by Jim Park
Shirley and Claude Sprott have been trucking together since a hundred bucks would get a truck from Newcastle, N.B, to Boston and back again, everything included. After 32 years, a combined 86 years of experience, they've put 8.4 million miles behind them. And at 66 and 69 respectively, they say they'll be driving together as long as they can keep their licences. They married in 1953.
Claude started in trucking sometime in the mid-1940s, hauling pulp with a 3-ton International KB-5 and a single-axle trailer, loaded by hand in those days - four-foot sticks piled one at a time. Shirley's launch came via Claude's farm. "I really took to the tractors," she says. "Just couldn't get enough of anything that moved under its own power." In 1954 she earned her chauffeur's permit and began running the farm trucks.
Claude heard the call of the open road and bought his first highway truck in 1969, a tandem-axle GMC, quite a truck in its day with a 'big' 290 Detroit and a 15-speed tranny. He was the first broker to hire on with G.T. Moore Trucking, which became Sunbury Transport several years later. He retains his number-one status at Sunbury, by the way, having worked there for the past 32 years.
Shirley joined Claude on the road in 1970, and they've never looked back. She usually takes the night shifts, preferring to let Claude deal with daytime city traffic, the deliveries, and of course, getting in and out of the customer's facilities.
"Getting directions is one of those things I've always dreaded," she says. "You could spend hours just looking for a pay phone to make the call, then they'd be wrong anyway, or they'd forget to tell you about a low bridge or something. You can't trust them half the time."
Shirley figures satellite communication is the best thing to happen to trucking since the diesel, though she first thought it was one more thing for drivers to put up with. "Once I got the system figured out, I saw we were onto to a good thing," she says.
If there's anything Claude misses about trucking's pioneer days, it's the trust and camaraderie that once existed between drivers, and between drivers and their business partners. Once, on his new 1974 Freightliner's maiden run, the ICC stopped him in New Hampshire and fined him $100 for having the wrong licence plates. He didn't have it, but got out of the scrape by calling Buzzy's of Portsmouth, N.H., where he often bought fuel, to ask if the retailer could front him a C-note until his next trip through the area. No problem, of course. Buzzy knew Claude would be back within a couple of days. But just try that one today.
"Today's DOT are pretty much the same as the old crowd from ICC, except they take their jobs a lot more seriously," Claude says. "It's just not as much fun any more."
He and Shirley have covered every province and every state except South Dakota, but nowadays they guide their '96 Peterbilt mostly through the Maritimes and New England states. They prefer shorter trips and take most of the winter off. As Shirley puts it, "We need to catch up on what the family has been up to, and there's a lot of TV to catch up on too."
They make their home in Hoyt, N.B., not far from Fredericton. They have two sons, one a driver and the other a mechanic. They have a son in-law who drives, and three grandkids coming into the business as well.
The Sprotts were recently awarded the Atlantic Canada Driver(s) of the Year award, sponsored by Volvo Trucks Canada, for their outstanding safety record, their many years of service, and their commitment to the industry (it's the first time a team has won). HighwaySTAR congratulates them.