Posted on 2023-05-08 17:27:42
My name is Richard Hughes, and I was born in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, in March of 1984. I grew up with my parents and younger sister on our dairy farm west of Wetaskiwin. My parents owned two-quarter sections of land where they grew crops, and they rented another two-quarters for pasture. On the farm, I learned the value and rewards of hard work. I also developed a deep love of the land, equipment and livestock.
One of my first memories is being in the barn helping Dad feed and milk our one hundred cows. We had to milk them twice a day, which was fun. However, I wasn't very fond of cleaning the barns afterwards. I remember, as a kid, as soon as I heard the sound of the brakes from the milk truck backing up the driveway, I would race out of the house to visit with the drivers. I would ask them thousands of questions about the trucks. Thinking back, I'm impressed with the patience they showed a young kid.
My favourite times of year on the farm were the spring and fall. Truck driver Victor Jaburek would come early in the spring with his Cabover Freightliner, and I would ride with him hauling our young stock out to pasture. Then I would do the same in the fall while he brought them home again. When I was about five, Dad let me ride around with the silage and manure trucks. Dad hired crews to do these chores as he was too busy working with the milk cows. The silage crew we hired had a Ford tandem L900. It was rough and loud with a screaming Jimmy under the hood, but it was fun for a kid.
Guy Lofgreen ran the manure crew Dad hired out of Gwyne, AB. He ran old Kenworths, Pacifics, and Hayes trucks with Makee boxes. My favourite was his old Pacific truck with the double shifter. Working with older equipment, I learned how important it was to maintain the equipment through regular oil changes, greasing, and cleaning. It helped keep the DOT and county cops away and made a guy feel good about his iron.
When I was about ten, Dad let me feed the cows and do fieldwork. The first tractor I drove was a David Brown 995 with a loader. I used it to pull the feed wagon, load silage and haul bales. I enjoyed running the loader and learned how to back up a trailer. Then, when I was 13, the custom farming company we hired to do our silage asked if I wanted to run the silage bagger for the summer.
When I wasn't running the bagger, I was the wash and grease boy in the shop. It was there when we had infield jobs, that I learned how to drive the trucks. The rig I learned on was a 1993 Kenworth T800 tandem with a 350 Cat with 13 speeds. I got good at backing up using my mirrors as the silage bagger was just wide enough for a truck to back into it to dump the load. It had to be backed in straight because as you dumped, it moved forward.
Between custom farming and Dad's farm, my teenage summers were busy. It was steady work from May to October. The custom farming took me from Westlock, north of Edmonton, to Brooks, south of Calgary, and everywhere in between. From age 12 to 17, I drove the silage trucks.
Winters were a nice break and left time for downhill skiing. I was active in the Dairy 4-H Club, where I learned the importance of teamwork. I was also part of WCC (Western Canadian Classic). Members are judged on showmanship, leadership skills, teamwork, citizenship, and public speaking. Once a year, we would meet up in a western province, and as a province, we would compete against the other western provinces. Along with learning teamwork, I realized how much I enjoyed travelling.
In 2003, my parents decided to divorce and sold everything. It left me feeling kind of lost and without a plan. So I rented a place in Wetaskiwin. I decided I wanted to be a driver, so I went to Edmonton, enrolled in 10 hours of truck training and got my Class 1 license. Then I called Darcy Wedlund and asked if he needed a driver for the summer, and he hired me to haul liquid. When the snow came that fall, I was out of work, so I drove into Red Deer, where I saw a big sign out front of B.J. Services looking for drivers. I walked in and got the job. I trained for the first two weeks, and then I was on my own out in the field as a frac pump operator for the winter. I spent time in Hinton, Edson, and Grande Prairie and two months north of Fort Nelson in Helmet, BC. When spring came, it slowed down, so I started looking for a new job.
I was still living in Wetaskiwin when, one morning, I ran into one of our old milk truck drivers from the farm. He told me they were looking for drivers, so I called Keld Hanson and had an interview that afternoon. I gave my notice to B.J. Services, and the next day was training to be a milk truck driver. It was funny that, as I was standing around the shop on my first training day, Victor Jaburek pulled in with his rig. He got out, looked at me and said, "Richard, is there something I can help you with?" I replied, "Nope. I'm good. I work here now as a driver." Then, without missing a beat, he said, "Wow! Am I ever old - I remember the day you were born." We both had a good laugh over that.
I knew all the drivers at Keld because they had been to our farm at one time or another since I was a little boy. They taught me a lot there, especially about hauling fluid with no baffles, just a front and a back tank. The truck I had was a red CH613 Mack with a flat top. It was initially a Westcan truck before Keld bought it.
I hauled milk for the next year and a half on two different runs. On the first day, I went from New Sarepta to Camrose, then to Saskatoon to unload. Day two was Lakeland College to Minburn, Irma, up into Wainwright and out to Saskatoon again to unload. I enjoyed seeing the farmers daily, and at that time, I had friends going to college in Vermillion taking dairy farm courses. So every second night, I got to meet up with them, grab a meal and have a drink. That was a big plus to the job.
The fall of 2005 saw the end of the Saskatoon runs. My friend Dave Malander was driving for Miller Oilfield and suggested I talk to them. I ended up getting hired and was back in the oilfield hauling pipe. I did this for a winter. It was good money, but I didn't enjoy the work. The on-call, busy one week, next week slow schedule drove me bonkers. When spring breakup came, I started helping my friend on his farm in my spare time. He hired G & H Corral Cleaning to clean out his manure, and I got talking to Henry Bilodeau, the owner. He offered me a job, so I gave my notice to Miller Oilfield and started the next day with Henry. I spent that summer driving truck and running a loader loading trucks.
We were on one of the last jobs that fall, when the farmer jumped in the truck to show me the new field. He mentioned he had two trucks hauling cows for Keith Stevenson in Valley View, AB. He said Keith was looking for a driver, so I called Keith up at the end of the week when we were done for the season. The next Monday, I went for a load with Keith and got the job. I was driving a 99 Peterbilt with a 600 Cummings and a 63-inch stand-up bunk hauling livestock. It was the first ever longnose Pete I'd driven and my first time pulling livestock. I'd always wanted to pull critters, but since BSE, there hadn't been many jobs available.
I loved the job and the truck, and I fell in love with the Peace River country. I learned about hauling cows and buffalo and how to run hard. When January came, Keith's new and first-ever tri-drive truck with tri axel trailer came open, and I got to transfer into his Pete 389 tri-drive. It could haul up to 74000 lbs instead of the 63500 lb limit I had before. I mainly hauled hogs. With this new rig, instead of having three decks and hauling 200 hogs, we had four decks and could haul 280 hogs. It was a lot of work, with the 4th deck being top-heavy.
Early one Sunday morning in April, I loaded west of Falher, AB, with 280 hogs and headed for Red Deer. I was north of Valley View going down the Little Smokey Hill and started around the bend when my load shifted. (It didn't help that I was going a little fast.) Before I knew it, I had laid the truck and trailer over. I was ok, but my load was a mess. We got panels and a chute down there and cut the wagon open. We then got another truck and liner and loaded up the survivors. When it was all done, I was looking for a new job.
I hired on with Dale Havanka, west of Wetaskiwin, hauling dirt, gravel and construction equipment. When winter came, he put the truck on with the County of Wetaskiwin Road Graveling Program. It kept us busy until the end of February that year. The oil patch had slowed by this time, and summer work looked bleak. One day, when hauling some of his grain into Camrose, I talked to a driver for Triple C Holding from Maidstone, SK, who said they might need drivers. I called them, and they didn't have an open truck but said a lease operator did. So I spent the winter hauling grain and fertilizer for them.
The truck was tired and needed some work which the owner didn't want to do. By then, I had some savings and decided to buy a truck. I talked to Triple C, and they said they had some empty trailers. Anyone who has bought their first truck knows the hoops they must jump through to get financing. Being on the road and without smartphones, it took me 45 days to get my first truck. But by this time, there were no trailers available. So I called Rick at Jester Transport in Calgary, AB. By the next week, I was proudly pulling their trailer with my truck.
My first ride was a dark blue 2001 W900L Kenworth with a 6NZ Cat under the hood. Becoming an owner/operator was a big change and challenge that I thoroughly enjoyed. I worked for Jester for 4.5 years, hauling grain and fertilizer around Alberta. After Jester, I bought a brand new set of AHV Load King grain trailers and went on my own. In the spring of 2012, I bought the truck I currently own. It's a 2003 Kenworth W900L with a 6NZ Cat again. I ran two trucks for just under two years, but the headache of the business got to be too much, so I sold the 2001 and kept the 2003.
In the fall of 2016, I got the opportunity to get back into hauling livestock when Jason Kuester offered me a chance to work for him. I took the job and have never looked back. When I started driving for Jason, I had not been past Brandon, MB, or Kamloops, BC, but since then, I've been out to Ontario six times, to the B.C. coast more times than I can count and up to the Yukon a dozen times. I've hauled lots of freight to the Yukon and moved buffalo from Elk Island National Park to Whitehorse, where I switched with Jason, who then took them on to Fairbanks, Alaska, to start a new wild herd.
I've taken guide horses from Dawson Creek, BC, up to the Dempster Highway in July and hauled them home again in October. Many loads of hard-horned Elk around western Canada and many loads of buffalo every year to various places. I have hauled logs from B.C. to Alberta to be made into beautiful log homes, but the craziest load I've pulled was a load of live bees from Osoyoos, BC, to Peace River. Even with the special suit they gave me, I was stung more than a few times. On top of these wild critters, I still moved cows and hogs regularly.
I have enjoyed working with Kuester Trucking with the small company atmosphere, and some of our cool jobs have made the news and the papers. It doesn't feel like a job when we have fun. While working with Jason, I have donated time to causes like the annual Lesco Show in Nisku, AB, and Angel Tree Foundation in Lethbridge. When the fires ripped through Manning, AB, a few years ago, I donated my time and fuel to haul cows to safety for three days. I would do that again without hesitation.
In 2018, I started dating Amber Niemeyer and have happily been with her ever since. Together with my son Liam and Amber's daughter Aerianna, we have become close. We have shared many amazing times as a family. Some of our favourite activities are camping, river rafting, and family get-togethers. Amber has recently got me into skating and trying out a few new fun places as a family. She also has her Class 1 license and has shared driving on occasion. In addition, we have become active members of the various shows and activities with our trucking family. In 2019, I won first prize in the Best Lights Category at Pro-Trucker's Alberta Big Rig Weekend. It was my very first truck show and first trophy. Later that year, I also won Best Lights at the Lesco Show. In 2022, I won first for Best Legal Lights at the Lesco Show again.
In the past 19 years, I've had a varied amount of experience. Would I change it? No! Am I happy where I am now? Yes! And I wouldn't change a thing.
Bring on another 30 years, please!!!