‘One tough lady’
November 19, 2010 | by: By Ellen B. Hill as told to Lucinda Coulter
In the early 1980s, I drove a half-ton pickup and pulled a four-horse trailer in Pennsylvania to haul my daughter’s Arabian horses to shows. In the early 1990s, as a registered nurse, I traveled in the state to test nursing assistants for their state certification. With my CB radio, I talked to several of the same drivers on their regular routes. I even taught them CPR while traveling west on Interstate 80. Because of my white uniform and car, they dubbed me The Lady in White. The drivers challenged me, suggesting that since I liked to travel I should get a CDL and come out to join them.
I did just that. I found an owner-operator who was willing to teach me the tricks of the trade. In between driving and nursing, I went to truck driving school to hone my skills. I passed my driving test even though shifting that day was painful: I had damaged my right wrist from tripping over a frozen chock block. Soon, my partner and I were hauling diapers, copper and beer east to New York City, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine.
I learned that you must cross the George Washington Bridge before 5 a.m. to beat the traffic, arrive at your destination and then nap until shippers wake you to unload.
Our dry van could be hand unloaded in four to six hours. We could separate 648 per-hour shrink-wrapped, on-the-floor boxes of diapers into boy-girl stacks and baby weight onto the company’s pallets. If the accepting company took a break, we could either stay in the trailer and fill pallets or leave the building for the 15-minute break.
I felt so sorry for a driver who had to stack a whole trailer of very small cosmetic boxes by hand onto fresh pallets. He would have had to been there all day.
One pleasant surprise I had was one morning when we were being unloaded, another truck backed in beside us. Out from the powder-blue cab stepped a petite, well-dressed woman in high-heeled shoes — sharply professional.
Regarding my treatment as a woman in trucking, once I offered directions to a driver at the Melton, Pa., Truck Stop. I explained to him exactly how to get to Hunt’s Point in New York. By the look on his face, he did not believe a woman could convey accurate directions. I grabbed my male partner and asked him to give the trucker directions. Even though my partner’s directions were identical to mine, the trucker believed my partner’s.
But other male truckers showed respect. Once I was parked at a truck stop east of New York City. It was still daylight at 8 p.m. when I decided to go inside. As I neared the doors, I saw a tall, slender black trucker with his pants tucked inside his boots, so I figured that he was not a Northerner. He picked up his pace, and as he neared the set of double doors, he opened them and held them for me to walk through.
“I don’t often do this, but you’re one tough lady,” he told me. I’ll always remember his kind gesture.
I enjoyed my truck as a home away from home and made it comfortable. It had no bunk storage for food, clothes, cans and the TV, so during a week’s down time, I made a box that had metal legs, which supported it above the mattress, allowed air to pass through and had individual velcro doors. For easy listening as I drove, I enjoyed Peggy Ellett’s sets about a woman driver. Peggy was a real trucker out of Texas known as Dirt Road Daisy. After I contacted her, she featured me, The Lady in White, one of her stories.
Over the years, I became a truck aficionado. I even had a credit card that had a photo of our truck, a 1986 International 9300 conventional, on its face and used that card to purchase my very large collection of model trucks.
After 2000, I was called back into service to help drive my son’s 1-ton diesel dual cab-dual wheeled Chevy truck with a 32-foot car-hauler that had living quarters. We drove as far as Melbourne, Fla.
I always enjoyed reading Overdrive. In the ’90s, it featured mainly males over the road. Boring! Now even though it it is thinner, Overdrive promotes females and has improved tremendously with its informative articles and new products. While I was on the road, I practiced defensive driving and had no accidents. Despite long hours and paperwork, I enjoyed the whole experience of being a female transportation engineer of commercial commodities.
Ellen B Hill is a resident of Valencia, Pa.