Somewhere on the I-90 between Buffalo and Erie, Pennsylvania I heard, “Ok, ease off on the clutch, now keep her straight, shift, shift. That’s it, you got it!” It’s been over 35 years and I can still hear my Dad guiding me through the gears the first time I drove his truck. I was 16 at the time and had skipped school to join my Dad on the maiden voyage of his first brand new 79 Kenworth K100 single bunk Kenworth.
My name is Toby Doyle and I was born and raised in West Hill, a suburb of Toronto. There must have been something in the water in West Hill because I ran into a bunch of guys from the neighbourhood when I went to work for Trans Canada Truck Lines. We had all grown up within a few blocks of each other, had never met, all became truck drivers and then ended up working for the same company. One guy’s father even worked with my father. It goes to show you how small the trucking world is.
When I was real young I would to go on runs with my Dad and Grandfather back when they both drove straight trucks. I would start out in the morning with my Dad and then we would meet up part way through the day and I would switch up and go with Grandpa. I enjoyed the different trucks, the destinations, the deliveries, the people. I was born into a trucking family and I was hooked!
When I was 9 years old Grandpa took me out in my Uncles field in his 66 Chev 5 ton. I could barely reach the clutch and I can clearly remember, as I was going through a gate, my grandfather yelling, “Straighten it out! Straighten it out! You’re going to take the mirror off my truck!” When we got back to the house I ran inside and excitedly told my Aunt Kaye that Grandpa let me drive his truck. She turned to him and said, “For God’s sake father don’t infect the boy with the disease.”
Back in the late 50’s and early 60’s my Grandpa Jim Doyle owned Doyle Cartage and he had about 30 trucks on the road. To say that Grandpa was a resourceful old guy was a bit of an understatement. Apparently he would go to the wreckers and pick out 5 wrecks and then using the good parts from each truck he would build 2 working trucks. He was crafty too. My Dad, Jim Doyle Jr., laughs when he tells the story about Grandpa waking him up one morning when he was about 26 years old. Grandpa was all excited and asked him if he wanted a trucking company. Dad asked why and grandpa told him the Mounties were pounding on the door for tax evasion. Dad quickly said, “No I don’t want it. That’s your problem – you deal with it.”
When I was sixteen I would go with Dad every chance I got. Dad would get clear of the border then it was my turn to drive. Off to New York, Pittsburgh or Chicago. He hauled general freight which mostly consisted of foam and plastic cups. There I was 16 – 17 years old driving 400 to 500 miles all night while he slept and then I would wake him up and he would deliver the load.
One time, when I was still way too young to be driving, I realized too late that the scales were open and I had no choice but to quickly pull in. In a panic I woke up dad and told him I was pulling into the scales. Still in his underwear, he jumped behind the wheel as I slid over into the jump seat. I thought it was pretty funny but he strongly suggested in no uncertain terms that I pay attention and wake him up when I see the lights next time.
I have never had any problems with the DOT or the Police mainly because I follow what I like to call a 10 second rule. I believe that the way you present yourself in the first 10 seconds will determine if you will get a ticket or not. It is pretty simple – we all have a job to do and if you respect the other person and the job they do then chances are you will get be respected and even given a break now and then. Often it can be the difference between a warning and a ticket.
One night, as I was rolling across Michigan, traffic was light and I hit the dimmer switch on the floor to put on my high beams and poof – FIRE! Flames were leaping up from the floor! Oh gosh now what am I gonna do? Dad was sleeping in the bunk and I didn’t want to wake him up thinking I messed up so I stomped out the fire and carried on. At about 6 am we rolled into the old Cross Roads Truck Stop outside of Gary, Indiana and as Dad rolled out of the bunk he asked, “How was your ride son?”
“Good,” I said, “But I’m thinking we need a new dimmer switch and some wires…” He looked at the mess on the floor and laughed “Yup, that’s a common problem with these. I slept well though!”
The Cross Roads was a very popular old school truck stop in the day. It was a grungy place with a dirt parking lot and the first place I ever saw hookers walking around. Which was pretty shocking for a young kid. I got food poisoning one time just as we left Canada and I was throwing up into any container I could find in the truck. The old man took me into the truck stop there and I was covered in puke. He made me undress and I sat in a booth in my underwear while he washed my clothes. A short time later a family came in and a kid said, “look mommy a naked man.” I said, “That’s it – I’m out of here” and I grabbed my still wet clothes out of the dryer and headed out to the truck. My dad followed me out laughing all the way.
One night while racing across the Pennsylvania turnpike I was driving in the left lane thinking that I was looking like a rock star when Dad stuck his head out of the bunk and said, “Ya best get outa the Monfort lane or you’re gonna get run over.”
“But Dad,” I said, “I’m doing 75mph.” Reluctantly I did as I was told and just as I moved over three Monfort trucks out of Colorado went by like I was parked! Yup – that’s why the left lane was referred to as the Monfort lane. Apparently Monfort Truck Lines guaranteed delivery from Greely, Colorado to anywhere in the USA within 48 hours and they paid the drivers speeding tickets.
Personally I have never owned a truck that would do less than 95 mph. One of them a 88 Kenworth with a 425 3406 cat engine and a 15 double over tranny with 355’s would do well over 100mph and I used her.
I made many trips with the old fella sleeping in the back and I got more confident with each trip. Who would have known that six years later I had $25,000 saved from delivering pizzas and auto parts and could afford to buy that very same truck from my Dad to start my trucking career. I was 22 years old and although the company wouldn’t hire me as a co-driver before that because of my age, as soon as I owned a truck they just said, “Toronto is that way and Winnipeg is that way. Go for it.” It turned out I was the youngest owner operator they had ever hired. It was all good!
That was my first job as an owner operator and it was with Trans Canada Truck Lines running to Winnipeg and all through the United States. What an education that was, learning how to keep an old Kenworth on the road and out of the repair shop. I carried spare alternators, fuel filters, oil, tire patch kits etc. Most of which, I still carry to this day. Not a lot of guys know how to work on their trucks anymore and back in the day some companies, like Liberty Line, would not hire a city boy – they would only hire farm boys. It was because farm boys already knew how to back up a hay wagon and they also knew how to work on their trucks. Those Liberty boys could back a trailer into spots I wouldn’t think of trying and they respected their equipment because they were from the farm and knew that if they broke it they had to fix it. There are still a lot of drivers who come from trucking families today and grew up working on their dad’s trucks but unfortunately a lot of the family farms have disappeared so there aren’t as many farm boys coming into the industry anymore.
At this point, I was now carrying on the family tradition that included my Grandfather, my Dad, a few Uncles and several cousins who all drove trucks. Now you can imagine every family gathering ended up with everyone in the kitchen telling their stories from the road. My Mom, Jean, always said, “There were more miles driven around that kitchen table than were ever done on the road.”
Later on, I purchased my first new truck , a 1988 T600 Aerodyne Kenworth financed over five years. My younger sister, Luanne, did a great job of designing the stripes on my truck. She also designed the ones on my Dad’s truck. The company said we could do whatever we wanted with the design of the stripes as long as the truck was black and the stripes were in the company’s colours. After three years, I was tired of making payments so I walked into Paccar, asked how much I owed, and I wrote a cheque for $62,000. They looked at me like I had three heads. There isn’t nearly as much money in trucking today as there once was so I doubt that happens much these days.
With a newer truck and a lot of experience with general freight, I decided to make a move to Dunford Tank Lines. That was where I learned the value of clean equipment and the prestige that goes along with it. They were a premier company to work for. They even used de-ionized water to wash the trucks so that you would not have water marks. After they lost a contract to a U.S. carrier, I found myself at Forbes Hewlett. It was here that I found my niche, doing LTL freight from Toronto to California.
While running California a lot of us guys stayed at the same motel in Los Angeles, The Travel Lodge in Buena Park. You were always made to feel at home and we would all race to get our drops off and then head there. Some nights there would be 14 trucks shoe-horned into the tiny lot – most of them from Canada. We were all from different trucking companies; BLM, Service Star, Pace Marathon, Forbes Hewlett, Paramount. Many a night you would roll in and the barbecues were going and the steaks cooking. If someone was running late there was always a plate of food waiting when they arrived. Everyone looked after each other and there was always a hot meal and good friends.
It didn’t matter who you worked for every one helped each other. Guys would give directions for pickups to others who were not familiar with the area. There were even times when guys would do a pickup for someone then meet him in Ontario, California on a Friday night and swing it onto their trailer. So many friendships were made there and still exist to this day, those were good times.
It was during those good times that I learned how to load, pack and stack a trailer for maximum revenue. From there, a friend and I decided that we could do this all on our own. And we did! Our fleet of six trucks was doing 100mph plus with a steady contract to California. I got to sit on the other end of the business, hiring drivers, securing loads, preparing custom papers, trouble shooting when drivers called in, and then taking the odd load myself. What a ride! But, the economy changed, plants closed, prices were undercut and that put an end to our little trucking company that promoted “Service with Style.” My friend went on to become a pilot and I resumed as an owner operator currently with an LTL reefer carrier running across Canada and the states with a 1996 Kenworth.
One of the coolest things I ever hauled was not a load, but a person. A young lady needed a ride from Calgary to Fannystelle Manitoba to meet up with her horse. She was an awesome young girl who had a horse in Montreal and could not afford to transport it home to Kelowna so she decided to ride it all the way. The first year she got as far as Fannystelle in harvest season. She got a job there cooking on a farm for the harvesters and in return they stabled her horse for the winter.
I knew the hairdressers at the road king in Calgary from being there so often and they asked me if I wanted to give this girl a ride. They knew how much I liked horses as I used to breed Percheron draft horses and pulled big wagons, like the Budweiser wagon, in parades and then for weddings we would often pull stage coach type carriages. My ex-wife also did plowing competitions with the horses.
Wanting some company I agreed to take her so, with her bags and saddle in tow, away we went. As we travelled she told me her story of “One Girl, One Horse, One Country.” It turned out that my backroad route was taking me right by the very farm where her horse was stabled. She called ahead and a woman met us at the end of the long driveway to take her into the farm. When I dropped her off I told her I’d probably see her again and sure enough, since we both travelled the same country roads across the prairies we met up several times. I would bring snacks for her and her horse each time we met and as for her, she completed her journey that fall arriving safe and sound in Kelowna BC. Knowing that I had helped in some small way, allowing this young lady achieve a goal, was the best feeling for me.
One night in 2013, I was coming home from the West and I hit an adult bull moose in northern Ontario. Needless to say the whole front end of my truck was scattered along the highway. I had owned the 1996 Kenworth since new and I wasn’t about to buy a new truck so this incident was the start of the, “Great Truck Rebuild.” I have always loved the truck from my Dad’s favourite show, the 1970’s TV show Movin’ On, and other trucks from that era, so I decided we could build one. I got a custom built hood and battery boxes made to look like ones from the 70’s and used the 1973 factory ‘Apache’ stripe design used on the Movin’ On TV show. I also added hardwood floors, new seats and a new bunk.
Four months later and with the help of friends and co-workers, the old girl was ready for the road once again. Today when I drive I have my hand on a very special gearshift knob. It is the one from my Dad’s truck, the same gearshift knob that Dad had in the truck that I learned to drive in. It was given to him from a friend when he got his first Kenworth and he passed it on to me. Having it is a great reminder of a great man and it is comforting to say the least.
The old girl has been given a couple of nicknames, over the years, Nessie and The Gimpy Goat, the last one because she is getting a wee bit tired with over three million miles on her. I am honoured that there is an appreciation for old school trucks and when I show her at the Clifford truck show many of the people are amazed that she is still a working truck. The Clifford show is a lot of fun. They do let some ‘Tupperware’ trucks in but for the most part it is made up of older trucks. The standing joke is you have to have 2 air cleaners and 2 stacks to attend.
I was lucky to come from a trucking family who were true professionals. When I was young and had set my sights on a career in trucking, my grandfather told me, “You will not get rich driving a truck, but good truck drivers will always be in demand and be able to put food on the table.”
Dad always said that customers appreciate a driver who shows up onsite with a clean vehicle. I always wear a dress shirt when working – I was just brought up that way. My Dad always wore a uniform and instilled in me the importance of looking good when representing my company. He always said, shave, wear nice clothes, have clean shoes and always keep a clean truck.
I have taught a few people how to drive trucks by remembering all the things my father had taught me. It feels good to be able to pass on the knowledge of 4 generations of rolling across the highways and interstates of Canada and the USA. My Dad passed away a few years ago but I’ll never forget the many things he taught me. He was my hero. This year I felt very honoured to be asked by David Benjatschek if I would agree to be featured in the 2018 Wowtrucks Calendar. I agreed and I dedicated my page to my father with the tag line, “A true gentleman truck driver.”