Trucking in a different era
Grimshaw resident recalls challenges of driving truck before the Mackenzie Highway

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services

NNSL (Aug 17/98) - Fred Lorenzen is among the more than 250 people who left Grimshaw today in a motor cavalcade bound for Hay River to attend the official opening of the Mackenzie Highway, 50 years after its completion.

Lorenzen expects his journey this week to go a little smoother than when he first started travelling the route back in the early '40s, before there was a Mackenzie Highway.

"In those days all it was a trail bulldozed by Cats and it was rougher than hell," says Lorenzen.

"I quit school when I was 14 and went trucking. I made my first trip in the winter of '42-43, when the American army was putting in camps along the road."

Lorenzen, who has driven the Mackenzie all his life, says back when he started, there was a "hell of a good bunch of guys on the road."

He says many truckers of that era found themselves broke down along the trail and had to rely on the help of others to get by.

"Back then you could leave your truck on the side of the road and no one would touch it. People were more interested in helping you than taking anything from the truck.

"When the Mackenzie Highway was started everything started going faster, bigger trucks, bigger loads.

"The early trucks were good for those days, but we had little motors and six or seven tonnes was a really big load. There's just no comparison to what they haul today."

The early days of trucking along the 'all-weather road,' were not without peril.

Lorenzen says when he set out for a trip, he would always have his grub box handy and two barrels of gas in his rig's grain box to syphon gas into his tank as he got low.

No matter how well prepared, sooner or later truckers of that era had to rely on their wits.

"I remember one trip the road drifted in north of Indian Cabins and we tied two trucks together. We raised the front of one truck so it was on the box of the other, put chains on both, and pushed and pulled until we made it through the drifts."

Lorenzen also recalls a time he had to leave his truck and hitch a ride to get a replacement clutch for his vehicle, and with the help of four or five fellow truckers, yank his transmission out in a snow drift to replace the part.

"There's not that many guys left from that era now," Lorenzen said. "I'm still around because I started so young."