From the Rockies to the Big Road
OOIDA Member Susan Wirth-White, Valley View, Texas, shares how she was drawn into a career behind the wheel and recalls her most cherished moment in 36 years of truck driving.

By Susan Wirth-White, Valley View, Texas

I was raised on top of a mountain above Aspen, Colo. My parents came to this country from Switzerland and operated a restaurant at an elevation of 11,300 feet that fed hungry skiers. We children skied to school in the winter and left the classroom a little earlier every day so that we could catch the last ski lift up to the top of the mountain. That was my life for 14 years.

Fast forward some 13 years later. I lived in Chicago and made frequent trips home to Colorado with my two children. On these trips, I would talk to truckers on the CB radio and found them to be the nicest, most down-to-earth people. My opinion of these highway heroes and the vibe of the road began to really grow on me.

Several years later, on a trip back from Florida with friends, we met up with a driver while talking on the CB. We talked all the way up I-75 and when it was time to part ways, we all pulled over and shared a meal. I wanted to see the inside of a rig and when I sat in that driver’s seat, I felt a kindred spirit, a calling, a familiarity of something that felt so right. This is what I wanted to do. It became my dream.

In the few months that followed, I discussed it with my husband and we both decided that if this is what I wanted, we would switch roles. When I told my father about his free-spirited daughter’s wild idea, he exclaimed that it was not only “unglamourous” (I’m smiling here), but dangerous. Those comments did not affect my decision.

I placed an ad in a trucking magazine for a trucker who could help me get OTR experience, specifying “no bunk partner.”

After more than 40 phone interviews, I decided on a retired Vermont state trooper with the CB handle “Bubblegum” and some of you old-timers know why. He was one of the most wonderful souls that I ever met. I learned the ropes, and he was kind and patient. He was so focused on safety and to this day, 36 years later, I can still credit him for so much of my knowledge.

I got my license in 1978, and a year later I built and ordered my first truck – a Kenworth Aerodyne. I figured with the condo sleeper, the kids could come with me in the summer. They chose the crazy paint scheme that one would see and think of Charlie Brown.

When I drove to Colorado in that truck to visit my father, I cannot tell you how completely amazed he was. Especially when he climbed up into the truck and I took him around the block. He had the biggest grin on his face as he sat over in that passenger seat. He was well past being shocked and doubtful of the profession that his daughter chose, one that to him seemed so unlikely. He was proud that I had followed through and impressed as he watched me handle this rig and go through the gears.

My most cherished memory in my entire 36 years was when my father drove down to Florida to visit me in 1999. I was with a well-established retail company and pulling double 48-foot trailers up and down the Florida Turnpike. My company gave my father a personal tour of the immense distribution center and, importantly, allowed him to make a trip with me.

He was 85 years old at the time and watched with great interest as I connected the trailers together, and hooked up the lines and opened two for air supply to the back trailer. He was in total awe of the pre-trip inspection that followed. He just grinned and shook his head. As we entered the turnpike from the staging area in Orlando and drove the cloverleaf on-ramp, he was watching the mirrors and the train that followed. He was so impressed.

He had the greatest ride of his life. When we stopped at the service area to grab a bite to eat, one of the state troopers I knew was there and I introduced them. It was an incredibly satisfying moment for me as I listened to my father talking about his daughter. He was so proud of the professional driver I had become. I will never forget the heart-to-heart conversation we had as we pulled that 106-foot train down the Florida Turnpike to Miami. That was his first and final trip with me. He passed away a year later of prostate cancer.

So this is my tale. Thirty-six years of living the dream and I am still proud of what I do. I always will cherish my memories. Some of them wonderful, some of them frightening, but I will never look back and regret one moment of this life that I have lived. It has been a great ride. LL