Shootin’ the breeze

By Greg Grisolano, staff writer

A dream come true: 97-year-old drives semi for first time

Ed. Note – this story isn’t about a member, but we thought it was too cool not to share…

At 97 years young, Vera Abruzzi is still living her dreams. In August, the great-grandmother and North Brunswick, N.J., resident crossed “driving a big rig” off her bucket list.

Since she was 15-years-old, Abruzzi has always wanted to drive a truck. She would ride along with her brother in his truck, dreaming of a day when she could sit in the seat to her left.

“I love driving. That was my ambition in life, to drive a tractor-trailer,” Abruzzi told Land Line. “I used to see them go by the highway. I said, ‘Oh my god, I wish I was behind that wheel.’”

With family life – including children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – Abruzzi never found the time to get behind the wheel. According to her, time flew by fast. Despite three heart attacks, Abruzzi was still determined to operate several tons of heavy-duty machinery.

Eighty years later, her dream became a reality on Aug. 13.

Winsor’s Tractor Trailer Driving School, located in Linden, N.J., facilitated Abruzzi’s experience driving a truck for the first time just a few years shy of becoming a centenarian.

To start the day, her trainer, John Marques, showed Abruzzi where the stick shift was and instructed her about shifting gears. From there, it was all about double-clutching and braking. After the tutorial on the basics, it was time for Vera to turn the key and hit the gas.

With three acres of yard to work with, Marques and Abruzzi spent the first 15 minutes maneuvering the truck with only the tractor. Once she got the hang of it, a 45-foot trailer was hooked up. Left turns, right turns, figure eights and tight corners, Abruzzi did it all. Working the gears, she got up to third.

So how did she do?

“I’ve trained over 10,000 students in our school here. Normally, the average adult that comes through the school the first day, they get very nervous, they perspire, they get upset with themselves,” Marques told Land Line. “She did fantastic. She was calm, collected.”

“It was no strange thing to me, because my desire was so strong that I always imagined I would drive a truck,” Abruzzi said. LL

Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff contributed to this report.

 

Catching up with ‘Sputter’

OOIDA Member Shannon “Sputter” Smith was featured in the 2012 nonfiction book “Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, An Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work.” The book was tabbed as a “must read” by Oprah.com, and an excerpt of Sputter’s story appeared in the May 2012 issue of O Magazine.

Since then, she’s gone from company driver with Landstar to a full-fledged owner-operator.

“It was time for me to spread my wings,” Sputter said in a recent phone interview with Land Line. “It was time for me to take the chance, and I like it.”

Born and raised in Cleveland, Smith got into trucking after a stint in the Army. She said she’s remained involved with the Women In Trucking group.

“When I first started, I thought truck driving was like B.J. and the Bear. I didn’t know truck drivers got lost,” she said. “And there’s some things that riding with a male (trainer), he can’t teach a female. … Joining Women In Trucking was also a plus. I call them my sisters.”

She said she’s also been helping out by speaking to students at a truck driving school near her home in Cleveland.

“I see more women drivers on the road, and I encourage it. I give out pamphlets,” she said. “I tell them, hey you can do it too, little girl. I’m all for it. We’ve all got to make a living, and I look just as good doing it as Peter does. I think I look better doing it.” LL

 

‘RoadHouse’ – the ultimate home away from home

“RoadHouse,” OOIDA Member Ron Stears’ 2001 Peterbilt 379, may be the most literal name of a rig in history.

Instead of a standard sleeper, Stears’ rig has a complete 2005 Ultra Lite travel trailer from Forest River installed behind the cab.

“All we had to do was take the bunk bed and turn it sideways,” Stears said. “I bend down to walk through the pass-through and I walk right around the bed.”

Stears, his wife Christine, and their dog Gypsy reside in Vero Beach, Fla., but RoadHouse becomes their home away from home when Ron hauls cars up and down the eastern seaboard.

RoadHouse has all the amenities of home, including a full-size bed, regular-size refrigerator, and a tub and shower. It also has its own heating and air conditioning.

“We don’t need to go to motels or go to restaurants. We just go to truck stops to get fuel,” he said. “It makes life easier. It’s great when it’s 15-below zero in New York, and you get done loading cars outside. You can go in, take a hot shower, and sit down and have something to eat.”

RoadHouse tops out at just over 13 feet tall when unloaded. While more conventional car haulers will load up to three vehicles on top of the cab, Stears said he only loads one vehicle over his hood. He said hauling fewer vehicles also helps him to ensure he’s never overweight on the scales.

When Stears initially bought the tractor, he went to sleeper makers looking for a custom build, but none of the manufacturers could accommodate his specifications. So he, his wife and some friends took matters into their own hands.

The installation process took about three weeks to remove the camper from its chassis and load it onto an air-ride sled.

“It looks like a monster, but it’s right at 75 feet. That’s a standard trailer that goes behind it. I’ve had troopers stop me and measure it.”

Among the other custom specialties are the chrome exhaust pipes, which are each single pieces of straight pipe, turned back. The full-size refrigerator runs off a 3,000-watt inverter, and the heat comes from a propane unit. The paint job is Centennial Blue and there’s a 600-hp C15 Caterpillar motor under the hood. LL