Mentor and trainer at MacKinnon Transport, Canadian Jim Coles strives to make a favorable first impression
Growing up on his parents’ farm in Acton, Ontario, Jim Coles remembers getting acquainted with his first truck in a tedious manner — by stripping five layers of the previous owners’ paint from it.
“That was my task,” Coles says. “That Mack truck had about five different owners before I got into it.”
After driving his Mack truck to haul wagons and supply feed, seed and fertilizer around the farm in the 1970s, Coles says he used his experience with trucks to steer himself away from the farm after he graduated from Centennial College in Toronto, majoring in automotive technology.
“Trucking was an easy way out,” Coles says. “Farming became too risky financially, whereas the trucking business had a steady income and the hours weren’t any longer than farming.”
After college he landed his first real trucking job at private carrier Frank Heller, where he delivered tanned cattle hides and leather to businesses in Ontario, Quebec and the northern U.S. from 1978 until the mid-1980s. When he was 23, Coles made a permanent stop at MacKinnon Transport, and now makes local heavy flatbed deliveries, hauling building materials in Ontario.
“That seems to be the place I want to be,” he says. “I never found something better.”
With more than one million accident-free miles on his record, Coles continues to prove he chose the right profession. In 2007, he was recognized as one of 10 Ontario Trucking Association Road Knights. In 2009, he was named the Volvo Trucks of Canada Driver of the Year.
Being a successful driver doesn’t happen by just following the law, Coles says. He attributes his safe-driving accolades to making a great first impression with everyone he meets, by treating them with respect.
“I assume that everything I do is on display and that the public will look at me, my truck or my load and are going to assume that I’m going to treat them the same way I treat my customers,” he says.
As a mentor and driver trainer for new hires at MacKinnon, Coles says he aims to impart a positive attitude always.
“Your attitude towards yourself, your job and others is the key to coming home safely, again and again,” he says.
He also preaches the importance of being able to read the traffic and to anticipate what other drivers are going to do.
“It’s part of a mental exercise when I’m driving,” Coles says. “I’m trying to know them as well as they know themselves, or sometimes better.”
Even though image and demeanor are important, Coles says the size of the truck shouldn’t matter. Compared to his first, he says his 2006 International Eagle is comfortable and has “just enough power for the job.”
“We always like to have more power than we need, but that’s the Trucker’s Creed, isn’t it?” he says.
Q & A
TN: What do you do in your free time?
JC: My wife runs the English Bulldog Club of Central Canada. We have up to 12 rescue dogs at our house at one time — it’s quite an undertaking. English bulldogs have been a passion for my wife ever since she was a child, and I try to be here as often as I can to help her with that.
TN: What is one thing you always carry with you in your truck?
TN: What is the most memorable moment in your years of trucking?
JC: I found myself parked at the top of a dam on the Ottawa River, delivering stainless steel to a hydrogenating site. The water on the passenger side was lapping at the cement about 10 feet from the tires and on the passenger side you could look out the window and see straight down, 150 feet into the water. The top of the dam was about 2 feet wider than my truck. I had enough experience under my belt that I felt confident about my ability to back into position safely. It just struck me, the raw beauty of the situation.
Editor’s note: Jim Coles is a finalist in the 2011 Company Driver of the Year contest, sponsored by Cummins Engines and Ram, and produced by Truckers News and the Truckload Carriers Association. The winner, to be announced at TCA’s annual convention March 4-7, 2012, in Orlando, Fla., will win a Cummins-powered Ram pickup.