Everybody told Andre he was crazy, but ever since he was a kid, he dreamed of owning and driving a Freightliner cabover – the kind of truck that defined “cool” when he was growing up in Canada. Years later, after owning top-notch Kenworths and Peterbilts, he bought and then rebuilt his dream rig. Today, running between Quebec and the west coast in his cool cabover combo on a regular basis, people can’t believe the amount of time and money he spent on a mere Freightliner cabover. Most who know him refer to him as “The Crazy Canadian” but he doesn’t care – he is living (driving) his dream!
Andre Bellemare (48) of Berthierville, Quebec, Canada, was born and raised in a truck. Living in the eastern part of Canada, Andre and his twin brother Marc (who is five minutes older) spent many of their evenings sitting in one of their dad’s trucks, listening to the radio. At school, Andre was known for slipping trucking magazines into his textbooks instead of listening to his teachers or doing his work. He spent his summers and other vacations out on the road with either his father or one of his drivers. At ten years old, Andre can remember going to school dressed like a trucker – he wore trucking t-shirts, had a wallet with a chain, and even wore a “holster” on his belt to hold his pen and tire gauge. Everybody figured that by the time Andre could actually drive a truck, he would be so sick and tired of them that he would end up doing something else – but they were wrong!
Andre, who speaks with a heavy French Canadian accent, began driving for his father (Fern) at the age of 17. Back then, he ran locally and hauled a lot of steel pipe on flatbeds. His father’s company, Bellemare Express, had a fleet of 15 trucks that were mostly Macks and Freightliners. Andre fell in love with Freightliner cabovers and polished reefer trailers at an early age. Whenever he saw a cool combination like that out on the road, he longed to run west. But, he also knew that as long as he and his brother stayed on at their father’s company, not only would they continue to run locally, but one day their father would pass the business on to them. Andre did not want that.
In June of 1988, Andre left the family business and went to work at Midland Transport. There was no hard feelings – in fact, Andre’s father let him take his truck, a nice Freightliner FLD120, and even bought him a new Utility reefer. But, Andre quickly learned that pulling a reefer was not as glamorous as he had imagined. His very first load was 5,000 cases of frozen TV dinners, on the floor, not on pallets. Back then, palletized freight was not as common as it is today, so much of what he hauled had to be hand loaded and unloaded. Andre said that he lost about 30 pounds that first month. And even though he thought that he had made a mistake by leaving his father’s company, he wasn’t going back. In July, Marc left the company and joined his brother at Midland. Three months later, in October 1988, Fern sold the family business.
Marc and Andre stayed at Midland for about a year, and then they moved on to E.J. Bourque, hauling fish from the east coast to the west coast and produce back. In 1990, Andre and his brother sold their reefers and bought drop-decks because it was getting hard to find freight. They switched over to G. Bouchard Enterprises for about a year, and then went to R.R. Mondor, where they spent almost two years hauling all kinds of freight out west. In 1991, while running for Mondor, Andre bought a new Kenworth W900L with a 60-inch flat top.
At the end of 1992, Andre bought a dry van and began hauling pre-fabricated fireplaces for a company called Security Chimneys – and, of course, his brother followed. The first few years went great, but it became increasingly difficult for them to find dry freight going east. So, in 1996 they bought reefers again and started hauling produce loads back. Over the years, while pulling for Security, he bought several new trucks including a 1995 Kenworth W900L with a Studio sleeper, a 1999 Peterbilt 379, and then a 2004 Peterbilt 379. Andre still has the 2004 Peterbilt, and last April (2010) his 21-year-old son Philippe began running locally with it, pulling a 4-axle trailer in and around Quebec.
Not long after buying the new Peterbilt in late 2003, Andre got the chance to buy a 1995 Freightliner cabover. The worn out truck, which spent most of its life hauling salt with a dump trailer around Montreal, had a lot of corrosion and rot, but Andre wanted it. This truck took him back to his younger days – back to a time when Freightliner cabovers were the truck of choice for the cool drivers. But this old cabover needed a lot of work, and Andre did not have a lot of time, so he tinkered around with it whenever he could. Over the next four years, he worked mostly on the drivetrain, rebuilding or replacing everything mechanical, including the 15-speed trans, the 3.70 rears, the air suspension and the steering box. The only thing he did not rebuild was the rig’s 425 hp Cat 3406C engine, which had over 700,000 miles on it but still ran strong.
By the time 2008 rolled around, Andre was getting a little frustrated with his venture. He decided that if he didn’t step it up and finish soon, he never would. At that point, the project went into high gear. Needing to rebuild the cab because of body rot, Andre soon found out that those pieces were no longer available from Freightliner. So, with no other good choices, he had Daniel Bilodeau of Thetford Mines, Quebec, fabricate a new cab – everything except for the roof and the upper front pieces (around the windshields) was completely hand-made. He would have replaced the front pieces, too, but he didn’t want to pull the dash apart to do it.
Once the cab was complete, Andre sent it out to be painted black with light blue and maroon stripes, outlined with gold, and then decided to replace the frame rails, too. He wanted this truck to be “better than new” when it was complete, so he spared no expense. The new longer frame rails stretched the truck from 230 inches to 244, the maximum allowable length in Canada. Now, it was time to start putting it all back together and adding all of the numerous custom stainless steel pieces Daniel made which included hand-quilted fenders, a custom doghouse frame and all of the exhaust racking on the back of the sleeper, the front grille, rear light bar and visor, the step and battery boxes, the airline box and deck plate, and numerous brackets and light panels. The rubber strips around the front fenders were replaced with stainless strips, 8-inch dual exhaust and dual intakes were added, and numerous LED lights were installed (he has never counted them, but there are a lot), including a row of integrated lights along the lower edge of the cab that Daniel built into the panels when he made them.
Although the truck was built “old school” (it has no refrigerator, microwave, inverter or television), it is very technologically-advanced inside, nonetheless – and it looks awesome, too! All of the gauges are digital and the floor, dash and doghouse cover are all painted light blue (done by Yannick Bonin and Stéphane Robillard). The door panels, headliner, sleeper curtain and winter front (bra) were all done in quilted black leather by Alain “The Snake” Chaussé, and then black leather Bostrom seats, on chrome bases, were installed. The kick plates are stainless, the steering column and Rockwood billet steering wheel were both chrome plated, and the door sills and armrests are polished billet aluminum. There are two small cameras mounted on the passenger side of the truck and a monitor in the cab so Andre can keep an eye on his blind spots, and he wired his reefer unit to a digital gauge in the cab that tells him the temperature inside his trailer and how much fuel he has left. He also has onboard scales with digital gauges inside that display the weights. The bed in the sleeper was shortened so Andre could slide his seat further back for more leg room. The final touch, inside, is a monogrammed (with his company logo) hand towel, hanging over each of the door handles.
The trailer is a 53-foot 2011 Great Dane polished stainless reefer with sliding tandems. The rails are painted light blue to match the truck, and the TK reefer unit is painted maroon to match, as well. The landing gear have polished stainless steel supports and feet, while the back of the trailer has custom tail pieces, extra panels and plenty of lights. All the galvanized hardware was replaced with stainless steel, including the hooks for the doors and the chains, and a large aluminum box with stainless steel doors hangs underneath. Hooked together, this truck and trailer is a breathtaking combination!
By July 2009, the rig was almost done. On its maiden voyage, Andre took the truck 400 miles to be lettered at Allard Lettering. On this first journey, he took with him an old friend named Marcel Lachance. Andre has known Marcel since about 1980, and the two were great friends. At 67 years old, Marcel was nearing the end of his driving career, but he had many fond memories of driving a Freightliner cabover just like Andres. Marcel loved Andre’s rig, and even got to drive for awhile on the trip – he was so happy. But, just nine short months later, in April of 2010, cancer took his life. Shortly after that, his son called Andre asking for a picture of the cabover and for permission to engrave it on Marcel’s headstone. Andre really misses his old friend.
Andre and his brother ran for Security Chimneys until 2009 when the company closed their California facility and the freight dried up. When Andre started working the Freightliner in August 2009, he began hauling LTL freight out west for Normandin Transit and produce back for John Greene Logistics. He ran the Freightliner until November (2009) and then parked it for the winter, opting instead to drive his Peterbilt. In April 2010 he got back into the cabover, and has been running hard ever since. And now that his son is driving the Peterbilt, he won’t be parking the Freightliner for winter anymore. Andre is a true owner operator, he just happens to have a dedicated haul out – but he still needs to find his own freight back. He currently does two turns a month, bringing several drops out west.
Six years ago, after 16 years of marriage, Andre and his wife were divorced. As mentioned before, Andre has a son, Philippe (21) and a daughter, Émélie (20). So far, his son is taking great care of the Peterbilt, washing and waxing it after every trip. Andre wanted to thank his family for all of their help and support, especially his father, who helped fund some of the project. He also wanted to thank Daniel for all of the great fabrication and custom stainless pieces, Frank Leduc for all of his buffing and polishing skills, and friends Real Proulx and Pierre Ayotte for their help keeping the truck running smooth. Andre dedicated the truck to the memory of his mother, Suzanne, who died in 1998.
Doing the job right was crucial for Andre because he wanted this truck to last. After all, it is an everyday work truck, and he runs it hard. In order to get the truck to the level of quality and reliability he needed, he had to spend some money – a lot of money. In fact, so much time and money was spent building this cabover that many think this Canadian is just plain crazy – and they might be right. But who cares, he didn’t build it for them. He built it to fulfill a childhood dream, and you just can’t put a price on that!