I called Andy Roberts from Mountain Transport Institute in Castlegar, BC, to see if he had a Rig of The Month driver he would recommend for this issue. I have always admired Andy for his work in improving the trucking industry. He has lobbied government officials to make changes that have benefited the industry, and his excellent driver training programs are second to none. He immediately mentioned Darren Dudley, saying he is a good example of the type of conciencous drivers we can be proud of. After all, he didn't have much choice with a name like Dudley. He had to be a singer (Dave Dudley, "Six Days On The Road") or a driver. This is Darren's story:
I was that young kid everyone saw enthusiastically pumping my arm at the trucks driving by while waiting for the school bus!
I was born in Kimberly, BC, and moved to Castlegar at a young age. Castlegar is in the southern interior of British Columbia's West Kootenay Region and is known for its beautiful mountain scenery and outdoor fun. Looking back, I couldn't feel any luckier growing up where I did. There was always something to do.
Driving was always my passion, and that's all I ever wanted to do right from those arm-pumping days. Nothing got me more wound up than watching movies like Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, and Stroker Ace and various car based TV shows. I remember watching my first Daytona 500 with my Grandmother and telling her that I would race cars when I grew up! She just laughed. Being 16 years of age and getting my first license couldn't come fast enough for me.
I spent time at the coast after graduating; they were some of the best times of my life. I have some awesome memories of good times with a great group of friends, but, in the end, the lure of the Kootenays pulled me back.
Once home, I landed a job piling wood at Kalesnikoff Lumber. I really liked my time there, even though it was tough physical work. I remember watching the DCT Chambers trucks pulling in and out of the yard. I thought they were cool-looking setups and thought I'd love to run one of them if I had the chance. After a while, the lumber industry went into a bit of a funk, so I decided to get my Class One.
I got ahold of Andy Roberts, owner of Mountain Transport Institute and got the ball rolling. I was fortunate to have a high-quality driver training school in my hometown. Mike Boultbee was my instructor, and I just happened to be his first student. He was very knowledgeable and incredibly calm, which is perfect for the job.
A short while later, I had my class one, but I quickly learned that having one with no experience didn't mean much in the real world. So I was extremely fortunate that my instructor, Mike, put me in contact with Graham and Lorraine Hunter, who had three trucks on with DCT Chambers. Remember when I said I admired those chips trucks?
Graham looked me up and down, took a drag off his cigarette and said, "You're going to have to get some seat time with some of our drivers before I can let you loose." I could hardly contain my excitement.
Five weeks of training later, I finally got the nod. It was the August long weekend in 1999, and looking back, I kind of chuckle about it now. I'm not sure if that was a final test, putting me on the road on the busiest weekend of the year, but I pulled it off without an issue. I certainly wouldn't be volunteering soon to be trucking on a long weekend in today's world. It was hectic, but I didn't care. I was grinning from ear to ear all the way.
Everything to me at that point was about getting experience. Listening, asking questions, and watching other drivers work their trucks. I was a little obsessive, but I knew what I wanted.
Garhard Mayrhofer also owned a few trucks with DCT Chambers, and after a long phone call 18 months after my initial start, I decided to join his team. Who knew that that call would lead to a 7-year working relationship? It went so well that I stayed with him as he branched out on his own in the summer of 2021 and formed Otter Transport Ltd. I figured that was the best move for me as DCT, in my mind, had run its course.
Garhard, "The Boss," treated me exceptionally well, and I learned a tremendous amount from him. He set me up with a brand new heavy spec flat top Freightliner with a 550 cat engine that I nicknamed 'The Blue Blur’ primarily running pulp to North Vancouver out of Celgar. I worked my butt off, but I watched Garhard work twice as hard for his business and employees. I could see early on that was the only way to succeed in this dog-eat-dog business. I saw the struggle, but I also saw the good days, and there were a lot of them.
I worked with an awesome group of guys there as well. We battled hard and pushed limits for sure. Great memories. The change was in the air, though. The recession of 2008 hit us hard and affected everyone, including my employment. It was tough to watch someone who had put his heart and soul into his business being forced to having to dramatically downsize his operation. But it was one hell of a run.
After that, it was back to hauling wood chips for me. There weren't many employment opportunities then, but Sutco Transportation Specialists answered the call. I enjoyed my time there, put in the hours, and worked hard, but when another slow down happened, it was apparent my time there could be running short as well, and it did.
Life always has a way of working its way out, sometimes it can be a tough battle but that’s what we do. A week or so after my last day with Sutco, I received a heartbreaking call that my old boss Gerhard had taken a fall off his loaded trailer and had been seriously injured. I didn't waste any time calling his wife, Diane, to get an update on his situation. It wasn't good. I remember saying, "Don't worry about the truck. I'll keep it moving. Don't worry about paying me. Don’t worry about anything right now. Worry about Gerhard.’
His 2005 International 9900I with a 53' step deck, the last Otter Transport truck, had been working with Midway Express Ltd, based out of Nelson, BC. While filling in for 'The Boss', I got to experience new trucking destinations and a variety of loads that I had never worked with before. Suddenly the learning curve ramped up extensively. I don't know how many times I did 'The Trucker Stare,' trying to figure out how to tie down the load safely, but as time passed, I started feeling more comfortable with the different aspects of the job.
About six weeks later, the phone rang, and I got a call that changed my career path. Gerhard called to say they had decided to sell the truck and asked if I would be interested. Boom! Possible life-altering decision incoming!
I really put a lot of thought into this decision, and rightfully so. I talked with the people closest to me, including my future wife, Jen. She had to know and understand that taking the chance to buy a truck would undoubtedly take away from my home time. Fortunately for me, her father drove a truck, so she knew what it was like having him away from home. The thought that appealed to me the most was being able to work for myself and steer my own ship. I also talked with Charlie Bourgeois, a good man who was dispatching loads at Midway Express. I had to make it abundantly clear to him that there had to be a balance between home and work, and he fully agreed to make it happen. Charlie had been in the trucking business for decades and fully understood where I was coming from.
The decision was made, and in October 2010, HellBent Trucking was born. The name came to mind out of nowhere just as I was filling out the form on the website. I love my business name and have noticed that other people who like it generally say the name enthusiastically the same way every time, even though they don't know each other. It's rather humorous, really.
It was a pretty smooth transition into the Owner Operator world. I bought the last International 9900i Otter Transport truck with that 53' step deck trailer, and already having six plus weeks of experience with Midway was a huge asset. Most importantly, I knew the consistency was there and that it was enough work to survive. That is always a concern that I don't think ever goes away. It didn't take long to realize that the worst part of being an Owner Operator, and I'm sure others would agree, is not being able to shut your brain off.
I was trucking all over the place. Basically, half of North America was my playground except for California. Whitehorse, Manitoba, Dakotas, New Mexico, down to Vegas, New Denver, Oregon Coast, everything in between and British Columbia being the best of all. I'm a little biased, but truthfully, we here in BC live in an amazing part of the world. It certainly has it’s challenges however with high mountain passes in every direction.
It wasn't too far into the ownership role that I found out I was going to be a father. Even though I had already been a stepfather to two awesome boys, the news panicked me at first. The 'What Ifs?' kept me awake at night, but I soon calmed down and enjoyed the amazing experience. My wife would probably tell you otherwise, but truthfully, I have never thought that she has been more beautiful, and in August of 2011, on a full moon, I was the proud father of a healthy baby girl. Just a few years later, ‘MoonBeam,’ was the flower girl as I married my wife in a unique setting, at the Old Theatre in downtown Castlegar.
As quickly as each of those life-changing events happened, I went back on the highway. Being a father changed my work focuses as time went on. I realized I didn't want to be away from home as much as I was as my daughter was getting older. So I started running Hwy3 more regularly.
The old 9900i was starting to show its age and seemed to be a monthly fixture down at Bill's Heavy Duty. I think I replaced every part of that truck at least once. The list went on and on with two engine rebuilds, transmission, and front differential. I started feeling bad for the guys working on it, but I hung onto it and kept it moving as the years went by. Ten and a half years, to be exact. I was one trip shy of putting 1.5 million KMs on that old girl when she had another major, and I refused to put another dime into her. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but it was time. The memories are endless, good and bad, or perhaps funny, like when I ended up at a truck stop in Pendleton, Oregon. Completely exhausted, tired, not thinking straight at all and needing to use the restroom. I remember thinking how strange it was that there were no urinals there. Panic set in the stall about 1 minute later—sorry, ladies. Really, I was mortified.
The truck shared the highway with a lot of different drivers, particularly Highway 3, west of the Kootenays. I'm still sharing the highway with some drivers that I got my start with at DCT Chambers. How awesome! There is so much talent out there. I have nothing but respect for these Pro Drivers and who they are. The best drivers in North America come out of this province. My opinion, of course, but come on, prove me wrong. Also, tie that into the myriad of good people and customers I work with, it truly makes this profession what it is.
So now what? Sometimes you have to make those big decisions, and one was finally made. It was really a family decision. I talked with my parents, Dave and Gail, my wife Jen and my office lady Andrea JG at Midway Express, who is always kicking butt for me. They all thought it was a positive move and time for a new truck. So I reached out to an old trucking friend who put me in contact with E.B at Calgary Peterbilt. They just happened to have two trucks on order, and after looking at the specifications, I pulled the trigger on a new 2022 Peterbilt 389. Unfortunately, it was a factory order, so I wasn't able to change anything without going to the back of the lineup again but overall I was very pleased with the setup. I needed to get back to work anyway, and there were no other trucks for sale anywhere. Overall, I felt pretty fortunate over the whole deal and E.B was fantastic to deal with.
The 389 is painted 'Institutional White', or at least that's what I call it. It is a long hood with a 78" bunk and a Cummins 565hp/2050 torque engine coupled with an 18-speed tranny with full lockers, running 3.73 gears. The 20” American Eagle style bumper was added this past spring. I can't say enough good things about this truck. It has really exceeded my expectations. I'm still wowed by it every day. On top of that, the fridge and microwave are game changers for me. I Love the smooth ride, but I believe that's what makes a Pete a Pete.
For that nice ride, I have some protection when I'm on the highway in the form of 4 legs. I'm not sure what type of protection that is, but I enjoy having her in the truck with me. My copilot, Super Sage, is a well-travelled girl who has been by my side for over four years now. She doesn't do much except sleep, but when she has had enough and wants to go home, she stares a hole through me. As you can imagine, it's crippling—what a ridiculous superpower.
The first big test for the Pete came after the BC floods of November 2021. I was one of those stuck in Hope, BC, for the week. Through it all, I had a fantastic experience and thought the people of Hope showed some amazing heart! They deserve a shout-out on here.
Hwy 3 was the first route to open up connecting the province to the Lower Mainland, and it was a jammed, a huge parking lot that caused absolute mayhem. It was unbelievable to see when you mixed in winter storms and accidents. That was two months of full concentration, intense, stressful driving. The Pete survived unscathed, and all in all, at some point, it will make a great story for the grandkids.
I'm one year into this beauty truck. Only time will tell if it was the right decision to buy or hang up my owner's hat and drive for someone else. I'll look back on that when I have to, but until then, you'll see me tearing up Highway 3, doing what I do best and loving what I do. Im 23 years in, still learning something new, Every. Single. Day.
Those lifelong dreams of racing became a reality too. Thanks to a good friend and best man, Stacey Mackinnon, I bought a dirt modified and raced five full seasons at Northport International Speedway. It was the best time of my life, experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Being around racers at the track who share your passion created lifelong friendships and an endless amount of laughs when we get together. I’ve hung up my helmet for the time being, but I’m sure my grandmother was smiling proudly as, in the end, I brought home multiple wins and four Season Championship Trophies.
Check my channel out at HellBent Trucking 32 coming soon!