The first time Mary Littler attempted to drive a standard transmission she was 37 years old. And she was seated behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer. Not an easy feat for anyone, but even more intimidating for Littler, who admits, “I was scared of trucks.”
Her motivation? She wanted to spend more time with her husband.
After Chad Littler retired from the U.S. Navy in 2014, Mary expected they’d be seeing more of each other. After all, during their 17 years of marriage, Mary found herself raising their two children alone for months at a time while Chad was onboard ship.
“I sometimes felt like a single mom,” she says.
But Chad’s new 9-to-5 schedule at a sheet metal shop didn’t last long. After six months he decided he needed to follow his dream — to drive a tractor-trailer and see the country. Plus, as Chad saw it, truck driving was an opportunity for a second career — one that would allow him to “support my family, travel, and be my own boss.”
After researching various programs online and talking with experienced drivers, Chad enrolled in the National Tractor Trailer School (NTTS). The NTTS 602-hour Advanced Commercial Driver Course, certified by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI), met his criteria for thorough and intensive training — not unlike what Chad was accustomed to in the military. NTTS has been training veterans like Littler since 1972, and with the Post-9/11 GI Bill offering paid tuition, Chad could easily afford to attend.
Upon graduation, Chad eagerly started his career in trucking, but his being away from home anywhere from 30 to 45 days at a time was not what Mary had signed on for. “It was just like having him back in the Navy,” Mary says. “I told him, ‘I want you home more.’”
Realizing “that was too much for her,” Chad turned to another employer — Gypsum Express, of Baldwinsville, New York, a member of the Truckload Carriers Association. A 600-truck carrier, Gypsum Express employs Chad Monday through Friday, making deliveries to New York City and the Eastern states. He may travel down the East Coast as far as Virginia or North Carolina, but makes it back home by the weekend and some weeknights as well.
“It works great now,” Mary says of Chad’s schedule. “And I actually love the company he works for. They treat you like family.” Employees at Gypsum know both Littlers by name, something that makes Mary feel part of their team. And Mary is not only happier, she plans on joining her husband behind the wheel.
A military veteran herself, Mary was more than ready to learn something new. Once her self-sufficient teenage children didn’t need her constant attention, she decided to spend more time with Chad on the road and learn a new skill at the same time.
Her choice of tractor-trailer training program was easy.
NTTS, also a Truckload Carriers Association member, is not new to training women behind the wheel. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), nearly 200,000 women currently drive trucks in the U.S., and NTTS has trained many women seeking competitive salaries, significant job prospects, and the lure of the open road — all factors in the growing popularity of female truck drivers.
Mary loves to travel and she expected NTTS, with its extensive training and PTDI-certified courses, to prepare her for her new career properly. She was right.
Upon completion of the 18-week program, Mary will know how to operate a tractor-trailer safely, thanks to her classroom, lab, and behind-the-wheel training with a variety of tractors and trailers. She’s already been learning to shift gears and back up a trailer while gaining confidence in her abilities.
“I was scared to death the first time I had to back up a trailer,” Mary chuckles, but after less than two weeks she was “actually starting to love it. I’m getting a lot more comfortable. And the instructors have been very patient.”
Praising her enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment to education, NTTS’ Training Director John McCann says Mary “is very cooperative with other students and her instructors and she regularly seeks their assistance. Her efforts are significantly helping in her progress to successfully completing the course.”
With patient instructors supporting her, asking for extra help is not an issue for Mary. Nor is the fact that she’s the only female in her class. Although more women are considering trucking as a career, they still make up less than 10 percent of drivers nationwide, according to ATA statistics.
Once Mary graduates from NTTS in October 2016, husband and wife hope to become a driving team for Gypsum. With both of them employed as drivers, they will not only get two paychecks, but will be able to drive more miles since they can trade off hours behind the wheel. This will allow them to go beyond the 11-hour daily limit for solo drivers while remaining in compliance with Hours of Service.
“I think it’s probably one of the best things you can do in the trucking industry today,” says Harry Kowalchyk, president of NTTS, Inc. “With two incomes, you could make over $100,000 a year. Plus, their communication as a couple increases.”
These are just some of the reasons why Chad is looking forward to experiencing the road alongside his spouse. “It gets lonely on the road,” he explains. “It’ll be nice to have Mary there to talk to as things happen.”
Not only will driving together bring him closer to his wife, but it will also bring them closer to their goals of retiring in 10 years and becoming independent owner-operators. Once Mary joins him, Chad plans to work toward gaining the appropriate experience and financing to make that latter goal a reality.
As for Mary, she understands their success as a husband/wife team is not going to come without effort. “What it will take to make this work is communication — lots of communication,” Mary says.
Having occasionally ridden as a passenger with Chad on assignment, Mary’s already aware of some of the challenges of life on the road. She’s slept in the truck, prepared food in the truck using Chad’s slow cooker, and traversed the country in a rig for long hours. She doesn’t find any of that challenging.
What Mary still finds challenging is backing up the truck, but she expects to master that by the time she graduates from NTTS. She met a gentleman from Indiana in her class at NTTS who finished a much shorter, non-certified truck driver training program elsewhere. “He didn’t feel comfortable being on the road after graduating from that program,” Mary says. “It didn’t teach him enough. There are actually only 57 schools that have PTDI-certified courses.”
She and Chad are grateful they enrolled in one.
“There are definitely drivers out there who can’t back up a truck,” Chad notes. “I’ve talked to other drivers about the training I’ve had and they’re surprised. Any time you get more training on something, it’s a good thing.”
The detailed and repetitive aspects of training that the PTDI-certified course offers has been especially attractive to the Littlers. Chad says it reminds him of their experiences in the military.
“We would repeat the same drill over and over again,” Chad explains of his years in the Navy. “It makes you learn a whole lot better. And there’s no room for error.”
Chad finds truck driving, like the military, provides a much-needed service that requires dedication and responsibility. “I feel a lot of pride and freedom in what I do,” he says. “I’m still delivering, still serving a need, still serving my country.”
Once Chad and Mary hit the road as a team, they hope to blog about their experiences, helping fellow truck drivers, especially women, along the way and promoting the benefits of their newfound career as husband and wife team drivers.
PTDI is a national, nonprofit organization established for the twofold purpose of developing uniform industry skill, curriculum, and certification standards for entry-level truck driver training and motor carrier driver finishing programs, and certifying entry-level truck driver training courses at public and private schools and driver finishing programs at carriers for compliance with PTDI standards. PTDI is based in Alexandria, Virginia.