Rig of the Month by: By Greg Evasiuk
Photo’s by: Leon Gano
In trying to find our rig of the month for May I was having coffee with my friend Leon and he was trying to help by going over all of the characters we know and have known in the patch. As he told me yet another story about rig moving it dawned on me.
“You should be the rig of the month.” I said
“What… no there’s other people out there way more interesting than me.” Leon said but I think even he knew I was right.
Now I have a disclaimer from the start; this story is told second hand from coffee shop interviews taken by yours truly. Well actually that and stories told in the office when we worked together dispatching trucks or while taking out my hard wood floors or fixing my overhead door or pulling a friend out of a sticky situation… you see I am well qualified to tell the story because I’ve heard it a time or two. The other reason is because I want to. Leon is one of the good guys, always donating his time to helping his friends of which there’s a ton. When he was the General Manager at the oilfield company where we worked together he was the first one to run out and help tie a load down or teach a green hand the right way to do something. We became friends while we worked there and I’ve been a little in awe since. In awe because he is always helping out a friend. He never forgets to give me a shout or shoot me an off color text just to say hi and to him it’s no big deal. Being that he doesn’t work for a large fleet I know he’ll never have one of those driver of the month or lifetime achievement awards. Guys like Leon deserve it though and Rig of the Month let us show that appreciation.
With that said some dates may not be entirely accurate and names may be changed or omitted to protect the guilty! Leon Gano was born in Edmonton in 19… (I’m sure its public record but I’m not saying) shortly thereafter his parents moved him and his two older sisters to a farm south of Anselmo hall. His grandfather had a homestead near Windfall (west of Whitecourt) and he had an uncle that farmed closer to Blue Ridge as well. After settling near Anselmo (which you really can miss in a blink) Leon’s parents would have 7 more children, 2 boys and 5 more girls. Growing up on the farm Leon learned how to drive at a young age and also learned a lot about how to fix things.
In 1973 he decided to move off the farm and into Whitecourt where he started his first driving job. It was driving a little Ford F750 hauling water. With a 361 gas pot and 5 and 2 I’m pretty sure it’s not what gave Leon the need for speed but it was enough to get him hooked on trucking. It was around the same time that his dad was the propane supplier in the area and had a Single axle cabover Ford and an International V-liner that Leon and his brothers helped drive.
It was around 1979 Leon started working for Art Premeau hauling rigs and equipment. It was a big jump up from running around in a body job and he took to it right away. His first truck there was an R-Model Mack with a 300+ a 6 speed main and 4 speed aux hooked most of the time to a tandem lowboy. I remember those trucks really well because the Premeau shop was right next door to Whitecourt Transport so growing up I saw them running back and forth every day hauling cats, drilling rigs, loads of pipe and just about anything that would fit on a deck. Art had a real mixed fleet with a few of the tandem R model winch tractors, a couple single axle Mack bed trucks, Kenworth LW bed trucks, some Pete winch tractors with the steel fenders and butterfly hoods and a couple KW’s with early Pitman 8 ton pickers. I always thought they were sharp in the two tone green and white.
I know I told you some of these stories were told in a coffee shop which usually means there’s a degree of exaggeration but I’ve checked my sources and this a pretty accurate account of a few of Leon’s exploits at Premeau that were actually told to me by others. He verified them after I assured him the statute of limitations had run out and the scales couldn’t prove it anyways!
So the crew was out moving a rig down highway 32 about 20 miles of highway and another 4 or 5 of bush road on each end. Leon had ran to move something on the wheeler and showed up back the lease to find the picker truck just getting ready to leave.
“We’re gonna set up at the new and unload our load of pipe and you need to tie down that other load, bring it, then come back and grab that junk load we just finished” he motioned to the two floats they had sitting decked and loaded. “See ya there!”
Now Leon had plans that night and this was really gonna put a damper on it. Besides the picker truck could’ve just came back and grabbed the junk load himself. Then Leon would’ve only had the one load to do and he could deck the float on the wheeler and head home. (For the uninitiated a junk load on a rig move is exactly that, junk that doesn’t fit with anything else and a wheeler is a 16 or 24 wheel highboy or lowboy used to move the heavier loads.) The picker operator set up at the new lease and he and his swamper figured Leon would be there shortly after they got set up given that he had to tie the load down and he also had/has a heavy foot! They were beginning to think he had some sort of mechanical problems and then they saw him crest the hill and found out what had taken him the extra time. Leon had not one but both trailers behind him!
Now pulling a b train is no big deal but what caused the picker operator and swamper to drop their jaws was the fact that there was of course no converter. Nope no second fifth wheel at all! Leon had hooked the load of pipe to his tractor then after tying it down dragged the winch line back over the pipe and to the pick-up throat on the junk trailer. I could see trying to pull something like that down the bush road a couple klicks but over the highway those miles and through all those turns! Not even sure how to describe that… When I recount hearing the story from the picker operator he simply laughs and says “Well there wasn’t time to make two trips and besides wouldn’t be fair to let the picker guy sit!” Seems to make sense!
Thankfully the CVE guys weren’t that active around Whitecourt at the time. Probably lucky they weren’t around much anywhere in that area at the time. You see they had a slightly different way of dealing with off duty time back there. Leon told me of a time they were coming back from a move that had taken a couple days up by Grande Prairie. He and the other winch hand were getting tired out and being that they had another move near Drayton they couldn’t stop and grab a room. There was also no sleepers on winch trucks at the time either so you couldn’t just stop at road side to stretch out. Leon’s solution to this problem is I’m sure one of the first examples of Platooning I know of, what they did was hook the front bumper of the second truck to the winch line of the first and lift the front end up. That way the back truck didn’t have to steer and he could have a nap. It gets better! The back truck would help power things along by gearing up until they were up to highway speed then pull the throttle out and have a nap. The driver in the rocking chair didn’t wake up until just out of Whitecourt!
Hearing this story the first time I thought man that’s not safe at all but when we talked about it the other day it changed my mind a bit. “The guy in back was tired enough to sleep right through a ride from GP to Whitecourt in an empty truck on camelback, that’s pretty damn tired!” Leon stated that with a laugh but it makes serious sense. Anyone who has ever ridden in an old truck on springs or rubber blocks knows you would have to be dead tired to fall asleep bouncing around like that especially on Highway 43. So you definitely didn’t want the guy who was tired enough to sleep through that in control of a truck.
“What we did in them days wasn’t always the safest but we got the job done and looked out for each other.” When Leon said that I knew he was right. “There wasn’t any safety programs, “best” practices, JSA’s, or any real guidelines other than what you were told by the boss or one of the experienced hands. It was probably a miracle we made it through mostly unscathed”
In 1990 Leon made the decision to stay closer to home and became an overhead door repairman. Like many of us he made a choice that would keep him closer to his wife and family. He ran that business for almost 10 years doing everything from 8 ft garage doors to the big 20 ft roll-up doors at Alberta Newsprint. I personally can attest to his expertise as he’s aligned and or fixed doors for me. I know too that he is still the first call for a ton of people in Whitecourt because he’s honest and knowledgeable. “You’re never overcharged and if it’s not quite right he comes back and fixes it” the words of endorsement I got from a customer/friend while watching him set the spring. That statement does really sum Leon’s business philosophy up too, do it right the first time and charge a fair rate for your work.
The call of the road came again in the late 90’s and Leon went back to moving equipment for SL Oilfield. Not long after he decided to buy his own truck, a new T800 KW with an Aspen Double Drop beavertail lowboy with a detachable neck. For selfish reasons I’d tell you the Mack was his favorite truck but I know it was this KW. “I liked that truck a lot, it pulled well, jakes were good, rode nice…” it’s like hearing someone talk about the one that got away, “it was a great truck and the trailer was set up nice.” He’s told me a ton of stories about moving equipment with that truck most of which are more legit than the early days of rig moving! In Sept of 2007 Leon sold the truck and trailer because work was getting a little tougher to find and chasing work and receivables is no fun.
It wasn’t very long after that he started with Brad’s where he was just going to be the tractor driver. At the time they just had a couple hotshot trucks, a couple pickers and just bought the winch tractor. When I met Leon in 2013 he was behind the desk dispatching. I had quit logging and was looking for work for my trucks. When I stopped by to see if they had anything for work I never expected much, we had a good chat a couple laughs and he said he’d call if they needed me. I went to a few other places then home, the phone rang that afternoon “Remember what I said?” rhetorical question, “Well we need you tomorrow.” That’s typical of what you get with Leon, straightforward and easygoing. It’s what made him a great dispatcher.
In the time we worked there I really came to appreciate that affable easygoing nature backed up with years of knowledge. If Leon told you the job was going to be an easy one 4-5 hours then it was, if he told you it was gonna be a b^&ch then it was. The drivers, operators and swampers always knew what they were getting into and they respected him for it. As I said earlier if you needed a hand Leon was quick to give it so when he asked for a little extra on a project the boys would deliver. When I moved from the truck into the office there he was instrumental in helping me figure out the finer points of dispatching trucks in the patch. We were able to help grow things around there and soon Leon was the General Manager. While I know it wasn’t the hat he wanted to wear I really liked his simple approach to management and I know the drivers did to.
I left there in early 2015 and Leon wasn’t far behind. He told me at the time he was retiring, which I knew was BS! He was just gonna fix the odd door maybe fill in here or there… well Leon if this is retirement it’s the one thing in trucking you’re not good at! Over the past couple years whenever I called he would be out hauling gravel, moving a cat or hauling a few loads of logs. Possibly he meant retiring from having one steady job… well he’s even softened on that now. For the past year Leon’s been driving this 2007 Pete 378 for John at JRSL. Johnny has a variety of work mainly moving equipment and helping haul N2 for Crossland. I know John is happy to have him too because he can send him out wherever and not worry about the truck or the job. Leon is happy to be there and I know he’s happier behind the wheel than behind a desk.
I really could write a whole book filled with entertaining stories about this guy. As I said earlier he is a character and one of the good guys. Leon I’m proud to call you my friend and to be able to tell your story.