March 2018 – Allison Roff

If you read the letters to the editor then you already know that our Rig of the Month driver for this issue was nominated by our Rig of the Month driver for March of 2012, Blair Candy. For those who have not read the letters Blair wrote: “I was your Rig of the Month in March of 2012 and I was wondering if I can nominate someone for Rig of the Month in an upcoming edition. She is a female driver and driver instructor who has hauled flat decks all over Canada. She is very accomplished and has oodles of miles behind her. I have often thought that it must be hard being a women in a male dominated work force but she is more than capable and better than a lot of drivers at doing her job.”

This is her story:

My name is Allison Roff and I was born in North York, Ontario, October 24th 1972 and raised in Burlington, Oakville and London, Ontario. My interest in trucks started when I was a kid. We moved a few times and always had a ‘big truck’ handle the job. It would amaze me how well the driver could back that big machine into our driveway. As I got older my love for trucks seemed to grow. My parents used to take my brother and I for breakfast at the Fifth Wheel Truck stop in Milton every Sunday and we always looked for the most shiny and well lit up trucks. It was definitely the highlight of my weekends!

When I got older I got to know some truck drivers when working part time at Tim Hortons while going to high school. I always worked the night shift and since it wasn’t too busy during that time the drivers could stay and chat for a while. They would tell me stories about their runs, freight they hauled and of course the bad weather they encountered. I always wished them safe travels and would watch the nicely lit trucks drive away into the night thinking to myself how cool it would be if I could do that.

A few more years went by, some further education had come and gone, and I realized I really hadn’t settled into anything that I really had a passion for. One day I just bit the bullet and decided I was going to get my commercial license. I started my training November 11th, 1994 at Stansell’s Truck and Heavy Equipment School in Tillsonburg, Ontario. I learned to drive on a 1988 Ford Louisville day cab with an 8 speed transmission. It was a good truck to learn on because it wasn’t very forgiving. If you blew a shift in that truck you knew it! The first day I was there we went through the pre-trip inspection and then spent the better part of our time up shifting a few gears, turning left, straightening out and then backing around the corner and repeating the process. I didn’t do too bad on the upshifting part but the backing up had me pretty frustrated. I am stubborn (a quality I think most truckers display at times) so I kept at it. I would often get to class before the other students and then stay late in order to practice. I also had the chance to learn by watching the instructor do maintenance on the truck. Eventually I became just good enough at backing up that I could pass the road test.

On January 31st, 1995 I drove the truck from Tillsonburg to London so I would be warmed up for my road test. I can remember that I really stressed myself out because I wanted to pass the test so bad. I also remember bursting into tears when the lady who road tested me told me I had passed because I had thought for sure that I had flunked. I walked over to my instructor and told him I passed and then headed for the washroom to calm down. I felt very proud driving that truck back to Tillsonburg with my commercial license in my pocket.

A good friend of mine, Bill Sisson, got me my first job at the driver’s service he was working for. I hauled everything from pig poop in tankers to courier freight in cube vans. I also hauled some general freight from the Toronto area to Michigan. I had typical rookie issues (at least for me) such as no sense of direction and not setting myself up right for the odd corner – thank goodness I always realized it before I knocked down a power pole – and backing up was still an issue in tight places.

I did that job for a while but being young and lacking in experience and confidence, I decided a more repetitive job might be better so I started looking for something else. I applied at a few different companies and had no luck. I finally got discouraged and that’s when my Dad offered me a job at his auto glass shop for as long as I needed. I really enjoyed working with my Dad and brother but my heart was still set on driving truck. Some time passed and then, through that same friend who got me my first job, I met a group of awesome guys with RRS Transport. Their main office was in Langley, B.C. and they also had a location in Mississauga. They specialized in LTL freight and hauled pretty well anywhere in Canada. That is when my life changed.

I got to know the RRS gang and would go to Mississauga on my days off and help them unload and reload and sometimes I got to drive. I figured if I learned as much as possible that maybe I could get on working there someday. Well about 10 months of that went on and out of the blue I got a call from my number one mentor, and friend to this day, Morley Lyle. He said he could use some help and asked if I was interested in running team with him for a while. The next thing I knew we were loaded and off trucking. Morley taught me a lot and I know I wouldn’t be the driver I am today if it wasn’t for him. He and the rest of the drivers displayed true professionalism and a can-do attitude mixed with just the right amount of craziness. During my time with Morley he fine-tuned my driving skills and taught me the tricks of the trade. I learned how to operate a forklift as well as what you really shouldn’t do with a forklift but had to sometimes, if you wanted to get the job done. Three guys hanging off the back of the machine to provide extra counterweight is probably not a wise choice and three forklifts under an expensive lathe, suspending it in the air, while trailers are switched underneath it is also frowned upon by WCB.

John Bouchard is another mentor of mine and was also an owner operator at RRS. Morley, John and the rest of those guys helped me and looked out for me. After about two months of team driving a driver got hurt and since he was going to be off for a while, I got the chance to drive. I took one of RRS’s company trucks from Medicine Hat, Alberta, to Toronto. I followed Morley out there so he could help if I had any issues but I successfully got the load delivered in Toronto and then graduated to my own company truck!

They put me in a burgundy flat top Freightliner with an N-14 engine. It was definitely bare bones inside, and didn’t have the luxuries of some of today’s trucks, but it was mine and I was just happy to be trucking. They went easy on me at first then, as the months went on, they gradually started giving me more challenging loads.

My fear of heights at times played a part in my scheduling back then but I am a lot better now. Believe it or not I used to run the Fraser Canyon at night because I didn’t like looking over the edge. It probably worked out better for everybody (except the loggers) as I would leave Morley’s place in Barriere around 1am to make my appointments at the coast on time. My very first solo load was a bunch of railroad track, and the connecting pieces, to a company just off of Mount Lehman road in Abbotsford. I got lost for a short time while hauling a super-b and for some reason, now and then, that area can still catch me off guard. My second load was another first for me as it sent me over to Vancouver Island. The ferry ride was cool but trying to find somewhere to park something 82’ long in downtown Nanaimo can be challenging. I was bringing the vault for a new bank that was being built and I felt like a shark circling its prey with the amount of times I went around the block. I finally ended up parking the wrong way on a one way street in an unloading area. As far as I was concerned, it was close enough! They got me unloaded in the morning and all was good. I enjoyed working at RRS for the next two years but had to go after another outfit bought us out and things took a turn for the worse.

I had some experience by now so getting a job was not such a problem. In September of 1999 I hired on fairly easily at Big Freight Systems in Steinbach, Manitoba. I drove a T-800 Kenworth with an N-14 and set off running the same corridor I was already used to. It was basically doing the same thing I did at RRS except this time I learned how to haul glass. I worked with great people there and it was the first large company I worked for. They had a shop, wash bay, tarping station, forklift operators and even a drivers lounge with laundry and shower. We also had the use of a company minivan if we needed to go to town for anything.

I must say I had what I feel was my most important load ever while at Big Freight. I got to play Santa Claus with a hot load of sleds I hooked up to the trailer at the last minute in Steinbach and headed for my home town of London. Time was already getting short and I had been fighting snow since Barrie, but I made it to the store at 6:00 pm Christmas Eve where I met the owner and the very happy parents of a 10 year old. Definitely a happy drive home after that.

I worked at Big Freight until May of 2002 then went to Bronco Transportation Systems in Langley, B.C.

I started off driving a Western Star and after about a year I got my very first brand new truck. It was a W900 Kenworth short nose. It was jet black with red pin striping and the outline of flames on the fenders. My name was even on the door! It had a C-15 CAT with an 18 speed transmission and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I had never driven a truck with a CAT in it before and thoroughly enjoyed the next 5 years while driving that truck. I treated it like it was my own and kept a notebook with all my fuel mileage and when oil changes were done and any other work that had taken place.

I again went with the security of sticking to what I knew in the way of hauling freight and travelling the same corridors but I also got the chance to run on a radio controlled road going to Huckleberry Mine in Houston, B.C. Scott Casey was one of our drivers who was specific to that haul and I followed him in on that trip. Scott taught me a lot while we were at Bronco. I still remember how much attention you had to pay on a road like that so that you didn’t meet somebody when you weren’t expecting it. When you aren’t used to calling your miles it can be a little tricky to run a road like that when you have to figure out where everyone is plus handle the grades you are travelling on – not to mention doing it in the winter. Scott told me his final tally was 1000 loads of mine balls that he had hauled into the mine over the years. I had the chance to go in there one more time on my own with a stick and bucket I had picked up in Edson, AB. I did well as it wasn’t a heavy load and I could focus all of my attention on the radio.

In October of 2004, after a short time of living in Barriere, I decided to move to Abbotsford, and two years after that our long haul turned into just a B.C. /AB haul. I worked at Bronco for another four years and then decided to try Can-Am West Carriers.

I joined the Vedder/Can-Am team in March of 2008 and pulled super-b’s mostly between B.C. and AB and the odd time out to Ontario and Quebec. The long trips were nice once in a while so I could ‘stretch my legs’. During my 8.5 years at Can-Am I got to see the North which I absolutely love. I got trips to Yellowknife, Whitehorse and even Fairbanks, Alaska.

On a trip in the late fall 6 of us drivers hauled wide loads to Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. When we got there we found that the crane company had shut down due to not being paid so we headed back to the Road King in Sherwood Park to wait. For the next two days we made the run back to the job site to sign in and see if they could unload us. Finally the crane company was paid but when we signed in that morning the wind had come up so they still couldn’t unload us. The forecast for the next few days was not good and the company said they would fly us home or, if we wanted, they would pay us $250 a day to sit wait. It wasn’t a difficult decision as we all decided to stay and party. Every day we still had to go to the Fort and sign in and wait for a decision but that usually only took 15 minutes. We would then go to West Edmonton Mall or back to the Road King and irritate the employees. Four days later, on November 11th, Armistice Day, they finally unloaded our trailers and we headed home on the 12th. All in all it was a great little paid holiday.

I was finally getting better at being versatile after years of playing it safe. That versatility brought me the opportunity to mentor drivers and finally give back to the industry I love so much. On the super-b fleet we would usually only teach load securement and tarping and keep the drivers that came right from driving school on the tridem fleet. One day they hired a fellow that they really wanted on the trains. His name is Andrew West and they asked me to show him the ropes! I was really nervous about it but he did well. He had a great attitude and wanted to not only learn from me but was open to information and ideas from other drivers as well. It was a very proud moment for me when he graduated his course and was set loose on his own. He is still there today and can do anything they give him.

Towards the latter part of my time with Can-Am I had the opportunity to haul milk. I loved the challenge of hauling liquid and still kind of miss that today. I also went on the garbage haul to Cache Creek for a few months. I wasn’t sure at first if I would like it but I soon got used to the same shift every day and being home every night. It was while I was on that run that I met my now boyfriend Michael Martin.

For 30 years he has hauled logs all over B.C. for his brother’s company, Robert Martin Trucking. I have now also driven a logging truck, mostly empty, on grades up to 20% and it’s amazing! When I look back on my night trips through the Canyon I realize just how far I’ve come. The garbage haul sadly came to an end and I went back to helping on the milk haul. I loved it but I had started to build a normal life and with milk you work most weekends. I tried for a while and would go in the logging truck on my days off to spend time with Mike but it wasn’t enough so after 8.5 years I sadly had to say goodbye to my Can-Am family.

I tried to find something similar to the garbage haul and Mike had connections with John Forman, one of the senior drivers (seasoned-not old) at Bobell Express and I got the number for James Castleden. I gave him a call and was told to go to the Abbotsford yard and see Floyd. Within a few weeks I headed out for training with Floyd. He was a good teacher and explained everything in a manner that was easy to understand. For the first year I drove a few different trucks that were job specific and now I’m on a more full time run out of the Thompson region to Washington State. I pull various types of trailers pertaining to the bulk products industry and have learned how to operate a wheel loader. I enjoy working with Raj, James and my fellow drivers. They display true professionalism that keeps us successful at what we do and I’m happy to be a part of the team.

We all have stories about something that has happened on the road and one of mine is a bit of an embarrassing one concerning not using the 3 points of contact rule. One trip when I finished loading I was sliding down the fender between the lead and pup trailer when I caught a bolt head and ripped a hole in my jeans. I didn’t have anything to change into and when I felt back at the tear I found it was the just below the back pocket so I wasn’t too worried about exposing myself. The only problem was I forgot that on that day I was wearing bright pink underwear – something I would regret. I completely forgot about the tear until after delivering my load and coming out of the office with my paperwork in hand. That is when a very helpful employee with a big silly grin on his face decided he should loudly reminded me of it. I guess I should have worn black that day…

I have to say that I truly enjoy turning that key and hearing the engine fire up just as much now as I did when I started. I have had the opportunity and privilege to work with and meet many great people over the years and I hope to keep those wheels turning for many more.