Line One
Journeys
Path breakers
The first women in trucking were not "bra burners," just women who wanted the job and shared the sense of adventure required to be a trucker

By Sandy Long
OOIDA Life Member, Marceline, MO

 

Several years ago, I stopped to have coffee with a brother driver I had been talking to on the CB. I told him I had noticed the 5-million-mile safe driver sticker on his truck and said how honored I was to meet him.

His response set me back a little. He said: “I am honored to meet you. You are one of the pathbreakers of trucking. Without women like you, who came into trucking years ago, women wouldn’t be able to be truckers today like they are.”

I started driving truck in 1972 while traveling the country with carnivals. Considering the attention I received when climbing out of an old beater truck held together with baling wire and bubble gum at a fuel stop or cafe, we should have sold tickets for the show. Solo women were very rare back then – even on carnivals – and caused many to stop and stare.

A friend of mine began driving in 1973. The drivers who accepted her were forced to strike because of their wives. The wives could not accept that a woman would be driving with their husbands. One wife caught my friend at a plant and had to be subdued after chasing her around the plant at a dead run.

Some companies hired women because of perceived quotas and caused anger among some male drivers. The problem was made worse when companies would hire a woman with no driving experience over an experienced male driver, thus fueling the idea that women were taking men’s jobs.

Some male drivers allowed anger and resentment to overrule their common sense. I was climbing Needles in a castrated 1978 Corn Binder with a non-shiny 290 when a Sitton driver and a CRST driver came to my rescue after another driver tried to force me off the side of the mountain screaming, “You should be home making babies and cookin’ supper!” The two other drivers blocked my side and ran with me the rest of the way across.

The attitude at companies was that we were too weak to do the job. At my first OTR job in 1982, the personnel manager told me that he did not like women truckers because “Women cannot unload 40,000 pounds of 50-pound sacks of potatoes!”

My response was the same then as now: “You are right about the potatoes. I could not, would not unload 40,000 pounds of potatoes and, just like a male driver, I would hire a lumper!”

We had to prove ourselves by running hard, asking for no quarter because we were women, and handling the stress of the job as well as our brother drivers. This was not really hard for us, though annoying, as we gained experience. Almost every one of us women were not wanting to be treated differently because we were women. We just wanted to be treated equally.

We eventually overcame the resentment of others through hard work, perseverance and just plain tenacity. We owe a lot to our male counterparts back then, too. They were the lead seats that taught us how to drive, welcomed us to drivers’ tables in truck stops, and shared their experiences and tips with us.

They talked us through new situations and sang to us on the CB to keep us awake through a tiring night. They saw that we were not “bra burners,” just women who wanted more than a menial job, and that we shared the sense of adventure required to be a trucker.

Were we pathbreakers? Perhaps, but it was with the help of our brother drivers. LL

Aug/Sept Digital Edition