Our March/April Rig of the Month is Mike Boisvenue from Carleton Place, Ontario. I first met Mike at Alberta Big Rig Weekend in 2018, where his beautiful Western Star took home the 2nd place trophy for Truck Trailer Combination. His new truck looks like it will be a contender at truck shows also. This is Mike’s story.
I was born in Winchester, a small town east of Ottawa in September of 1978. I spent most of my life growing up in a couple eastern Ontario towns known as Bourget and Alexandria. I basically took an interest in trucking at my first breath. Like many other drivers today, I guess you can say it was in my blood.
My father has been in a truck, either a tractor-trailer or a snowplow, since the day I was born. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that he’s the reason I’m driving truck today. When I was young, I spent many days sitting in the jump seat of his trucks. From running around in a little green Ford Louisville for Gerry Lavigne in Ottawa to a Mack Cruiseliner for O’Leary’s Construction to a snowplow for the township of Lochiel.
One day when I was a kid, he brought home an old White with a 30-something foot dump trailer to go load some firewood. Once we dumped the wood in our driveway, it was time to bring the old Road Boss and trailer back to Ottawa.There was a storm coming with lots of lightning, and it was pretty scary, so he looked at me and said not to worry because we’re in the safest place to be with all the tires. Funny how we seem to remember the simplest little things. I also remember as a kid growing up in Bourget, my dad’s friends who worked for Maurice Yelle in Ottawa, would drive by the house on the weekends and pick me up and take me for a ride to a pit and then drop me off on the way back. I used to love seeing those big blue R models coming down the road. I also got to run around with my Uncle a few times in his single axle S-line International delivering freight around town. He and my dad taught me pretty much everything I know about trucking.
I turned 19 in September of 97 and started driving a truck basically the same day. Ya ya, I know, just a young pup,haha. Things weren’t much different to get your license at that time. I spent a day at the St Lawrence College in Cornwall for my air brake endorsement course then booked a road test for my D license (class 3), and that was it. I ended up getting a job at a plastics moulding company in town and got to whip around in their 5-ton truck a few days a week. Their weapon of choice was a GMC Topkick with a Cat motor mated to a 6-speed manual. Not exactly something I’d wanna run the Rockies with, but it did the job.
Soon after that, I wanted to drive full-time, and a gentleman by the name of Bill Blais,owner at the time of Group Xpress in Alexandria, decided to give this young lad a chance. He hired me to drive a 5-ton Mack cabover with a 24’ box on it. Little did I know that these little Macks had a different shift pattern in them. Let’s just say there may have been a few grinds and a whole lot of cussing that first morning. If that wasn’t bad enough, I ended up crushing my hand in a freight elevator in Orleans on my first day on the job. Yup, I said my first day. Not exactly how I wanted to start, but hey, it was a lesson learned.
I hauled LTL for Bill, from Alexandria to Ottawa, until I figured it was time for me to get my A license. Bill lent me a truck and trailer to pass my road test, and when I got back to the yard as a newly licensed king of the road, he threw a set of keys at me, told me where to pick up my trailer and where it was going. That is where it all started.
Bill was a Mack guy so my first truck was a 1984 R model Mack. It had a 350 Mack engine and a 5x4 transmission. Well now...does someone wanna tell me why there’s 2 sticks sticking outta the floor? That poor truck. I’m sure it cussed me as much, if not more than I cussed it over the first day or two. But I tell you what, I ended up loving that truck. I got to haul around a 48’ walking floor trailer hauling sawdust around to regional farms. I eventually fell into a new CH model hauling wood mouldings for Alexandria moulding to Home Depots in the Pittsburgh area. It was a great job, but I wanted more.
I ended up buying my first truck at the age of 21. I bought a 97 Freightliner Classic that had a 500 Detroit with an 18 speed and 3.55 rears on tall rubber. I put that truck on with Laidlaw on the tandem van division. Back then, we still had the 48’ spread axle vans.I always liked the looks of them. After a while there, and the purchase of another truck, which was a 95 Mack CH, I decided to go back as a company driver. I found myself working for a couple small reefer outfits running California and everywhere in between. I told my dad that I’d retire after I had been to all 48 states. Well, that took 7 years, but here I am some 20+ years later still doing it today.
I’ve worked in a few places, trying out different gigs to see what I would like. I’ve done the van and reefer thing,flatbed, walking floor, containers, double drop and multi-axle floats. I really enjoyed the heavy equipment. I’ve also had the pleasure to drive some pretty cool stuff. Most of my career has been spent behind the wheel of a Peterbilt,including some pretty fancy ones owned by Phil Langevin. Hell, I even got to steer and gear one of the nicest Western Stars on the road today for Phil. That would be his blue one with the stainless bunk. That thing is one of the highlights of my career.
The equipment wasn’t the only thing that topped my list of highlights. For example, loads and their destinations. I once had a load of totes that were 3/4 filled going from Ottawa to Lewiston Idaho. My boss told me to take US Hwy 12 from just south of Missoula Mt to somewhere around Lewiston. Me being a rookie said sure! I mean, coming off the 401 and having experienced “Wooler Hill” in Trenton, what could possibly go wrong, right? For those of you who were lucky enough to run that road, you know what I’m talking about. Let’s just say I learned how to drive all over again that day in the middle of winter.
Another prime example of what this fabulous industry has in store for you every now and then is this. Back in 08, I was hauling heavy equipment for a small Sherbrooke QC based company. I was on my way down empty to a little place called Richlands Va to pick up a crane headed to Edmonton. I had a relatively new Pete 388 with a 550 Cummins. And for the first time ever, I left my brain in the bunk that morning and decided to use the built-in GPS to find my customer. Well, hell. Needless to say, I ended up in places I shouldn’t have been. The people in the trailer park were real friendly as they were waving while I was driving through with my 3 axle float, tandem jeep and single axle booster. Not quite the
trailer they were used to seeing, I guess. You know you’re gonna have a bad day when the narrow road you’re driving on turns into 2 tracks in a grassy lane. That also led to a few cuss words. With the help of a resident and a bit of luck, we were able to get me back on the right track and straight to my customer. I never followed a GPS since. They’re the devil’s spawn.
I’ve been to some interesting places and met some real interesting people along the way. One that will remain clear in my mind till my last breath was a pilot vehicle operator that I had on a load from Houston to Quebec City. My oh my... We pulled into the Petro in West Memphis, TN, on a Saturday evening and had to wait till Monday morning as I wasn’t allowed to run in Tennessee on a Sunday. I had a fully dressed Volvo 460 excavator on the deck, and my pilot driver had followed me since I left Houston. That Petro used to have a booth in between the entrance and exit lanes. Well,along comes Monday morning, and it was time to leave.
I told my pilot car that I had to get out via the entrance to make the corner, so I asked him to go out and stop traffic, so I didn’t meet trucks trying to come in as I’m going out. He said ok, then told me I was clear for the corner. As I was coming out, he told me I was clear for the next corner. Well, hold on there hoss, I’m just making my way out of the parking lot. Then he tells me it is clear for the next corner. I wasn’t sure at that point what he was talking about but then realized that I was on the street alone, without my pilot car. I then heard him on the radio, saying that I was clear to take the granny lane. It turned out that my pilot car decided that he was gonna follow another oversize load onto the highway instead of me. Not cool. What was even worse was that he was following a wooden crate, and it wasn’t even a wide load, it was just tall! Now, although my fat and wide excavator has a striking resemblance to a tall skinny wooden crate (sarcasm...), wouldn’t you kinda notice the difference between them? I haven’t been around for 100 years, but in my opinion, that’s kinda like comparing hippos to giraffes. So, after getting a hold of Ray Charles on the phone, he kindly turned around and made his way back and followed me up to the Bluewater bridge without another episode of the 3 blind mice.
And again, with interesting people, I’ve been to quite a few truck shows in the past. I’ve met some of the coolest people I know at some of these shows. One of my favourite shows is the one in Clifford, Ontario. It’s more of a gathering of legends than anything else. A couple hundred of the coolest rides around, some unfortunate golf carts and stories by the hundreds. Pure class. The Truck N Roll show in Bedford QC is also one of my favourites. It’s for a great cause, created by great people and filled with cool rides. I’ve met a bunch of awesome people there. The Pro-Trucker Magazine show in Nisku AB was also a good show where I met a lot of people from the west. Some good times and better memories from all these places.
Thinking of some of these shows puts a smile on my face. Lots of laughs with good people. But speaking of laughs, every once in awhile, you get a laugh at someone else’s expense. This one time, when I was a broker for Laidlaw, I had a load of cases of oil going to a distribution centre in Philadelphia. I was crossing in Buffalo, and once I got to the customs booth, I knew just by the look on the customs officer’s face that this wasn’t gonna be pleasant. After he asked for all my paperwork, my ID and made me regret pretty much every decision I made in life, he asked me to pull ahead and open my doors. I said it was sealed, so he told me to break it. Ok then. It was just an aluminum seal, so I grabbed my pin puller from under the bunk. He didn’t seem to like the looks of my pin puller when I pulled it out from my boot box as he kinda put his hand on his right side near his weapon. I said relax, it’s just a pin puller, not an AK -47. Anywho, I broke the seal and opened a door for him. He put his hands on the floor of the trailer like he wanted to climb in. The floor was filthy, and when he looked at his now black hands, he kinda let out a grunt which can only be described as a sasquatch giving birth. Needless to say, he wasn’t inviting me to his kid’s birthday party. He told me to close my door, gave me my dirty paperwork and told me he didn’t wanna see me cross there anymore for 3 months. It broke my heart. I may have had a chuckle at that later on.
With just over 20 years on the road, I’ve met my share of cops, DOT and customs officers also. For the most part, they were good, some were ok, and there was definitely the odd bad one. Like for example, we’ve all heard the age-old joke about the guy who gets pulled over for speeding and says his wife left him for a trooper, and he thought they were bringing her back. Ya, well, that doesn’t work in Michigan. Then there are the DOT officers in Arizona that make you wanna come home and slap your mama for giving birth to you. Oh, and don’t forget the fun haters in Quebec! I could tell you a lot about them, but John said to keep it under 50
pages. Although, like with any profession, there are good and bad. Unfortunately, the bad ones get all the press, and the good ones end up getting tarnished with the same brush. You can only hope that, when you get called into the scale, the last driver they called in was not a jerk.
In the last 20 years or so, it’s been pretty exciting. Many miles travelled, many people met, many things have been seen, and many tickets were given, but most of all, I had a lot of fun. From weekends laid over in Vegas to spending 3 days in a snowstorm at the T/A in Ft Bridger Wyoming to getting lost in Providence Rhode Island. Would I change a thing? Absolutely not. My past experiences are the reasons I’m where I’m at today. The only thing I wish I could change is I wish I would’ve brought my dad with me on trips a little more. I lost my dad to cancer in Sept of 2016. He was 71. He always loved the fact that I was driving. He was old school to the fullest.
One day, on my way home from work, sitting in a farmyard, was an old 74 Dodge tandem dump truck from a company that he had worked for. I took a few pictures and when I showed them to him, he teared up because it was his old truck. It still had the company decal and unit number on it. He even pointed out the aftermarket battery gauge that he and a friend installed in the truck when it was new. The company had bought 14 of these Dodges, and 2 of them had Cat diesels with the rest being gas engines. My dad had one with a Cat. Some day I’d like to buy that truck and restore it in his memory.
I’m currently working for P.A. Langevin Transport out of Carleton Place ON. I started there in the spring of 09, then quit for a little bit to do local work but ended up back there a while later, and I have been there ever since. I pull a tridem reefer from Montreal to Alberta twice a month and I enjoy what I do. I work for great people, and there are an awesome bunch of guys here as well. Except for Kole, we’re not too sure about him yet - lol. I bought this truck in February of last year from my good friend Dave. Hopefully now because I called him a good friend, he’ll buy me lunch next week. The truck is a 2007 Kenworth W900L. It has a 530 Cummins ISX with an 18 speed sitting on 280” wheelbase with 3.70 rears. I’ve always wanted a W9L with a studio sleeper, and when Dave offered it to me, I couldn’t say no. Phil and his wife Francie, owners of P.A. Langevin Transport, were a big help in getting me
All in all, I must say it’s been a great two decades. But I’ve also noticed that things have changed dramatically since the day I started grinding a set of sticks in an old Mack. It’s not what it used to be. It seems like there are way more accidents and way more rules and regulations. Times are changing,I guess. So here’s hoping that they change a little more,making the roads a little safer for everyone and so I can enjoy another 20 years.