November-December 2022 – Ron Basi
Our Rig of the Month for this issue is Ron Basi, a well known and well-respected 2nd generation truck driver and company owner from Vancouver Island.
I am the oldest of four siblings born and raised in Victoria, BC. I have wanted to be a truck driver for as long as I can remember. My dad, Gurdial, and his two brothers, Kirp and Jerry, were also truck drivers. Our home was near the BC Forest Products sawmill, and my elementary school was on top of a hill where all the trucks leaving the mill had to drive by. This allowed me to listen to the trucks coming up the hill loaded with lumber, plywood, or chips. I knew the sound of my dad’s 1968 W923 that he drove for Ideal Fuel a mile away. That 250 Cummins with the 13-speed whine would always make me turn my head toward my classroom window to confirm it was him. Ideal Fuel used to name all their trucks along with a unit number. Dad’s was “E My Only Baby” unit 115. This was shortened to “Only Baby.” Uncle Kirp drove a truck and pup with a 250 and a 5 and 4 called “Silver Baby,” and Uncle Jerry drove a K100 with a sleeper, 250 Cummins and 5 and 4 called “Million Dollar Baby.”
I used to ride along with my dad and uncles whenever I could. It was usually on a Saturday when they were hauling between Cowichan Bay (Cow Bay) and Honeymoon Bay or Nanaimo. I loved the smell of diesel, exhaust, and lumber of all types. I knew then that I was hooked! There was a slight problem though – my dad did NOT want me to be a truck driver. Like all parents at that time, they wanted their kids to go to university. So I said that I would, but could I drive trucks while I was going to school? No harm in that, eh?
After graduating from Victoria High School in 1977, I enrolled at the local college to become a shop teacher and worked at Ideal Fuel in the summers. I started off driving a 3-ton late 50’s Ford with a dumping wood box. I would load up firewood which were planer ends from sawmills, and deliver it to homes in Victoria. This is where I learned about two-speed rear ends and to always clear the sawdust off between the back of the cab and the dump box. Boy, did that gas engine get hot! I then asked if I could drive the tandem Dodge with the flip-out front fenders. This one had a big V8 gasser and a 5 and 4. This is where I cut my teeth, learning to shift a two-stick. I figured it out by watching other drivers and asking lots of questions. Like, “How come the A box keeps getting stuck?” I was told it was because I was “round housing” the shift from 2 to 3. The mechanic, Wilf Tucker, told me it was also because it was worn out. He taught me how to free it up with a bar I could poke through the non-existent shifter boot from inside the cab.
Next came the opportunity to drive a real truck. A mid 70’s W900A hog truck (that’s what we called trucks that hauled bark) that had a 335 with a 5 and 4, wagon wheels and a 7-unit pusher box. The bug deflector on the hood had the name “Gunslinger.” It even had a Jake! Now I was styling! This working thing was getting better all the time. The only thing I was missing was a proper class license.
I was stopped at a roadside inspection while driving Gunslinger and was told I only had a class 5 with air. I was about to say something when the officer asked if I had just got my license recently, to which I nodded my head. “It must be held up in the system somewhere,” was all I heard through my heartbeat throbbing in my chest. After that I told my boss Mohan that I should get my class 1 license so I could work legally for him, and asked if it would be alright if I rode along with the other drivers.I had been working at Ideal Fuel for two summers while going to college when I broke the news to my parents. “I don’t want to continue with school. I want to be a truck driver”. You’d think I had just told my parents that I wanted to join the Nazi party and would only eat raw meat from now on. To say they were upset was an understatement. I was the oldest son and chose not to get a higher education. What would their friends think? What kind of example is this for my younger siblings? (One sister is a social worker, the other a police officer, and my brother is a high school teacher).
I rode with my dad for the next year and drove every chance I had. I loaded lumber and learned how to throw chains over two by three random rough hemlock using metal corners and a snap binder with a pipe for leverage. Belts had not been invented yet. I went to mills and deliveries all over Vancouver Island. It was great working with my dad, exploring all these cool places and getting paid for it!
The class 1 learner’s license was only good for six months back then. So, I asked my dad if I could take my road test since my learner’s license was about to expire. He said, “No.” So, I renewed my learners, drove with him for another six months, and asked again, ”Can I get my license now??” This time he said, “okay.” The road test was a piece of cake. I had driven Kenworth conventionals, cab overs, Internationals, Hayes and Dodges. Thirteen speeds, 15 direct and overs, two sticks, 5-speed and 12-speed Mack transmissions. Cummins 250, 335, 250, 318’s, 350 Jimmys and 237 Macks. I drove in all seasons, had breakdowns, flat tires, cracked wheels, sketch loads, and learned to tarp, plus the advantage of riding along with other drivers. What a learning experience!
Some of my memorable jobs was driving for Hersey Transport out of Duncan. They had just got these International chip trucks with twin steer and a four-axle trailer. They had 525HP Detroits, with 15 speeds. I was working the night shift hauling wood chips between Youbou and Crofton. I pulled under the bunkers, opened the doors, and loaded the trailers nice and full. Heading down the Cowichan highway was a smooth ride. At Crofton, you scale the truck and the trailer, then dump. Everything went without a hitch. The next day I was called to dispatch before I went out. My weigh slips from the previous night showed 75,000 lbs for the truck and 85,000 lbs on the trailer. The dispatcher said, “kid, don’t put so much on; you’re a little heavy.”
After working locally for a couple of years in town, I went to Shadow Lines in 1981, driving a 1976 GMC Astro with a 318 for a guy in Victoria. I was pulling a 42’ flat deck on one trip and was reloading in Clackamas, Oregon. As the forklift operator started loaded, he said, “How wide is this trailer?” I told him it was 8’6”, and he said I was only allowed 8’ wide down here. Luckily it was a tarped load, so I asked him to keep the load to the outside edge so the gap wouldn’t be so obvious when it was tarped. I puckered up pretty good going through every scale back to BC, but I made it without anyone noticing.
I worked there for six months before realizing I wasn’t making as much as doing local hourly work, so I returned to Victoria. Hauling lumber slowed in the winter, and dry freight picked up, so I went to Capitol Freightways. They called my dispatcher Mooney and asked if any drivers wanted to haul dry freight and do some warehouse work. So Jim Baker and I went (probably because we were two of the youngest guys). The trucks were all Internationals with Detroits and one Formula Cummins. After coming from decks, this van work was easy. All we had to do was close the doors and go. Or so I thought. I had never used a load lock before or stepped any freight down while doing LTL in the city. But I learned quickly because I didn’t want to clean up the mess more than once!
ince George to work for Inter City Express (who later changed its name to International Chemical Express). The Blaney family had the largest private fleet of stainless steel tankers after Trimac at the time. I drove a slim line cab over International with another 8V92 and pulled a non-baffled 3,500-gallon trailer with a lift axle in the middle. Talk about another learning curve pulling tankers that were not always completely filled. I hauled chemicals to the pulp mills in PG, Quesnel and Kitimat. I also went to mines in Endako, Mcleese Lake, Houston, and different water treatment plants around BC. Prince George was the friendliest town I’d been to at that time. I’d never been invited to dinner, or to an air show in Vanderhoof, or to try wild game before. (bear is a little too fatty, but moose meat is good).
This was also when I met the girl I would meet again a year later in Victoria that I married. I met Gwen at the Y in PG in an aerobics class (you gotta love Welcome Wagon). We got married in 1988 in Victoria and have two wonderful kids. Jenna and Cameron are now 33 and 31.
I started a tractor service in 1993 and called it JenCam Transport. I’ll give you three guesses on how I picked the name. My first couple of trucks were a 1976 International 4300 with a 318 and a 1973 Freightliner cab over with a small cam 350. I grew bit by bit, hauling groceries and general freight on the island and eventually had seven trucks with ten drivers. Have you ever asked yourself, “How did they get their license??” With ten drivers, I was asking that question a lot. I realized most people didn’t get their licenses the way I did. There was only one driving school in Victoria at the time, so I thought we needed one that would teach them how to work and drive. This was when I started my own driving school. I went to Valley Driving School and learned how to become a driving instructor and to the Canadian Association of Fleet Supervisors to learn how to teach air brakes. Javid Begg and Ed Nelson at Valley were awesome instructors and trainers to who I’m eternally grateful for their patience and knowledge. Allan Wright was the best authority on the air brake system in North America at the time. I called my school, Complete School of Truck Transportation. I realized much later that it was a dumb name because it was too long. I’ve shortened it to CSTT Driver Training which is much easier to get onto business cards, shirts, hats etc. The driving school opened in 1999 and has been a major player in training truck drivers in Victoria. I was the only driving instructor for the first five years in my 1996 Ford L9000 day cab with a 3406C and 13 speed. Just like drivers, good instructors are hard to find. Not all can or want to teach what they are good at. My dad was a prime example of how not to teach today. You can’t swear, threaten, or beat (just kidding) students.
JenCam is still a going concern and fits nicely with the school. Where else can new drivers get to go to a mill, dock, mine, or industrial site while they are learning? I can’t hire everyone I teach, but I can direct them to a driving job that fits them. Employers trust my judgement when I say I’ve got someone who fits their operation.
I come to work every day wearing my safety boots and a hi vis vest. This just isn’t a fashion statement as some would think, but I’m always ready to jump into a truck. This picture is of my delivering to a yard in Cloverdale. I called ahead and asked for directions, and then asked if the yard was paved and clean. There was dead silence on the other end until I started laughing and said, “It’s okay, I have my California duster with me”. When I showed up, it’s like they were waiting to see what kind of truck and person would show up. When I move trailers on weekends and someone asks if I’m working, my answer is always “Not today, I’m just driving around”
Those that know me (or know of me) know that I like trucks. A lot. Maybe too much. Yes, I have an addiction. Like all addicts, I associate with other addicts like Dean Griffiths, Rollie Lancaster, Justin Morgan, Ross Stevens, Gord Cooper, Stephen Large, Rich Rankin, Brian Teers, Don Affleck and soooo many others. I always say, “I could be doing drugs or alcohol.” I belong to a few truck clubs like the ATHS and try to go to as many truck shows as possible. Most folks know me for my turquoise W9000 that I got from Brian Hyrcan in Delta. I also have his 82 W900A aerodyne that was featured in the 1999 Pro-Trucker Rig of the Month. I even have the magazine.
I’ve been very fortunate to have never worked a day in my life. I love what I do. As for disappointing my parents for not becoming something more than a ‘truck driver,’ I think they are over that now.