Sarah has just completed her first year in trucking. She has joined us frequently over the past few months on the “Women Truckers Network” free conference events and she has been a guest on our blog talk radio program. The “On-Demand” episode is called “Qualified CDL Training?” and it gave a glimpse on how CDL training could be and how it should not be in 2013 from the experiences of three recent female graduates.
Like many women entering trucking today, Sarah was moving into another phase of her life. Sarah had thought about trucking for years but had been discouraged to pursue her dream.
Despite her natural ability to drive, Sarah encountered tribulations in her first year trucking that she was able to overcome. It is important for women entering trucking to understand that the isolation required in CDL training can put you in a dangerous position. Timely reporting of an “incident” with a trainer or co-driver is not always possible or personally safe. Not reporting misconduct can cause further harm to you down the road and to others when a person who should be reported for misconduct is permitted to slip back into the population to harm someone else. Women should also be mindful that allowing a situation to escalate can not only put them at risk but provoke them to use poor judgement that could jeopardize their jobs. When things get heated, it is important to remain calm, keep documentation, make police reports and contact your human resources department to file formal complaints, even if your dispatcher/fleet managers try to discourage you. Make sure you keep copies of all the complaints you have filed.
Often, being a good driver is simply not enough in CDL training. You need to learn how to safely stand up for yourself in an isolated situation as well and this takes a great deal of courage.
Here is Sarah’s Story:
My name is Sarah and I am 38 years old. For lack of a better term here, I am a recently divorced Mother of 2 girls and 2 grandchildren. Graduate of CR England School of Driving December 2011 and I am currently employed by Halvor Lines out of Superior, Wisconsin. Newly single but in a relationship, nominated for Rookie of the year 2012 which is a pretty amazing feeling for a gastric bypass patient that is now a nominee in the “Overdrive Most Beautiful Contest”. Here’s how it all happened.
How many times have we all said that? Only this time I REALLY meant it. I quit my life, my whole life. I was working in an office in Memphis, Tennessee doing medical billing. I was married and my youngest child was 17. I had just turned 37. I had enough of my life and I wanted more. I felt I deserved more out of my life.
My Husband had not been so committed since I had my gastric bypass. He wasn’t what I wanted or needed in my life. I was unhappy in where I lived, the money I was not making, the hours I worked, the whole “…you are a woman so you must stay home with the kids…”
Why couldn’t I do what I wanted to do for once in my life?
Why did I always have to do the “right thing“?
Why couldn’t I be selfish and make this life all about me?
So, I did! A day after my 37th birthday I applied to go to CDL School. One carrier told me it would be 8 months before I could go to training because of the lack of female trainers, another told me I could go to school in Memphis but I wanted OUT of Memphis. The third carrier said “you have a clean record come to Salt Lake here’s your bus ticket” and I said “YES”!!!
At noon the day after my birthday I quit my job at the medical clinic, drove to my Husband’s workplace and I gave him my rings, keys and Military ID. I said: “ Don’t ask just take me to the bus station tonight”. He was dumbfounded. The hardest part was telling my youngest daughter that her momma was quitting life, that her momma was leaving her for another job in Utah. That nearly killed me. It was the absolute hardest thing I ever did in my life. I was walking away from my baby girl the last half of her senior year of high school. I never realized how hard that was going to be and the strain it was going to put onto our relationship. That night at home was stressful. I was packing and my baby girl crying, my ex-husband pissed as hell. It was an emotional tearful bye as the bus pulled away. I watched my baby as long as I could see her. I felt guilty for wanting my happiness and being selfish and I almost got off that bus.
I arrived in Salt Lake on a cold Sunday night. Road tired because I hadn’t slept at all on the bus, I was hungry and desperately needed a shower. I waited outside the bus terminal for the shuttle to come pick me up and I still wondered if I was nuts for being so selfish. The shuttle arrived, there were three of us, I was the only woman. We headed for the school house at 9pm and shortly afterwards arrived to the CR England School of driving. My anticipation and fears were about to become a reality. I stood at the check in desk awaiting a room assignment and wondered again “am I doing the right thing?”
Now something you should know about the school house. One end of the second floor is for women and one end is for men, nothing really separating the genders. They did have single rooms for married couples. I was handed my “bed card” and my room key card, the rent a cop at the desk said “whatever bunk is open is where you can sleep”. Bunk? What? Huh? No one said I would be sharing a room.
I trudged up the stairs with my bags and with this fear of a roommate from hell. Oh it got REAL good when I opened the door. The room was dark everyone was asleep. Just great I needed a light or something. I remembered my phone has a light so now with my flashlight I see that there are four sets of bunk beds, 8 beds in in one room for the women. At least the room was relatively clean. I just wanted to drop my crap and go to bed. I found a TOP bunk open, the last one in the room. I dropped my bags, grabbed my bedding and crawled into my new bed as quietly as I could to get a few short hours of rest before classes started in the morning.
My first day began after just 5 hours of sleep. I was up at 7:00am the next morning and waited in line for our ONE bathroom to open up. Introductions were made around the room. Everyone seemed nice enough. Only one other person in the room was starting classes. All the other women were waiting to go out on phase one or phase two training, whatever that meant……Showered ahhhhhhhhhhh refreshing…… coffee next check yeah!!! Okay, now I was in search of my classroom!!! FOUND IT!!!!
I sat in the FRONT row because those were only seats left of a classroom full of people trying to go to school to learn to drive a truck, 148 men and women from all walks of life. The day started with showing all your documents: Birth Certificate, License Identification and money to pay……… then the dreaded DOT physical. All the time watching a video about truck driving, Wow! What a day.
It was a long day of doing a lot of nothing related to truck driver training because of the information the company needed and sheer number of people that they had to process. After dinner we found out that if we chose a study group to help us pass our CDL exams it could be taken in 3 days. 3 DAYS?!?!??!?!?!?! Holy Crap, Okay it was study time for me! I studied online, in the groups and read my CDL manual. The second and third day of class was a fast course on what we needed to know to pass our exams at the DMV. It was literally brain over load. I paid attention in class asked tons of questions and I PASSED my exam.
Now it was time to learn the actual driving of this beast. I spent hours on the driving range perfecting my backing, maneuvers, my turns and shifting. I passed everything. Graduation day was the day after Christmas 2011. I had to wait for my trainer to arrive to pick me up. My life was finally starting.
A few things to be said about the school house in Salt Lake City. The rooms are crowded. The food in the cafeteria is expensive. Cigarettes are extremely expensive. My roommates were great. The school instructors were great. All you had to do was ask. I made friends that I still talk to this day.
The day came when my phase one trainer was arriving!!! I lugged all my gear to his truck and started getting set up. My trainer asked that I sit in the jump seat so we could have a chat. He laid the rules of the truck out from the get go. I felt as this is his truck he is the expert. I was going to do what he asked of me. My first trip out was from Salt Lake to Pocatello Idaho. He put me in the driver’s seat and helped me for the first 60 miles or so. Then he went to bed. I was thinking ummmmmmm? I may need help, I’ve never done this before and I’m scared. But all I needed to do was stay calm relax and “holler” if I needed anything. We made it to Pocatello!!! I did it, but oh crap now I needed to back this beast up. I had to wake up my trainer and he helped me. I was so extremely proud of myself!!!! I did my first delivery!!!! I bawled.
We spent 7 weeks together, I feel I was fortunate to have such an amazing trainer. He was patient informative understanding of my fears and tears. He and I have become very great friends. I have so much admiration and respect for him! He tells every student he gets about the female driver he trained who was a natural. He tells all his female students to call me and ask any questions to calm their fears of being with a male trainer. One I passed my phase one training, I had to return to Salt Lake City, Utah for my phase two upgrade where I finished my classes and was assigned a trainer. This guy, I will call him Lee, was a regional driver out of a Wal-Mart DC. Everything we would be hauling would keep us in the mountain and Great Plains region of the country. I got to his truck and he seemed knowledgeable. We spent roughly three weeks together. I was driving in South Dakota during a snowstorm and started feeling unsafe. I told him I was shutting down. He said “that’s fine it’s your call”. I asked him if he wanted to join me for dinner in the truck stop. He said “sure”, It’s not unusual to eat with your trainer anyway. We went in and ate as the snow began falling harder. We got back to the truck and as I climbed in, he stood between the seats and wouldn’t move so I could climb in my bunk. He grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me into him and started kissing me. I was pushing away stomping feet everything. He finally let me go and said “I’m sorry I just had to”. I jumped out of the truck and went inside called safety and dispatch to report his ass. They sent another truck to come get me to bring me back across the state and once I arrived there they sent me to Salt Lake City to put me in my own truck, a new truck. Something to be said for “Lee“ , he was fired. I wouldn’t stop complaining. He assaulted me, and I fought for what was right. So three weeks into my phase two training I was in my own truck on a Wal-Mart account.
I ended up being miserable because I never got home. I wasn’t getting many miles. I didn’t know anyone and I was broke. The routes sucked. The load planners and dispatchers sucked. It was a miserable existence. I was all alone with no family and no money. I got maybe 1500 to 1800 miles a week at 31 cents a mile that’s poor at best. Something had to give.
I called a dear close friend of mine I have known well over 20 years who is an experienced truck driver. He said “get your shit and get yourself to Denver, I will get a load to Denver and pick you up”, so I did. I didn’t know if I would even have a job. He contacted his company and I put in an application. So here I go again after 5 months of driving I am taking a huge leap of faith. I arrived in Superior Wisconsin at Halvor Lines in May 2012. I passed my driving test, completed all my paperwork and finished orientation. The guys in my class were amazed. They were all new drivers about to go out with a trainer. Here I am an experienced driver. It was a fun orientation week. My best friend was happy for me. I settled into his home with his family. My very first trip out was from Superior Wisconsin to Greenville Mississippi. I enjoyed that week, I was finally able to see my Baby girl and finally made some freaking miles!!! “I can finally start making money”. I was seeing my friends all the time and meeting and making new ones. This company is truly family oriented, no forced dispatch, excellent benefits, great pay and fabulous equipment. I have total respect for my dispatcher I could go on and on……After a few months my friend and his wife discussed that he and I should team drive, according to him we could make more money.
Something to understand about this man is that he clings to his friends, treats them as property gets pissed if you don’t do what he says. He threatened to throw me out of the house if I didn’t team. I caved said “okay, If the company says yes I will do it”. By this point I was quietly seeing someone but my best friend didn’t know because he would freak. I kept my new beau a secret from everyone. If my best friend was able to read my text messages he would just go off the rails with me. The company agreed to let us team. We started in September 2012. By the end of October 2012 I had thrown a right cross at him one night at the TA in Seattle Washington. This was not going to be a good thing. My best friend was trying to control my life and for the two months we teamed, I didn’t have a life. I wasn’t allowed to spend any time with friends if I ran across them. He read my phone messages and demanded to know who I was talking to, so I didn’t talk to hardly anyone.
He would drink beer when we switched shifts. He would push me past the point of exhaustion to hurry and get somewhere so we could do a 34hr reset and he would go play golf and drink heavily. He would buy a couple beers put one in the cooler and put a sock on the other one. Once he sat in the jump seat and was drinking while I drove. That was enough! , That night in Seattle he was being an unreasonable drunk, so I punched him. I called our safety department and he called the sheriff. He was escorted to the hotel, I stayed in the truck. I learned a lot from that experience and I damn near lost my job because I never reported everything he was doing and saying and how he was treating me. You never really know someone until you team with them. I ended up losing my best friend of over 20 years because of this incident. There are a lot of wounds that have yet to heal.
I made it back to Superior after that trip and saw my beau. He and I had a long talk about what we wanted, what we needed, what happened and how we wanted to handle our relationship. I found a house to rent and my youngest daughter and I moved in. I asked my beau to move in too. It was kind of funny because of how often were there at the same time. We had the same dispatcher and we discussed our relationship with him. He agreed to work with us so we could do our 34 hour reset together or run across one another in the country, even occasionally running dual loads. Since then my beau, Dan and I have become extremely close. He is my go to man. I wouldn’t give our relationship up for anything in the world. It took me moving to a new job not once but twice. Having a crap trainer and crap company, moving to a new state, losing my best friend and almost losing my new job, in order for me to finally find my happy place. I am settled in my professional and private life. I finally found me and who I am supposed to be. I can say without a doubt my first year has been trial filled. I have shed many a tear and screamed many times. But I have also found my inner peace, laughter, and love.
My baby girl has since moved up to where I am based, she has made several trips with me out on the road and she now understands my job. She is too finding her happiness in this crazy world. We have healed old wounds and have become extremely close.
Dan recently proposed out in west texas. We were on a dual run he was in front of me. I hear on the cb hey baby will you marry me one day down the road? I thought at first he was being funny but he was being serious. My life has come full circle. From being miserable and meaningless to having more than I could have ever dreamed possible!!!!
Sarah says that she was told she would get more home time and more money by doing team driving by her former best friend but neither turned out to be true. You can listen to more about Sarah’s CDL training in the radio replay of “Qualified CDL Training?”