by Nori Gale
When you drive a truck for a living the road can sometimes be long and the time spent alone can feel more pleasant when you have a pal along for the ride. Some truck drivers bring a family member or a friend, and some, like Tyler Howe, bring along a furry companion.
Many dog owners will tell you that their pet gives them a greater sense of fulfillment or joy in daily life. This isn’t just something they’ve imagined. In fact, a recent study found that canine companions trigger neural pathways that follow a similar route to those triggered from the parent-baby bond. The study also found that dogs reduce loneliness and depression in humans. Tyler and his yellow lab, Jameson, are no exception.
How dogs in trucks help make long days more fun
Tyler works for Swan’s Wilbert Burial Vaults, in Westbrook, Maine. When he travels up and down the state, more often than not Jameson is along for the ride. Jameson was a Christmas gift from Tyler to his girlfriend, Livy, in 2020 and has been their enduring companion ever since.
Part of the decision to adopt Jameson stemmed from a desire to have a traveling companion, but Jameson’s presence also felt to Tyler like a step in the process of growing up and adding responsibility to their lives. “I’ve always loved dogs and when I moved to Maine and started to settle down here it made sense as I started my adult life to have a dog as part of our family.”
Tyler got his first dog when he was 14. “A friend of my family had a litter of puppies and even though we were in no condition to add a dog to the family - I have two younger brothers - one day a puppy was dropped off at our house. They were sneaky, our friends, the way they did it. They called and told my mom to “Quick, run outside and check her car, it looked like someone had broken into it” and when she went out to the driveway and looked, there was a puppy in her car. So that was it, that’s how we got our first dog. She was a bull mastiff german shepherd mix.”
While some dogs, like the one Tyler grew up with, are meant to protect the family and household, Tyler says Jameson has another calling. “Jameson will show the robbers where the safe is. Not a problem. Just give him a treat on the way out and he’ll be wagging his tail smiling at them as they carry out their haul.”
What do Tyler and Jameson do for Swan’s Wilbert Burial Vaults?
“There are multiple aspects to the business. One part of the company pours the concrete into molds. Those are cured and then set off to the side and then at the end they become a burial vault. We build a lid, a base, and the main structure and that is my portion of the company. I install all the burial vaults in advance of funeral services.” During preparation for a funeral in many cemeteries in Maine, first a vault must be installed in the ground prior to a casket being lowered into it. This preserves the casket for a longer period of time, allowing for greater ease of cemetery maintenance.
Tyler travels with Jameson all across the state of Maine to towns as far and wide as Pittsfield, Hartford, Ellsworth, Bangor, Waterville, and Portland. “We make our rounds. We’ve been out to Vermont this year as well. West Burke right on the 91 corridor, right close to the New Hampshire border. Jameson comes with me most days. If Olivia’s working the night shift sometimes he’ll stay with her.”
On days when Jameson joins Tyler, the days go by more quickly, “Sometimes the stress of the job or long hours can take a toll on you, but having Jameson riding shotgun always provides me with a smile. Hard not to laugh when he’s hanging out the window chatting up the pedestrians.”
Trucking takes you to far off places and dogs get their owners outside
“We’ve been all over the state together, he and I. Cemeteries are often located in these backwoods beautiful areas, up on the mountain ridges, down by lakes and bodies of water. There’s usually some sort of a walking trail so when I finish up work early enough we can enjoy the trails that are often attached to the cemeteries we visit. We went to the Kancamagus Highway earlier this spring and I pulled off the road and we were able to do some nice walking there. I like to bring him to the basin - part of the Franconia Notch area. I love it up there. Flume Gorge is one of our favorite spots.”
While Tyler has always been a fan of the outdoors, “Having Jameson encourages us to get out more. He loves his off-leash treks through the woods where he gets to be in his environment and roam free.”
Dogs in trucks have tricks up their sleeve
Jameson has learned the ins and outs of Tyler’s truck and has a few tricks up his sleeve. “He has learned to roll down the window in the truck. They’re automatic windows. This time of year is cold! I try to leave that thing up. But he’ll get over there and he’ll look at me and I’ll be like ‘No, it’s 20 degrees’ and he’ll just kind of like nudge around with his nose and then ‘Bam!’ I hear the window opening. He’ll just punch the button with his nose and next thing I know he’s hanging out the window. I get a kick outta that.”
A pup in the window encourages strangers to say hello
When Tyler is out and about doing his work in the cemeteries across Maine, Jameson is an attraction, “People stop and talk to us all the time. I have him on a run connected to the parked truck as I’m working and he gets lots of pets and people love to chat with me about how cute and sweet he is. And when I’m driving down the road with Jameson sitting next to me all the big mean construction workers are like ‘Ohhhh! Look at the puppy!’ when he’s hanging out the window. So that’s always a treat watching these guys melt over a dog. It’s pretty funny.“
What are the tools of the trade?
To be able to haul the kind of tonnage Tyler does for Swan’s Wilbert, Tyler drives a 2022 International with a big 7.3 Cummins engine inside. He needs a powerful engine for the kind of work he does so he can haul anything upwards of 35,000 pounds, “Which is needed when we’re going out during the busier seasons when we’ve got 3-4 vaults on there at a time servicing the state. There’s a range in vault weight from 1,800 lbs to those outfitted with stainless steel inside and triple-reinforced concrete - those go to upwards of 4200-4400 lbs. So they do get heavy. That’s why you need a crane to pick them up.” Tyler’s truck is equipped with a crane on the back for hauling the vaults in and out of the flatbed.
A day in the life of a truck driver and his dog
For Tyler and Jameson, a typical day involves heavy lifting, beautiful scenery and graveside work. The process for an installation starts when Tyler calls the cemetery a few days in advance to let them know he’ll be coming to prep a burial site. He will find out where in the cemetery the burial will take place, whether or not he’ll be able to reach the spot with a crane, so he can determine if he needs to bring other equipment. Then he arrives a day or two or sometimes a few hours in advance of the service. The first step is to install the base, the bottom of the box. He puts that into the ground blocking it up with some boards to ensure it’s sturdy and safe and no one’s going to walk near the hole or fall into it. Then he covers the hole with a green turf-like material before putting on the lowering device and polishing it so it doesn’t have dirt on it. After the service he lowers the casket, breaks everything down and puts the lid on.
How do truck drivers get into the work they do?
Tyler was a 26-year-old forward for the Berlin Riverdrivers, a semi-pro hockey team in Northern New Hampshire, when the videographer for the team approached him at the end of the season asking if he’d be interested in a summer job. The job would keep him in the area “working with vaults.” “I had no idea - I figured I’d be working in a bank! Spend all summer in the AC! I show up first day in the office, walk through the warehouse and my boss is like ‘Yeah, paint those gold, paint those copper and that’ll be your day.’ It was nothing I knew anything about. It was all totally new to me. That was five years ago, and here I am.” After that summer job, he worked for them for four years, sometimes just as a seasonal worker. “I was on my way to the Midwest to start a career in on-the-road trucking and my boss approached me with this opportunity to run a new office in Maine and I couldn’t pass it up. I’m from Massachusetts - from Cape Cod, so being stationed in Maine was a lot closer to family and friends than if I were to go out West to become a truck driver.”
Tyler now manages a franchise business in Maine for the company for whom he originally worked in Northern New Hampshire. “I do all the scheduling, logistics, communications, all that. All the fun stuff.” Tyler also does marketing for the business. “There’s competition throughout the State with vault companies producing and manufacturing burial vaults directly for funeral homes in Maine, so there’s a bit of competition here so we lucked out that we have the best burial vaults in at least America. We produce the cadillac of burial vaults. People really like that product, we take a lot of pride in selling the product. It’s the best one out there. People expect the best and in turn you have to provide the best. Anything less than that is not going to really work.”
On any given day, Tyler and Jameson can be found traveling throughout the state of Maine hard at work, Jameson always riding shotgun, and Tyler always up for a good walk in the woods.