Boy, Oh Boyer
by Steve Bouchard
are truckers, there are people who drive trucks, and then there's Pierre Boyer.
His skill and dexterity in shifting and maneuvering his truck, as well as 'feeling'
what's going on at pavement level takes steering and gearing to a whole new level.
And when it comes to customer service, well, let's just say that Pierre Boyer
has a way about him that really works to his advantage.
At 42, Boyer loves what he does, and does what he loves. The son of a truck
driver, this well spoken father of two grew-up around trucks and heavy equipment.
Starting his career on a straight truck at the age of 18, he earned his class
A licence a year later and started hauling chemical products with a tanker.
He also had a few years away from the big rigs when he took a job delivering
and installing camping trailers with a pickup truck. There was a bit more travel
involved, and while he says it was a refreshing change of pace, it wasn't really
for him. It wasn't trucking.
"It was a nice job, but I was missing the trucks," he says. "While
I was away from real trucking, I became almost obsessed with getting back, but
in a good way."
In 1989, he started work as a driver with Montreal-based Unique Personnel Services,
and he's been there ever since. They placed him on a contract in his hometown
of Granby, Que., hauling pressed paper tubes for Sonoco, covering an area from
Montmagny, Que. to Trenton, Ont.
It was 6:00 a.m. on a cold morning in early December when I caught up with
Pierre at Sonoco's Granby plant. I had met him at Montreal's Expocam show a
few months earlier, and I thought it would be a good idea to get to know him
in his day-to-day world.
It was still dark, and Pierre was just wrapping up his pre-trip when I arrived
at the plant. I climbed into the passenger seat of his Freightliner FLD 120
and we were ready to roll. As soon as the vehicle started moving, it was obvious
that he treated the truck as if it were his own. With great regard for the equipment,
and nary a chink or a clunk with the shifter, he wound up through the gears,
using the minimum possible rpm to keep it accelerating. He played the gearshift
and the throttle like a violin.
We headed for Napierville, Que. with a load of plastic pellets for the TransWest
Logistics Services warehouse. But first we had to weigh the load at a privately
owned scale nearby. We were unloaded in no time, but the customer wanted the
truck weighed before and after delivery, so we had to return to the scale for
the tare weight. Back at the scale Pierre turned on the charm, asking the weighmaster
if he wouldn't mind faxing the scale ticket back to the warehouse rather than
have us return with it. That saved half an hour's travel time winding through
Napierville's narrow streets.
"You see," Pierre told me, "when everybody works together, the
job goes a lot smoother. It's easy to save a little time here and there, and
be more efficient, when you play your cards properly."
Pierre is dedicated to his work, a fierce defender of the industry, and he's
a genuinely good man to whom good things are beginning to happen.
He had a fabulous year in 2002. In March, he was named a member of the Quebec
Trucking Association's Ambassadeurs de la Route, a group created to promote
road safety and the trucking industry in public presentations - an appointment
he calls a real honor. Later that year, he reached the million-accident-free-miles
mark at Sonoco, a distinction that earned him a place in the Private Motor Truck
Council's Hall of Fame. He was inducted in June 2003 at a ceremony in Niagara
on the Lake, Ont.
"Not only is Pierre an excellent driver, he is truly passionate about
his work and his industry," says Bruno Vallée, manager of Unique
Personnel's road safety department. "Pierre is dedicated, extremely professional
and always looking for opportunities to improve himself and to learn. At our
training sessions, you can be sure he will be at the front of the room, taking
notes and asking questions."
Everything started with a driving skill competition staged by Unique Personnel
"It was kind of a revelation for me, a fantastic experience," Pierre
says. "I did well in the contest, and my bosses saw me there in action,
which prompted them to give me a few more opportunities."
A short time later he took part in the Festival des Transporteurs Routiers
parade in the streets of St-Augustin de Desmaures, near Quebec City.
"That was a real thrill," he says with obvious pride. "The company
allowed me to use the truck in the parade, and even paid to have it washed.
I shined it up myself and then drove it in the parade. The best part was that
my wife Hélène and my children Marie-Pier and Sébastien
were in the truck as well. That was the first time they had seen their father
at work. Out there in the parade, I was feeling pretty good."
Pierre caught the attention of a local newspaper reporter, who wrote a short
story and took a few pictures during the parade. His bosses at Sonoco and Unique
saw it and, as they say, the rest is history.
At 7:15 a.m., the first delivery done, we headed back to Granby to grab a load
for St-Leonard, north of Montreal. An unpleasant mix of rain and freezing rain
fell, and we arrived around noon. On the narrow streets at the front of the
plant, Pierre's truck is an unwanted obstacle for the local four-wheelers. But
cool as a cucumber, he waited for his chance and then eased the trailer into
the dock on the first shot - only to find the lift operator who was supposed
to unload the trailer out for lunch.
Pierre's charm prevails again and another employee agrees to unload us. I suspect
that people's willingness to help him has a lot to do with his civility and
politeness. We had lunch in the truck while the trailer was unloaded.
As we talked about his life - the son who loves to load dump trucks with a
backhoe some weekends and the daughter who introduced him to gymnastics - I
asked Pierre how he feels about his role as an Amdassadeur de la Route.
"Better every day," he answers.
Pierre describes himself as very shy, but being an Ambassadeur and talking
about the industry, road safety, his experience as a driver, etc., to different
audiences - from elementary school kids to future and active drivers, and the
general public as well - seems to be an effective cure.
"I was nervous when I made my first presentation, but I'm gaining confidence
with my experience. People at QTA give us great support. When we have questions,
they give us the answers," he says. "I knew about the Ambassadeurs
program, but nothing compares to being part of it and understanding what it
brings to the industry. On a personal level, it's an incredible confidence booster,
and it makes you feel like you're accomplishing something worthwhile. I wish
everyone could have that experience just once."
Where is Pierre Boyer going to be in 10 years? He doesn't know exactly, but
he hopes to stay in trucking. Being open-minded, he's not eliminating any possibility.
His work as an Ambassadeur has helped him discover a passion for communication
and allowed him to share his enthusiasm for the industry. So, maybe a job in
safety or driver training?
"Who knows?" he says. "I'm not ready to make any decisions right
At 12:45, we left for a warehouse in Lachine, in Montreal's west-end, to pick
up 30 tons of paper rolls that Sonoco needed delivered to its plant at Cap-de-la-Madeleine,
near Trois-Rivières. That took an hour to load, which gave the weather
another hour to worsen.
With the freezing rain changed to snow, I thought it would be a good idea to
stop asking questions and let Pierre focus on his driving. But he was completely
relaxed and as talkative as ever. Montreal drivers aren't known for cutting
truckers any slack, and even with the lousy road conditions, they're as aggressive
as ever. But with the finesse of an orchestra conductor, Pierre managed the
automobile traffic deftly.
We were backed into the dock by 4:00 p.m., then out and on our way to Granby
30 minutes later. It was 6:30 when Pierre switched off the key, and the truck
shuddered into silence. It was a heck of a day with a heck of a driver. After
670 kilometers in almost every type of weather, the snow let up just as we were
saying our farewells, like it was falling just to put him to the test for the
guy from the magazine. It certainly wasn't a test, but he passed with flying
colors anyway. Proof that nice guys can finish first after all.
Steve Bouchard is editor of Transport Routier, our French-language sister magazine
based in Montreal.