November 2017 – Rafail Proios

My name is Rafail Proios. I was born and raised in Alexandreia, a small town in the province of Imathia, in northern Greece. My father’s name is Nikos (Nick), my mother’s name is Kaliopi and I have an older brother, Aposolos and a younger sister, Sophia.

I caught what I call the trucking “virus” back when I was a toddler. This was probably due to the fact that my father is a trucker who had already been driving for over 25 years. By the time I was in elementary school I had firmly decided what direction I wanted to go in life. While all the other kids in the class were talking about which camp they wanted to go to, during the summer, I was already packing up my clothes for another adventure filled summer in the truck with my Dad.

As the years went by, and I got older, the “virus” kept getting stronger. The more time I spent around my father and my uncles, Stelios and Tassos, who were also truck drivers, the more convinced I was that I would be a trucker myself. The discussions between my mother and my father about my future where frequent and this led to conversations between my father and me. At the age of 14 we had talks about what I wanted to do. He had it in his mind that around the time I reached junior high school I should decide what I wanted to do and then have plans to make it happen. He explained to me that the age I was at was a turning point in every man’s life where they should be focusing on the things that they wanted to do and accomplish.

When he sat me down and asked what I wanted to do I told him that I wanted to be a truck driver but it was easy to see that this was not the answer that he wanted to hear. He gave me a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t go into trucking and instead of being a trucker he suggested that I go to school and become a heavy duty mechanic or an automotive electrician. I told him that wasn’t going to happen. I explained that even though I liked to work and fix things around the truck I liked driving it even more. When he finally realized that I was not going to change my mind he said, “Well then it’s time for you to start learning the trade.”

Even though I was already helping him, and learning about trucking every day, his realization that I was determined to be a truck driver changed everything. That is when things got serious. First I learned how to change the oil and grease the truck and how to maintain it up to his standards. My father always said that a driver who doesn’t know how to take care of his equipment is not a real trucker. Although I had been watching him for years and had a fairly good idea about trucking he started to teach me the finer things. One thing that he did while teaching me to drive was to constantly drill into me the importance of proper load securement. At that time my father was working as a lowbed driver moving equipment and things like bridge beams so he had plenty of experience in load securement. He also ran a picker truck that traveled all around Greece and after working with him with the lowbed, he also trained me on the picker truck. It was a Volvo cabover flat top with a 16 litre engine that pushed out about 650 hp. I was learning and operating that truck by helping with the crane moves within the construction site. Meanwhile he was on his Man 8×4 v10 twin turbo – the beast he used for the heavy loads .

While I was helping him the company offered me a job being a swamper for my father. That way I would be able to help him while I learned about the rest of the equipment which were cranes that ranged from 25 ton right up to 450 ton. It was the good old school of hard knocks. After working as a swamper for 3 summers I finally got a full time job with them. I stayed for about 6 months but unfortunately the economy crashed and since I was the lowest man on the totem pole, I had to be let go. That slowed me down a bit but didn’t stop me because I soon got a job as a pilot car driver and swamper at a company with modular, multi-axle trailers. It was a whole new learning curve with different people and new scenery.

Then, at the age of 19, it was time for me to go do my compulsory service in the Greek military. There was only one problem, as soon as I entered and got everything squared away something didn’t feel right. Even though they wanted me to be a driver, at the normal rank, I wasn’t happy. I figured that since I had to be there anyway I wanted to push myself to see exactly what I could do. I wanted to learn my strengths and my endurance limits so when the recruiter from the green berets came to evaluate, and pick those who were able to join their ranks, I filled out the form and did the test. I passed the test and just a few days later was transferred to the special base for my basic training.

There were about 50 of us guys that went at the same time and we joined a much larger group of the recruits at the base. We numbered about 1200 recruits when we started and out of that 1200, only about 750 of us passed. The others quit and went back to the regular army. After that basic training each of us went on to specialized training which determined what units each of us would serve in. Because I wanted to find my limits, I volunteered to serve with a unit in Cyprus. That was the biggest learning curve for me and it really helped me achieve better and stronger mental health. We had very strict training on everything from handguns to weapons to explosives. Each soldier was also required to take 2 or 3 additional types of specialized training. I was a medic and trained to escort the demolition team.

It’s kind of funny now when I think about the training and all the days and nights we spent out in the wind, rain and cold. Looking back I can now say that the military was one of the best experiences I have had. It made me grow up fast and definitely changed me for the better. I learned self-respect, discipline and to just be me. But and most importantly I learned to respect every single military person who fought and died for their kids future.

After I got out of the military I was looking for a job but couldn’t find anything at first so I worked on and off at a car wash in order to make some money. Then one day I got a job at a father and son company where I was hired as a pilot car driver. I was the “young kid” of the company who was expected to do everything. I was on call 24/7 and did everything from oil changes to truck washes. The trained me to be a heavy haul driver and although I did not have a license when they needed someone to do a local haul, and did not have another driver, they would call me. I learned to haul their 16 wheeler with their heavy haul, flat top Scania 143. It had a 16 litre V8 engine whose 450hp engine was racked up to about 800hp. I also learned to run their lighter duty truck, a Volvo FH12 with a 13 litre engine, 420hp. pulling a tridem step-deck with hydraulic ramps. I also ran a body job for them that had a 10 ton picker on it.

All that came into an end in 2012 when I took the plane and moved to Canada. You might ask why I would pack up and travel half way around the world and I would have to say because there was no future at home. I realized that if I stayed in Greece that whatever goals, dreams, or ambitions I had couldn’t be accomplished any time soon. It was a very hard decision to make because I was basically throwing everything away and starting all over again. I was leaving my parents and sister behind and even though my brother was already here it was still not an easy choice.

In August of 2012 I arrived in Edmonton to be met by my brother who is an IT architect for Telus cable TV. I’m glad I arrived in the summer because it allowed me to get settled in before my first Canadian winter because it was just brutal. My only had the bus or taxi to get around and I sure appreciate my car now,

After I got myself settled in I started working as a server in a Greek restaurant in town. It was while I was working at the restaurant that I met my girlfriend, Jen. While working there I was also getting ready to take my Class 1. I finally took the test, passed it, and then started searching for job.

It took me over a year before I finally found a company that would take a chance on me. The company is Priority One Transport. Three years later I am still working there with no thoughts of leaving. When I first started for the company I drove a day cab Mack Pinnacle pulling vans and decks mostly doing local pickup and delivery with some highway runs to Ft. McMurray. Within 6 months I was trained and transferred to the off-road division of the company which is 330 kilometres north of Edmonton in Wabasca, AB. I took the position but at the same time I felt kind of lost because I really didn’t know what to expect. That’s when I met Larry, one of my coworkers, who stepped in and basically became the second person in my life to be my mentor – my father was my first. Larry and I have been running night shift together for almost 6 months now and while Larry modestly claims that he hasn’t done anything for me I know different. He has helped me be a better all-round driver. He helped me to push away the fear of the icy roads while remembering to respect them at the same time. He also pushed me to find my trucks limits and helped me out a lot by showing me a few tricks when pulling super b trailers.

Garry is another coworker within the company who helped me a lot with driving tips and knowledge. He also helped more on other things like understanding the laws and the regulations. He also educated me on English work terms and definitions but most importantly he helped me to improve myself.

My brother is a secret mentor of mine. He won’t come right out and say anything but in his own way he helps me see and understand my mistakes and he is always there for me. But on a day to day basis my girlfriend Jen is my rock. She has been on my side since day one. She patiently waits for me at home and has always been there with words of encouragement for every decision or move I have made.

I consider myself very lucky for having so many people around me from coworkers to family, and especially Jen, who have helped me without asking anything in return. They have offered help and support when I needed them and have thankfully let it slide if I have done something that they may have warned me about. (Nobody likes I told you so’s)

Last December the company had a position they needed filled so they moved me into a sleeper truck. After a while Jen and I had a long talk about our future and the direction we wanted to go and we both agreed it would be best if I took over the truck. So my mistress is a 2012 Mack Pinnacle with a 13 litre, 505 horse, mp8 engine. It has a 62 inch bunk and a 14,600 lb. front axle with 46,000 lb. rears. It is super b rated which is pretty much like every one of the trucks that I have driven for this company.

I have always liked a good looking truck so when I got this truck I already knew what was coming. I just didn’t know how much I would be doing or to what level.

While I was giving some TLC to the truck I joined a group called Alberta Large Cars. It is a bunch of amazing people who welcomed me on board and quickly made me feel at home. These people (I am not mentioning names) came into my life and gave me hope for the future because trucking, or at least career truckers, seem to be a dying breed.

The same people got my interest up in doing some changes, so much so that I start talking to management and over a period of 9 months we transformed the truck into the company’s first show truck. These were kind of tricky months for me due to the limited time I had between work and personal responsibilities. That didn’t stop me though. With Jen’s whole-hearted support I got the truck ready for its first ever show and shine and my first truck show in Canada. That show was Alberta Big Rig Weekend that Pro-Trucker Magazine hosted at Black Jacks Roadhouse in Nisku this summer. It was a blast and I can assure you that it won’t be my last show.

I call the truck The Mistress because I seem to spend more time (and money) on her than I do with Jen. I have to admit that Jen has been very patient and supportive concerning my decision to show the truck. Between the two of us, Jen would have to be described as having the quieter character, but she is also mentally strong and stubborn, so yeah she is my better half and also my biggest reason to work even harder. Work harder so we can accomplish our dreams and goals but first we need to establish ourselves and then everything will line up . One of the things that Larry said when I first met him was, “It takes a special woman to be a truckers wife.” And he was right.

So that is my story so far with its good and bad moments. I have no regrets for my choices and lots of love for the people around me.

See ya down the road…