to Acheson. At this point, I decided that he was no longer driving. I got in the driver’s seat and drove the rest of the way. When we got there, we went straight into the office, where we had to fill out an incident report. After filling it out, I went up to the office to confirm where they wanted the trailer, and when I came back down, I saw the guy running through the yard. I guess he realized he was done for because I never saw or heard from him again.
In January of 2013, I got involved with the Mackenzie Valley winter road, running Norman Wells, Colville Lake, Tulita, and Deline while continuing my run into Whitehorse.
Around that time, I asked Manitoulin if I could put my own truck on with them as an owner-operator. They said I could, but I found out I wasn’t allowed to buy one until I was a permanent resident of Canada. Once accepted, to be a permanent resident, you have to go around the flagpole, leave Canada, and re-enter. I got my permanent residency in August of 2014. It required a lot of paperwork being filled out and a good chunk of cash, but it was worth it.
On the way back home after becoming a permanent resident, I was thinking, this is it, I have my residency, I’m going to buy my own truck. My first stop (after I kicked everyone out of the car) was at Kenworth, where I purchased a brand new 2015 W900L, which I put on with Northwest Transport. I thought it was awesome. After 2.5 years of not owning my own truck, I finally had my own long hood conventional again. This is what I had been working for. I was back as an owner-operator, and it felt great.
We have all had trips to remember, and one of mine was at Eagle Plains, Yukon. The road had been closed for two days due to a blizzard, and then there was a small window of opportunity to head North once the storm passed. Two of us decided to chance it, but looking back, we shouldn’t have taken it because the wind picked back up again just after we left, and the snowdrifts on the road were horrendous. We ended up stuck at hurricane alley, at km 454, for two days before the Yukon snowplows were able to rescue us, so we could carry on to Inuvik.
I stayed on with Manitoulin for two years, and then I decided to leave. I wanted to travel more of North America. I felt I hadn’t seen or experienced enough. So I went to work for Kencor heavy haul out of Nisku, AB. and preferred carriers in Spruce Grove, where I hauled oilfield equipment down and back to the southern states (Texas and Louisiana etc.). But the oilpatch wasn’t doing good at that time, and I kept thinking about the North and wanted to go back. So after a year, I came back to Manitoulin.
One of the managers at Manitoulin Transport had said to me before I left, “You’ll be back within a year,” and it was exactly one year to the day that I ended up coming back. When I came back, I was happy that they put me back in the North. This is where I felt I belonged.
In April 2018, I sold the Kenworth and bought a Western Star 4900SF, which started my love of the Western Star brand. In January 2018, I moved to Sparwood, BC. I still worked with Manitoulin, but I was now with their heavy haul division. The Sparwood terminal specializes in heavy haul for the mines. It is mainly low bedding and general deck work.
I had an idea stuck in my head that wouldn’t stop. I wanted to build my own truck. I had made friends at the Pierre Letourneau, the salesman at Western Star, who became a good friend of mine when I bought my first Western Star. He put the seed in my head that I should build my own, and it took three years for me to decide that it was what I wanted to do.
In June of 2020, after 5 or 6 weeks of designing (axle, cab, chassis configurations), we finally got a plan together of exactly how I wanted it built. We placed the order in June, and the truck arrived at Western Star in the last week of October, where it went into their shop for final fittings. The truck went on the road in November of 2020. It is a Western Star 4900SF with a Cummins X15 565 with a 2050 easy pedal clutch into an 18B transmission. The truck is double railed, front to back with Nuway 52000 lb suspension with a 60” spread, with wide 8’6” wide track axles with all-disc brakes.
After I bought my truck in 2018, I said that it was the last one I would buy. I’ve also said that about this truck, so who knows how many more there might be in the future. I want to take the time to thank Pierre, and the rest of the staff at Western Star North in Acheson, for the build of the truck and the time spent in helping me design and maintain it.
I love Canada, this is my home now, and I would never move back to the UK. My wife loves it here, and my 11-year-old daughter, who was one year old when we arrived, has never known another home. She and is a true Canadian. She swims competitively, plays ringette and kickboxes. But the thing that makes her a true Canadian is that she likes to watch hockey fan.
And me? I love my job. I get to do heavy haul in the summer and run the ice roads in the winter. Each one is an excellent change from the other, and it keeps me focused and looking forward to the change of each season.