Always use caution when answering a “help wanted” ad. That’s the advice of trucking veteran Melissa Metcalfe, who found such an ad years ago on a MySpace page, offering a position of “first mate.”
It turns out that Ed Metcalfe, now her husband, wasn’t looking for help sailing his Cheoy Lee Ketch; he wanted a life companion.
“He’s a sailor,” Melissa explained. “We were married on his boat on 08/08/08 (Aug. 8, 2008) and spent 18 months cruising the Intercoastal Waterway from Kemah, Texas, to Key West, Florida.”
Melissa and Ed are still cruising together, but now it’s in their 2020 Volvo. They haul Department of Defense and Department of Energy loads for Tri-State Motor Transport (TMST) in the carrier’s AA&E (arms, ammunition and explosives) division.
“We were originally working with SLT (Secured Land Transport) when they merged with Tri-State,” Melissa said. About the cargo they haul, she said, “When you get to where you’re going, they’re glad to see you and they are very professional,” adding, “We don’t do grocery warehouses.”
The couple started as company drivers with SLT (Secured Land Transport), which later merged with TMST.
“I love working for Tri-State. Within eight months with Tri-State I had been to all 48 states and a couple of Canadian provinces,” Melissa said. “It’s a great company. When the economy went bad due to COVID, the executives took a pay cut and they gave the drivers a raise.”
The couple has high praise for Mike Fisk, TSMT’s director of marketing, hiring and development.
“He’s our ‘go-to’ guy. Any little issues, he makes it right,” Melissa said, adding, “We also have a dispatcher who has been doing it for 30-plus years. She makes our job so much easier.”
About two years ago, the Metcalfes ran the numbers and decided to become owner-operators. They ordered a new truck from Volvo and then waited a year for it to be delivered.
“They were slammed (with orders) and we almost gave up, but we finally got it,” Melissa said. The truck is equipped with a 6X2 axle configuration in which the forward drive axle lifts when not needed to support cargo weight. Metcalfe claims the truck achieves 14 mpg bobtail.
Melissa’s decision to become a truck driver was natural for her.
“I’ve always had a travel bug,” she said. “My brother served in Vietnam and when he came back, he started driving a truck. It was just something that I think I wanted to do because of my big brother.”
Melissa was bitten by the “travel bug” much earlier, however.
“My father was a pilot for a company that built an oil pipeline in Iran, back in the ‘Shah’ days,” she explained. “We went to all of the big capitals — Paris, Istanbul, everywhere. I remember being with him, chasing camel herds in a Cessna aircraft.”
As an adult, however, Melissa chose a different career path.
“In my ‘other life’ I was a hairdresser,” she said. “I owned my own salon in Texas. I started having back issues and couldn’t stand at the shampoo bowl anymore.”
Melissa also worked as a crew transport driver for Union Pacific Railroad, shuttling train crews between terminals and hotels.
“I got to travel through some really beautiful country,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to do that job in a city, but it was great finding the rail terminals in Texas.”
Later, Melissa decided to put her skills to use in a tractor-trailer. She enrolled in a CDL school in Houston and chose Schneider National to complete her training.
“I heard they had a good training program, so I went there after school and stayed the full year with them to get the experience,” she explained.
When her father became ill and needed round-the-clock care, Melissa left the road and drove school buses because the flexible schedule gave her time to care for her father. After the death of her father, she returned to trucking.
The Metcalfes travel with a pair of dogs, Misha and Hop. Misha, now 12 years old, is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, called a “Toller” by many who know the breed.
“My husband read an article in a boating magazine about the five best dog breeds for boats,” Melissa explained. “I did some searching and found Misha. She looks like a small golden retriever, but she’s brown and has green eyes.”
Misha is well known around the sailing marina as “the dog who swims with dolphins.” Melissa tells the story of how Misha earned this moniker.
“Where we were docked, dolphins would use our anchor rope to scratch themselves and Misha would bark at them,” she explained. “One small female was always the last to leave, but one day she just disappeared. When she came back, she had a beautiful baby with her. Misha got so excited that she jumped off the boat into the water.”
From that time, whenever the dolphins swam by, the Metcalfes would tie a line to Misha and let her go swimming with her dolphin friends.
Hop is a dachshund who “still has a long way to go,” according to Melissa.
“He’s like a jack-in-the-box, always jumping,” Melissa said. Hop was named after her children’s favorite uncle. “If you need something shredded, just leave it on the floor around him,” she laughed.
Melissa inherited a house from her father and moved her daughter and family into it when she and Ed began team driving. When they went home, however, they found the house rather crowded. So, the couple bought a Hatteras Trawler that is now their home when they come off the road.
“We traded sails for twin diesels,” she quipped.
The Metcalfes don’t plan on parking the truck any time soon, but when they do, Melissa plans to keep moving.
“I don’t see myself sitting in a cubicle, unless the cubicle has a windshield,” she said.
Perhaps the couple will return to the water.
“We want to make the ‘Great Loop,’ but since the hurricanes there’s a lot of trash, and we decided to wait,” she explained. America’s Great Loop is a 6,000-mile boat tour of the Eastern U.S. and Canada that incorporates the Intercoastal Waterway, the Great Lakes and a variety of rivers and canals.
Melissa finds similarities between sailing and trucking.
“There’s a code in sailing that’s like a code in trucking,” she said. “If you see somebody in trouble, you help out.” She added, “we can’t always stop, because of what we haul, but we can use the C.B. and communicate with other drivers. You help when you can.”
Until the Metcalfes return to sailing, Melissa plans to keep improving her skills.
“I’m tenacious,” she said. “I’ll keep doing it until I get it right. I try to learn something new every day.”
Whether she’s at the wheel of a tractor-trailer or on a seagoing vessel, Melissa, along with husband Ed, just keeps sailing along.
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.