Women of the Road

A tribute to ladies for the National Women's History Month

How often have you heard someone say that trucking is a man's world? Ladies have no business in a truck and aren't made for the work. The job is too rough and stressful on a woman and she is better off at home.

Sometimes these types of statements are made in jest in order to conjure up an argument that brings a crafty smile upon the instigator's face. At times, though, the words flow from the mouths of those who are serious in their belief that the road is no place for a lady. Perhaps, in some places that is the way children are taught as they grow up and seek their position in society.

Katy Lynn, who operates a truck out of Texas, commented on men's attitudes toward her as a lady driver. She said, "Honestly, I can't say. Every man I've come across has had a slightly different attitude toward my driving. Overall, I think most men could care less one way or another as long as I don't get in their way. But, then again, there are the few men that will immediately confront me about driving and tell me the usual, 'You should be at home in the kitchen with kids. This is a man's world and a man's job.' But these men have really been few and far between so far."

Regardless of some men's views, one thing is for sure: women serve a crucial role in the trucking industry. Women have played a role in trucking as long as there have been trucks.

In 1906, a man by the name of Otto Zachow invented the four–wheel drive. By 1911, Zachow started manufacturing vehicles. During the first year only one automobile was produced under the new brand FWD, or four–wheel drive. In 1913 the company began making trucks in a three–ton model. As a promotional drive, FWD selected six women to demonstrate the steering ease and maneuverability of the big trucks they manufactured. One of those women, Miss Luella Bates, "a mere slip of a girl" according to the media, piloted an FWD on a transcontinental run. Before that run, she had driven the truck from the FWD plant in Clintonville, Wisconsin, to the New York Auto Show of 1920. Three tons may not seem much in these days of highway mammoths, but in Miss Bates' days they were considered giants of the road.

Another early lady pioneer in trucking was the first woman to be licensed. The Railroad Commission began supervising the motor freight business in Texas and Lillie Elizabeth Drennan received her commercial truck driver's license in 1929. That same year Lillie divorced her husband and became the sole owner of Drennan Truck Line, a trucking business they had started together the year before. After the divorce and subsequent acquisition of the company, Lillie operated Drennan Truck Line for nearly 24 years. She held her own alongside the men who worked for her, sometimes driving over 48 hours with little sleep. Despite the long hours, rough roads and the stress of opposition, Lillie never had an accident. In 1950 she even participated on the Texas Motor Transport Association's "roadeo" obstacle course at the state fairgrounds in Dallas. In 1952 Lillie sold Drennan Truck Line and lived 22 more years before passing to the next life.

An uproar that made waves throughout the nation occurred in 1977 when an Oklahoma City carrier, Lee Way Motor Freight, decided its drivers had to work with female co–drivers due to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's requirement. An advocate group against the action was formed called "Trucker Families United." They wrote letters to Overdrive protesting the policies established by the carrier. Though quite a stink was made over the policies, Lee Way Motors never backed down. Heated discussions lit up the highways from coast to coast, but the role ladies played at Lee Way Motors prevailed.

In March 1980, Chevron, Inc., was taken to court by a lady truck driver from southern California, the first woman driver to drive out of the Chevron's El Segundo Refinery. They dismissed her "for her own good" after her truck broke down on the Long Beach Freeway and she was raped and beaten unconscious by three men. Though she suffered great anguish and harm from the incident, she demonstrated that women had the equal "hang tough" mental fortitude that the men possessed.

Women share the same frustrations and hardships provided by a lifestyle on the road in forty tons of steel. "There have been several times that I've wanted to throw my keys at the boss and never come back. But really, it was never the job or work that I didn't like; it was the people I was working with and under. That goes back to that whole patience thing and I really think if I'd had more patience that I would have had an easier time with it all," said Katy Lynn.

All drivers deal with the dangers of the road and the pressures of relating with customers, fellow workers, and dispatchers. Even more frustrating is when downgrading due to gender comes into the equation.

"I was taking a load of plate steel down to a little place in Houston. It was a 48–foot flatbed and it was completely full. In fact, I was a few thousand pounds overweight," said Katy Lynn. "I went inside the office and asked to see the foreman to give the papers to and the man that was sitting inside the door just looked at me. He told me that whoever I was, they weren't buying. I told him I was delivering the plate steel they had ordered. He laughed at me and told me who to go get to unload my truck around back. I went and talked to them, and they had me drive that trailer all over creation and back it around an obstacle course that I can almost swear they set up just to give me a hard time. Well, when I finally got to the dock, the receiver looked me straight in the eyes and said he wouldn't touch anything on my truck because I was a woman. He made me unload the truck," said Katy Lynn. That was the lowest point in her trucking experience.

Through the frustrations and oppositions, the lady truckers hang on and continue to increase their presence in the industry just as Katy Lynn has. "If I could do it all over again, I would most definitely do it again," she said. "Honestly, driving has been what has kept me going. Without going into a whole lot of personal details, I have really been on my own since I was about 14. Driving was one of the one things I could do, that and mechanics, and it's just been the proverbial glue that held me together at times."

Women share the dreams as well as the frustrations of the road with their male counterparts. The trucking world wouldn't be the same without these dedicated ladies of the highways.

By Troy Wallace

Sources: "This Was Trucking" by Robert F. Karolevitz, Bonanza Books, NY 1966; "Open Road" by Axel Madsen, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, NY 1982; and "Ibid."

A special thanks to Katy Lynn for sharing her experiences.