Trucking in British Columbia: An Illustrated History
By Daniel Francis Harbour, 192 pp., $49.95.
Trust me on this point: Authors really, really hate it when someone picks up a book and marvels at the photographs, expressing joy over the history in the old black-and-white images and delight in the beauty of the new colour ones.
So, with apologies to Daniel Francis, who has done a fine job of researching and writing this history of trucking in British Columbia, here goes.
This book is a work of art. Who knew that trucking could be so photogenic? Who knew that photos of semis running down the road could be so appealing?
Credit needs to be given to Roger Handling, the book's designer. He has taken what could
have been a fairly dry topic - an industrial one at that - and made it accessible to all.
The photographs put the reader into the cab with the driver. They give you a sense of what trucking is all about, and what it has been about over the decades.
The work done by Francis fits perfectly. He covers the history of trucking, from the earliest days, when load weights and lengths were limited by the narrow roads with tight corners and wooden bridges.
He introduces us to some of the colourful characters who became known to almost everyone along the highways they served. He takes us to truck stops along those routes, and speeds us through some of the changes over the years - changes such as radial tires, tandem axles and, amazingly, women behind the wheel.
Most of the material in the book comes from trucks and truckers on the Mainland, but there are exceptions. Francis devoted a couple of pages to the company founded in Victoria more than a century ago by Waldo Skillings and a partner.
Victoria Baggage Co. became the official baggage carrier for the Canadian Pacific, using a team of horses rather than motorized vehicles. The horses were used until after the end of the First World War, which means that when the company hauled the telescope to the top of Little Saanich Mountain, it really did rely on old-fashioned horsepower.
Victoria Baggage - later renamed Victoria Van and Storage - is a rarity in the industry, in one family's hands for four generations. That makes it one of the most notable trucking companies in the province.
Trucking in British Columbia covers many of the tough routes that truckers have faced, including the old Big Bend Highway (now, for the most part, under water) between Golden and Revel-stoke, and Hope-Princeton Highway and the Alaska Highway.
It would have been nice to read more about highways on Vancouver Island, and how the evolution of roads such as the Malahat Drive have changed our lives.
(The Malahat is barely a century old, and has been rebuilt more times than we'd care to count. At one time, when the construction crews moved in, the road was simply closed for a week or so, until they were finished. Just try that today.)
Of course, it is always easy to identify the things that have been missed in a book. It's more realistic to note what is in a book rather than what is not - and this book has plenty. Francis even addresses some of the safety issues that have plagued the industry, including high-profile deaths that were caused by trucks that should not have been allowed on the road.
This is a superb book, but to be fair to everyone, plan to read it twice. The first time, explore the photographs, page by page, to get that out of your system. The second time, read what Francis has to say.
Really. Who would have guessed that trucking could have been this interesting?
The reviewer is the editor-in-chief of the Times Colonist and author of The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia, which also has a lot of nice photographs.
© Copyright 2013