Within a network of backroads that sprawl across Western Canada, Barriere, B.C. is ground zero for “hotshotting” – moving time-sensitive loads as quickly as possible – which brings about a special breed of independent truckers who will haul anything, anywhere, at any time.
Big Donny Kleinfelder is the king and he commands a ragtag crew of drivers who are rough around the edges, but are experts at navigating treacherous backroads to reach remote businesses that urgently need their cargo.
Kleinfelder is larger than life, and so is his business. Years ago, he bought the old highway maintenance yard in the middle of Barriere to run his empire of hotshotting, towing, and recovery, as well as house his massive fleet of trucks and specialized equipment.
On the side, Kleinfelder loves adding to his collection of old vehicles, vintage equipment, and antique treasures. When he’s not buying from random people who show up on his doorstep, he’s snapping up goods at auction. It drives his wife and son crazy watching him hand out wads of cash and overstuff his yard, but for a tycoon like Kleinfelder, you never know when that treasure might come in handy.
So how did Kleinfelder come to be a star in a soon-to-be-launched Backroad Truckers television series?
“I’ve been in my business for 35 years, and now I have young Donny in here too,” Kleinfelder says. “When I had the auto wreckers in Chase, I sold Mike Hall cars weekly for his ‘Rust Bros’ restoration shop. When he got his TV show ‘Rust Valley Restorers’ he naturally told them about me, which resulted in me doing a bunch of appearances on his show. From there I guess I just flowed along right into our own show Backroad Truckers, which has the same producers as Rust Valley.”
The Backroads Truckers series premieres on Thursday, March 4, at 7 p.m. PT on the History Channel. It highlights how Kleinfelder’s empire is under threat from Dave Schwandt, a scrappy salvage dealer and tow operator from White Lake who’s decided to cut himself a piece of Kleinfelder’s pie and get into the “hotshotting” game for himself. These two family businesses head into a battle royale over who will dominate the backroads, with only one likely to come out still standing.
“Dave used to work for me at the auto wrecker in Chase, and ever since then, we’ve been kind of rivals for a long time, probably over 20 years. At the end of the day we’re still friends, but yeah, we’re pretty competitive against each other,” said Kleinfelder with a hearty laugh.
Has he enjoyed doing the Backroads Truckers series?
“Yes, I guess I have, but I have to combine my work and the show. Right off the bat I told the camera crew I’m all about towing, and I explained to them that when the phone rings we’re gone, we don’t have time to do certain things, so you have to be prepared. Sometimes the crew got in my hair, but I made it clear to everybody that my business comes first – I’ll be here long after the TV show. My priority in life is towing, and so long as they respect that it’s been all good.”
He adds that Backroad Truckers is not just about towing.
“It’s about everything that we do – the “hotshotting”, the towing, the buying, the selling, whatever. The crew was here for at least five months for sure, and we were filming every day. They filmed whenever and wherever we got a call to attend. We went pretty good for a few months, with most of it done during the winter months, and the majority of the show was filmed right here in the Barriere area. My wife even got talked into doing a couple of scenes, ”
How many hours went into filming for just one episode?
“That’s kind of a weird thing, you could do something all day long, and think that you really didn’t do anything at all. But when they put it all together in the show it’s amazing to see what you accomplished,” says Kleinfelder. “One thing I have learned is that you do a lot of filming for five minutes of TV.”
Trying to mesh the running of his business while at the same time participating in the making of Backroad Truckers provided for some creative juggling and tight scheduling, but once the dust settled and filming had come to an end he said the overall experience was a positive one.
“I found it exciting, but I probably wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t fun. I mean there’s a couple of people that didn’t make it too fun, but all in all, everybody pretty much got along, and that’s the whole idea. You’ve got to have fun doing what you’re doing or there’s no sense in doing it.”
A total of eight episodes of Backroad Truckers are now ready for this season.
“We’ll know after the first few episodes come out how the show is received,” said Kleinfelder. “If the ratings are really good we might get to do a second season.”
“So far the whole experience has been great. We got to meet some pretty crazy people, we got to see how the other side lives, and I got along with most of them with no problem whatsoever.
“So far it’s been a great ride.”