No one knows for sure where the yo-yo toy came from. On Wikipedia, there is a picture of an ancient Greek vase dating back about 2,500 years that features a depiction of a boy playing with a yo-yo type of toy. The earliest patent for a yo-yo was granted to James L. Haven and Charles Hettrick of Ohio on November 20, 1866. The invention was an improved version of the commonly called bandalore, which consisted of two disks of metal coupled together at their centers by a rivet. Utilizing a mixture of three different kinds of energy, the toy can be challenging but fun to play with when mastered. But this story is not about the yo-yo toy, it is about a 40-year veteran female trucker who goes by the nickname and CB handle Yoyo.
Lesa Worley didn’t get her handle, that has stuck with her for over 40 years, from the popular little toy. While in high school, she played basketball, and when she dribbled the ball, her hand would turn upside down and then back over before hitting the ball again. It was a strange motion, like you would do to play with a yo-yo toy, but it was just how she dribbled. Carla was a senior and the captain of the girls’ basketball team, and she gave Lesa the nickname Yoyo when she was just a freshman. And it stuck.
That nickname also became her CB handle when she later got on the road. Although not an avid yo-yo player, she did have a lighted yo-yo that she learned to “Walk the Dog” with, and would often perform this trick while walking across the truck stop parking lot, back to her truck, at night. It only seemed fitting. Later, she became a bit of a trucking celebrity, and once did a commercial for Yokohama tires, too.
Not long after graduating, she went with a friend who had the flu and had to be in Macon, GA the next day to pick up a load of peaches. After they got south of Atlanta, he pulled out the throttle and hopped back in the sleeper of his single bunk cabover Peterbilt and said, “You better grab the wheel or there’s gonna be the damndest wreck you’ve ever seen.” She jumped over the doghouse, grabbed the wheel, and didn’t let go for the next 40 years. Back then it was different to get your start trucking, and there were many that “learned as they went” who became awesome drivers – some even legends in the industry.
Peterbilt has always been her truck of choice. Lesa said that the first words out of her mouth to her mom were, “Which way to the Peterbilt dealer?” A few years after she got started, Lesa got an offer to lease-purchase a 1978 Peterbilt 359 with a KT400 Cummins, a 13-speed, and rear ends that would let her stroll. At the time, she had to choose between a marriage proposal or the truck – the Peterbilt was the winner.
Shortly after getting her new ride, on a run to California, Lesa stopped in at the grand opening of one of Loretta Lynn’s Western Stores in Lebanon, TN. Loretta was there, and when Lesa went in with her old straw hat on, she picked out a new black 5X Bailey to purchase. When she got to the register to pay, the young man working said, “No charge,” as Loretta herself had told him that it was a gift to her – a gift she has taken care of and still cherishes over 40 years later, and it still looks brand new.
A short time after she got in this beautiful red Peterbilt, a friend who owned a racetrack in Nashville, TN was planning to put together a bobtail truck race and they thought a girl would help pull in more people. Yoyo was invited to participate, and she even got to do an interview with Ralph Emory to help promote the event.
For those of you who are younger you won’t remember a TV show called Real People. It was a weekly primetime newsmagazine type of show that profiled human-interest stories and people with unique occupations. The focus was on “real people” and humorous individuals, situations and events that highlighted the common man. Or, in this case, woman. Yoyo was the very first feature when the show debuted on April 18, 1979.
The film crew was there at the track to film Lesa running in this bobtail race. Sarah Purcell was the host, and she actually got in Lesa’s truck and let out the clutch. What you didn’t get to see in the clip was how she almost ran into the camera van! Thankfully, Lesa jumped in and pulled the brake.
The race was held at the Atlanta Motor Speedway and the trucks ran heats to see how they would line up in the main event. During the practice laps, Lesa learned that letting some of the air out of the right-side air bags would help keep the truck balanced in the steep banked curves. She ran 110 mph around the track and was the winner of the race. Lesa thanks her mother for her lead foot. Before having kids, her mother ran moonshine in eastern Tennessee in a specially equipped 1944 coupe with two fuel tanks – one tank was filled with gas and the other was full of moonshine!
The first 20 years of her career she hauled produce, the next 10 years she pulled a dry van, and the last 10 years she pulled a flatbed – and she would go back today if her body would let her. In 2010, Lesa had to get off the road due to medical reasons.
Over the years, especially in the early years, Lesa drove some awesome trucks and ran with some pretty awesome drivers. Back then it was hammer down and get the load there on time – no matter what. Thank you to Lesa’s daughter Michelle for helping share some of the pictures of Lesa’s past trucks, which were all built to run and built to last.
Michelle knew how much her mom wanted to get back in a truck one more time. I saw a post she made on Facebook asking for help to arrange this. Gary Henson received a message from Michelle that her mom was terminally ill, and she wanted to arrange for her to have one last ride in a Peterbilt. When asked why they decided to organize the event, Cody Henson said, “Truck drivers are family. It’s what we needed to do.”
Sunday, May 24th, her wish was granted when truck drivers and bikers came together at The Veteran’s Museum at the Dyersburg Army Air Base in Halls, TN for a Ride-A-Thon for Yoyo. John, who had worked with Lesa in the past, pushed her around all the trucks in her wheelchair so she could pick out the one she wanted to ride in. When she chose the cream-colored Peterbilt 379, John smiled and told her that was his truck. After getting help up into the cab, she was asked how it felt and said, “It feels like home,” followed by, “Let’s go west with the best!” She was so happy.
The route began in Halls, TN and then went south through Gates, before eventually returning to the air base. Back at the air base, Lesa hated for the ride to be over, but she is grateful for every one of the truckers and bikers that came out that day to help fulfill her wish. And a big “thank you” for the $1,000 donation they collected at the event, as well.
I would like to thank our friend Mike “The Boston Trucker” Gaffin who keeps in contact with Lesa for sharing her clip of Real People with me and encouraging me to get in contact and tell her story. I have enjoyed our chats about the old times and, recently, conferenced in my friend Vonnie Whitemagpie, who was honored to get to talk to Lesa. Both of these strong women share a Native American heritage, as Lesa is Cherokee and Vonnie is Sioux.
Lesa’s first name is Mirah, and the Indian meaning for it is “running with the wind” – which may have helped her win that race in Atlanta. I would also like to thank Brandon Hutchinson with the State Gazette in Dyersburg, TN for sharing the story and pictures he took at the Ride-A-Thon for Lesa. I always say, you can put the trucks in museums, but when the drivers are gone, the stories are gone. I’m so happy that I got to share Yoyo’s story and have some fun getting to know this amazing woman who was a pioneer and a legendary trucker.