In more ways than one, Carol Ann Schlussler is a winner
Last March, this OOIDA member was named TCA Independent Contractor of the Year. The prize was a brand new International truck. But a month later, she was in a convalescent facility recovering from a truck crash. The prognosis wasn’t good.

by Paul Abelson
senior technical editor

“You’ll never drive again, and you may not even be able to walk.”

Those words, delivered by a doctor during four days of hospitalization following her truck crash in April 2003, might have been the medical prognosis, but Carol Ann Schlussler wasn’t buying it.

Schlussler was not ready to give up walking and certainly not driving. One month before the crash, the OOIDA member from Baldwin, WI, had been named the Independent Contractor of the Year by the Truckload Carriers Association. The award included a brand new International 9900ix.

But those who know Carol Ann were confident that a right femur broken in two places and a crushed right kneecap would not put her out of the game.

She spent six months recovering from the accident in a convalescent facility. All the while, International Truck and Engine Co. was building her one-of-a-kind “American Eagle.” Less than one year after her non-preventable black ice accident, Schlussler was back on her feet and at the Mid-America Trucking Show in March, where she walked up to accept the keys to the new truck.

Truck driver’s daughter
Driving is a family affair for Carol Ann. Her father, Clarence Pawlenty, was a trucker, too. Her sister Pat Rauschnot and Pat’s husband, Herb, are both owner-operators.

When Carol Ann was only 11 years old, she contracted polio and was quarantined in a hospital, unable to play with friends or even see her family. Doctors wanted to place her in an “iron lung,” a breathing apparatus that was the standard treatment for polio a half-century ago. Once in it, she feared, she would never be able to live without one. She persevered, and was able to get through the debilitating disease without having to live in the metal cylinder.

Carol Ann spent a great deal of time looking out her hospital window at a world she couldn’t experience. Each day, she saw a truck driver make his deliveries. Each day, he looked up and saw the same young girl in the window. He started waving, and so did Carol Ann. Soon he was writing signs of encouragement that she could read from her room.

She never knew who he was, but Schlussler says that all of her life, she knew truckers as cheerful and helpful, and vowed that when — there was no question of “if” — she recovered, she would become a truck driver.

Of course, she did recover, grew up and married Bob Schlussler, a paper mill worker who owned a small farm. Together, they raised a house full of children. Carol Ann’s truck driving plans were put on hold until 1974. Bob became chronically ill, and she took her experience driving their farm truck and went to work.

She hauled cattle at first for her brother-in-law, Herb Rauschnot, to make ends meet. The Rauschnots are OOIDA members from Emerald, WI, leased to Dart Transit Co. Herb was the Independent Contractor of the Year for 1997. Their three children are all drivers, too.

Schlussler took up driving full time in the ’70s. In 1987, she became an owner-operator and she, too, leased on with Dart. She’s been with them ever since.

Bob died four years ago.

Carol Ann has 2.5 million miles without a preventable accident, but that is just one reason why Schlussler was honored by TCA as the best leased owner-operator in the nation. She is a Trucker Buddy, corresponding with a class in Anchorage, AK. And she regularly visits the Baldwin, WI, Nursing Home, bringing cheer to the residents’ lives as her unknown trucker did for her more than 50 years ago.

Paul Abelson can be reached at truckwriter@anet.com.