Our Rig of the Month for July/August 2020 is John Maywood owner of Ulster Transport in Abbotsford BC. I first met John at our very first BC Big Rig Weekend some 20 years ago. He drove in with the beautiful truck that you see here. It is hard to believe it is a working truck because it looks as good today as it did back then. This is John’s story:
John, you have asked if I had anything to contribute that would be of interest to your readers and especially now that some of your regulars like the rest of us are succumbing to the ravages of old age. For the most part, I now have my hands full with running my company and part-time driving, especially during the fall and winter months, when I’m not otherwise taking work away from my owner-operators.
I guess in my fifty-two plus years of trying to get up and down the road, I’ve seen my share of strange and wonderful things and some not quite so wonderful. Like others, I have seen a lot of highway carnage, had some serious near-misses and narrow escapes of my own, that, other than for split-second timing and maybe an automatic response to a situation, has foiled a few tragedies. Those are the things that a person will recount over and over again, on nights when sleep doesn’t come easy.
I have talked before about having an interest and perhaps an inborn knack that prevailed amongst most drivers from the past, that likely kept some of us out of trouble for the most part, and helped us live up to the ‘professional’ label, we all like to embrace. Of course, there are still a good many decent drivers out on the road, but sadly, the trucking environment itself, teamed with the pressures of over-regulation, have enabled many who have no business being behind the wheel of a truck, to pass themselves off as ‘truck drivers’!
I learned to drive under the watchful eye of an uncle of mine at an early age. I was eight years old in rural England when I horrified my grandmother, who had a long gravel driveway, seeing my uncle’s 1929 Austin Seven, which was basically a cut-down version of a model ‘A,’ running back and forth with no apparent sign of a driver, because I could barely see over the steering wheel.
Saturday mornings would find me getting up early and running down the end of our road to meet up with the bread delivery man in a very aromatic ‘Thames’ van. I rode with him long enough each week that he finally gave in and let me drive while he picked up the loaves from the racks in the back and made his house to house calls, while I slowly kept pace with him. I clearly remember one morning meeting a ‘Bobbie’, an English policeman, riding by on his bicycle. For some unknown reason, unless he was visually challenged, he simply waved at me and kept going. This was much to my relief because if my dad had found out what I was up to, it would have been a fair amount of time before I could comfortably sit down. This happened just a year or so before we immigrated to Canada in 1956.
When I was a kid, I would often hang out where the double-decker buses were. They were mostly Leyland diesels that rattled out a tune as they idled away. I would listen as the drivers picked up the gears as they headed uphill and out of sight, daydreaming that one day that would be me, behind the wheel.
1961 found me at an RCAF radar site in an isolated part of Northern Vancouver Island called Holberg, where my dad had been transferred from the Uplands base in Ottawa. I was in grade eleven, and much to my dismay (!!??!! and smiley-faced emoji’s) school at the base only went to grade eight. You know how much it rains in Holberg John, so with not much else for an out of school teenager to occupy his time, and since my folks and all close neighbours were so sick of salmon that they insisted I not go fishing so often, I resorted to graduating by taking government correspondence. By cramming, I was able to finish my final grades of high school in just over a year.
After I graduated, I left home and went to work for Rayonier Forest Products at the nearby logging camp, where I started off setting chokers and rigging slinging. Just for historical interest, Holberg had once been the largest floating logging camp in the world but was mostly out of the water when I arrived there and discovered bunkhouse food was hard to beat.
After a while, I somehow lucked out and managed to get working in the shop on the afternoon shift helping with vehicle maintenance, which included gravel and logging trucks, along with the pickups and crummies. If my memory serves me, there were three gravel trucks and seven or eight logging trucks, an old Kenworth, International and part Mack-Hayes rebuilt was the gravel truck fleet, and the loggers were mostly Pacifics and a couple of HDX’s.
I enjoyed every opportunity to hang around after hours and weekends with some of the drivers, the likes of Ken King, Ben Tolfree, Earl McAleer listening to their stories and truck jargon and was able to ride along with them the odd time before my shift. Then, you probably guessed it, before too long I was running trucks around the camp, fueling them up along with filling the water tanks for cooling the brakes.
The only way into Holberg at that time was by water or air so often the guys, who went back to civilization for a getaway, failed to return. Fortunately for me, this included truck drivers too, so eventually my opportunity to drive, first a gravel truck, then later, a log truck arose. Everything was off-highway and being truck crazy, which I am still accused of being to this day, I would have readily worked for just room and board, let alone draw wages for the privilege of driving a truck. I don’t want this to drag on, so I’ll perhaps leave my learning curves and driving experiences in Holberg for another time, and talk about the equipment we had back then.
The gravel trucks all had off-highway boxes, ten feet wide, I think, and I’m not sure of the capacity, or the years of the trucks for that matter, but I would guess the early fifties. The International could have been a V-Liner gas pot, the Kenworth had an unmistakable 671 Detroit and the part Mack-Hayes that I started on had, I believe, a 180 Cummins. It had been an old logging truck wreck at one time, it had three sticks and like most off-highway stuff, a top speed of around thirty miles an hour, which at times on those roads almost seemed too fast. The only working gauges were oil pressure and water temperature, and Ben Tolfree had once told me you could roll a smoke between main shifts when driving that old beast. The gravel trucks were mostly for new road construction and building landings. The logging trucks were newer, and a couple of the Pacifics had arrived on Island Tug and Barge in the summer of 1962, powered with the big Cummins 250s. I later drove an HDX with a 220, again not sure of the year, I think we all had twelve-foot bunks with turntable bolsters. One or two of the older trucks still had wooden reaches with the compensator inside the truck frame. Everything was water-cooled because of the grades and the fact that we were packing a couple of hundred thousand pounds or more of wood, especially with loads of hemlock. Mine had a stack through the hood with a flame arrester and was likely responsible for my lifelong love of straight pipes and my somewhat loss of hearing that my wife reminds me of whenever we’re watching TV together.
I left Holberg in 1963 for North Bay Ontario and applied to join the RCMP influenced by the urgings of the Mountie stationed in Port Alice, who visited Holberg regularly. My experience with him can be told at another time also. I discovered then that Ontario did not recognize BC’s grade 12, so I ended up taking it over again and thus have two grade 12 diplomas to my credit. I was four years in the police force and ended up in Cranbrook, where I purchased my discharge in 1968 and went to work for Millar and Brown, mostly, I guess, because I couldn’t get trucks out of my system. I had spent much of my off duty time as a policeman either riding along or taking trips out of town, which was frowned upon big time by the RCMP.
Millar and Brown was a great place to work, and the crew there were real professionals, as most over the road drivers were in those days. The only reason I left a year and a half later was to buy my own truck. The first one was a 1961 B61 Mack that I owned for a couple of months just to hold a position with Crestbrook Forest Industries in Cranbrook, while awaiting a new 1969 Hayes HD with a Columbia trailer, to get back into the log hauling environment. Millar and Brown had nice equipment for the times, conventional Kenworth’s with aluminum frames, rubber block suspension, 8V71 Detroit’s, four and four trannies with ninety under A boxes, 44,000 diffs., we had mostly 38 and 40-foot trailers with a few of the new longer 42’s. Everything then was 8 foot wide and 12’ 6” high, and 72000lbs was the order of the day. There were no air ride seats. We had Bostrom-Vikings with height and slide adjustments only, which was almost the same as sitting on a block of wood. Suspensions in that era were either spring, torsion bar, or rubber block, all comparatively rigid compared to what we have today. There was no power steering, and the front wheels of the first cab-over Kenworth I owned could not be turned if the truck was not in motion. There was no air conditioning, although we could roll down the window on the rear cab panel of the conventional KW’s, which we did in the heat of summer to avoid a meltdown while climbing an adverse at a snail’s pace. Opening that window at higher rates of speed could result in a rock coming off the drives and hitting you behind the ear, which smarted considerably. There were no steering axle brakes until 1981. Trailers had no maxi’s at all just regular service brake pots, so you had to chock the wheels after unhooking if you drained the tanks or had a bad air leak, particularly if you had landing gear with cast wheels instead of sand pads. Tractors themselves only had one set of maxi’s on the front axle, so depending on where you parked and how heavy you were, if you failed to block the wheels properly, your unit may or may not be waiting where you left it.
There was not much in the way of creature comforts for tractors back then, it would be a rare truck that would sport an AM radio, and most company trucks had the standard KW cardboard interior panels and headliners. At Millar and Brown, those 8V71’s were all the entertainment you needed anyway. Running from Cranbrook to wherever you were headed with two-cycle Detroits monitored by tachographs keeping track of the 1900 -2100 operating range the company wanted, would reward you with a tune that rang in your ears and remained with you for hours after each trip. They consumed the best part of a gallon of oil every day, but for the most part, they were indestructible. Another nice feature of those early 8V71’s was their ability to suddenly run backwards if you tried to take off under too much of a strain. When that happened, the engine would suck air down through the exhaust and blow the exhaust out the intake. This turned out to be very messy if your truck was equipped with oil bath breathers as it would cover your motor with oil if the cold air diverters were facing inwards, and the hood, fenders and windshield, if facing outward. You would then have to shut the engine off and restart it. I spent what seemed like a week at the Phillips Cable plant in Sentinel Alberta, one bitter cold and blustery winter evening when that happened, but that’s a story for another time.
The one luxury we did have at Millar and Brown was that some of the Fruehauf trailers had air over hydraulic landing gear, which was controlled by hand levers once you applied air to the trailer. This was really handy if you had 22” rubber and the guy who dropped the trailer only had 20”. In those days, we had bias-ply tires, with tubes and liners, split rims with lock rings. Mounting those tires on the split rims could be really hazardous to your health without a mounting cage or chaining the lock rings to prevent them from becoming airborne upon inflation, if not properly installed and gently tapped to make sure they were seated. You could not limp down the road too far with a flat like you can today. The friction of the tube, liner and tire would start a fire, and burning rubber is hard to put out. With no such thing as cell phones and in the middle of nowhere, you’d have to pack a jack and wrestle the wheel off and single it out or carry a repair kit and inflation hose with you to get you back on the road again. Budd wheels with inner and outer studs and nuts before the advent of hub piloted mounts were bad enough, but with Dayton wheels, you’d have to dismount the tire, tube and liner and put the tireless wheel back on to get going if you couldn’t repair the flat. Some of the older trailers, especially the decks, had copper airlines which are not so easy to jury rig. On one occasion heading to Osoyoos with a full load on BC’s number 3 highway, which is notorious for its grades anyway, a line ruptured on a rail crossing by Greenwood and forced me to run the rest of the trip with no trailer air and watch my P’s and Q’s on all the favourable grades since the jakes on those 8V71’s were more noise than hold back.
We hear a lot these days about the benefits and imagined fuel savings using super single wheels and tires, they were actually tried back in the late sixties early seventies but never caught on perhaps because tire repair facilities were not as accessible on the road like they are today so a problem with one of them then, was a real problem, they couldn’t be singled out the way you can with duals.
The only wheel bearings lubricated by oil on those vintage trucks and trailers were on the drive axle, the steering and trailer axles were all greased and had to be disassembled and re-packed fairly regularly. Trucking in general in that era was a lot more ‘hands-on’ than it is now. Also, there was a certain comradery amongst drivers that is hard to define, and yet everyone out on the road seemed aware of it. You would not think of meeting or passing another truck without a friendly wave, or blinking the clearance lights at a passing rig at night, and it would be unthinkable to drive by a break down without stopping to offer assistance.
There were no logbooks to contend within Canada, and you could drive for three days at a time if you were capable of that, and many did, generally without incident too, I might add, truckers seemed to be built for the job and what it demanded. We would load trailers by hand, sometimes all day, and then drive all night and maybe the next day to get somewhere. The motors were small by today’s standards, but we all had little tricks to get the most out of them. A bigger fuel flow button, a few shims and heavy-duty springs would do wonders for a Cummins, and a crescent wrench and a screwdriver was all you needed to doctor the throttle box on a Detroit to get more revs and performance out of it.
I once had a 1966 cab-over Kenworth with a 335 Cummins and a T590 blower, it came out of the factory with a straight pipe, and had a whistle sounding rhythmic hum to it that was music to the ears, not harsh even on the jake. Speaking of engine brakes, back then, even the public seemed more tolerant and truck aware. There was not a sign on every hill demanding that you refrain from using part of the legal safety equipment your tractor came with.
Times are changing, of course, but in some areas not necessarily progressive. My truck that you see here is a 1997 Peterbilt 379. The only trucks in our fleet that I have little or no confidence in are the ‘latest and greatest’ models. The ones equipped with all the bells and whistles. The sensors, the emission controls, the automatics, the rollover sensor controls, the anti-lock braking systems, the automatic chainers etc. One day all there will be left for us to do is to drive - and what fun will that be?
I can’t define what it is that has made driving such an important part of my life. It’s probably a combination of things like staring down the shiny hood of a powerful machine and watching the road move beneath you, listening to the drone of a well-tuned diesel engine doing what it was meant to do. That feeling of freedom and adventure as you head out on the open road knowing that this time tomorrow you’ll be hundreds of miles away and being able to enjoy every minute of getting there. The sense of accomplishment in getting someone’s goods delivered through all kinds of conditions and being as one with the unit in controlling every move it makes. Perhaps it’s the isolation and being your own boss while you’re behind the wheel, cresting a summit on a moonlit night, or maybe it’s just the love of trucks.
Editor’s note: Concerning John’s statement about Holberg having the largest floating logging camp in the world, my father ran heavy equipment in Holberg when I was a child, and we lived on that floating camp. I remember it being a long walk for a 4-5-year-old, from the shore ramp to our house, which was the very last one in the row out on the water. There was a common walkway in front, and then each house had a picket fence around it, much like any neighbourhood on land. From the moment we got out of bed in the morning until we went to bed at night, my brother and sisters and I wore our May West life vests – even in the house or out in our “front yard.” One of the reasons was that neither my mother nor father could swim, and my mother was terrified that one of us would wander away.
My father told me that when we finally left that camp, my mother was so relieved that she threw the life vests in the ocean. As mentioned, we wore them rain or shine, and if you are at all familiar with the properties of May West life vests – you know that they absorb water. My father, with a bit of a grin, told me years later that when they hit the water, they promptly sank. He also said that my mother - who was very soft-spoken - broke out of her shell that day and expressed in no uncertain terms exactly what kind of weather it would take before she would live in a floating camp again. Just for the record, as far as I know, it has never been that cold.