Mary Peterson Norton has many passions in life — trucking, her beloved four-legged friends and the Green Bay Packers, just to name a few — and she has found the perfect way to blend them all as a professional driver.
She and her canine companions, Karhma and Casey Aaron, travel the highways in a 2014 Kenworth T660 teamed with a refrigerated trailer — both decked out to proudly represent the Green Bay Packers football team,
In addition to her Packer-proud truck, Norton also makes sure that her faithful traveling pals, Casey Aaron and Karhma, often sport their favorite Packer gear. In fact, the pups won first and second place in last year’s Walcott Truckers Jamboree Best Dressed Pet competition, dressed in their Packer finery.
“Karhma is a rescue, and she is 14,” Norton said. “The vet thinks she is a Shih Tzu and Yorkie mix, but I don’t know. I call her a Heinz 57. Casey is a Shih Tzu and he’s a little shy. He will be 6 in September.”
Originally just named Casey, Casey Aaron is of course, named after Packer’s quarterback Aaron Rodgers … but that wasn’t always the case. He was originally just plain Casey.
“The people I bought him from were from Minnesota,” Norton said. “They said, ‘You named that puppy Casey, and not Aaron Rodgers?’”
Norton was so tickled by the comment that she told them that Casey should have a middle name and from then on he was dubbed Casey Aaron.
“They go every trip with me,” Norton said. “They are my babies.”
Both dogs provide companionship and entertainment for Norton on the road.
“They like to aggravate each other,” she said. “They have this thing — well, I should say, Karhma has this thing. Karhma is getting older, and she has this thing where she likes to touch something. Casey gets warm because he’s a hot-blooded dog. He’ll sit in the chair and Karhma will be in the bed in the floor by the doggie door on the passenger side. So, she will get up in the chair and sit on him. Then he gets down in the floor and this goes on and on all day. They don’t get in the sleeper because it’s not as entertaining.”
Norton, who grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, says she developed a love for trucking at an early age.
“We had Jersey cows, the black and white ones. We showed them at the county fairs, state fairs and national shows,” she said.
Her first experience in trucking was helping haul cattle to fairs. At a young age, she was a master at loading cattle into stock trailers taking them on the road.
“I had my CB radio, and I was listening to all the truckers because we lived next to the interstate,” Norton said. “(Trucking) was always in my blood.”
After graduating from high school in 1977, Norton’s first step in her career was helping her father with his milk routes.
She started her official trucking career in the late 1970s, and by the time the 1980s rolled around she was driving her own truck, a used Peterbilt. In 1985, she bought her first brand-new truck, an International Eagle. In the early days, she mainly ran west coast routes from Wisconsin to California for ATX, a division of Snyder National. Those runs are still her favorites to this day.
Today, as an owner-operator leased to Bob Erickson Trucking, Norton hauls refrigerated poultry products from Minnesota and Wisconsin to Los Angeles, usually returning with a load of fresh produce.
“Even though I basically run the same route all of the time, I always try to find something new,” she said. “(In springtime) I always like to see the baby animals being born and the leaves coming back on the trees. I love the flowers and the different scenery, especially the cactus when they are blooming in the desert.
Norton relishes the freedom she feels on the road.
“After 40-something years, I’ve made a lot of friends on the road, and I’ve met a lot of interesting people,” she said.
Norton also shared the feeling of family that has grown over her years in the trucking industry. The people she has met over the years were there for her during one of the most heartbreaking times in her life — the death of her husband Jack in 2015. The couple had driven as a team for three decades.
“We did a celebration of life for him. We didn’t really have a lot of friends in the neighborhood, but so many of our trucking friends made it up here for the celebration of his life,” Norton said.
“It was unbelievable. Even the local people commented on how we had friends there from all over the country. We had people fly in from as far away as Arkansas and Texas,” she said. We had grown into such a big family. It was such a nice feeling.”
Norton is doing her part to inspire the next generation of truck drivers, partnering with local schools to visit third- and fourth-grade students a few times a year. Norton, Karhma and Casey Aaron, along with their eye-catching rig, are always popular with both the youngsters and faculty.
“I give all the kids a treat and they get to tour the truck,” Norton said. “It’s funny, because as shy as Casey Aaron is, he always picks one person there and that’s his person. Karhma will just run from person to person, but Casey Aaron will pick just one. This last time, it was the teacher. He wanted the teacher. He fell in love with her, and the kids were so jealous.”
Norton collects different trinkets throughout the year to make sure she has something to give each student at the school. The treats range from pencils and pens to coloring books to hand-crafted items created by Norton. Each student receives a goodie bag.
“I always try to make something that they can keep for a long time,” Norton said. “This year I made blankets. Last year I did beach towels.”
Because she enjoys embroidery, she often stitches her name, along with Karhma and Casey Aaron’s, onto the items she shares with the kids.
“I also make the kids ornaments at Christmas time — just something they can keep if they want to,” she said. “I see these kids grow up. Whenever they see me later, they always come up and give me a hug and tell me about the time I visited their class when they were little.”
Although she only brings the truck at the end of the school year as a special treat for the students, Norton and her four-legged friends stop by a few times a year to visit the kids and answer questions about both her dogs and her travels. She also sends pictures and postcards from her travels throughout the year.
“Sometimes this is the only way some of these kids will get a chance to see faraway places,” Norton said.
One thing is for sure, this Packer proud family loves their time together on the road — and they are always ready for the next adventure.