Never Say Never
by Duff McCutcheon
So much for the best laid plans. Manitoba’s Gord Hyde is living proof that life is what happens to you when you’ve got other things in mind. He was just a lad of 16 when he was first cajoled into getting behind the wheel of a truck. He’d been working over the summer at a local Pepsi bottling plant in Brandon, Man., when one of the drivers called in sick.
His boss wasn’t hearing any of his protests. “I told him I couldn’t do it, but he says, ‘well I see you taking your dad’s truck to the car wash – you’ll be fine,’” says Hyde, decades later. He spent that day delivering Pepsi to small towns around southern Manitoba, and aside from grinding a few pounds of metal off the transmission gears. Hyde says it was a successful launch to a good career.
In the 31 years that have passed since then, Hyde has hauled everything from caskets, and a record-setting deer head, to sides of beef and the actual Batmobile all over Canada and the Lower 48 – all of it as an owner-op.
Fresh out of high school, Hyde was all set to study business administration at Assiniboine College, but he ran out of money halfway through the first semester. “I spent the rest of the winter driving a truck over the frozen lakes and muskeg in northern Manitoba. I was hauling diesel up to the Indian reserves up around Garden Hill, Saginack, Barrens River, and Norway House – about two day’s drive north of Winnipeg.”
It was a great learning experience, he says. “The older guys would tell you to roll up your windows so you don’t hear the ice crack, but we’d drive with our doors open in case we had to leap out in a hurry.”
By 19, he was hooked. He bought a 1975 double-bunk Freightliner COE and started driving team for Atomic Transport out of Winnipeg. Then he partnered with his father to run steel across the country – two trucks heading west, two heading east – until their customers went bankrupt. He spent 14 years with Kooistra Trucking of Swan River, Man., hauling meat, and the past three years with Portage Transport out of Portage La Prairie. “I have my own reefer and we usually haul French fries into the Midwest and then I load LTL back. I’m usually out five days, averaging between four and 10 shipments on the way home.”
As a Prairie boy, Hyde sees parallels between being an owner-op and farming, most noticeably in how hard it’s become to keep your head above water. “At one time all you had to do was go out and work and you made a living – same with farmers. Now you have to keep track of everything. I’ve always been concerned with fuel economy, even when I started in 1975. But now, it’s got to the point where it’s a fine line between profit and loss – if you’re not a businessperson you don’t have a chance.”
Hyde says a lot has changed in trucking over the past 30 years, like driver attitudes, and the willingness to lend a hand at roadside. “At one time nobody drove by you if you broke down, now it’s a ‘me’ generation. I’ve had times when I stopped to help and been told to bugger off. I know what I’m doing, I carry lots of tools, but what can you do?”
But he notes, too, that other things are the same as they always were, like the guys who fall into the trap of buying a new pickup with that first big paycheque. “In the first year you’ve got small expenses and big depreciation, but by the third year, reality sets in – you have to prepare yourself early on,” he says. “I feel like I should go into consulting. But it’s hard to convince young guys they need advice – I was there once, too.”
At 49, Hyde plans to stick it out to age 60, and then ease out of the business and onto the golf course. He’s been married for 20 years to wife Gail and they have two boys – 17 and 19. He says they’ve stayed married for the past two decades because they trust each other. “It could never work out otherwise.”