Mary McNew of Ashland, Ky., has been driving almost 12 years and was on her way home to celebrate the birthdays of her two grandsons when we met her on March 11.
The boys’ birthdays are March 13, for the two-year-old and, and April 1 for the one-year-old. McNew has two grown daughters.
“I haven’t been home since Christmas, which is my choice,” McNew said. “Usually I’m out four weeks and I’m home a week. I have to keep driving. I haven’t seen a paycheck since Christmas. It’s time to go home.”
Before becoming a truck driver, McNew worked in a school district as a cashier. She actually had three jobs at one time to make ends meet.
“I was married and he left me,” she said. “I lived in Oregon and moved to Idaho in 1997 to take care of my dad. I took care of him for a year and then went to truck driving school,” which lasted nine weeks.
When she first got into the trucking industry McNew looked at it as “a year-round paid tourist. But now it’s a J-O-B.”
McNew is a company driver for Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) out of St. Cloud, Minn., where she pulls a flatbed and hauls whatever she can to keep her truck moving.
“I like to work for my money,” she said, regarding the extra physical labor necessary to strap and tarp loads. She is small in size, standing no more than 5 feet 2 inches, but seemed plenty strong enough as we watched her tighten the chains holding a military vehicle in place.
McNew said she drives the 48 states, but mostly east of I-35 and Texas with her current company.
McNew is diabetic, but not insulin dependent. She has insurance with ATS but lately hasn’t been able to afford to see a doctor because she doesn’t have $30 for the co-payment.
In the early days of trucking when she said it was like being a tourist, McNew went to Florida and rode on swamp boats, as well as many other journeys within the U.S.
“I did a lot more then than I can now,” she said. “My daughter came with me every now and then. My brother came with me for six months. I have a brother who drives a truck. He’s a local driver. My oldest sister used to drive a truck.”
When queried on her decision to drive trucks, she wasn’t really certain about her answer.
“I don’t even know why,” McNew said. “I guess I was just looking for a better job. I drove a truck in a hay field when I was 10 or 12 years old in Idaho. My dad drove a potato truck and a hay truck. He was a mechanic. October of this year will be six years since he passed away. I miss him, I really do. 2005 Father’s Day was the last time I got to see him.”
McNew said she doesn’t have any regrets about getting into trucking.
“I enjoy it,” she said. “I’m tired of it now with the government changing all the regs and rules and making it harder on us. And my health has declined. I used to be healthy. I don’t have the energy I used to have. You don’t eat right out here; a lot of fast food. I know they’re trying to change that. You overeat or you don’t eat. You find stuff to keep you going — energy shots and stuff in the truck stops. I tried some once. It just kept me going for about an hour and then you come down off of them.”
As for what she thinks could be done to make it healthier while driving she said the truck stop food. She says she eats off of buffets and salad bars but wonders how many people wash their hands before handling the utensils.
She said she would have stayed with the school district and not gone into trucking if she had not moved to care for her father. And she’s not planning to stay in trucking.
“I want whatever [job] is available that will train me, McNew said. “I tried a couple of years ago to get on at McDonalds. I put down truck driver [on the application] and nobody even looks at you.”
McNew said she doesn’t get home much and misses doing so because her grandbabies live just 12 miles from her across in West Virginia. So she would like to go home and work where she can see them if she could just find some work that would enable her to do that.
And even not getting home much she says she is having trouble making any money.
“I ran my butt off last week for two loads and brought home $119 after taxes, insurance and cash advances. My gross was $400 for that whole week,” McNew said.
She lives with her boyfriend who is also a truck driver.
“We have done team,” she explained. “There’s no money in team doing flatbed. He likes heavy equipment and I like general freight flatbed. He drove during the day and I drove at night. He said I hit every bump in the road and he couldn’t sleep. We only see each other at home.
“I was doing OK with this company until they dropped our pay when the economy got bad. I didn’t have to stay out as long as I do now. I have a house payment, a truck payment, two Harley payments, plus our utilities.”
When McNew goes home she and her boyfriend ride their Harleys but for now she has to stay within the state of Kentucky on hers until she goes to some classes and gets a license to drive out of the state. But sometimes she rides with him and they can go anywhere. Besides that she said when she’s home she doesn’t want to do anything and it takes her three days to do laundry.
“My health went down about five years ago,” McNew said. “I’m 45. I think it’s the driving and not eating right out here on the road.”
What would make things better, she said, is to “have more health clinics for drivers that we can get into and afford. And offer healthier dishes. They have low-calorie dishes but drivers aren’t going to eat them. There’s a lot of grease out here. Also add exercise gyms in the truck stops. I know they used to have them.
“I would use them. Normally I park far out and walk. Sometimes I take walks around. I get exercise from tying down and all that.”
And she added what would make her want to stay in trucking: “Better health insurance with a lower co-pay. And get off our [butts].”
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.