Louie Packolyk turns 90
July 20, 1968. That’s the day Louie Packolyk, his wife Kay and their three kids arrived in Slave Lake. That was where the work was, and his employer, Cameron Brothers had sent him north to serve as dispatcher for the Slave Lake branch of their trucking outfit.
They didn’t expect to stay long.
“My wife said to me: ‘Okay, we’ll go for one year, and then we’re going home.”
Fifty-four years and decades of business success later, here they still are.
Louie turned 90 recently, and it was that milestone that prompted a couple of his kids to suggest a story in The Leader might be a good idea. So here we go…
Louie was born in Mulhurst, Alberta in 1932 and raised on the family farm. Work was done by horses, and in 1947 Louie’s dad had a stroke. His older brothers were off serving in the military, and their mom wasn’t able to harness the horses by herself.
“I had to quit school,” Louie says.
He worked on the farm for three years or so. When he was 17 or 18 he got a job during harvest season down south near Claresholm.
Even though he didn’t have the proper license, he was promoted to driving grain trucks and apparently it went well, because the next thing you know, he was driving a winch truck for Pennant Drilling. He was so busy and going at it so hard, he says he ended up in the hospital. One of his jobs was to shift heavy, 30-foot drilling pipe at the drilling sites.
“There were no swampers in those days!” he says. “I was making a whole $450 a month!”
Subsequent to that job, Louis had a gravel truck for a while, then hauled freight to Drayton Valley – all the while still working on the family farm.
Louie met Kay in 1951 or 1952, he recalls, and they got married in 1955. She’d also grown up on a farm, near Thorsby.
From 1956 – ’61, Louis did long-distance hauling for a company called Midland Superior, running freight from Edmonton to Toronto and Montreal and back.
In the early 1960s he got work closer to home, again as a truck driver.
“I loved driving,” he says.
In 1964, Louie got on with Cameron Brothers, in Calmar. After a few years, “they asked me to dispatch up here,” he says.
So up they came, as noted, living in a company trailer on the Cameron property near the airport.
Slave Lake at the time was 35 miles from the end of the pavement, Louie says. Main St. was paved in town, but not much else. The first place of business you came to was “an old BA bulk station just before the tracks.” There was a motel next to it. Across the tracks, he remembers Boisvert’s store, with the post office next to it and the Kitchen Café next to that. Across the street was Joe’s Men’s Wear and a pool hall. He remembers ‘The Zoo’ (a hotel) being there as well.
Louie didn’t say exactly what happened to make Kay change her mind about staying in Slave Lake, but they did, and he stuck with the dispatching job for about nine years.
One of the sidelights from that period was the service Cameron Brothers provided for the town fire hall. Louie says he had a tank truck for hauling drinking water and because the fire department was so underequipped, he left it at the fire hall, so it could be used if needed. And it was. He says it and other tank trucks would respond when needed, and although they could have billed the town for it, never did.
“It was all donated,” he says – gas, drivers, everything. “I don’t know if anybody knows that.”
Louie eventually lost patience with his employer for “a variety of reasons,” and struck out on his own. He formed Louie Packolyk Services in 1977 and started hauling oil to a Gulf operation in Wabasca. They burnt it to create steam needed for extracting heavy oil there.
“That kept me busy,” he says. “Then I picked up a couple of hauls here.”
One of those hauls is the subject of a funny story his son Murray told The Leader a few years ago, about Murray quitting his job so he could watch the Oilers win their first Stanley Cup. Reminded of that, Louie launches into a few stories of his own about Murray’s work habits when he was young.
Murray is now the owner/operator of the successor business to his dad’s original tank truck service, SLH.
Louie and Kay’s other two children are Debbie, who lives in the city and is married to Peter Martin, and Marianne, married to Dennis Paleck. They have five children between them, and those kids now have three Packolyk great-grandchildren.
Louis started up Slave Lake Hotshot in 1985, doing other types of oilpatch hauling.
Picker trucks became part of the scenario before long, and Murray was back and fully involved.
The company got out of the tank truck business in 1988, selling most of its trucks to Spilak’s.
In 1990, when Louie was 58, he and Kay started going to Yuma Arizona in the winter, a custom that lasted with a couple of interruptions for health reasons until 2017.
It was in the early ‘90s, he says, that Murray started running the company. Louie would come back from down south in the spring and fill in as a driver until November and then he and Kay would head back to their winter place.
“Murray built it up to what it is now,” Louie says.
It hasn’t all been good times. In 1991, Kay was hit by a pickup truck on a crosswalk in Slave Lake and spent a couple of months in the hospital.
In 2001, Louie had a heart attack while in Arizona and underwent successful heart surgery in Phoenix.
In 2017, further heart problems put an end to the winters in Arizona, and they’ve been home in Slave Lake since.