Getting together and reminiscing about the past is one of my favorite things to do. So, when I recently got a call from my friend Vonnie Whitemagpie asking if I wanted to hang out with her and some of her veteran trucking friends (all women), I jumped at the chance. They were going to be meeting in Florida this particular Saturday, and as luck would have it, my boyfriend John and I were both going to be there. She said that she had planned the visit just to get together, have lunch and reminisce a little. It sounded like a great time!
I asked if it would be okay to invite an old friend of mine who had started back in the day like Vonnie’s two friends, and she said sure. So, I called Joyce Thrift, and when I asked her to join us, she said it would work out for her to be there, too. I teased that I was going to bring the entertainment and, for those of you that know John Jaikes, you know that he will make people laugh. And, making us all giggle like schoolgirls, he did not disappoint.
Our meeting place was the Love’s in Ormond Beach. When we got there, Joyce had just arrived. After exchanging our hugs and hellos, we went inside to find the other three ladies. Looking around, we didn’t see Vonnie, but John said there were two ladies sitting there and they could be the ones we were looking for. When I asked them, he was right – it was Margie Brady and Michelle White. Michelle knew right away who John and I were from Facebook. Doing what good truckers do, we sat down and started talking. A few minutes later, Vonnie came out from her shower, and then we all decided to make the “long” trip to Hooligan’s Bar & Grill. Sitting outside on the patio, we began what was to be an awesome visit.
I have said for a long time, “If you have been trucking for a day, you have a trucker story.” And when you get five women and one crazy man together, all with a combined total of 169 years of trucking experience, you have a lot of stories! John Jaikes (who was featured on our January 2018 cover) likes to make people smile and laugh, so he told jokes and added some stories of his adventures on the road. Many of the experiences we discussed were shared by all of us.
Four of us started trucking back in the 70s, and we were having a great time sharing what we all remembered of what it was like back then, like having the shower guarded by a man, be it a husband, boyfriend or just someone to guard the door. We fondly remembered some of our favorite old truck stops, routes that we loved to run, places that were good and some that were bad, and haven’t changed. The conversation got around to how each of us got started in trucking. Back then, it wasn’t common to see women in trucks like today. One thing that all of us at that table agreed on was that we were happy we got to start our trucking career when we did.
Margie Brady told us how she graduated in May 1971, and by June, she was riding in a truck with her boyfriend. He taught her how to drive but she didn’t get her license until 1978. When she went to the DMV, the girl there knew who she was and knew that she could drive, so she got her license, which cost $14. Over the years, she ran team, but it wasn’t her cup of tea. She bought her first truck – a 1988 blue 379 Peterbilt with a standup sleeper and a 425 CAT hooked to a 15 over and straight pipes. “Bertha” had lots of chicken lights and chrome. Margie paid $10,000 for her, worked her for a year, and then sold her for $20,000. Then, she bought her next truck named “Barney” – a brand new 2000 purple 379 flat top Peterbilt. The third truck she bought was a 2000 W900 with a Studio sleeper that she called the “Black Bitch” – she had a 475 CAT and a 13-speed. Over the years she pulled reefer, dry boxes and cow wagons, but her trailer of choice was a skateboard.
Back in 1976, Michelle White was working as a fuel cashier at the Union 76 in Bartonsville, PA. She would get off work at midnight and then ride with a guy who drove an old cabover Brockway and came through every night about that time on his way to the Hunt’s Point Market. He was teaching her to drive, and after a couple of months of doing this, he decided he didn’t want to run local anymore. They started running as a team, going from Iowa to Hunt’s Point in New York, hauling swinging meat. On the second round, he told Michelle to stop at the rest area in Pocono and then called someone to come get him – he was done, and she was on her own. It was winter and snowing, but she knew she had to get that load delivered.
She had to ask someone to back her truck in later that night because her partner had done all the backing. When she called in the next morning and told the boss what had happened, he told her to bring the reload back to Iowa and he would give her a chance to make it on her own – and she did. “I am woman. I can do this!” and, “How bad do you want it?” were two phrases that kept her going. Practicing her backing in empty parking lots, she pretty much learned on the job – no school – just do or die. She says the first couple of years were so much fun she would have done it just for someone to give her food. She is a six-time cancer survivor, thanks to early screening. She shared that message and started many conversations because of this fact being on the side of her 2009 ProStar truck. Michelle had to retire in 2011 for medical reasons.
Joyce Thrift has been my friend since back in the 90s, when we used to show our trucks at some of the same events. I remember her bright yellow “Dream Chaser” Freightliner. Joyce started her trucking career back in 1978, too. She was working for an accountant and one of his customers was a Red Ball Moving agent. He asked her to come to work for him and take inventory of the warehouse. There was a driver in there one day and Joyce and her daughter rode with him to College Station, TX and back. It was then that she fell in love with driving. When she got back, she told her boss, “I want to drive.” He told her if she wanted to learn that he would teach her – and he did.
Over the years, Joyce pulled all sorts of freight, running both team and solo. Her favorite truck was the one her and her husband Bob, the love of her life, restored. “Southern Breeze” was a sharp burgundy and black cherry 1973 Peterbilt 288 TA. The “T” stood for tilt hood (this was the first year this model didn’t have a butterfly hood) and the “A” stood for an all-aluminum frame. The truck was powered by a Cummins Big Cam 4 with 3:70 rears. Joyce lost Bob on July 30, 2010, and she still misses him dearly.
Vonnie Whitemagpie was burned out from working in behavioral health and, after her divorce was final, she began looking into truck driving schools. She was accepted by Prime, went to school, and then got started. That was 17 years ago. Since then, she has pulled a reefer or a dry box for most of her career, but recently is trying her hand at heavy haul. All of us applaud her for what she is doing. It’s not easy, but with her sheer determination and “I can do it” attitude, she will definitely succeed.
We all want to thank Vonnie for making this get together happen. Some of us knew each other when we got there, but all of us were friends when we left. Now, we get to continue chatting and remembering when trucking and drivers were different, and share our memories of how it was in the beginning, back when drivers had to use pay phones, there were no private showers, and there were no fridges or microwaves in trucks. Some of us still have notebooks that we wrote load and destination details in for the freight we were hauling. I still have recipe files of directions to hundreds of places that we picked up or delivered to in California, Wisconsin and Illinois.
If you get a chance to get a few (or a bunch) of old drivers together, don’t miss the opportunity. Like I say, “You can put the trucks in museums, but when the drivers are gone, the stories are gone, too.” Help keep the stories of the ones who loved and drove these old trucks alive. And just think, there will come a time when the trucks out here today will be old and the stories of the times we’re living in now will be those of “back in the day” and “remember when” – stop and let that sink in!