There have only been a couple times in the past that we have had the opportunity to have husband and wife team drivers as our Rig of the Month and they have always had great stories. This one is no different. Our July Rig of the Month drivers are Donna and Mike Murchison.
I have had quite a diverse working life. When I finished high school in 1978, I worked at Campbell Clinic in Lethbridge as a billing clerk and got quite good at reading doctors scribbling. I then went to Lethbridge College where I took a one year Construction Certificate and later landed a drafting job at Varsteel in Lethbridge. When the economy slowed, so did construction, and my job at Varsteel, so I found a couple horse trailer manufactures and did some drawing and cost accounting for them. During this time I was also a driving instructor for the Lethbridge Alberta Motor Association teaching people how to drive cars. After 10 years of instructing, I returned to College and took the two year Business Administration course and then worked as an office administrator for another 10 years.
That was when I met my husband, Mike. He was a truck driver and occasionally I would go on a weekend trip with him. During that time I started getting the bug for driving a big rig. Mike had been a Class 1 Instructor and he would have me drive the truck in a parking lot – building my confidence slowly. While he was on the road driving, I took my air brake course and moved on to the Semi driving lessons, eventually getting my class 1.
At first I didn’t intend on driving full time, I had thought I would just have my license in case I went on a trip with him and he needed a break from driving. We owned our own rig by this time and the company we had it on with was good with me driving as long as Mike was in the truck training me. At that time we were hauling flat deck super B’s picking up drilling mud and lumber, so tarping became the norm until one day Mike ended up airborne hanging onto a tarp filled with a nasty gust of the North Wind. “Let Go! Let Go!” I yelled and that was it for Mike and his desire to do deck work. It was just as well as neither of us had our pilot’s license.
Once the kids were old enough I went driving full time. For the first couple years we drove team, then it was time to try and make our company grow so we bought a second truck. We had landed some work going to Montreal and Toronto that had a couple loads a week. Often we would load two trips on the same day or one day after and follow each other down the road. We felt being a smaller company we could rescue each other if we had a break down, which did happen a couple times. Once my turbo blew around Dryden, Ontario. It was a long weekend of course, so Mike delivered his load and came back and picked up my trailer and made the delivery on time. It worked well, he got his reload and did a switch with me then, once my truck was ready to roll again, I headed back to Calgary. Another time around Regina, a retread tire on my trailer blew apart and took out my air lines and the suspension dump box. Again Mike was behind me and waited for the tow truck, while I went ahead with his trailer to make his delivery.
Most of my experience driving truck has been pulling a reefer trailer across Canada and Western United States. However at one point we traded in the reefer trailer and bought a set of super B’ grain trailers and then we went hauling grain and fertilizer closer to home in Alberta. This is where I learned about getting stuck in farmers yards with half loaded trailers and the importance of the terrain. We also did some flat deck work .One memorable pick was a Anhydrous Ammonia trailer in Saskatchewan, which we found after delivering tractor tires to the manufacturer of the trailers. It was big – 12Ft wide. Took up the entire length of the step deck. Over width, Over length. But an interesting haul to say the least.
We did a lot of deck work with Randy Brawner owner of Canadian Shelter Corp out of Southern Alberta. Hauled lots of assemble-yourself pre-cut garden sheds and greenhouses to a well-known hardware chain across Western Canada.
I also experienced driving dump trucks into gravel pits and on feed lots. Wasn’t so bad once I learned that you had to step on the clutch to operate the hydraulics used on the dump trucks boxes and trailers. Until then PTO was a term I hadn’t been familiar with.
One winter we drove our trucks to Yellowknife NWT with the intention of going ice road trucking. The ice roads weren’t open yet, so we were hauling shotcrete cement from Edmonton to Yellowknife. One evening on our way back up to Yellowknife, I was following Mike and an oncoming fuel truck just missed Mikes truck driver mirror. I saw Mike swerve to the right on the narrow snow covered road and next thing I knew my mirror slammed into the side of my door. I was driving a 2007 Freightliner Coronado which has big mirrors, and when our mirrors clipped mine hit my door, the other guy wasn’t so lucky. His mirror just about took his face off when it went through the driver’s window of his truck. We were told that a few weeks before there had been a similar accident but the fuel truck exploded melting the asphalt and closing the highway for a few days. Unfortunately both drivers succumbed to the event.
We took all the courses required for driving the ice roads, but one evening we changed our minds. Mike was nervous – if a breakdown happened I would totally be on my own until rescue crew came along. Even if he was few miles behind me the rules of the ice roads was no stopping, no driving over 25kph and no dogs – which we had.
We got to thinking about the expense of having a rescue crew coming out if needed and the possibility of trucks freezing up on the ice roads and having to have parts flown in if broke down. So we headed back to Edmonton with no driver’s mirror on my truck, while Mike followed behind acting like a pilot car telling me over the CB when it was safe to change lanes.
For you ladies that do it totally on your own, hats off to you. Trucking can be a tough business to do it alone. Not only safety concerns, but discrimination does happen on the job. You gotta put the big girl pants on and drive through the snow storms, icy roads, and deal with idiots on the road and the shippers and receivers attitudes when dead dog tired. I don’t have time for petty matters, but if it concerns someone’s safety I will speak up and this has gotten me into trouble a few times. To make it in this business you have to be a savvy professional. Only 3% of drivers out there are female owner operators running under their own authority, and that’s gotta turn some heads. We have sold our other truck and we now run doubles. I not only take care of dispatching, administration, and driving, in this business; I am also a wife, mother, daughter and grandmother, friend and still find time to take care of myself.
But when you get right down to the nuts and bolts of it all, trucking is a business. Dollars and Sense. Common Sense. You’re either making money or losing it. Yes there are rate cutters out there. Like any other business. My time is worth something to me and so is the use of my equipment. Mike and I fight for every dollar on every load. Sometimes we win . Sometimes we don’t. We try to look at the overall average per week, month, quarter and year. You have to. It’s a business. The chrome and the bling is nice but at the end of the day are you walking taller? Or selling your soul just to keep your truck moving?
I have met some great people in this industry. Seen places I probably wouldn’t have seen had it not been for trucking. I have driven through some gut wrenching snow storms on roads that would make your neck hair stand up. It is hard work at times but I enjoy it for the most part. I just wish that there was more appreciation for the Men and Women of this industry. We have gotten such a bad rap due to a few bad apples. The majority of trucking professionals are just that. Professionals. Running a business, supporting their families and their communities but most importantly, trying to get back home safely.
Don’t ever lose sight of that last statement. Donna Murchison
I was born in Sydney Nova Scotia in July of 1961 to Lloyd and Catherine Murchison. The youngest of Three brothers. If you know anything about Cape Breton, back then the economy was driven by three industries: Coal, Steel and Fishing. Not to mention some of the best music on the planet with its roots steeped in Scottish, Irish and yes, Newfoundland Folk music.
My family moved to Toronto in the late sixties during the great migration of Maritimers who wanted a better life away from the coal mines or steel plant. As they say…You can take the boy out of the Maritimes but you can’t take the Maritimes out of the boy. I always go back every couple years to see my folks and brother who have moved back.
Living in Toronto was an eye opening experience for a young boy from Cape Breton. Big buildings, concrete, fast paced. Not to mention big schools. Cultural diversity and a lot of competition in hockey. Which I played for well over 20 years.
But it was in Toronto where I got the itch , fever or hunger for two things. First was wanting to learn to play the guitar. Got to see Gordon Lightfoot and that left quite an impression on me. So as a young kid learning the guitar (self-taught) took up a lot of free space in my constantly daydream filled head.
The second thing that happened was I was exposed to that big super slab known as the 401. When my mom would drive me to hockey games, I would see these behemoths up close flying down the road. Kenworths, Peterbilts, Macks, Binders . You name it. Driver sitting way up there hauling those reefers, decks vans and steel coils.
Those big trucks left a huge impression on me and I would find myself daydreaming of driving trucks cross country, picking guitar and writing songs . Couldn’t seem to get these two desires out of my mind. It was looking like a normal 9-5 career didn’t stand a chance as time went by.
After I finished high school my Brother Neil and I moved out to Calgary where my oldest brother Glen was stationed in the forces with Princess Patricia’s Infantry. Apparently according to his description the coffee cup was bottomless, cars didn’t rust and the streets were paved in gold. All fine and dandy but, I didn’t have a car, didn’t drink much coffee and my first job was working as a ranch hand on a rundown ranch in Countess Alberta where the fields out there were paved in manure.
Proud of my brother for serving, I decided I would try to enlist in the Forces. I was hoping to eventually get into the Coast Guard. So down to the Harry Hays building I went. Filled form after form, did interviews with Recruiters and took the aptitude tests. Made it all the way to the medical.
That’s where everything came to a screeching halt.
The Forces Physician did the colour blind test, I couldn’t distinguish khaki green from khaki brown and that was all she wrote. No Forces. No Coast Guard. But all was not lost. Them big wheels were still whispering in my ear. If I couldn’t be a Sailor on the ocean then by God I was gonna be a Sailor on the Concrete Sea.
I had a job with a printing company in Calgary back in the early 80’s when I decided to check out a local truck driving school. Yeah I know what you’re thinking. Driving schools don’t teach you nothing. On the contrary I amassed a great deal of knowledge from my Instructors. Emmett Callaghan, owner of CCA Truck Driver Training and his Assistant Ian taught me some things that proved very practical and useful out there in the big world. After a few years under my belt working with Robyn’s Trucking out of Calgary I went back to CCA and Emmett hired me and trained me as a class 1&3 Instructor and put me through the Air Brake Instructors course at SAIT. So the next 3 years were spent Instructing, teaching and most of all helping people realize they have the potential to accomplish things they didn’t think they could do. Instructing students was one of the proudest times of my life.
After the Instructing chapter I hit the long haul lane. One end of North America to the other. California, Colorado, Florida, Quebec, Ontario. Most of my miles were done pulling reefer. It was a good fit. Saw a lot of places, met a lot of good people and took pride in whatever ride I had. I started working for Robyn’s driving a rubber block short wheel based…wait for it! 5 speed R model Mack around town. She had a 700 RPM split between gears and she rolled coal long before it was a cool phrase on Facebook.
We moved a lot of swinging beef out of Calgary up to Edmonton. Sometimes I would be hauling a turnpike, Rocky Mountain Double or a set of triple pups. You learn to think ahead hauling swinging. It moves around. Gentle on the breaks, gear down for the corners and keep a good following distance . Especially when driving on black ice. More often than not we came back empty out of Edmonton. Which was always fun in the winter with a set of turnpikes.
Remember the guitar? Yeah! That was coming along very nicely. Building the calluses on the fingers, learning the scales and writing songs. Still writing and recording to this day. Put out a cd “ Long Journey Home” working on another. So life has and continues to fall into place.
Thirty years I have been driving up and down the road. Hauling in one form or another. Mostly reefer. I did Vans, decks and Super B hoppers but I always seem to come back to the reefers. I can’t seem to handle the dust of hauling grain anymore. I think it might be a young man’s game. Some of those boys like Gary Randa, Mark Brant and CCRL have some pretty fine looking long legged low riding machines attached to the other end of their steering wheels. They all deserve a “Thumbs Up” for the effort they put forth in keeping their gear looking so good.
In September of 2002, realizing I was getting too stubborn to work for anyone else, My wife Donna and I decided to go out on our own. We Incorporated Faith Trucking. Named so for our faith in God above and each other. Sixteen years later we are still rolling along.
A lot of lessons were learned. Usually the learning curve has a dollar sign in it somewhere. The first truck was a 1999 Kenworth W900L. N14, 4:11 rears on tall rubber with a 13 speed box. Nice truck. Good engine ran well. We purchased a 48ft Dorsey spread axle reefer and ran the Salad Bowl express back to Calgary out of Salinas, Watsonville, Bakersfield. And in the late fall and winter it was Yuma, Calexico, Nogales. Loved seeing the desert. Hotter than hell in the day. Nice and cool at night. Different world . Only downfall was that freight out of Alberta down to California or Arizona didn’t and still doesn’t pay well. There are two terms in the English language I despise. First is Artic Vortex and the second is Back Haul. Remember I said there was a learning curve.
So after running a year, not doing too bad, Along comes BSE. Cow Haulers come to a screeching halt. Guys grabbing onto anything they could to survive. Decks, vans, reefers. You know the rest. Rates drop, work slows down. Only work I could find was to run east. So I ran east only to find out that the eastern boys don’t like loading 48 footers. Not to mention due to a lack of research on my part you can’t load 2 48” pallets sideways in a 96” in wide trailer.
Solution: Let get a triaxle. So we did. Fixed the problem. Rates could’ve been better. Eventually we bought a second truck. Brand spanking new Freightliner Coronado. Donna wanted more room. Well she got it. Nice truck. I didn’t care for the Detroit with the DDEC V and EGR. Did us well for a couple years then I decided to sell it.
We bought a second triaxle and we had an incredible run from Maple Leaf Potatoes out of Lethbridge to Transport Robert Cold storage in Boucherville QC.
We would load both trucks together, Chase each other down the road to Boucherville. Unload. Then we would reload South African oranges back to Calgary. Couldn’t ask for a nicer set up for a husband and wife. At the end of the day I would sleep in her truck because there was more room on the bed. Unfortunately that came to an end . Cavendish Farms bought out Maple Leaf Potatoes, made some logistical efficiency modification changes and started shipping by rail.
Currently we run a 2000 Kenworth W900B with the big 86 inch sleeper. Electric Red Pearl is the colour. We have 2 trailers . Both Great Danes with lift axle kits. One stainless Steel the other white. We have settled into a nice run from Southern Alberta to Idaho and back twice a week. 4400 miles. Donna myself and the 2 Japanese Spaniels named, Wasn’t me and Didn’t Do it! (Buddy and Riley). It’s a good run. But like so many things, economies change. Demand goes up and down. It may not last forever.
I found the 2000 Kenworth (I named Brutus simply because it is a brute.) while browsing Kijiji one Sunday night after getting back from Ontario. I always wanted a s studio sleeper. There it was just down the road in Cardston . So on a cold February day Donna and I took a drive down. It was half buried in snow. It was colder than hell out. Batteries were dead. I popped the hood to see what colour paint was on the engine. I had an ulterior motive. A 2000 Kw with a yellow engine could only mean one engine for that production year. The Holy Grail of Cat Engines…the 6NZ. Sure enough, that’s what she had. Along with an Eaton 18 speed, Eaton Super 40’s with a 4:11 ratio on the big rubber. Solid truck.
The owner ran down to town and we put 4 new batteries in and after an hour with the Proheat on she fired up. We took her for a drive around some of the ice covered windblown streets of Cardston. The rest they say is history. Brutus has been a solid show up for work every day truck. Best truck we’ve ever owned. Rebuilt her 2 years ago. Replaced things as they wore or needed it. We get lots of compliments on it. Some people have trouble believing that it is 18 years old. Just over a month shy of E-log exemption. Engine was build February 7th. Truck and engine rolled off Renton assembly line February 26th 2000. It was well built. Solid and heavy. 20,200 lbs full of fuel.
We were blessed last year to do some work out of Ontario and Quebec for Yves Cantin and Phil Langevin of Langevin Transport. They’re well known in the business for running some of the nicest gear out there. If I wasn’t running Idaho I probably would be working with those boys. Their Owner Ops such as Dave Rioux, Mike Boisevue, Shane Rochfort are all first class guys who genuinely care about the industry, where it’s headed and try in their own small way to make a difference. These boys do the ugly LTL multi drop work which I love doing and for some crazy reason I miss. I’m proud to know these boys and hold high respect for them. They earn every dollar the hard way.
Donna and I are part of a volunteer group of truckers called Furry Hobos & Highway Heroes. Organized and founded by Margaret Foster-Hyde of Kekabeka Falls Ontario. We, when we are available, and a lot of other big-hearted truckers transport abandoned, abused, neglected and adopted dogs from shelters across Canada to Veterinarians, adoptive homes, and rescues and eventually to furever homes. Great cause’ and a lot of people working in the background to make a transport happen. Really. How do you get a dog across the country without paying a King’s ransom for airfare. Margaret saw a need and worked to fulfill it.
Donna and I are out there putting the miles on like many others. Away from their families, missing special days at home. There is a price to pay, but there are blessings and rewards you can’t find in any other line of work. I plan on not working so hard this summer. I worked all last summer, Christmas and New Years and hard into Spring. I intend on doing some truck shows. Meeting some more Drivers and swapping tall tales from the hammer lane over a cold one and wings. And yes, camp and fly fish.
Most will agree that it has been a very long hard winter. We ran some hair raising miles throughout the mountains this year as well as in Ontario in the early stages of winter. There were some truck wrecks we came across where there were fatalities. Those Drivers didn’t start their day wanting to be in a wreck. That’s how quick they happen. You can’t take anything for granted. I don’t think I need to tell you Drivers about tailgating or wiping your tail lights off. Everybody wants to get home safely to their families. Right?
This Summer I am hoping to team up with two organization that help Vets and First Responders suffering from PTSD. One of them is Military Minds Inc. Strictly volunteer group across North America that supports and honours those who serve and have served. So you may see me and Brutus at some of the truck shows supporting this cause. I am trying to get my schedule straight to have the truck and trailer in one of the cross country legs of The Rolling Barrage that Military Minds Inc puts on each year.
Our Vets, First Responders and their families suffer so we don’t have to. Support them, encourage them, honour them. So on that note; a Very Special Thank You to John and his staff at Pro-Trucker Mag for allowing me to tell my story and show my iron. Got a few good years left in me. Hope to enjoy them. I am a blessed man.
I asked God to show me how to play the guitar…He Did. I asked God to show me how to drive a truck….He did. I asked God to bless me with a loving family….He did. So I ask God to bless each and every one of you long legged, low ridin’, gear jamming, hardworking, family loving Sailors of the Concrete Sea.