Contrary to what some people believe, the trucking industry is filled with a dizzying array of people, diverse in their backgrounds and professional training.
But even in this professional melting pot, it’s hard to find someone with a background like Christine Bosgraaf of Sanger, Texas.
Bosgraaf started her career in veterinary medicine in Illinois, as a technician in the biomedical research field. It was a role she filled for two decades — which made the sudden end of her employment a real shock, she says.
“At the time, funding was really poor, and my boss couldn’t get funding to keep me. So, he gave me about six months’ notice that he was going to lay me off,” she said. “I checked with the other labs at the medical school that I was at, and nobody was getting funding, so nobody was hiring. So, I had to think really hard about what I could do from there.
“Trucking had always been in the back of my mind, I guess most of my life. It was something I looked at from my car and thought, ‘That looks like it would be kind of fun,’” she shared.
A local trade school promised a CDL license in 20 days, so Bosgraaf knuckled down and attended truck driving school before her six months employment ran out. Eight years ago, she landed a gig with Schneider in Illinois and has been with them ever since, except for a short-lived stint with another carrier.
“When I was in Illinois, I was driving regional for Schneider and I pretty much hit all the states east of the Rockies, wherever they needed to send me,” she said. “I was based right outside of St. Louis, in Edwardsville, and I was out for seven days at a time and just went wherever they sent me. That was for about a year and half.”
Family health issues demanded that Bosgraaf be home more, but since her job didn’t allow that, she changed companies, eventually transferring to Texas. However, she said, she didn’t like the outfit much. Once she was established in The Lone Star State, she rejoined Schneider, this time in an intermodal role that kept her within 200 miles of base and accommodated her home life while still letting her do the job she loved.
“I like being alone. I like being in a truck by myself, seeing different parts of the country that I normally would not be able to see,” she said. “I might not be able to stop somewhere and spend a couple of days and do different activities, but I did at least get to see different parts of the country. That was the big plus for me.”
Six months ago, Bosgraaf took advantage of a career opportunity within Schneider that spoke to both her passion for driving and her background in academia and research. She joined the company’s in-house driver instruction program as a teacher.
“Mondays and Tuesdays, I teach classroom for what we call the CAT program, the CDL Apprenticeship Training program,” she said. “Students come in with a CDL permit and then we get them their CDL. We teach them how to drive, back, all of the skills that they need.”
“We also teach them Schneider’s rules and policies and put them through a Schneider orientation at the same time. That way, when they get their CDL, they’re a company driver,” she continued.
Bosgraaf was moved to apply for the position on the strength of other training roles she’d held with the company in which she’d ride along with new employees. She’s discovered that she enjoys standing in front of a classroom just as much as sitting behind the wheel, especially since she gets to spell out to new employees — both men and women — what life is really like on the road.
“I’m given pretty good leeway to tell them what they need to know,” she said. “I am given a curriculum to follow, but I’m also told to throw in whatever information I feel is necessary, including from personal experiences.
“So, as I’m going through different parts of the curriculum — whether it’s a class full of men, full of women or a combination — I tell them all the same thing: It is dangerous out there,” she said. “When you’re sleeping in the bunk, put the seat belts through your doors, because somebody can come in and assault you. These are the kinds of things women are concerned with, but men should be concerned with it as well.”
Because she only has a few days with any given class before handing her students over to another instructor, Bosgraaf doesn’t mince words when it comes to detailing the perils of over-the-road driving. It is this straightforward style, she said, that students of both sexes seem to appreciate.
“There’s a lot of men who are like, ‘Well, it’s not unsafe out there. We’re out there, too. We’re in the same environment you are,’” she said. “But you’re a man. Yes, you can be attacked, you can be assaulted, but it’s a different kind of assault. There might be two types of assault that a man can have towards them, but there might be five different types of assault a woman has to be concerned with.
“We hand out a sexual harassment agreement that, of course, doesn’t cover everything — but it covers a lot that we as a company don’t accept,” she added. “And there are a lot of men out there who have no clue what women have to be concerned with, just walking out their front door every day, whether they’re truck drivers or not.”
There is a light on the horizon, Bosgraaf says.
“But I do see that improving,” she noted. “There’s a lot of men that are happy women are out here and congratulate us for doing the job — in a lot of cases doing it better.”
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.