I called Scott Casey to see if he could recommend a veteran driver for our November/December Rig of the Month. He introduced me to Robert Pigeau, and I am glad he did. I have spoken to many recruiters, and those I have talked to over the years all seem to agree that veterans make great truck drivers because of their military training, to take direction and get the job done come hell or high water. This is Robert’s story:
I was born in London, Ontario, on March 9th, 1959, to Art and Joan Pigeau. I have three siblings. A younger brother, Jim and two younger sisters Debbie and Marilyn. All of who live in London, Ontario. I retired from the Military in March 1997 and now live in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
I joined the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets in 1973, and then in January 1976, I joined the Canadian Armed Forces, 22 Service Battalion in London, Ontario. Two years later, in February of 1978, I transferred to the Regular Military. My first posting with the Military was at CFS Holberg in Holberg B.C. on northern Vancouver Island.
For over 21 years, I was a cook in the Canadian Armed Forces. During that time, I did two UN missions. The first was in 1982–1983 with the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus. (UNFICYP) I was with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI) at the time. The Cyprus mission is one of the longest running UN Peacekeeping missions.
It started in 1964 to prevent fighting between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. There was an unofficial ceasefire in August 1974, and since then, UNFICYP has maintained a buffer zone between the Turkish forces in the north and the Greeks in the south. The ceasefire lines extend over 180 kilometres across the island, and over 800 UN troops and 60 police officers have to deal with hundreds of incidents a year.
I also served 1992 – 1993 with the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) during the Yugoslav wars. At that time, I was with the Canadian Contingent Support Group (CCSG) in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The mission was to prevent torture, killings, expulsions of minorities and ethnic cleansing that was ongoing.
When I was with 2PPCLI, I drove a 2.5 Ton, 6×6 truck and pulled a kitchen trailer. The trailer was a pop-up with sides that folded down. Troops had to climb stairs and walk along a ramp that passed a steam table to get their food. If we were going to be there for some time, they would set up tents for them to sit in, but it constantly changed – we could be in one location for hours, a day, weeks, or months at a time.
When it came time to think about retiring from the Canadian Armed forces, I knew that I didn’t want to be working inside as a cook, so I started to look around to see what I might be happy doing. I had 2 Uncle’s that drove truck and so did my brother who had also been in the Military. I had ridden with him in a straight truck a few times delivering groceries on my days off and decided it would suit me. So I took my Air Brake course while still in the Military, and then in the spring of 1996, I did my class 1 course with Reimer Express Driving School. It was an excellent threemonth course that I have since learned was very much like the original Earning Your Wheels Course. I was lucky first in getting into this course, and second, since I was still working in the Military, they accommodated me on my shift work. They were a great school, but unfortunately, the company that took them over shut it down.
When I retired from the Military, I started driving an International over the road with Southway Transport. While working for Southway, I was able to take my son Justin with me on his first trip. He was 12 years old, and we went down to Mississippi over New Year’s. Unfortunately, on our way home, we ran into the big blizzard of 1996 and the highways were closed for four days from Watertown, South Dakota, into Manitoba. Luckily I had just bought a little 12 volt TV so Justin could watch TV in the truck, and they also had a TV in the driver’s room of the truck stop.
After nine months, in May of 1997, I started at Big Freight Systems INC. I am still here. It is an excellent company with good management and dispatchers that treat you like part of a family, not just a number. When I started with them, I was supposed to train with another driver for three months, but he kicked me out after only two weeks, saying I didn’t need any more instruction.
For the first few years, my son would come with me on trips. When running down through North and South Dakota, we would often have a contest to see who would be the first to spot the hawks on the fence. He has seen a lot of country that other kids may never see, like the Dakotas, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Nebraska and everything in between. He has also seen a lot of Canada from BC to the Maritimes. My wife Paula is from Montreal, but her mother’s family is from New Brunswick, and she has a sister in PEI. My wife came on one trip with me that went from Winnipeg to London, to Milwaukee and then to Dubuque, Iowa, and back up to Edmonton where we reloaded to Nebraska and then loaded farm machinery that went to Saskatchewan. Finally, we headed back home. We had a great time.
On one trip in Quebec, I was hauling an oversize load, and since my son is bi-lingual, he was my interpreter. We came to a spot where a cop was stopping traffic so we could go to go under a bridge when an old lady, who did not want to stop, clipped his knees while going by. Needless to say, he was not pleased.
I have worked many jobs driving for Big Freight Systems INC. In my first few years, I did open decks hauling oversize loads. The biggest was 13.5 feet wide and 98.75 feet long bumper to bumper, out of Winnipeg down to Pennsylvania. To haul the load, I had to extend the trailer. It was my first time and probably took me an hour to figure it out. It was a huge base for an exhaust system for a mill. They sent the rest of the unit ahead of me on other trucks. So they had to wait about a week for me to show up so they could unload me first and put it together.
I also hauled parts for coal and nuclear-generating stations. Often it was the crusher wheels that they used to crush the coal into powder which is then blown into the furnace. I also did nine months in the US glass division. That was great, as I always pulled the same trailer. After that, I went back on open decks. I have also trained new drivers, and I am an over-the-road recruiter.
One day I slipped on the ice in Swan River, Manitoba. It was covered in snow so I couldn’t see the ice, and I went down on my back, throwing out my shoulder. The next day I hit a deer, which just compounded the injury, so I could no longer lift the tarps or throw straps. After that, I moved over to the specialized Van Division, where the trailers have an extra floor. They load both floors using ramps. Over the years, I have worked motorcycle, and snowmobile shows all over Canada. There is often a couple of trailers hauling motorcycles or snowmobiles and then one show trailer that a crew sets up on-site.
I do a lot of volunteer work with different organizations. One of the groups is the Canadian Veterans of Manitoba and Supporters, where we do the marshalling of motorcycles for “The Ride for Dad” that raises money for Prostate Cancer research. I have also been to CFB Bagot Ville for the Airshow. That was a great time as everyone says I have the gift of gab, lol. I travel anywhere Big Freight would like me to go in the USA and Canada from Vancouver Island to St. John NL and as far north as Hay River, Northwest Territories.
In December 2018, I was coming out of Revelstoke, BC, when I had a headon with a drunk driver. There was a truck and a car in front of me, and she went between them, clipping the car, which changed her direction so that she hit me more on my passenger side. It was lucky that she clipped the car in front of me because, while it was still a head-on collision, it was not quite as bad as if she had hit me square on the grill. As it was, it broke the spring and pushed my wheel right back. We were in an open area, so when she bounced off my wheel, she ended up about 1500 feet off the road. She was driving a four-door, but you couldn’t tell by looking at it. Luckily the car she clipped was driven by a Doctor, so he was on the scene and took care of her until the emergency crew arrived. They had to use the Jaws of Life to get her out. She lived, but I was off work for three months.
They figured I managed to stop in 6 seconds, and the RCMP praised me for being able to stop so quickly and still keep my truck in my lane. I was empty, and that was why I could stop so fast. That and the fact that I pushed the brake so hard it blew out all the seals on the trailer.
In March of 2019, Big Freight Systems did the beautiful Military wrap truck you see here for another veteran and me. In 2019 I also received the Kenworth sponsored Manitoba Excellence Award. This award is presented to 10 people each year at a big Gala, and it was quite an honour to be picked. The drivers are announced before the event, so we knew what to expect and could invite guests. At the same event, a Volvo sponsored “Top Driver Award” is presented. No one knew which of the ten would get the top driver award until that night, so it was a huge surprise when my name was called.
My wife and I enjoy camping and going on trips to see family and friends. I enjoy golfing, hunting, fishing and riding my bike. Unfortunately, this year I had to switch to a Can-Am Spider because of my knees. But life is good.
There are over 2000 Cat Scales in North America, and each year 60 trucks are picked where they make up cards that they give you with your paperwork. One side of the card has a picture of a truck, while the other side tells about the driver. Thanks to that beautiful mural, my truck was picked this year. It was an excellent way to finish off the year.
Please keep an eye out for me on the road as I enjoy getting together and talking. I also belong to many veterans groups, and I enjoy volunteering to help other veterans out and other events in my community. As well, I enjoy driving around and meeting new friends and getting together with old friends. I made many friends while serving in the Military, and being in the trucking industry for 25 years has allowed me to continue to do the same.