In an industry where drivers frequently change jobs trying to find more favorable conditions, Andrea Lewis is an anomaly.
“I’ve never really quit jobs,” she explained. “There are a lot of ups and downs in trucking. We pay our dues and work our way up. I found a company that is really driver-oriented and that keeps me pretty much stabilized at one job.”
That company is J.B. Hunt.
Lewis has driven for Hunt for 14 of her 17 years of driving, and she has accumulated more than 2.2 million safe miles of driving in her career. Lewis says the company is large enough to offer a variety of driving positions and home time options, which fits her perfectly. She runs a dedicated Georgia Pacific account that gets her home on weekends for a 34-hour restart and a recharge.
Like many in the industry, Lewis didn’t start her adult life as a driver. She graduated from Norfolk State University in 1997, where she studied music education and music media.
“My grandmother played the piano at our church in Lynchburg, Virginia,” she recalled. “I played the viola and the upright bass. I was first chair and all-city, all-district and all-region.”
During her high school years, she performed in Christmas concerts, and she even formed a quintet with teachers and other students, which performed locally.
“We played at Busch Gardens several times, and we played at events for Mayor Meyera Oberndorf of Virginia Beach about four times,” she said. “It was pretty phenomenal.”
Lewis also participated in the Golden State Youth Orchestra, playing bass guitar, and added the piano to the list of instruments she could play.
“I was going to change colleges, but I felt like working at night on top of caring for my family and going to school in the daytime was quite a lot for me,” she said. “I took a semester off, and didn’t start back because my father was diagnosed with cancer.”
To support the family, she delivered the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, where she learned about route efficiency. She also began working with her mother at the Norfolk Naval Base and other area military establishments, unloading trucks and stocking merchandise.
“I’d watch the trucks back up, and I noticed that a lot of the deliveries were made by the same drivers,” she said. “I learned about warehousing and grocery retail, but I was always interested in the trucks.”
Lewis said she actually caught the “trucking bug” years earlier, when her father, a driver, taught her to drive a car on Virginia backroads.
“I realized that when he was teaching me how to drive, he was actually teaching me how he drove a truck,” she said. “He always told me to travel. I remember being a kid, traveling with him and going past the 18-wheelers and realizing how big the tires were you know, that kind of thing. There’s some things that really stuck with me.”
In 2004, Lewis earned her CDL at the Advanced Technology Institute in Virginia and began her trucking career.
Although she’s home every week these days, it wasn’t always so. When she started in trucking, being on the road for weeks at a time was routine.
“I’d leave home right after Christmas and wouldn’t be home until Valentine’s Day, or St. Patrick’s, or even Easter,” she said. “I’d be home for two or three days and then gone until Memorial Day.”
Her vacation time was usually cashed in for the additional income rather than enjoyed.
Eventually, the road took a toll on her health and on her family.
After her father died in 2003, Lewis’ trucking job helped support her mother. Then her sister, a mother of three, suffered a long illness and Lewis helped to support her and the children. When her sister died in 2012, Lewis assumed responsibility for the children.
“With the kids I was always coming home for the school shopping and stuff. When they were younger, I would do Halloween and Thanksgiving but then I was gone again until Christmas,” she explained.
“I realized that it was about 300 to 315 days a year that I was living on the road,” she said. “I wanted to be home, but trucking took on more of a meaning when I had more family to take care of. It gave me drive to keep going.”
The miles provided income to support the family, but took a toll in another way.
“In 2020, I failed my DOT physical,” Lewis explained.
Like many drivers, she found that a poor diet and lack of exercise were catching up.
“I knew everything was going to fall apart if I didn’t stay healthy,” she said. “I needed to do something that is going to make me happy and healthy.”
Lewis began working out while on the road using techniques she learned online, and she changed her eating habits. She credits Women In Trucking and the Espyr “Fit to Pass” program with helping her make the necessary lifestyle changes.
“I started using strength bands and barbell weights and just actually staying moving, taking walks when I park,” she said. “I don’t park close to the store and walk in; I walk for 30 minutes. It’s the little things that I wasn’t doing.”
Her efforts paid off, and Lewis was able to meet the physical exam requirements without prescription medications or treatments.
“Most of the time, (once you develop hypertension) you only qualify for a one-year certification, but I was able to get the two-year again,” she explained.
Lewis plans to keep driving for a while longer — at least until she reaches the 2 million mile mark with J.B. Hunt.
“When that happens, I’ll be about two and a half million miles total and just shy of 20 years of driving,” she said. “I want to do it for as long as God is willing.”
In the meantime, Lewis is enjoying better health and more time with her family.
“My niece is playing the violin, now,” she said. “I’m helping her in her studies.”
To other drivers, she says, “Don’t take your health for granted. Life is going to happen to us all.”
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.