Carmen Anderson did not set out to be a professional truck driver with impressive awards – but that is exactly what she did. After high school, she went to Oklahoma to start her college career in political science. When she was growing up, Carmen’s family never traveled, and she decided she wanted to see the country. And what better way to do that, she thought, than driving in a truck – she would get to see the United States and get paid to do it!
When Carmen took the test in 1980 to get into a truck driving program at a Vo Tech school in Drumright, OK, she scored the highest on the test of anyone who had ever taken it. The people there tried to talk her out of taking the driving course and continue in political science, but she was not going to be talked out of it. Today, some 40 years later, she still feels that she made the right choice back then.
The course was nine weeks long and, during part of that time, Carmen and her “co-driver” (another student) were actually allowed to deliver freight and cross state lines going to Colorado. The weirdest part was that there was no instructor. Four students took two trucks and went to where they were told to pick up loads and then brought them back. After graduation, she was hired on at Pitts Trucking in Hutchinson, KS.
Leaving Wichita, KS on Friday night, they ran to the Northwest, up to Vancouver, WA, and then loaded apples back to Kansas. And for just coming right out of school, she was driving a big ride! This Kenworth double bunk cabover had a KT450, an automatic transmission (not many of those back then), and they even had a phone, which was the very beginning of that in a truck, as well. The man she drove for liked all the new gadgets and technology. She did this for three years before going to Sam Tanksley out of Cape Girardo, MO for a couple of years pulling a reefer. Going home to South Dakota, she worked for Action Carriers out of Sioux Falls, SD before pulling a bull rack for a year.
In 1987 Carmen got pregnant with her son Justin and stayed off the road until he was 17. She got her bus endorsement and drove a school bus and then charter buses before the call of the road got to be too much and she went back to trucking. When she went back, she started pulling a reefer for A&A out of Brandon, SD. It felt good to be back out on the road, without anyone looking over her shoulder.
In 2011 she participated in her first Special Olympics Convoy and, as you might say, the rest is history. Her friend Teri Spencer competed in the Truck Driver Championships event in Florida that year. It was there that Carmen was talking to her friend Teri and Marty Ellis and a few other friends about how they needed someone who had a bus endorsement so they could take the Special Olympic athletes in a bus along the truck parade route. Well, as you might guess, they found their driver. After that, Carmen started going to the Special Olympic Truck Convoy meetings, and in 2012 she got on the organizing committee that she is still on today for the South Dakota Convoy, which is held in Sioux Falls, SD.
In 2013 Carmen joined Women In Trucking (WIT) and has been an active member since. In 2019, WIT President and CEO Ellen Voie asked Carmen to be on the WIT Image Team. It’s comprised of women truck drivers who are out here positively promoting our profession. Along with that, Carmen had the honor of being one of three finalists for the first WIT Driver of the Year 2020. Susie De Ridder from Los Angeles, CA was the winner. Sarah Fiske, a Fed Ex company driver, along with Carmen, rounded out the top three finalists. Congratulations to all three – great job, ladies!
In 2015 Carmen was a winner at the South Dakota State Truck Driving Championships and went on to the Nationals in St. Louis, MO. That year, she was 1 of 5 women competing at the National level. Trucker Buddy was another part of Carmen’s life for three years. She had a class of handicapped children, but when her teacher, Melanie Garvin, retired, Carmen decided that there just wasn’t enough time with all her other obligations. In 2018, when Carmen started working for America’s Service Lines (ASL) out of Green Bay, WI, they submitted her name for the Wisconsin Road Team. They look at the work you do for the industry and how well you can speak, because members talk to driver education classes and go to conventions promoting the trucking industry.
Last summer, Carmen attended the Walcott Truckers Jamboree. While there, my boyfriend John and I got to know her better, as did our friend, Su Schmerheim. Su was WIT’s “Member of the Month” for March 2020, has done radio interviews, and is on the list of “51 Women to Watch” for WIT (she was one of two drivers chosen for this honor). We are very happy to have both these awesome women as friends!
In 2019, ASL submitted Carmen’s name for Driver of the Month for the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association, and last August she was chosen to receive the honor. This put her in the running for Driver of the Year against the 11 other winners that year. Criteria for this honor is you must have a clean driving record, and you must educate and promote the industry in some way.
In March, Carmen was chosen Driver of the Year 2019 by the Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association. In all the research that the folks at the association did, they could not find another solo woman driver who had ever won this award in any other state. There had been a few teams chosen over the years that had a female driver as part of the team, but never before has a solo woman driver earned this award.
When asked about what she likes most, Carmen said she loves the creature comforts in today’s trucks, stand-up sleepers, the Northwest, the freedom of the road and the friendships she’s made along the miles. It’s hard to explain the passion that we have for the lifestyle we have chosen, but if you have that passion, then you understand. One of the most exciting things she’s had happen on the road was a stand-off with a buffalo on Highway 26 in Wyoming!
Today, Carmen travels with her two dogs, Rodney and Otis. Rodney is an award-winning dog himself, winning the “Ugly Dog” contest at MATS three years in a row! Otis is new to the family as of August last year, and Rodney is still learning to share his domain.
I’d like to congratulate Carmen on all her successes and all she continues to do to promote our industry, to both men and women, who might be thinking of trucking as a career. And who better to promote trucking than someone with a 40-year career and tons of awards and accolades – someone who has (and still is) making history!