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‘Yes we can’: Spirited and spunky women truckers renew friendships, make new ones at WIT ‘Salute’

U.S. Xpress driver Tricia Traxler, left, and owner-operator Tammy Downs, who was Traxler’s trainer four years ago, enjoy being together again at Women In Trucking’s second annual “Salute to Women Behind the Wheel” at the Mid-America Trucking Show. With Traxler is her constant companion, a papillon named Pippin. (The Trucker: DOROTHY COX)

By DOROTHY COX
The Trucker Staff

6/2/2011

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Tricia Traxler and Tammy Downs met up four years ago when Downs was Traxler’s trainer, and they met up again at Women In Trucking’s second annual “Salute to Women Behind the Wheel” here in April. 

A leased operator for U.S. Xpress, Traxler and her papillon pooch, Pippin (papillons are a type of toy spaniel), travel “all 48” and make their home in Medford, Ore.

And although she and Downs, an owner-operator, don’t work together anymore, “we’re in touch daily,” said Downs.

“We call and keep each other awake and going.” That kind of camaraderie, she said “is a lot of what this industry is missing.”

It used to be, said Downs, that truckers “had each other’s backs. Now they knife one another in the back. In the early ’80s if someone was broken down three or four truckers would stop to help. Not anymore.”

Downs and Traxler not only call each other daily, but they arrange conference calls with other drivers, four on each of their two phones, to talk about CSA, Hours of Service, Mexican trucks and NAFTA, and a host of more personal issues.

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“The road is an open book of issues,” said Downs. She’s been a member of Women In Trucking for three years while Traxler has only been in the organization for a year.

“I wish I would have joined a long time ago,” said Traxler, who’s also a trainer now.

Traxler said she got into trucking because “I can’t sit still. I get bored easily. I tried trucking and I fell in love with it; I absolutely love my job.”

Downs, who’s been an over-the-road driver for 11 years and was a trainer for four, wishes desperately that trucking could go back to the way it was, with courtesy on the road, truckers who help one another out and a true spirit of camaraderie.

“I would die trying to get it back to the way it was,” she said, adding that Women In Trucking has that spirit of togetherness and family, but that “not enough drivers know about WIT.”

Indeed, WIT this year was hoping to beat the Netherlands’ record of 415 women truckers gathered in one place but fell short at 201, compared with 290 last year. Voie surmised that more women didn’t show up this year because they had to loads to deliver.

But what they may have lacked in numbers, they made up for in spirit and spunk.

“Woo-hoo, we love trucks and we’re from Tennesse,” said one rowdy group of gals.

In fact, women drivers were in a flurry of talking, texting, picture-taking and enjoying one another’s company.

Some, like Traxler and Downs, were old friends, while others forged new friendships as they ate fruit dipped in a chocolate fountain, listened to Nashville recording artists Lindsay Lawler, Chris Roberts and Ken Lewis, and had their photos taken with various family members who had come along for the ride. Vocalist Lawler belted out a song composed for the occasion, “For the Long Haul,” to robust applause.

Finally, after working hard hauling America’s freight, here was a day just for women truckers, a day to honor them and the job they do safely and without thanks most of the time. And they seemed to enjoy every minute of it.

Voie said WIT is working with the Truckload Carriers Association to include competition on the best fleets to drive for — for women — and also is working to get female owner-operators certified as women-owned businesses. She said 16 percent of WIT’s members are men and that she was told by one male driver that “everything you do [in WIT] just helps us.”

“Remember Rosie the Riveter, who stood for the women in World War II who took on male-dominated industries to help out,” WIT President and CEO Ellen Voie told Traxler, Downs and the other women truckers who had gathered.  (World War II posters showed Rosie as a woman with a scarf on her head and her sleeve rolled up, showing a bit of muscle, and the caption “We can do it.”)

“We can do it,” Voie said. “Women in this industry tend to stand in the background. Get out there and get noticed and flex your muscle.

“All I have to say to you is ‘yes you can; you go, girl.’” 

 Dorothy Cox of The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at dlcox@thetrucker.com.

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