Life as a Woman Truck Driver
What does truck driving mean to two of Transport America’s female drivers?
To Judy Fuller and Bonnie Hendrix, it’s about freedom. It’s about being your own boss, and earning respect for your skills and knowledge. And, it’s about seeing America and not having someone look over your shoulder at a desk job.
But it’s much more than that. It’s about being themselves and doing something that they both have found that they truly enjoy. It wasn’t easy making the jump into truck driving, but neither would go back to behind a desk or counter.
Judy’s Story: Freedom of the Road
Judy Fuller has been driving for two years. She’s a late bloomer, she says. Several years ago, in her late thirties, she dated a truck driver who encouraged her to ride with him.
“That’s when I got the bug,” says Judy, who used to work as the manager of a convenience store. “I just loved the open road. I saw so many beautiful places, and I met so many nice people. That’s when I decided I needed to become a truck driver.”
So, Judy went to truck driving school and from there, earned her CDL. Her relationship didn’t make it through the transition, but that was okay with her, because she felt it was important to prove to herself first that she could really do this. So, Judy started as a solo driver, and became the third generation of truck drivers in her family. Her father drove a truck for 35 years, and her grandfather had driven as well.
“I wanted to know that I could do it myself. I wanted to rely on my own instincts and skills,” Judy says. “The more I drove, the more my confidence grew.”
“I think one of the coolest moments for me was the time I was at an intersection. There was a car next to me with a little boy. It was summer time. I had my window down and they had their windows down, and I heard him yell to his mom, ‘look mom, it’s a girl truck driver.’”
To help her become the best driver possible, Judy belongs to Women in Trucking, where she’s met other women drivers, and one of her mentors, David, a male driver, whom she stays in touch with through a dedicated Facebook group.
“I’ve also called David over the phone to ask him questions about the profession,” she says. “He’s been very generous in sharing his advice.”
Her father, James Bradbury, is her other mentor. According to Judy, he didn’t want any of his kids to drive professionally. Regardless, she says, he’s proud of Judy’s choice.
“His most valuable advice to me was ‘Don’t be afraid to ask for help,’” says Judy. “He says just swallow your pride and ask. And you know what? Everyone I’ve asked for help – including other male drivers – have been really helpful and nice.”
Bonnie’s Story: Joke Turns Into New Profession
Bonnie Hendrix has been driving since 2004, when she joined her husband, Ricky, who had been driving for more than 30 years, on the open road.
At the time she decided to try professional truck driving Bonnie was unemployed. She was an insurance administrator who took a severance check when her company decided it was going to move its operations from the Fort Worth area, where she and Ricky live, to another state.
“Ricky and I used to joke about it – me, becoming a truck driver,” Bonnie says. “But when I realized that I might have to go back to a minimum wage job, I decided to enroll in truck driving school. I haven’t looked back since.”
Bonnie credits Ricky for her training, and together, they drove as a team for four years before switching over to Southern Cal Transport, which was acquired by Transport America in 2011. Today, Bonnie and Ricky are a dedicated team serving the Mercedes-Benz account. The driving team moves parts between Vance, Alabama, where Mercedes-Benz has an assembly plant, and a supplier in El Paso, Texas. They make three round trips a week on the 17-hour, one-way route between the two locations.
As a team, Bonnie says that she and Ricky split their responsibilities based on their strengths. At the core of this is respecting each other based on what each knows, and their driving experience.
“We work in tight quarters,” Bonnie says. “There’s give and take every day. We make it work by respecting each other and encouraging each other to do their best.”
Advice for Women Who Want to Become Truck Drivers
What advice can Judy and Bonnie offer other women who would like to become truck drivers?
“Find a good school and find a good company to work for,” says Judy. “The first company you work for will color your perception about trucking for the rest of your career. That’s why it’s so important to find a company that’s supportive of you as a driver. That includes providing an excellent training program.”
Working for Transport America, Judy says that she doesn’t feel treated any differently from her male counterparts.
“And you know what, I don’t want that either,” she says. “I want to meet the standards set by Transport America and I want to go above and beyond them. To me, it’s all about taking care of our customers.”
Bonnie seconds Judy’s comments about finding a trucking company that’s supportive of drivers.
“Transport America respects me as a driver first,” says Bonnie, “But they’re also very supportive of women who drive, too. And that’s important. I feel it’s a great profession for women because at the end of the day, you earn respect based on your driving skills. I’m glad to see more women on the road, especially women who are willing to drive solo. That’s good for the profession.”