Bruce Bailey, in 2017. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

VIRDEN, MAN. – Some people really like working. And Bruce Bailey would be example No. 1.

Bruce and his wife Beverley retired from Fontana’s Trucking (2006) Ltd. on Dec. 31, after 39 years running it, and 16 years after they sold it in 2006. He was going to stick around for another six months, but well, those six months were closer to 192 or so.

And for a man who has typically been up at 3:30 a.m. every day, it’s going to be a big change.

Pipeline Online met with him on Dec. 20, in the shack at the Fontana’s pipe yard.

“My wife Beverley and I were both born here in Virden,” Bruce said.

He worked in the nickel mine at Thompson, Manitoba. “And then my brother, who lived in Kitimat, B.C., at the time convinced me to come up and go into the trucking business,” he said.

“My brother had bought a gravel truck. He stayed working at the aluminum plant at Kitimat, and I drove the truck.”

Bruce said, “Beverley’s uncle owned Fontana’s Trucking at the time, and he wanted to sell. So we made the decision to buy it and move back to Virden.”

That was in 1983.

“At the time, we had two trucks, three trailers, one fulltime employee plus Beverley’s uncle, and three part-time employees,” Bruce said.

Hauling pipe, moving tanks, working with other companies to move drilling rig was their job description in the oilfield service business, he said.

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Growth

The equipment was smaller, compared to now.

“When a company needed assistance with a truck or two, we would help them, sending a truck to assist moving drilling rigs,” he said. Winch trucks and lowboys were commonly used.

“We started out basically a two-man crew in December, 1983, manually loading and unloading pipe. By road ban the next year, we bought a picker forklift to assist us in our loading and unloading pipe. Then we just keep adding. We hired new employees. As we grew, we found and hired many good, qualified employees. And we grew to what we were when Dennis bought it, we had 24 employees, nine trucks and 12 trailers,” he said.

They were located on the east side of Virden, on Highway 1.

The company establishing a 80 acre site north of Virden about seven years ago, of which 30 acres has been developed into a pipeyard. That was a big expansion from the little over two acres they had east of town. The main operation moved north of Virden four years ago.

Pipe handling has been a big part of Fontana’s trucking, right from Day 1. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Home at night

While they worked partly in southeastern Saskatchewan, most of their work has been in southwest Manitoba, from Waskada near the U.S. border to Birtle, north of Virden. All of it has generally been within an hour-and-a-half drive, meaning the workers got to sleep in their own bed pretty much every night.

Bruce said, “That has helped us in keeping a steady workforce, because they know they were going to be home at night. We may get an odd call to work during the evening, but we’re always home. And that has helped us, once again, to stabilize our workforce. One employee has been with me for 37 years. Another one, 26 years, and other one, 20 years.”

“Our biggest concern, right now, is our workforce is at the age that we’re retiring,” he said.

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“My management philosophy is I treat them as I would want to be treated myself,” Bruce said. “Sure, you always run into instances where they disagree with you, or you disagree with them, or you don’t like what they’re doing. But an overall picture of it is treat them with respect, and treat them as how you would like to be treated yourself.”

Dealing with ups and downs

Over the last nearly 39 years, there’s been downturns in 1987, 1998, 2009, and then the big one that hit in 2015 and lasted seven years. Asked how they survived during those times, including when they were the owners, Bruce said, “We weren’t that big that we couldn’t afford to continue to make the payments, because we basically didn’t have big investments. We still did work during the downturns, because we didn’t specifically work in the oilpatch. We did other things, like work in construction with our cranes, hauling hay, anything we could find to employ the employees we had. Unfortunately, we had to lay some people off, but our main people, we found work for them, and they stayed with us.”

The company has generally seen low turnover. And when they unfortunately had to lay people off, they would usually come back later.

 

Family business

Beverley and Bruce have been married 52 years. They had three kids when they left Kitimat, and the fourth was born in Virden. The kids are Aaron, Todd, Amber and Tiffany. The two sons still work for the business, with Aaron as office clerk and Todd as shipper/receiver, but the two daughters work for MNP in Virden.

Beverley has done the books all these years, and she retired with Bruce.

“The full family has been involved,” he said.

And while over the years the kids have worked in the business, they weren’t interested in taking it over.

Dennis Day bought the company in 2006. “I wasn’t looking at retirement at that time. But Dennis approached me. He was wondering if I was interested in selling and I didn’t think I was at that time, but we did sell. I had planned on staying with him for a while.”

As Dennis puts it, Bruce had said he would stick around for six months. Sixteen years later, he finally decided to retire, at age 77.

There was a retirement party held for them at the shop on Dec. 15. And while some people get a gold watch, Bruce got something a bit too big to wrap around his wrist.

It was a new grey Ford F-150 pickup, with a blue bow on the hood. Dennis handed over the keys.

Dennis Day, left, presented Bruce Bailey with the keys to a brand new F-150 as a retirement gift. Photo by Mike Fowler

Tough to downshift

For someone who has shifted gears all his life, downshifting into retirement might be tough. Bruce said, “I’m looking forward to it. But I’m having trouble accepting that I’m not going to have to go to work tomorrow morning or not have to be there. I enjoy working with the employees and being involved.”

For four decades, Bruce has been getting up between 3:30 and 4 a.m. every morning to be at the shop at 5. He usually falls asleep at 7:30 p.m.

“I just felt that I wanted to be there and get all work orders ready for everybody, so when they come in, they received their orders and then went to work. I didn’t like seeing guys walk in the door and there’s nothing ready for them. They would see I am organized, prepared and ready to do our job. And then those guys continue on. It’s instilling a feeling into them that hey, he doesn’t sleep in and he doesn’t just show up here and we have to stand around waiting for him. He’s got the orders ready.”

Fontana’s had 24 employees, 13 trucks including three pickers.

Gerarld Duerkson will be replacing Bruce, running the show. He was hired as a picker operator four years ago. The longer-term employees weren’t interested in the job.

Indeed, it’s going to take several people to replace him and Beverley. They are installing an operations manager and a dispatcher, and another training to do dispatch and tallying, plus another person up front.

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Plans?

Asked if he’s got any plans, Bruce said, “I’m going spend the first two months struggling with probably not having to go to work.”

But he intends on spending a lot of time at their cabin at Oak Lake, 15 miles away.

Asked if he’s every really had time off, Bruce replied, “No, I’ve taken very little time off.”

“When we lived in B.C., we would take a month off. But when we came here, and bought the business in 83, my wife and I have gone on one cruise. And I think I spent four days golfing. And that’s all the holidays.”

“I’m not a fisherman, I’m not a hunter. We’re not travellers, but we’re looking at eventually going down east, the Maritimes. We’ve heard it’s very nice. And then maybe we’ll go back to B.C., where we were working before, and catch up on some old friendships.”

Beverley and a friend have set up Virden Pet Network. “They rescue animals, so she’s very involved in that,” he said.

Bruce said, “I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done. A lot of people, they don’t criticize me but say, ‘Bruce, you shouldn’t be working as hard as you do,’ but I enjoyed it.

“I am going to miss it. I know that for sure. Because I’m missing it now and I haven’t even left. I met a super bunch of people during my 39 years in the business. It’s amazing, the type of person that you have to be to endure in the oil industry because of the ups and downs and the speed of it.

“I’ve worked in three or four different industries. And I’ve never worked in an industry like this, and how demanding it is. And one day, you’re just going, going, going and the next day, nothing. It’s hard to be going at 100 miles an hour and then stop dead. That’s the only thing I found with the industry that I had trouble accepting when I first started in it. But working in it as long as I have, it’s common nature. The oil industry, you gotta be a special person to work in it,” Bruce concluded.

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  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
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Fontana’s change in ownership

There will be a transition for the company, as well. There’s going to be a shift in the ownership, but not in name.

Bear Trapp posted on LinkedIn on Jan. 9, “In what might be the worst kept secret, VP Energy Services Ltd. has acquired Fontana’s Trucking in Virden, MB. We at VPES are grateful to assist such a long-standing community pillar Bruce Bailey and his wife Bev ‘Drive off into retirement.’

Dennis Day is part of the ownership of VP Energy Services.

Bear continued, “Fontana’s Trucking is now our third pipe yard and trucking operation across the prairies which allows us to serve clients in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“We are excited to serve our new and existing Manitoba clients with the same service they have grown accustomed to. We are thrilled to now be employing over 50 people across the prairie provinces in Western Canada.”

 

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  • 0036 Prairie Lithium - Chad Glemser 30 Sec
  • 0033 Buffalo Potash Jared Small Footprint
  • 0032 IWS Summer hiring rock trailer music
  • 0029 Latus Viro updated Latus phone
  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
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  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
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