For Liz Imel, an over-the-road driver for Maverick Transportation, the best thing about trucking is the ability to travel and see the country.
“It’s awesome. I’ve got the best office view there is,” she said with an easy smile and a laugh, adding that she can’t imagine herself having an office job and sitting behind a desk all day. “That would just make me crazy. I love traveling and seeing different things all the time.”
While Imel’s trucking career started in 2012, her experience with heavy equipment began at a much earlier age.
Born in Sterling, Illinois, Imel’s first driving experience was on the family farm at age 5, operating her dad’s 4020 John Deere tractor. Next, she said, she drove a five-speed pickup truck from the corn field to the house.
“He basically said, ‘Follow the road, and when you get to the gate, turn the key off and step on the brake,” she recalled. “You learn to improvise when you farm.”
Imel discovered a love of big rigs nearly a decade later when, at age 14, one of the family’s neighbors, a grain hauler, hired her to wash his truck on the weekends.
“He drove a really nice Bicentennial long-nose Peterbilt. He’d take me over to where the company was, and I’d wash his truck for him — and then I’d help the other guys wash their trucks,” she said. “Then he’d let me drive it around the yard. My interest in trucks started there.”
During high school, Imel excelled in athletics, becoming a state-qualifying shot putter in addition to playing softball. While she had a definite interest in trucking, she said, life took a different course.
After working in a farm equipment repair shop with her then-husband for seven years, she was employed by an automotive parts manufacturer, serving as a calibration specialist and an electronics technician for six years, before going to work for National Manufacturing Co., a century-old hardware-manufacturing plant.
“I loved my job at National, I really did,” Imel said, adding that she started out working on the assembly line. During her more than 12 years with the company, she advanced to assistant foreman. “I’ve done a little bit of everything. I unloaded trucks, steel and everything, and then I became a die setter. I set up presses and ran 200-ton presses, stamping out the hardware.”
When National was forced to close because of foreign competition, the employees received federal grants for job training. That’s when Imel’s career in the trucking industry was born.
“It was like, ‘This is my chance!’ I’d never traveled much, so this was a good opportunity to travel AND get to drive a big truck,” she explained. “I went to the local community college and took a one-month CDL course.”
After earning her CDL in May 2012, Imel knew it was time to hit the road — but first, she took some time off for her oldest daughter’s wedding. In July, she was hired by Maverick Transportation to haul refrigerated trailers. After company training, she was assigned her first truck and drove her first route in early September.
“I went to Russellville (Arkansas), to the Tyson plant,” she recalled.
For the next seven years, she explored the lower 48 United States, hauling a refrigerated trailer. When Maverick sold its refrigerated division, Imel found herself working for the carrier’s newly acquired boat division.
For the past year and a half, she’s been hauling lowboy flatbed trailers loaded with pontoon boats — a change she has happily embraced.
“It’s harder (than refrigerated), but it’s not a bad hard,” she said, noting that her schedule is more structured now than when she worked in the refrigerated division.
During her years on the road, Imel has earned a reputation for safety and reliability. She has been recognized by Maverick twice as driver of the month, once in October 2014 and again in February 2019, and was the carrier’s 2019 driver of the year. More recently, she was honored by the Women In Trucking Association (WIT) as the organization’s member of the month for March 2021.
“Maverick’s all about safety — the safety of the motoring public as well as their drivers,” she said.
Imel said she loves driving for Maverick, and she is particularly proud of the company’s Employees Care program, which she describes as “Maverick employees helping other Maverick employees.”
The program, spearheaded by current and past drivers of the year, is completely employee-funded, and is designed to help Maverick employees financially in case of an accident, illness or other situation.
“When you get hurt on the job, it takes a couple of weeks for your disability to kick in,” Imel explained. “Well, during that two weeks, your insurance premiums still have to be paid, so when you finally get that first disability check, there’s two week’s worth of insurance premiums withheld — and disability checks are only 60% of your regular wages.”
Maverick’s Employees Care program has also provided assistance to employees impacted by natural disasters, such as floods or tornados, she said.
“A lot of drivers don’t think they need disability insurance, and they just don’t think anything’s going to happen to them,” she continued. “But our job is dangerous. At any given moment, anything could happen.”
Like many professional drivers, Imel was impacted by the
COVID-19 pandemic that swept the globe beginning in March 2020.
“I was really thankful I was a truck driver when all of it started hitting,” she said, adding that even though there was little need for boat haulers during the worst of the pandemic, Maverick worked to ensure its drivers had paying loads.
“They kept us moving. I didn’t have to go home and sit,” she said, adding that she loves being on the road, especially driving in wooded or mountainous areas.
That’s not to say Imel doesn’t look forward to home time. Between her two daughters and their spouses, she has four grandchildren, ranging in age from newborn to 8, and Imel said she loves spending time with the family.
“Also, I bought a house on 3.9 acres, and there’s timberland — so when I go home, I’m busy trimming trees and mowing the yard. I guess that would be my hobby. That and seeing my grandkids. And taking them candy,” she laughed.
Imel’s oldest grandchild, Landon, is active in sports, including basketball, baseball and soccer, and she said she looks forward to catching one of his games whenever she’s not on the road.
When she’s on the road, however, her focus is on safety, and on safely transporting her loads. While some drivers decry “newfangled” features such as automatic transmissions and advanced driver-assistance systems, Imel said she appreciates the newer technologies.
“I learned (to drive) in a stick, and I don’t have a problem with a stick, but the newer automatic transmissions are fabulous, especially in traffic,” she said. “It’s easier on your
shoulder and your knee, because there’s no clutching and shifting.”
Imel has also participated in the road-testing of driver-assistance technologies through Maverick, including Stoneridge’s MirrorEye camera system.
“The cameras are mounted right above my truck’s doors, and they pan in and out with the truck. When the truck turns, they move with the truck,” she explained. “You see twice as much as you do in a regular mirror.”
In addition, Imel employs a blind-spot camera that’s wired into the MirrorEye system, which she says helps to ensure safety on the road. She’s also a fan of dash cams, which she said can provide valuable information in case of an accident.
Even though the number of woman drivers is steadily growing, many people still view trucking as a male-dominated industry. Imel said she doesn’t believe she’s faced any additional obstacles because of her gender, however.
“I’ve pretty much been in a man’s world my whole working career,” she said, adding that her height (she stands 5 feet, 10 inches) and her demeanor probably help.
“A lot of it is how you carry yourself. You’ve got to have that self-confidence,” she explained.
“Whatever I do, I try to be the best at it. I have made more money driving a truck than I have ever made in a factory, and it’s because I’m driven. I keep the left door shut,” she said with a laugh, referring to staying in the driver’s seat until each run is complete. “If you keep that left door shut and know how to manage your clock, there’s good money to be made out here.”
Imel is quick to point out that while trucking can be a rewarding career, it’s not for everyone.
“You have to be self-motivated,” she stated. “It’s not like you have to get up and go to a factory and punch a clock, but my electronic logbook (ELD) — that’s my time clock. As soon as I start that clock, I’m rolling, because that’s how I get paid. I don’t get paid if I’m sitting still.”
While Imel may be all business when it comes to driving, she said she also enjoys relaxing and just having fun with family and friends. During a recent photo session with members of The Trucker Jobs Magazine staff, Imel kept everyone laughing with her exclamations of, “Cheesy pickles!!” whenever the camera shutter clicked.
“I like to laugh,” she said. “Life is just too short not to laugh.”