During the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) annual convention in March, five truckers were honored as the 2023 Professional Drivers of the Year. This award is given to exceptional drivers who have impacted the industry, their colleagues, their community, and the company they are a part of. Each of these drivers has a stellar safety record, is a strong role model, and has a life-changing story.
Recently, Truckload Authority had a chance to visit with one of these outstanding drivers, Emily Plummer who is a company driver for Springfield, Missouri-based Prime Inc.
Born and raised in a small Arkansas town, Plummer says she always knew small-town life was not for her.
In high school, she participated in JROTC and hoped to enlist in the military after graduation. However, she says, her mom told her, “If you want to go in the military, you will have to wait until you turn 18.”
Well, 18 came and went, but by then, Plummer was working in a factory.
“I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to be in a small town,” she said. “There had to be more out there.”
She later moved to a small town in Texas, where she saw an advertisement saying that five companies were looking for drivers.
“I did the application, and four companies told me no. There weren’t many female drivers. If there were, they were with their husbands,” she said. “Thinking back, I could’ve gotten a no because I was a woman, but I can’t verify that.”
Unlike those four companies, Prime Inc. called and advised her to get her CDL. Plummer set out to do just that.
She recalls her dad helping her train for pre-trip inspections using his old Cadillac.
“It helped me get an idea of what I was going to do,” she said.
Once she had a CDL in hand, she said, Prime sent her a bus ticket to Springfield, Missouri, to go through the carrier’s driver training program. The rest, as they say, is history.
One thing that has stuck with Plummer since childhood is that it’s important to find a way to give back.
“My mom instilled in us to give back,” she said. “The military was something I could do to give back to the country. Driving a truck is another way to give back.”
Plummer and her husband sponsor her alma mater’s football team, providing food and refreshments to the players during games.
“I had one of the young men ask me, ‘Why did you come back to make sure we were fed at football games?’” she said. “I always tell them that I didn’t have that when I was growing up. It’s always good to return to your community. As long as you have touched one person, that’s all that matters. That’s it.”
The young men now call Plummer “Aunt Emily,” she said with a smile.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, many businesses either shut down or arranged for employees to work remotely. This was not an option for trucking. As drivers continued to deliver food, merchandise, medical supplies and other necessities, a nation that had long scorned truckers suddenly saw the light. Truckers became celebrities, greeted with cheers, thank-you signs, and food for the road.
“My husband and I knew this career came with being unappreciated, but we still wanted to do it. When COVID first hit, we knew that America needed us, so we couldn’t think about ourselves,” Plummer said. “I think the general public realized how important we are to them. We felt appreciated. We enjoyed all of the thank-yous we received on the road.”
Unfortunately, the public’s celebration of truckers was short-lived.
“Once COVID became unimportant to the public, things returned to what they were,” Plummer said. “They don’t understand the sacrifice that comes with being a trucker. We drive for five months at a time and see so many things that range from one extreme to another. They don’t see us missing the sporting events, birthdays, and graduations. They don’t see that we skip physical and mental health care.”
Plummer says she and her husband have learned to cherish their downtime, trading the bunks of their Peterbilt for the comfort of their bed at home. The time is used to catch up on rest, family, friends, and as many doctor’s appointments as possible.
Plummer’s mindset of “giving it all I’ve got” hasn’t gone unnoticed by others. Prime Inc. holds an annual Highway Diamond Gala for its women drivers. This year, as the presenter read the biography of the winner of the Highway Diva of the Year award, the words sounded strangely familiar … and she heard her name.
As humble as she is dedicated, Plummer prefers to stay out of the spotlight — but her efforts often bring her to the forefront. A while back, she says, someone from Prime’s media/marketing department asked her to come in for a visit. During that meeting, she was told the company planned to nominate her for TCA’s 2023 Professional Driver of the Year.
“Why would you do that?” she responded, shocked. “I won’t win it.”
She knew that two Prime Inc. drivers had previously won the award — but they were both men, and both had more than 30 years of experience. Plummer says she didn’t believe the trucking industry was ready for a woman to win.
She was wrong. Plummer was navigating her way through a Nebraska snowstorm when she received a call from Prime.
“He asked me what I was doing and told me I needed to pack my bags,” she said. Plummer was given the news that she had won a spot as one of TCA’s Professional Drivers of the Year and would be traveling to Orlando, Florida, for the awards ceremony during the association’s 2023 convention.
Shocked beyond words and emotional, Plummer could only say ‘Wow’ and start crying. But it didn’t feel real until she arrived at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando.
“It was such an honor. I met the other four winners, who are all amazing people,” she said. “I know I work hard out there, but I just do my job. I don’t look for anything extra; I don’t go out of the way to put myself out there to be recognized. I just work.”
Born and raised in Little Rock, AR, Erica N. Guy decided to stay in her hometown to begin her professional career in journalism. Since obtaining her bachelor’s degree from UAPB, Erica has professionally written for several publications about several topics ranging from lifestyle, tech, culture, and entertainment, just to name a few. Continuing her love for her hometown, she joined our team in June 2023, where she is currently a staff writer. Her career goals include continuing storytelling through her writing by being the best professional writer she can be. In her spare time, Erica enjoys trying new foods, cozying up with a good book, spending time with family and friends, and establishing herself as a future businesswoman.