Susan Hawk has been a truckdriver for more than eight years. And while she's deluged with national attention following a stint on CBS' "Survivor" television series that propelled her to superstar status, she says she plans to stick close to her roots - behind the wheel.
By driving a truck, the Palmyra, WI, resident is doing what she has dreamed of doing since she was a young girl. She used to marvel at dump trucks and imagined herself behind the wheel of a rig. "The seed was planted years ago. I just thought it looked so cool," Susan told Land Line.
Prior to her driving career, Susan and her husband Tim called Ontario, Canada, home for six years. They owned and operated a hunting and fishing camp. In 1991, they sold their business and moved to Wisconsin. Susan, still driven by her childhood aspiration of driving a truck, checked the classifieds frequently. She was amazed with how many driving jobs were available. She decided to go for it.
Tim drove with Susan during her first year behind the wheel. They drove team for Rail Transport, of Marshfield, WI. But after one year, Tim went into real estate. "I just couldn't get any sleep driving team," Tim says. Still determined, Susan went solo, driving over-the-road.
Susan reflects fondly on her time driving OTR and says she has great memories of driving OTR, but in 1995, she gave it up. She left behind the loading aggravations and impossible time schedules. She was lured to a driving job that paid by the hour. The new job took her into Michigan, with some runs through Chicago, before deciding to go intrastate at home in Wisconsin.
"Those Chicago rush hours were horrible," she laughs.
Prior to her departure for the South China Sea adventure ("Survivor"), she drove a dump truck for Fairway Trucking out of Pewaukee, WI, and enjoyed volunteer projects on behalf of the Wisconsin Road Team. Pauline Jaske, co-owner of Fairway Trucking, still stays in contact with Susan.
"She's a good spokesperson for the industry," said Jaske, who praises Hawk's driving record. Jaske is impressed by Susan's work with the Wisconsin Road Team, especially with students.
"The kids and I, we've learned from each other," Hawk says. "It's a great honor and experience to go around and talk to students about trucks. Kids have a great outlook and they recognize that truckers make the country go."
Since the final episode of "Survivor" aired in late August, Hawk has been swept away by requests for television and personal appearances. How many truckers have opportunities to appear on the "Early Show," "Today," "Talk Soup," and be a guest on "Hollywood Squares?" Her photo has been featured in most major magazines and she's co-hosted on "Live with Regis." Future appearances on "Politically Incorrect" and even a role on "JAG" are scheduled. In early October, Susan spent a day in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as the special guest of a local radio station, drawing thousands from the area to see her.
She's proud of her participation in the smash CBS series that commanded a record audience, and proud that she, a self-proclaimed "redneck" trucker, was among the last four contestants on the island (when she was voted off, only three were left.) Despite her new status, however, she has not forgotten what she always wanted to do. When she's not being "Susan Hawk - Survivor" she's Sue the trucker, who transports ready-mix cement for Sonag Co., out of Menowonee Falls, WI.
"If there's one thing I missed while I was gone it is the quiet time you get in the truck," says Sue, who looks forward to getting back behind the wheel full time.
Hawk admits that since she has returned from the island she has not received any preferential treatment from other drivers. "I haven't had any star treatment since coming back," she told Land Line. "You have to get dirty in this industry. There isn't any time for star treatment."
Hawk says there is no truth to the rumor that she left for the island to get away from the high diesel fuel prices. "I thought it would be an adventure and a chance to see a new part of the world," she explains. "Plus, it had better spring weather."
Isolation on the island did keep Hawk out of touch with trucking and when she arrived back home in the U.S., she says she needed to get up to speed on the hours-of-service proposal and other trucking issues. The skyrocketing cost of fuel shocked her. While co-hosting with Regis Philbin, she spoke about her trucking concerns with guest Gov. George W. Bush, presidential nominee.
Hawk plans to use her new public platform to educate people about the trucking industry. "It's important that everyone know how vital the trucking industry is," she says. "There's no job exempt from us."