April 4, 2023
East West Express driver Emile De Petigny hangs up the wheel after 50-year career
Growing up on a Saskatchewan farm, Emile De Petigny’s first experience driving truck was helping his dad in the field, picking up bales with a five-tonne truck.
“Well, Dad would put it in gear and I would just idle it down the field,” Emile said from the East West Express Inc. Calgary offices, where he sat down with co-workers and Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) staff to talk commercial driving and his impending retirement.
When not on the farm – like so many commercial drivers before him – Emile would tag along in his dad’s big rig, planting a seed that would grow into a lifelong love for the open road.
“I liked the trucks and I just kept going from there.”
‘From there’ turned into a 50-year career behind the wheel for De Petigny. A career that would end with his retirement announcement after 13 years with East West.
“[Here’s] a driver who loves what he does, the aptitude is there and certainly [for] a person like Emile [trucking] was his whole life,” said Tim de Waal, CEO, East West Express. “Unfortunately people like Emile are harder and harder to find.”
Working his way up
When he started his career, De Petigny didn’t just hop behind the wheel and take off down the open road.
“Dad [and] the older fellas back then, you just didn’t climb into a semi, you had to graduate. You had to load/unload trucks … because back then there was nothing on pallets, so you had to hand-bomb on and off.”
After two years, De Petigny graduated to a tandem with a five and four gearshift. A couple years after that, a tractor with a 25-foot trailer, and finally, a 42-foot trailer.
“My first diesel truck [was] 100 horsepower. We thought that was big power if you were doing 50-60 mile an hour,” he said.
With advances in technology, trucks today aren’t quite the same as what De Petigny started out with.
“The way trucks are built today… I don’t think I’d want to get back into one because of the spring suspension, but these ones today, they drive like Cadillacs. They float down the road.”
Arriving at East West
After leaving the farm in Saskatchewan, De Petigny moved to Alberta in the 1970s. Starting out in Calgary, he soon realized the city life wasn’t for him, so he moved from carrier to carrier before making a home on a farm in the Medicine Hat area. When his sons took over the farm, De Petigny signed on with East West Express because the run back and forth to Calgary was “only a couple hours”.
“East West [has] been great,” he said. “I mean the boys – like Tim, Lance and Darryl – they grew up in the industry, and Tim and Darryl drove truck so they know the industry pretty good.
“It’s nice to see the bosses work alongside you too.”
Looking to the future
Providing advice to the drivers who come after him, De Petigny had some simple advice: “If you’re not sure what you’re doing, ask somebody that’s got experience.”
And when asked what he’ll miss most about being behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle, it was simple: “The open road, the feel of the truck and well, I love the truck.”
De Petigny said at his age now, if he was still trucking, It wouldn’t be for the money. It would be for the feel of the truck.”
Having run loads across North America, including Alaska, and the Territories, De Petigny said he’ll miss Alaska the most.
“I’ve been on just about every road you can think of. The ice roads, I tried once, that was short lived…I didn’t like the idea of swimming.”
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