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Review

Milk Spills and One-Log Loads: Memories of a Pioneer Truck Driver

By Frank White

March 17, 2014

Review By Patrick Craib

Milk Spills and One-Log Loads is the first of two autobiographical volumes relating the life of Frank White, one of the early fixtures of British Columbia’s independent trucking industry. Profanity and profundity are laid out in equal measure, resulting in an entirely enjoyable and insightful memoir.

The book covers White’s early family years and his part in the emerging milk trucking business in and around Abbotsford during the Depression, a path that ended in his retirement from contract truck logging at the tail end of the Second World War. With the deft editorial touch of his son Howard White, the author’s distinctively affable conversational tone is set centre stage. Veterans of The Raincoast Chronicles, particularly those who remember Frank White’s “The Way it Was with Trucks” (1974), will find much to here to their taste.

Milk Spills fits into a niche of the regional press working-class memoir, a genre that celebrates the rough and independent spirit. Embodied by a rough and savvy businessman of one stripe or another — a genre exemplified by Gordon Gibson and Carol Rennison’s Bull of the Woods (1980) — these rugged individuals survive by grace of wit and good humour, navigating emerging industries on the edges of civilized society. As White details, with the emergence of affordable trucks, transportation industries premised upon the railway were destabilized and allowed the canny — if occasionally underhanded — upstart to break into a previously established business before being squeezed out by the big money and their own bigger hubris. White’s own business and social associations with free-wheeling frontier characters comes with a price, as he ends up shouldering much of the risk and work, providing the book’s dramatic tension.

While the romantic image of the independent operator is a frequent trope of rough memoirs, this folksy retelling of the pratfalls of trucking culture is more than just an extended reminiscence. Milk Spills is unique for how cannily White interprets the often exploitative relationships and unforeseen consequences stemming from independent life. Whether employed or independent, operators like White worked on the margins, eking out a living on vague promises and handshake deals, and often as not came out behind. The author possesses a refreshingly sarcastic attitude towards these “good old bad old days,” and relates stories of screwing-and-being-screwed with a certain playful ruefulness.

Aside from the conclusion of the book which, while thematically appropriate, screeches to a disorienting halt, there is little worth complaining about here. Milk Spills has no pretensions to absolute fact, nor claims to exclusivity of experience, and is wonderfully written. White has gifted us with a colourful contribution to our industrial heritage and a damned fine read, one which ought to be of interest to academics, grousing old-timers, and the wider public alike.

Milk Spills and One-Log Loads: Memories of a Pioneer Truck Driver
Frank White
Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2013. 256 pp. $32.95 cloth