October 2019 – Brandon Muir

A letter we printed in our September issue was from a young driver named Brandon Muir who lives in Telkwa BC. He told of going to the truck stop with his Dad when he was a kid and always getting a Pro-Trucker Magazine when, as he put it, “I wasn’t even tall enough to grab them from the counter…”. He went on to say that he hoped one day to be on the cover of Pro-Trucker. After 21 years of publishing Pro-Trucker, I can’t say that he made me feel any younger but after talking to him I realized that Brandon, with his all-out enthusiasm and love of the job, is what we need more of in the industry. This is his story:

I was born and raised in Smithers British Columbia by a family of truck drivers. My Grandpa was a truck driver, mechanic, and welder – basically a jack of all trades. He taught me a lot of what I know today. My Dad and a few of my uncles are all drivers so you can see that I was doomed right from the beginning!

I remember spending every spare moment of my childhood in the jump seat of my dad’s truck. Everything, when I was a kid, was trucks, whether I was drawing trucks, looking at trucks, talking about trucks or playing with toy trucks. On Saturdays, I would go to the local trucker hang out with my Dad and listen to the drivers tell stories. I tried to learn everything I could about driving a truck. They always had a Pro-Trucker Magazine on the counter and I dreamed of one day having my truck on the cover. At family gatherings, it was always the same thing – trucker talk.

My Grandma would always say to me “Don’t be a truck driver, it’s not the kind of life you want to live”. But apparently I don’t listen very well, or at least that’s what I think my wife says.

When I was fifteen years old I started working at Bandstra Transportation Systems Ltd. My Dad has been driving for them for around fifteen years and I always wanted to work there too.

I started out washing trucks on Saturdays and the odd time if I didn’t have to go to school I would help move furniture with their moving division. Eventually, I started helping around the yard shunting trailers and strapping loads.

After three years of washing trucks, and working other part-time jobs during the week, I graduated high school and decided it was time for a career. I went to work for Babine Truck and Equipment servicing and repairing trucks and trailers. It is right next door to Bandstra and they do all the mechanical work for their fleet. I did everything from oil changes and grease jobs to turbos and a little bit of Cummins computer diagnostics.

I got my class one learners license when I turned nineteen but failed my road test a few months later for taking too much time on the pre-trip inspection and a couple of small mistakes during my road test. After 3 years in the shop, I decided that working under a truck wasn’t where I wanted to be so I left to go work in the mines.

For two years I worked as a fuel and lube truck driver at a copper mine. It wasn’t much of a truck driving job but I still got to drive a tandem International body job with 10-speed transmission. It was a great job because it was one week on and one week off, leaving me with lots of spare time.

Driving in an open-pit mine with 8000L of diesel and 4000L of oil and grease on a little underpowered truck makes you pretty good at shifting and pretty good at changing tires too!

On my days off I would work a couple of days for a good friend of mine named Al Tucker. He ran a small pilot car business called Stargaze Pilot Car Service and we would pilot oversized loads all over BC. A few months after starting with Al he, unfortunately, passed away due to medical issues. I still continued to work with the company while his wife and other driver ran the business but I slowly stopped pulling trips when my life got busier.

After two years at the mine, the price of copper plummeted and the mine closed so I was laid off along with everyone else. I kept busy working for a good friend of mine on his farm and doing maintenance at his wife’s dry cleaning business fixing washers and dryers. I pulled the odd pilot car trip for Stargaze as well.

One day I got a call from the dispatcher at Bandstra asking if I was working full time and if I wanted to take a pickup and do a hotshot run. It didn’t stop there though, they kept me busy and after about two weeks I asked if they had a full-time position because I wasn’t able to keep going with casual work as it was keeping me from my other jobs. They agreed to start me full time in a 5-ton delivering freight and working in the warehouse. About a month later I decided to get my class one. I rode with my Dad and a couple of the other drivers a few times and they would let me drive home empty from our destinations. Dad and I also went out on weekends and practiced around town. When I finally went to do the test I passed with flying colours.

The test itself was not as easy as I imagined though! I was booked to start my test first thing in the morning and had the truck and trailer delivered over to the test start location beforehand by another driver. I began the test and got through the pre-trip half of the test with ease when the truck blew a brake valve during a brake application. I figured that was about it for me and that maybe I could try again another day but the examiner took one look at me and said that he knew I wanted to get the test over with and that he had no other tests that day and to get a valve brought over and once it was replaced we could continue on. I felt like I was on top of the world that day when I pulled into the yard on my own that afternoon sporting my new license.

Most new drivers get an easy run with easy freight when they start out but not me. My first few months I hauled b-trains of bulk steel crushing balls into a mine about 6 hours from town up a busy one-lane radio controlled logging road. Dodging logging trucks while loaded right up to max weight was a challenge but I figured if I could do that I could do anything. My first truck was a 2007 Mack CL 700 with a 550 Cummins and an 18 speed. It had a 48” flat top sleeper and walking beam suspension. It was a great truck when loaded but it didn’t ride very well empty. Also spending a full week in a sleeper that small was taking a toll on me. After a few months, I moved into a 2009 Volvo. I was happy to have a big high rise sleeper and different suspension. After a couple of months in my Volvo, the work changed and I got put on a job at a remote mine in Northern British Columbia hauling heavy equipment and freight across an ice road built into a glacier. The roads were rough if you could call them roads, and the hills were upwards of 20 percent on ice, which greatly adds to the difficulty. I was given a 2015 Western Star tri-drive and told to put tire chains on all the wheels. After that was said and done I hooked onto a loaded 40-ton rock truck that was also chained up and that helped me up the hill. I have worked on and off of that project for the past couple years and am still on it as of today.

My first real long haul driving experience was in November of 2017 when I hauled an 8×8 Kenworth bed truck from North of Stewart BC to Edmonton Alberta. I had never driven in a city bigger than Prince George BC before in a truck. Thank goodness for GPS! I loaded the truck up and hooked onto the lowbed and booster and started making my way to Edmonton. After fighting through a snowstorm in Robson Park I finally made it into the city about an hour before dark. I unloaded in Nisku and started to head towards Acheson where I had to load a John Deere 772 grader to bring back home. It turned dark and it started to snow again. I thought to myself just my luck I’m already lost in this big city and now I can’t see fifty feet ahead! I had gone about ten minutes up Highway 60 headed North when I felt something wasn’t right. I pulled over and walked back to find four out of four blown tires on the booster. How could that have happened? I pulled the glad hands off between the trailer and the booster and when I pulled off the blue application side a big blast of air came out. The valve had frozen during an application keeping the brakes applied. After knocking on the valve, heating the valve slowly with a small torch and pouring methyl hydrate down the line I heard the brakes come off slowly. I thought to myself now what? I wasn’t far from our terminal in Edmonton so I pinned the booster up, filled the airbags and lifted it as high as it would go. I chained the axle up and then dropped all the air and when I was finished I had the tires around an inch from the ground so I was able to limp into our yard and drop the booster so it could be repaired. Luckily the place I loaded my backhaul at wasn’t very far and somebody came and loaded me after hours so that the next day I could be on my way home again.

I just don’t have very good luck with winter I guess because a few weeks later I was making my way out of the bush on a Friday morning at about 4 am and it was snowing like crazy when I left the gravel. I had three sets of triples on the drives, and a steer chain on but decided to peel two sets and a steer off and leave just one set on just because it was warm wet snow and I was decently heavy. About 10 kilometres down the road the snow turned to freezing rain on compact and I was glad that I kept the chains on.

I caught an empty fuel tanker spun out and blocking the road on a small hill so I pulled up behind him. He ran back and told me he didn’t have much experience chaining up so I gave him a quick hand, throwing two sets on so he could make the bigger hills ahead. I went to start up the hill too and found I couldn’t lift off so I jumped out and threw another set on quick. I started to scratch my way to the top but found I couldn’t steer so at the top of the hill I pulled into the brake check to throw a steer chain on. As you can tell I was bound and determined to make it home. 150 kilometres later and not one plow truck in sight it finally stopped raining and it turned to snow again. I pulled over and took what was left of my chains off and made it home. The trip should have taken four hours on a normal day but by the time I pulled into the yard at home, it was ten hours!

I’ve done trips hauling mining exploration equipment and diamond drill rigs that are 2 days of driving in the bush not seeing another person until you arrive at the destination. The best part of it all is seeing sights that only a few people see.

One day the opportunity came up to do a winch job with another driver’s truck and I jumped at the opportunity. After pulling that cable out once I was hooked! (Get it?) I took every available winch job I could after that to get as much experience as possible.

Bandstra is a really great company to work for. I get to run newer equipment and they are very understanding about time with family. I work with a very good group of people and I’m lucky to be able to work alongside my Dad and my younger brother who recently started working in the warehouse loading freight.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without my Dad, Blair and my co-workers/trainers, Colin Adams, John James, Mike Trigiani and the rest of the guys I work with, that helped me out when I started out driving.

My wife has seen her fair share of crazy road conditions in the North too. When she was eight months pregnant with our son she came on a trip with me to a mine in northern British Columbia, near Dease lake BC, for one last trip. I had to run two sets of drive chains on the mine road and when I pulled off onto the highway it was snowing real bad so I kept one set on. I went about ten minutes down the road when I met a good friend of mine that runs a fuel truck. He told me the roads got really bad up ahead

And that he had two sets and a steer on and was barely making it. I, however, was young and foolish and told him that I wouldn’t have any issue. Ten minutes later there I was throwing more triples and a steer chain on at the Burrage brake check. Two other empty Super Bs were spun out on the hill so I waited for them to be clear before I made my way down. I made it with some fancy footwork and made it on my way. I stopped in at the Bob Quinn Lake Airstrip to pull my chains off and a plow truck pulled in beside me. He told me to keep the chains on until at least Bell 2 Lodge as the roads didn’t get better until there.

We made it a couple of hours south of the lodge and I ran out of hours. I was pretty tired and didn’t feel like taking my chains off that night so we settled in the bunk with hot chocolate and a movie and watched the snowfall. I woke up in the morning to over a foot of snow on my hood and half a dozen cars stuck in the pullout behind me. I was glad that I had left all the chains on and after what seemed like hours of shovelling we were able to break free of our pullout and rattle down the road. We finally pulled chains off after 250 kilometres of having them on.

Speaking of lucky guys let’s just talk about my wife for a quick minute. Just before starting my truck driving career I met the girl of my dreams. After dating her for two years we got married. Not a lot of spouses are so supportive of the trucker lifestyle but she always has my back. A lot of the times drivers eat like garbage and we usually have no idea when we will be home. The plans change so much that most of the time that you don’t know what’s going to happen in an hour let alone by the time you do make it home. But here is my wife waiting for me with a hot meal when I do finally get home and lunch packed for when I leave again. I get text messages when I get back into service from Timbucktoo saying she hopes everything is good and she sends pictures of my boy to help ease my homesickness.

She runs an entire household by herself most of the time. She will never let me live it down that her name is first on the mortgage to our house because she went to the bank to get the paperwork started while I was at work the day we had to sign the papers. She loves riding in the truck and comes with me every chance she gets. She’s been all over highway 37 with me and has gone to some pretty amazing places.

One day I came home from a long week in the bush and she was acting strange. She tried to hide it for a while but finally, she told me I was going to be a Dad. I was excited but nervous, I knew how much my Dad was gone when I was a kid and I felt like I didn’t want to miss out on the birth of my first child so I started working locally. I did switches and short hauls, in-town deliveries and loading loads at the yard. A short time later my son Emmet was born. He is a year and a half old now and is just as truck crazy as I was. When we are outside and see a truck go by he just points at it and looks at me and yells “Dad”! He loves the truck. When I bring it home on weekends to clean and grease he just stands in the yard and looks at it. Sometimes I put him up in the cab and let him play and I can hear my Grandma in the back of my head saying “ Don’t be a truck driver it’s not the kind of life you want to live”.

After just over six weeks in town, the bush was calling my name and I went back out to my regular haul. After a few months back at it I noticed more and more I needed a winch to do the jobs I was given but most of the time needed to use another drivers truck or get somebody to do the winching for me. I asked my dispatchers about the possibility of getting a winch tractor and they said something was in the works.

In November of 2018, I was given my current truck, it’s a 2019 Western Star SB4900 tri-drive winch tractor with a 600hp DD16, Eaton 18 speed and a 40ton Tulsa winch. It is the one and only black Bandstra truck in the entire fleet of red, with the odd white truck. I’ve been running scissor-neck lowbed hauling camp shacks and equipment, hydraulic and mechanical neck lowbeds with up to 10 axles. I am lucky that I get to do the cool jobs that I do, I have been given really great opportunities that not a lot of new drivers get especially with the heavy hauls and oversized loads.

I do really love trucking and cannot picture doing anything else. I am excited to see what other loads I can haul and what other destinations I will get to see.