Trent Lalonde

Trent Lalonde

Posted on 2021-09-09 13:57:24

Driving truck was something I
decided to do for one year as an
adventure. That was 28 years ago.
However, the adventures have never

I stumbled into trucking. In my 20’s
I was working construction and often
found myself unemployed. My parents
had a few trucks hauling logs, so I got
my license and started driving for them
between construction jobs. My mother
had always told me that my uncle Jim
had his license at a young age and was
never out of a job again.

Hauling logs was a good job, but the
run to the mill was never more than a
few hours, and it wasn’t long before I
wanted to try the open road. Just for a
year, I told myself, “just to see what
it was like.” So I answered an ad for
a driver, and in July of 1993, I found
myself hauling a triaxle reefer across
Canada and into the Western U.S.
What a steep learning curve that was.
Fortunately, I was smart enough to
know that I knew very little, and as the
saying goes, “when the pupil is ready,
the teacher will appear.”

In the early 1990s, there was a
horrible truck wreck in Kamloops,
B.C. A young driver, I believe he was
only 18 years old, had stopped at the
brake check on top of the hill and
backed his manual slack adjusters off
instead of setting them up. He then
proceeded down the hill. The results
were catastrophic.

So as a young 25-year-old driver
showing up a brake check in B.C. I
had every experienced driver coming
over to check on me, see what I was
doing, and making sure I was doing it
correctly. As they didn’t want another
tragedy on the highway. 

“Hey young fella, you know what
you’re doing there?” was the common
refrain I would hear. Many of the
drivers would go so far as to crawl under the truck and trailer to make sure
I was adjusting the brakes correctly. I
never took offence to this. Perhaps it
was my time as an apprentice carpenter,
or perhaps it was my realization I was
in over my head, but whenever I heard
“Hey young fella,” I knew it was an
experienced driver willing to help.

My employer at the time, Dale, had
of course, made sure I knew how to set
up brakes before he sent me out on the
road, he was also extremely helpful,
supportive and tolerant, but he couldn’t
always be there. So, whenever a driver
offering advice approached me, I took
full advantage of their experience by
asking numerous questions. I even kept
a list of questions in the truck to ask
the next driver, who greeted me with
“Hey young fella.” I received advice
on everything from chaining up to load
securement to dealing with dispatch.
The amount of time spent and patience
shown by so many complete strangers
still amazes me to this day.

Over my first four years of driving,
I tried a few different jobs from dry
van to super B flat decks to fuel and
then in the spring of 1997, I bought
my first truck. Going on the advice of
many experienced owner-operators, I
opted to buy a brand-new truck rather
than a used truck as I was told a new
truck is cheaper in the long run. The
advice proved correct. I purchased a
1997 Freightliner Century Class with
a Series 60 Detroit and a 13-speed
transmission. I owned that truck for the
next seven years, and It was very good
to me.

Go from being a company driver to
an owner-operator was a great move
for so many reasons. No longer was
I given an old truck that hadn’t been
properly cleaned or maintained for
months only to have it taken away
once I got it up to par, now I was able
to keep the truck maintained. I wasn’t
switching trucks every few weeks,
so my stuff could stay in my truck,
and no one was driving my truck
or lying in the bunk with their dirty
work boots on. This truck was mine,
all mine. I was also struck with the
realization that I was now responsible
for EVERYTHING. Coming from
a family of small business owners I
knew the importance of the business
end of trucking, so once again I turned
to those who had gone before me for
advice and once again the advice was
abundant and invaluable. From fuel
costs to tire rotation to major repairs,
no one ever tired of my questions, or at
least they didn’t let on that my constant
questions were annoying.

As much as I enjoyed owning my
own truck, it wasn’t long before I
realized the company was taking the
lion’s share and then some. It doesn’t
matter how much you enjoy working
for a company, the people you work
with or the places you go, in the end,
trucking is a business, and I was in it to
make money. Looking for how I could
get a bigger share of the pie, I started
thinking about going out on my own,
running independently. I did what I
always did and asked a ton of questions
of every independent operator I met.
They all told me the same thing - Go
for it.

Still, I was newly married with a
baby on the way, not a good time to
take risks. What made the final decision
for me was an over-dimensional load
going from Saskatoon to Long Island,
NY. With several drops along the way.
Once loaded up and secure, I went into
the dispatch office to get my permits.
I was told, “When you get to each
state, pull over, and we will begin
the permitting process, not before.”
(I knew that would take forever.)
Furthermore, you can’t enter a state or
province with an oversize load without
a valid permit. I lost it. In defence of
the company, so did the manager, Ray.
Ray got directly involved, and we
worked things out, but nonetheless, I
was done. I wasn’t going to fight with
a company to do my job. I called my
wife and told her that I was going on
my own, she was five months pregnant
at the time, but she saw what I was
going through, so she too said go for
it. That was April of 2001, and on July
1st, 2001, T.A. Lalonde Transport was
on the road. My oldest daughter was
born on August 15th, 2001.

Running independently was a whole
new adventure, and one I highly
recommend. If you’re thinking of doing
it, my advice is to go for it. I learned
a million things running independently,
but some of the biggest surprises were
how many customers loved dealing
with a small, one-truck operation. The
first load was often difficult to get,
several customers took me years to get
the first load, but once I had proven
myself, I soon moved to the preferred
carrier list. You see, the customers
need their freight delivered undamaged
and on time to service/supply their
customers. The large carriers with high
driver turnover rates can not guarantee
such service. Large steel companies,
lumber companies and equipment
manufacturers, to name just a few, will
give loads to their independent carriers
first, their “quality carriers” as one steel
company executive called them, and
then they would call their “quantity
carriers” for what’s left.

Running independently taught
me a lot of things, like the value of a
customer. Earning a customer’s trust
is a very difficult thing to do, and once you have it, you must work even
harder to keep it. For this reason, I am
dumbfounded as to why large trucking
companies make little to no effort to
keep their best drivers, for without
good drivers you’ll never keep your
customers. Customers prefer to have
the same drivers as they get to know
the customers specific needs and time
isn’t wasted instructing new drivers. I
will never understand the disposable
attitude so many trucking companies
have towards their key people.

Soon after into running independent,
the 1997 Freightliner gave way to
a 2003 Peterbilt. I had an English
Springer Spaniel at the time named
Jake, and he would travel with me
across North America. One time I was
on top of a load of lumber throwing
the tarps, and I turned around to see
Jake behind me. He had jumped up on
the deck, then the first lift of lumber,
then the second. Hence the “Springer”
in Springer Spaniel.” Jake always
stuck close to me. Some of my best
memories of trucking were during this
time. Being independent, I was able
to make trucking work around my life
instead of the other way around. At this
time, I also learned it’s not a good idea
to call your wife from sunny Texas in
January when she’s stuck at home with
two small children in -40°C. Old Jake
and I weren’t too popular that day.

It was also during my time as an
independent that I worked hauling
on the ice roads out of Yellowknife,
NWT. It was another adventure. I
was hired on with Robinson Trucking
for the 2005 season and ended up
working the 2006 & 2007 seasons as
well. What an incredible experience.
I had been trucking for over 13 years
at this point and thought I knew a lot.
Well, I discovered there was so much
more to know. I met some of the finest
people I know while working up there,
and many are still good friends to this
day. As hard as everyone worked and
as gruelling as the job was, it was
an absolute pleasure to work with a
group that took the job seriously and
performed the job at an amazing level.
I am a far better driver and a better person for my time working in the
As much
fun as
running independent
was, and
it was
profitable, it
was also a
lot of work.
I was doing
it back in the
days before
and wireless
internet at
every truck
stop. I would
have to stop
at truck
stops to
fax paperwork back and forth with
customers. Getting onto the internet
involved plugging my laptop into dialup service via a phone jack in a truck
stop. So when the opportunity came
up to haul oil in Alberta back in 2009,
I took it. The money was good, and it
was closer to home. Looking back, I’m
not sure I made the right decision, but
then again,
the oil patch
has been
good to me.

It’s been
an interesting
career so
far, and the
challenges never end.
Just recently,
I quit a job
as an owner operator.
I checked
my pay
statement and noticed $1,500 was
missing. Every statement I had from
this company was short, and I was
tired of fighting with them, so I sent
in my notice. Interestingly, I had more
trouble collecting money from that
employer than I did in the entire seven
years I ran independently. In business,
you must be prepared to walk away
from a deal at any moment. I know
my worth as a truck driver, and I found
another job immediately. My mother
was right; a good driver is never out
of work. Hopefully, my next job will
last until I retire, which isn’t that far
away anymore, but it might not. I’m
prepared either way.

I have thought about going
independent again, and I even went so
far as to price out a trailer. My years
hauling oil were mostly done under my
own operating authority, so it wouldn’t
be difficult to reinstate them, but
honestly, I’m looking more to wrapping
up than to expand. I enjoy time at the
lake and working on old cars more
than worrying about business. But you
never know.