May-June 2020

Kelly Malanik is our May/June Rig of the Month. She was nominated by our writer Myrna Chartrand. Kelly has a great attitude and is an excellent example of why women drivers are so valuable in our industry. This is her story:

I’m not much for storytelling, but I can certainly tell you about trucking from a country girl, tomboyish kind of background. As a girl growing up in rural Manitoba, I played hockey, baseball, and track and field. I even played with the old metal Tonka toys in my mother’s garden.

I was born in Winnipeg, and we moved around a bit in my early years. Dad went to University in Winnipeg to become a teacher and also drove truck on the side to help keep the family going. My mom was a secretary at the same trucking company, and she says that her boss used to let her take me to work with her. She says that all the truckers would stop by and make a big fuss over me when they got back to the yard. Mom said that was great because it made the babysitting a lot easier for her, and it made it a lot more fun for me.

When Dad graduated, the first job he got as a teacher was in a small town just south of Dauphin. Manitoba. We lived there until just before I started kindergarten when we rented a farmhouse on an acreage outside Kelwood Manitoba. We had a big garden and no animals to speak of other than some chickens, but it was great, we had lots of room to build forts and even a creek to swim in.
I am the oldest of four kids. I have two younger brothers, the oldest, Cory, lives in Alberta, Drew, who is the youngest of the family, lives in Saskatchewan, and in the middle is my sister Carleigh, who lives in Ottawa.

I believe I became interested in big trucks as a pre-teen. Back in the day when you lived in a small town (maybe 100 people total), it was safe for kids to go for a walk without parental supervision. I remember more than once taking my youngest two siblings for a walk near the highway. We would sit on the grass and pump our arms at every truck that went by. Every single one of them would lay on the horn and let the Jake go as they drove by us. I think they had as much fun as we did. Doing that was always the highlight of my day, and to this day, I still love the deep throaty sound of a Jake Brake.

We lived in Kelwood until I was in grade eight. We moved because the school closed, so of course, my Dad had to find a new job. Our next home was in the town of Riding Mountain, Manitoba, where I stayed through the rest of my school years.

Besides doing all the sports that I could, I joined Air Cadets. Little did I know at the time what a big impact that decision would have on my future. I loved the Air Cadets and stayed in for six and a half years. I also love music, and I was able to play in the Air Cadets band. I started out playing the Baritone Sax, but I can now play almost everything in the orchestra except for percussion and some string instruments. One of the highlights of my time in Air Cadets was when I was chosen to play in the Canadian Tri-Service Cadet Band. Its members are selected from all the Air, Sea, and Army Cadet bands across Canada. It is not something you can apply to join; you have to be nominated, and then after being evaluated, invited by the member’s committee.

As I mentioned, I have always been a bit of a tomboy, and when growing up, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a cop, fireman, or EMT. I think it had something to do with the uniforms and belonging to a group of people that had the common purpose of helping people. Anyway, after six and a half years in Air Cadets, the army won out. It may be a bit presumptuous of me to assume that they won anything, but at eighteen years of age, I joined the army.

The military taught me how to drive a truck. When I became a Canadian Forces soldier, my trade was R935 or Mobile Support Equipment Operator (MSEOP). When I and my fellow recruits were first learning to drive, the most popular saying that got a chuckle out of everyone, except our instructors, was, “If you can’t find em’ grind ’em.”

I took my six-week basic training at CFB Wainwright in Alberta. It was a gruelling 18-hour charter bus ride from Riding Mountain to Wainwright. We arrived in Wainwright at about 1 am and were sent to the barracks right away for some much-needed sleep. Unfortunately, we found that we were the only ones who thought we needed to sleep because two and half hours later, we were rudely awakened by a dummy grenade going off in the barracks. Our drill instructors were just back from overseas and as tough as nails, but looking back, they gave us excellent training. I was in the reserves for nine years and have the equivalent of six years of total service.

While in the army, I hauled just about everything that a civilian driver hauls. An army base is like a small town with all the same necessities of life. I drove truck trailers, mail trucks, ambulance, and also a bus over a standard route that went from Wainwright to Edmonton International, then to West Edmonton Mall, and over to Edmonton Base and then turn around and go back the same way. I would do the bus run for seven days and then go back to the other support vehicles. I also hauled a lot of military equipment from ammunition and guns – big and small – to LAV-3’s, and tanks. I also hauled other things that I probably shouldn’t mention here.

There are a number of people that I looked up to in the army like my basic training section commander, Master Corporal Menard. He pushed me hard, probably no more than he pushed anyone else, but his pushing made me set new limits for myself.

Sargent Murphy was another that I served under after basic training. He spent time with me when he never had to and was a life, as well as a military mentor for me. I used to babysit his kids when I worked on base, and we still keep in touch. He would give me crap when I deserved it and a shoulder when I needed that. He is the prime example of what a mentor should be. No matter how tough it got, he would push me forward.

There were a few other people who had the patience to teach me to drive and help me get over my fears and frustrations. I am a bit of a perfectionist (or I quite possibly suffer from OCD). Bill Eldy was one and then there was Dennis Thompson. Dennis was an old retired military guy that worked as a civilian for the army. Dennis treated me like one of his daughters, and always had my back. When I got out of the military, I too went back and worked as a civilian operator for the next three years.

The first commercial company that I went to work for was Baseline out of Sherwood Park. After that, I wandered through a few companies looking for my perfect home. I have worked coast to coast in Canada from PEI to Vancouver. I even got fired from one company because I refused to break DOT regulations on hours of service. There are a lot of companies to work for in Canada, and it seems everyone has their own idea of what a good company is and what a bad company is. In most instances, the company you finally settle down with really comes down to your personal preference of what they offer, how they pay, how they dispatch, and the type of service, attention and respect that you need as a driver.

I now work for Portage Transport out of Portage la Prairie Manitoba, and as a whole, I couldn’t be happier. I love working for these guys. I drive a 2019 Freightliner Cascadia and haul anything from meat to vegetables, fruit, dry van and hazmat. Most of my work is in the states, which I really like. I go coast to coast with them also, from Maryland to California. Some of my favourite spots so far have been P.E.I., Florida and Texas. One day I would love to go to Louisiana and reset during Mardi Gras.

I’ve discovered that my favourite truck to drive is the Kenworth T680, and my least favourite is the Peterbilt. That’s right folks, sorry to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I am six feet tall and just not a fan of whacking my head on the mid-roof. I have a few people in the industry that I look up to – I like to call them the big brothers. As well as a few women who’ve become all become “sisters”.
And then there is my dog Lexi who has various names depending on what she is doing at any given moment. It can be anything from Lexi to Momma to Sh#thead. I got her when she was nine weeks old, and she is now two and a half years old. She was initially being trained as a service dog but is now just my dog. She is great and I love her – most of the time. I take her everywhere I go, and she helps me keep my head on straight while on the road.

One of the worst roads I’ve driven was with a set of empty turnpikes on Highway 1, just east of the Portage overpass, out where it opens up with no wind protection. On one trip through there, the ice was so thick I couldn’t even see the road. That trip from Portage to the LCV yard, which normally would have taken me 45 minutes to an hour, ended up taking almost three hours. Every time I tried to get over fully into my lane on the road, my B-Box kept wanting to come around and wave hello at me. I ended up having to run the rumble strips the whole way back just to ensure I wouldn’t have an accident.

Like most other drivers, I have come across my share of wrecks, but the worst was almost two years ago in Chicago on the I-80 in the eastbound lane at the South Holland Oasis. A fellow truck driver had what looked like a heart attack at the time and ran into the guard rail right at the entrance to the Oasis. As usual, traffic was slow because everyone was rubbernecking to see the accident. I used to be a registered EMT-I (a step below a Paramedic) as a side job when I was military, and I knew right away that something nasty was happening. The driver’s leg was hanging out the door spasming, and he wasn’t trying to get up. I parked in the right of the three lanes, so people couldn’t see what was going on, jumped out of my truck, and quickly introduced myself to the two women who saw the accident. I took over and told them to call 911 and to help me get a door open on the man’s rig. I eventually had to get in on the driver’s side, climb over the man, and assess the situation from there. I made sure the truck was off and then focused on him.

His eyes were open, but he was not breathing, and he didn’t have a pulse. I started CPR then asked one of the girls to call 911 and pass me the phone, so I could give the pertinent information to the emergency operator so she, in turn, could let the paramedics know what to expect. When they arrived, I continued CPR until they were able to take over the scene entirely and got him loaded and on the way to the hospital.

Everyone, the cops, and paramedics included were saying that he wasn’t going to make it. I couldn’t sleep for about three days as the whole scene kept racing through my mind whenever I tried to close my eyes. I finally called the sheriff’s department to find out what happened to the man, as all I could think of was his eyes and spasms. The sheriff wasn’t supposed to give out that information, but after I told him why I wanted to know, he took pity on me and told me that the man had survived. It was a great relief, and it put a smile on my face knowing that he had made it. That night I was finally able to let the image go and get some proper sleep.

I always try to remember, the DOT’s and police officers are just doing their jobs – just like us. Some may be doing it more enthusiastically than others, but we all have bad days. Giving them the benefit of the doubt without throwing fuel on the flames helps a lot. Everyone has a different background and history, so it is hard to judge them from one meeting. If I run into one that is having a bad day, I try to keep a smile on my face. That upsets some of them too, but it makes no sense to push back too hard because there are some fights you just can’t win, and that is more often than not the case when someone is wearing a badge.

All in all, this life has been good to me. It has taught me a lot about myself and to understand others that I’ve met along the way. Would I do anything differently? No, I don’t think so. Good or bad, I wouldn’t be who I am today without ALL of my experiences.

Let’s all respect each other and stay safe out there. We are all in this together!