NASHVILLE — Many people in the industry credit their love for trucking to a family member who taught them during their formative years. For Samantha Johnson, the mentoring of a grandfather in the family’s Massachusetts paving and snow removal business was a key to her personal growth. That growth has taken her to the position of service manager for Cumberland International Trucks in Nashville, Tennessee. It has also earned her recognition as Women in Trucking’s (WIT) January 2020 Member of the Month.
“Even when I was very young, I’d be on the side of the road, working on a paving crew,” she told The Trucker. “When equipment broke, I’d help make repairs. My grandfather would have me diagnose equipment problems and recommend repairs. Then, I’d make the repairs under his supervision.”
Diagnosing problems and making repairs soon led to more responsibility. “When I got older, I’d supervise the other shop personnel,” she said.
It wasn’t trucks that prompted Johnson to leave the Northeast, it was horses. “There isn’t much of a rodeo scene in Massachusetts,” she offered. “That’s why I moved to Nashville.” She still participates in barrel racing events across the southeastern U.S. “We’ll pack up the kids, hook up the trailer and we might make two or three different events on a weekend,” she said. She and her family care for 13 horses on their 45-acre property in the Nashville area. They are also active in their local church, as time permits.
On Monday, she’s all business. “My department has 23 technicians, three shop foremen and four service advisors,” she said. She has held every one of those positions at one time or another, starting with her role in the family business years ago. “I did a lot of the engine work myself,” she related. “I remember one project, a 5.9 (liter) Cummins where we needed to remove the cylinder head. Grandpa supervised while I did most of the work.” She added, “he was a great teacher and mentor.”
After moving to Nashville, Johnson worked in management at Valvoline and then as a service advisor at a Ford dealership before hiring on at Cumberland International. “I’ve always had a love for diesel,” she said, “but I always dreamed of working in fire and app (apparatus).” Her role at Cumberland has allowed her to work with both.
As service advisor and shop foreman, she continued to diagnose and repair the diesel’s she loves, but the work she most appreciates came later.
In 2017, the dealerships “fire and app” division was incorporated in Johnson’s department, where it has grown to its present size. “We handle 90% of Nashville fire work and have customers in all of Tennessee and beyond,” she explained. “It’s my pride and joy.” Although it’s only a part of what her department handles, it’s a part she likes a lot. “I particularly enjoy pump testing,” she said. “I still take calls in the middle of the night when a fire department has equipment that isn’t working.”
Working in an industry dominated by males doesn’t intimidate Johnson. “I think some women in the trucking industry get scared away by the male domination,” she said. “They need to know they can be successful if they work to gain the respect of doubters and don’t back down.” Gaining respect has been the cornerstone of her success in the industry, as she feels that demonstration of her competence is more meaningful than confrontation.
Johnson also helps guide her company’s participation in WIT. “We’re a corporate member,” she explained. “Another person and I attend monthly meetings and help determine the dealership’s participation.”
Johnson’s success serves as an example to anyone trying to advance in the industry and especially to women working in a field that is traditionally male. “Trust in your capabilities and don’t back down,” she said. “You’ll earn the respect of doubters.”
With her success in the shop, the arena and the service manager’s office, Johnson has set an example for others.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.