Keeping that sunny side up
OOIDA Member Shannon aka "Sputter" Smith runs solo across the highways of America, driving for a Landstar contractor our of Kalida, OH. But loneliness rarely finds Sputter. She's part of "something great."

By Shannon “Sputter” Smith, OOIDA member
Cleveland, OH

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