Betty Aragon couldn’t have drawn it up any better. On September 28, the New Mexico-based driver was named the Truckload Carriers Association’s 2020 Company Driver of the Year, the culmination of 44 years on the road.
It was a fitting send-off as she announced her retirement, ending her career at the top of her profession.
“I’d been thinking about retiring at age 74. I had been thinking about it for the whole year, but as soon as they told me that I was nominated I says, ‘Okay, I’ll hold on until they let me know,’” she said.
“But now, I’m done. This is the ultimate. What else could I do now?” she queried.
Aragon fell in love with trucking as a child, when her father would bring home his work truck and park it in the yard.
“Then, my daddy used to drive construction and he drove, I used to call it a tandem — just a small dump truck,” she said. “I used to see that truck, and I fell in love with trucks. He wouldn’t allow us to get in it or nothing, because it wasn’t his; it was a company truck. But he would park it in the yard.”
Aragon and trucking would stay within sight of each other, yet at a distance, until she was 30, and a divorced single mother. People told Aragon she should get behind the wheel, but she didn’t have enough nerve to try it as a career. She tried to enlist in the Army instead.
“I was getting ready to take the oath and this big guy, I don’t know what rank, came and told me I was disqualified because I had a child and no husband. I was divorced,” she said. “So, I said, ‘OK, I guess I don’t go in the Army.’
“I heard about a truck driving school in Phoenix, so I sold my home, and I took off to truck driving school. I took my two boys with me, and we stayed in a motel for seven weeks while I went to truck driving school,” she related.
“I came home, and I told my daddy, ‘I still want to be a truck driver, but I need the down payment for a truck,’” she recalled. “He says, ‘Well, I’ll let you have it on one condition: that you stick with it.’”
Tony Aragon, her father, helped her buy a 1979 International cabover with a 290 Cummins engine, and Aragon was as good as her word. Over the past four decades, she’s driven an estimated 4 million miles without a single at-fault accident, touching all of the lower 48 states plus Canada and Mexico. And that’s saying something, considering the fact that for most of that time she was one of, if not the only woman driver everywhere she worked.
“When I bought my first truck, I leased it to North American Van Lines. There were two women back then,” she recalled. “When I wanted a longer wheelbase truck, North American wouldn’t let me have it, so I changed over to Crete Carrier, and there was only one woman besides me. Then I went to another small company, and I was the only woman. I started with Wilson Logistics in ’97 or ’98.”
Over the years, the number of female drivers has grown — in fact, Aragon herself has had a hand in training many of the women who came through her current company — but the rules of the industry have been slow in changing.
“It’s still not that friendly out here. No, not for women,” she said. “I guess for some women it is, but I’m a loner. I stay alone on the truck. I don’t get out of the truck at the truck stops unless I have to. I fuel, but once I park for the evening, that’s it,” adding that she has fears potentially being harassed.
As for her career-closing award and its $25,000 cash prize, Aragon said it ranks right up there with her safety record in terms of what she’s most proud of, mostly for having achieved her goals honestly and on her terms.
“When they announced my name, I got the shakes so bad on my legs, my hands, my arms, and everywhere,” she said. “Everybody was telling me, ‘You’re going to get it, you’re going to get it,’ but when it became reality, it was unbelievable.
“I’ve always said it, if you don’t like me, tough cookies,” she laughed. “I don’t care if you like me or not. I’m me, and I’m going to be me, you know?”
The only gap in Aragon’s driving career was a brief detour into retirement at age 65, which lasted only a few months. That kind of U-turn isn’t happening this time, she says, adding that she’s content to take her memories and spotless driving record into the sunset.
“I always said when I retired for good, I wanted to go and become a heavy-equipment operator. But I think I’m too old. I don’t think anybody will hire me now,” she said. “I’ll be going back on the road tomorrow morning, though. I’ve got the truck parked in the yard. I’ve been cleaning it and getting it ready to go back out. I gave them two weeks’ notice and then that’s it. I want to stay home.”
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.