By Shannon “Sputter” Smith, OOIDA member
My journey in trucking actually started as a child. Family trips to Tifton, GA, had me so excited especially when we would pull alongside an 18-wheeler and give the “blow the horn signal.” And when the driver honk-honked that horn, my siblings and I would high five and laugh.
It was then that I decided I wanted to someday blow that horn.
After graduating from high school, my dad told me that if I wanted to drive a truck, I would have to learn to fix a truck. An Army recruiter called me the night after I dreamed about going into the service. All I wanted to know was could he sign me up to be a mechanic? He said yes and I signed up the same day. I signed up in August 1992 at age 17, and was scheduled to leave in January 1993.
After completing my military duties, I attended Ohio Tech in Cleveland and obtained my Class A CDL in 1998. I was told that I was the first female to graduate from that program. I was nervous and excited at the same time.
I didn’t know much about trucking – the responsibilities, the expectations, how to fuel a truck.
I didn’t even know that truck drivers got lost. I thought trucking was like “Smokey and the Bandit.” Boy, was I wrong.
The company I started out with did not have any female drivers to take me out on the road. So a male city driver taught me how to be a female over-the-road driver. Go figure. Before going out on the road, the company would have me back up to every dock at the terminal. So I mastered backing up, but going forward was a little bit of a problem. When I was due to come home, I would often stop by my dad’s job so that he could pull the chrome bumper back into place before going to the yard. Thanks, Dad.
You learn a lot out on the road from other drivers and experience. I learned the rules of the road and how to survive. That wasn’t taught in the classroom. But I had to start somewhere, right? I can recall one foggy night coming off Route 66N turning on 20A East, I called 911.
The operator asked, “What’s your emergency?” I screamed, “I can’t see!”
She then asked, “Where are you?” I said, “I don’t know.”
She asked, “Well, how did you get to where you are now?”
I told her and we both laughed. She was a true help. And when I told other drivers, they thought I was crazy for calling 911. I said what else do you do in an emergency?
While working at my first trucking company, I trained three women. Not because I had many years experience, but because I was the only female.
One lady who rode with me was Linda. I called her “Lucky Charm.” She was Caucasian, and of course I’m black. One day out in the Amish country in Pennsylvania, there were some children that stared me down. I told Linda that they were admiring my beauty. She replied, “Shannon, they never saw a black person before.” We laughed at that all the way back to Cleveland.
We both loved country music. It makes for a good ride. I’ve been listening to country music heavy since 1986. No matter where you go in the great USA, you can always find a country music station.
Working at this same company, I started out in a 1998 Eagle International Pro Sleeper. A 6-foot-5, 300-pound-plus driver was hired. The only truck that was left for him to drive was a small single-bunk Mack. Well, I was booted out of the Eagle and wasn’t very happy about it.
One night on Route 17 in upstate New York I was driving the Mack and hit a deer. It was dark and I was scared. I had just gotten a cellphone, so I called the company. They asked had I stopped the truck and got out and checked the lines. I told them that I was too scared to do that.
There was no stopping until I reached a truck stop. When I finally made it, airlines were intact and there was lots of blood and hair. I went to the front of the truck and rubbed that Mack dog on his head. I never complained about that truck again.
In an Eagle International, a turkey came through my windshield. Again I was scared, but I’m here to talk about it.
Out on the road you face many challenges, adjustments and sacrifices. I often say being a trucker is bittersweet. For the most part, you make a decent living, but at what cost? I try to keep a positive and comical attitude. I find something funny every day to laugh at.
I truly believe that a road buddy is one of the best things a truck driver can have. Many drivers consider this to be a lonely life anyway. Having someone to relate to while on life’s highway makes it a little easier.
In 2001, I met a driver I call “Playstation.” He’s my male best friend. I know his family well and he knows mine. We both understand what road life is like. But if I’m having a horrible day, he always finds some humor in what I’m going through and helps me to see it.
Trucking isn’t for everyone. It takes a special person to do this job. It’s a good field that will send you in any direction. I often think of how I’m only one person, but I’m a part of something that is so great. We are a movement! LL