Fred Lowe lives in Merritt BC and is very well known and respected in the logging industry. He has hauled logs in some of the toughest areas of BC. It is probably safe to say that he has done this with the widest variety of equipment over the longest period of time of anyone who is currently still throwing wrappers on a logging truck. This is his story:
I was born on June 22, 1942, in Princeton, BC. My parents lived in Hedley at the time but the closest hospital was in Princeton. Today you can travel from Hedley to Princeton in about half an hour but back then it was not much more than a windy gravel trail that ran on the other side of the river and took hours to travel.
My Dad was wounded in WW2 and subsequently reported missing in action. My mother and the whole town anxiously waited for word from him. The post office even stayed open Christmas day in hope of getting a telegram about him. He was finally found in a hospital in England and brought home on the Queen Mary which had been converted to a hospital ship. When my Dad came home he ran a grader for the Ministry of Highways and helped build the new road from Hedley to Princeton. He never talked about the war but every so often he would have to make the long trip to Vancouver so they could dig more shrapnel out of him. In 1948, when I was 6 years old, our family moved to Penticton, BC.
My three Uncles, Art, Fred and Ike Harris lived in the Similkameen Valley when I was going to school Uncle Art and Uncle Fred had a taxi business in Hedley. When the Mascot Mine shutdown in 1949 business got real slow so they started hauling logs to the three sawmills in Keremeos. They had a 3 Ton GMC with hydraulic brakes and a single axle trailer with vacuum brakes.
I used to ride with them every chance I got on the weekends and holidays and then when I was back at school during the week I spent a lot of time drawing pictures of trucks and logging equipment.
Later when a small sawmill opened up in Hedley my Uncle Art started his own logging show and hauled the logs to the new mill. Every weekend I would hitchhike from Penticton to Hedley so I could work with my Uncle. I worked hard and learned everything I could about trucks and hauling logs and then on Sunday nights my Uncle Art would drive me back to Penticton. He liked to take me home because they didn’t have TV in Hedley so it gave him a chance to watch Bonanza. As time went on and I took more and more of an interest in the trucks and after a while, he began to teach me how to drive.
Every once in a while we would haul a load of lumber from Hedley to Vancouver which was a long trip. The trucks back then didn’t have much power and often when going up the steep hill leaving Princeton I would get out of the truck and run up the hill ahead of him. One time on the return trip he fell asleep and we were heading right for the rocks when I reached over and smacked him. He woke up just in time to stop us from hitting the rock face.
Things were going along just fine in the industry until the Government issued a quota system for logging companies and all the sawmills in Keremeos and Hedley shut down. I was in grade 9 by this time and had just turned 16 years old when I left home and school to go to work with Uncle Art. We worked for Horvatin Logging in Greenwood where I did the bull work of hooking chokers while Uncle Art drove a D6 Cat.
I remember one time Walter Palm let me drive his truck down Phoenix Mountain above Greenwood. After I reached the bottom he told me that I would never make it as a truck driver and he would never let me drive again. If he only knew…
In 1960 my Uncle Art got a call from Merritt to go to work hauling logs in the Missezula Lake area North of Princeton so I packed up and away I went in a 1956 Mercury 800 with a tag along axle. It was October 1960 and I got there in the middle of the night so I headed straight into the bush where I met Ted Kadohama. He was staying in his camp trailer in the bush and he loaded me with the forklift one log at a time. I will never forget that first trip into Merritt. When I got to the top of Hamilton Hill I thought oh boy here I go. It was a trial by fire but I made it to the bottom in one piece I and have been driving ever since.
A few months later Uncle Art joined me in Merritt when he started logging for O’Neill & Devine. I continued on working for my Uncle until 1962 when I started working for Kadohama Logging, driving an old wore out blue Peterbilt. It was during this time that I met Carol Gordon in Merritt and we began dating.
In late 1962 I bought my first truck, a 1952 Mercury with a single axle trailer and vacuum brakes and went back to hauling logs into Merritt for my Uncle Art. In 1963 my Uncle decided to quit logging so I sold the Mercury to Katona Bros. in Merritt. The Katona family had just arrived in Merritt after escaping from Russian controlled communist Hungary. Louis Katona and I are still friends to this day. After that I drove a brand new yellow and green Kenworth for Tommy Torrika and I can still remember being pretty proud of myself driving around in that rig.
Carol and I married July 4, 1964, and about this time Tom decided to move the truck to Williams Lake so away we went. Carol worked for the Bank of Montreal at the time and as luck would have it there was an opening and she was able to transfer to that branch. It was a bitterly cold winter that year. So cold in fact that we used the trunk of our car for a freezer.
The work in Williams Lake only lasted six months and I was only paid 22% of the truck’s gross. I remember getting paid $80.00 for a full month’s work and our car payment was $85. Like I said it was a tough winter – nobody made any money that year.
Back to Merritt we went and luck was still with us as Carol was able to transfer back. I went to work for Ernie Wilkins driving a brand new blue Hayes HD, with a truck and pup. This was in 1967 when our first daughter Laura was born.
On our 6th anniversary I was following Larry “Popeye” Smyth while coming back into Merritt with a load of logs. I was trying to keep up to him but the grader had left a windrow in middle of the road and as I swerved to go around it my tire caught and I rolled the truck – load and all.
Popeye was a bit of a legend in the logging industry. He was often referred to as the Bull of the Woods. He fought hard for our rates and generally kept everyone on their toes. Management and drivers alike. Old Popeye was a good friend and he drank as hard as he worked. He would often show up in the middle of the night, not entirely sober, wanting to visit.
Things were different back then as I’m sure some of you remember and others have heard. To give you an example, one time a bunch of us stopped between loads for lunch and a quick beer at the local hotel. An RCMP officer came in and headed right for our table asking who owned those logging trucks out front. We told him that we did and he said that we should probably finish our beer and get back to work. It is not something you would do today and definitely not the reaction you would get from the RCMP if you did.
In 1968 my friend Gary Nicholson and I bought two trucks from ML Brown, a Hayes Clipper and an International V-Line. After a few months, we traded them in for two 1965 Kenworths and continued hauling for Brown’s in Merritt.
We all have experiences that stick with us. Some good and some bad. One of the worst experiences I have ever had was when I was hauling logs for ML Brown. A young fellow from Quebec, who could hardly speak a word of English, had recently gone to work for them when one day he rolled his skidder. He didn’t have a chance. It landed on top of him, killing him instantly. When I got to the landing a couple of us had to crawl up into the bush and dig him out then carry his body down to the landing on a stretcher. Somethings you never forget.
When the Southern Interior Loggers went on strike we followed Brown’s to Mackenzie but once we got up there Gary was in a bad truck accident. I kept hauling logs but once Gary recovered we dissolved our business. This is when our second daughter Leanne was born.
In 1969 I bought the truck called the “Old West” from Uncle Art. We wrote the “official” sales contract out on a matchbook. It said, “West Coast International – $13,500 at $500 per month for truck and pup.”
In 1970 I traded in the Old West for a new orange and white Mack with Brentwood long log rigging. In typical trucking fashion, things were going so bad that I bought two more trucks, another Mack and a Kenworth. We hauled logs from ML Brown into Merritt but I was soon flat ass broke. We were done. It was a fast ride in 1972.
I had to keep food on the table so I went to work for Transall, running double with Tiny Jensen, from Vancouver to Montreal or Vancouver to Toronto. When the truck was put on for Inland Livestock and we pulled trailers for Lynden Transport from Sumas to Alaska. Tiny and I put on about 97,000 miles together and it was quite a ride. We ran across Canada and to Alaska and generally spent more money than we made. On one trip on the Alaska Highway, Tiny was driving while I was in the bunk when a truck that pulled camp shacks came around a corner empty. The road was heavy washboard and he was so light that his back end bounced around sideways right into our truck. I let out a bellow and looked out to see our hood had flown open and the force had pushed Tiny forward bending the steering wheel. Under normal instances the steering wheel would have survived but there was a very good reason why they called him Tiny – he was a big boy. I stopped one time to buy a pair of pants at a store and he asked me to pick up a pair for him too. I took a wild guess at his size but I had to go back to see if they had anything bigger – he needed a size 58 around the waist! Tiny and I had some good times together but it was time to be home with my family so for the next couple of years I went from trucker back to logger and worked in the bush for ML Brown and George Ware.
In 1976, I went logging fulltime and started Ace Logging Ltd. We had a conventional logging side with cats and skidders as well as the first hi-lead logging operation in the Nicola Valley. Along with logging equipment, we had added a 1978 Western Star that hauled logs and low bedded. Family time was key for us and we camped out in the bush from the day the girls got out of school until the day they went back after the summer.
Every Sunday people would come out in bush to visit and some drivers would come to pre-load. One Sunday my twelve-year-old future son-in-law, Lorne Christy jr. came out with John Mcbee. Now John was a driver who had been shot in a hunting accident a few years back and never fully recovered. He could still drive but he hired Lorne to throw wrappers and swamp for him. On this particular day John got into a bit too much alcohol and I ended up asking Lorne to drive the truck back to Merritt – which he did. Lorne’s mother was furious with me and as a matter of fact, I think she may still be mad at me for letting him drive that logging truck home. But it was worth it – I still have to smile when I remember the huge smile Lorne wore as he pulled off the landing in that truck. There were lots of good times along with tough times and when things got tough the Western Star, with me behind the wheel, is what pulled us through.
In 1986 we added a green Kenworth with a jeep and a pull trailer to the business. (We said it was the colour of money – wishful thinking?) We joke about it now as Kenworth was having a deal at the time where if you bought a truck you got a free trip to Hawaii, so Carol and I enjoyed a week in Hawaii.
In 1991 we updated the truck and bought a brand new Kenworth. One day I decided to take Laura with me for a round trip to the mill. It was really muddy in the bush so the loader gave us a push to get us off the landing. But when he pushed the back of the load a log came through the back window pinning me up against the steering wheel. Laura jumped on the radio and yelled to stop pushing. Luckily she had spent a lot of time in the bush and knew how to use the radio. We laugh about it now but it could have been much more serious. In 1994 I sold my logging quota to Nadina Logging Ltd. but I held on to the logging truck and kept on working it.
As I was back in the driver’s seat fulltime life was getting better so we updated the truck to a 1995 Kenworth with a jeep and pull trailer. During this time I hauled logs for various contractors. My longest log haul was from the NWT to Prince George.
In 2001 I updated again to a new Kenworth with a custom built Hayrack to haul short logs and went back to hauling logs for Nadina Logging in the Nicola Valley. In 2005 I sold the truck to Frank Etchart at Nadina’s and I became a Nadina company driver where I am still hauling logs to this day.Since being at Nadina’s I’ve rigged out and driven a lot of new Kenworths, 2007, 2010, 2015, 2017 & the truck I currently drive is a 2018 Tri-Drive with a quad trailer that hauls 3 bundles of short logs.
I’ve seen a lot of different configurations over the years from short logs to long, back to short, triaxles, jeeps, quads, etc. I have also seen a lot of changes in our industry. When I started you bought a C Chauffeurs license that cost a dollar. For that dollar they gave you a badge that was worn on your belt telling the world that you were allowed to drive truck. The next license up cost another dollar but it was a round badge that you wore on your hat and allowed you not only to drive a truck but also to drive a taxi.
In the early 70’s we all had to write an Air Ticket exam. I remember one day a bunch of us went down to the Merritt Secondary School to write the air exam. We were not sober and consequently we all failed. A few days later we all got to re-write and everyone passed. Not only were we all sober the second time but I had also written the questions on my hand during the first exam and shared them with the others drivers. We were not used to writing tests, and half of us had very little education, but we all knew how to drive.
I love what I do, that’s why I am still doing it at age 76. I leave the house every day at midnight with a smile on my face. It has been a great life, I have met lots of friends along the way. I had great teachers and mentors in my life; Uncle Art Harris, Uncle Fred Harris, Al Durban, Roy Brown, Ernie Wilkins and of course Larry “Popeye” Smyth to name a few. Some of the greatest people set great examples for me and I hope I have passed that on to the next generation.
The industry has changed and it’s disappointing that the young people today either haven’t had the opportunities that I had, or don’t see driving as a profession, so they don’t seek out the opportunities. It’s hard work but nothing comes easy in life. Over the past 60 years I’ve passed my knowledge on to anyone that was interested. Some of the things I have passed on are to love what you are doing, take pride in your work, don’t wear your hat backwards (drives me crazy), get your hands out of your pockets (it’s a sign of laziness), keep your dash clean of items and your truck serviced and looking neat. But most importantly, read the road and feel the load at all times.
I am proud to say that my family is all in the trucking/forestry business. My son in law Lorne Christy has 3 trucks; son in law Luke Pozzobon builds logging roads, my grandson Jordie Christy loads logs and both my daughters Laura Christy & Leanne Pozzobon are office managers for trucking companies and most important my wife Carol has been by my side since 1964. I also have two beautiful granddaughters; Amy Pozzobon is an Xray Technician and Courtney Christy is at Brock University in Ontario.
Our family was struck with tragedy in January 2017 with the loss of my grandson Ty Pozzobon, who was a professional bull rider. A couple of Ty’s accomplishments was being a 4 year qualifier to the Calgary Stampede and 4 year qualifier to the PBR world finals in Las Vegas. He made our country proud in 2016 by coming 4th in the world finals in Las Vegas. Ty was crowned the Canadian PBR Champion in 2016.
He was extremely well liked and at the top of his game when he committed suicide. It was found that he suffered with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which is a progressive degenerative brain disease that is caused by repeated concussions and is prevalent in athletes who sustain hits to the head. Now our whole family works to spread awareness about, and how to recognize, the signs of CTE.
Ty put Merritt on the Bull riding map and was instrumental in having bull riding events in Merritt where some of the best bull riders in the world competed. A lady from Medicine Hat Alberta carved a wood statue of Ty and the city of Merritt has already poured a pad where the statue will be placed this spring commemorating his achievements.
When I came to Merritt in Oct 1960, at 17 years of age, I was the youngest driver in the valley, today, I am the oldest. All in all, it’s been a great ride and, other than the tragedy of losing Ty, I wouldn’t change a thing if I could.
Editor’s note: Our careers have a profound effect on our children but we seldom get to hear exactly how they feel about it. The following is a speech written by Fred’s daughter Laura when, in Grade 9, she won the Merritt Secondary School Speech Competition.
My Life As a Logger’s Daughter
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, judges and fellow competitors. This evening I’m going to tell you what it’s like being a logger’s daughter. Let me tell you there is never a dull moment. Our normal morning starts when the alarm goes off at 4:00 am. The house isn’t too noisy when Mom gets up to put the coffee on and to make Dad’s lunch, but when Dad gets up and turns the Kamloops western music station on the whole house has to get up. While Dad has his morning coffee and cigarette we hope that the phone doesn’t ring because when it does it usually means that someone isn’t going to show up for work. The odd morning when we’ve all slept in and the phone rings it sure comes in handy to wake up. Then it’s a rush to get Dad away. After our neighbours and our family listen to a pickup or a logging truck warm up Dad is off to work. We can now get a couple of hours sleep before school starts.
During the day when there is a minor breakdown Mom is usually the one to get the call. The message is usually something short like “bring us up some chokers or parts.” This call is made from our radio-telephone which is in the pickup. So out Mom goes in her little car to the bush. Finally, the day is coming to an end and we still haven’t eaten dinner. A lot of nights we have to eat without Dad because he’s still at work. When he does get home the phone is always ringing no matter what the time. Other disadvantages are my Dad gets very little time off, we don’t have much of a family life away from work, and we run on a tight budget, especially during Spring Break Up. This is when the snow is melting and the bush is too wet to work in. Even though things might be a little tight sometimes we never seem to go without. When things are running smooth and there’s lots of work there is always a lot of extras around. I also have learned a whole new vocabulary being around loggers.
There are many more advantages, meeting lots of fun people like men on Dad’s crew who aren’t even bad looking, other loggers, their families and salesmen who bring hats and t-shirts to my sister and me. Our summers are spent camping by Dad’s landing where we have great times. There are always vehicles available which are fully insured and they come with a gas key for the bulk plant. I’ve learned how to run equipment and to monkey wrench. Safety on the job and keeping the equipment in top condition is knowledge I’ve acquired by being a logger’s daughter. I now understand why people in all walks of life should take care of and respect our forests because they should be here forever. I also have the opportunity of being made aware of all the job careers available in the forest and related industries. I’m glad my Dad puts up with my lack of machinery knowledge but I still think that sometimes he would have liked to have had a son. Overall I’m glad my Dad is a logger because I’ve been exposed to many opportunities that some kids wouldn’t even dream of.
If you think Loretta Lynn had it tough being a coal miner’s daughter, you should live at my house for a while.