There are those who head down one path in life, but sometimes that path is not straight. They eventually get to where they are supposed to be, but only after some twists and turns along the way. Debbie Setter of Fargo, ND always knew she wanted to go trucking, but it didn’t happen as quickly as she would have liked. Coming from a trucking family, she had a desire for trucking, but it wasn’t encouraged, so she had to press a little harder than most, even though she knew she was destined to drive.
The eldest of four children from Leo and Karen Setter, Debbie and her family resided in Devils Lake, ND. Leo started out in the custom combining business, but eventually transitioned into trucking. He had started K&S Transport and was leased onto his brother’s company, D&S Transport out of Moorhead, MN. At 12 years old, Debbie and her family moved to Horace, ND, which is a small suburb just south of Fargo.
Growing up within a trucking family, it isn’t much of a surprise that trucking was what Debbie wanted to do in life. At around three years old, Debbie was already riding around with her dad in the truck and absolutely loved it. In school, Debbie took an aptitude test, and the test came back with diesel mechanic or truck driver. Debbie had her learner’s permit for several years and gained some experience with moving the trucks in and out of the shop at the yard.
Over the years, Debbie did various jobs within her mom and dad’s company, including helping her mom with all the bookkeeping. Her father, however, was adamant that he didn’t want her to get into trucking. Debbie obtained her Class B CDL in 1991 to start driving a school bus and then moved into the trucking industry in 1993, working in dispatch. Her and her ex-husband had started buying their own trucks for their company, Golden Prairie Transport.
The previous mention of Debbie’s dad not wanting her to drive proved futile. Debbie was going to have a friend teach her how to drive, but Leo wasn’t having it. Even though he was adamant that no daughter of his was going to drive a truck, he was definitely the only one that would be teaching her if she did. With his training, Debbie got her Class A CDL in 1995. This was also the year she purchased her first truck – a beautiful white 1994 Peterbilt 379. Up until this point, Debbie was a stay-at-home mom, and the trucks purchased were for supplemental income. In 1997, she went back to working for a trucking company as a dispatcher and was later moved into the Safety Department.
Fast forward, past other trucks she owned, when it was time to order a new truck, which was a painstaking process of figuring out exactly what she wanted. And the wait, she said, was like waiting for a baby to be born! Debbie ordered the truck in June of 2018 and didn’t take delivery of it until February 1, 2019.
The pictured truck is jokingly called “Owe’n” because she is owing a lot of money on him. The truck is a uniquely customized 2019 Kenworth W900L with a 565 Cummins, an 18-speed, 3.36 rear gears, and a 285” wheelbase. Over the years, Debbie had learned exactly what she did and did not want on a truck and she was extremely particular when she ordered this one. She has a summer and winter bumper for reasons most who run all 48 states plus would understand. Both bumpers are from 12 Ga. Customs, with more lights on the summer bumper (as shown in the photos), and the winter bumper only having a light on each end. The truck also has a RoadWorks blind mount visor and directional/turn signals from Shift Products. The KW was ordered with a Studio sleeper, which Debbie fell in love with when her dad purchased a 1994 Kenworth W900 with just the third Studio sleeper ever built.
Upon closer inspection, the KW also has California hookups, where the airlines come out of the back of the truck, along with full lockers, which is like four-wheel drive for a big truck. Also ordered were fuel tank heaters, fuel filter heaters, and extra insulation in the cab and sleeper, which is all part of the Arctic Package. From front to back, the truck has metal braided stainless-steel airlines, and there is also an extra valve to over-inflate the airbags to lift the suspension. This over-inflation of the airbags feature allows Debbie to easily lift the truck or trailer up to help her get through tight or low clearance areas. The interior is definitely Debbie’s home away from home with a custom Seattle Package that includes upholstered cabinet doors and a custom-ordered bed (instead of a couch) for more storage space.
The Special Teal Effect and Oyster White colors on the truck were factory ordered and inspired by a floral arrangement she had in her living room. There was one disappointment – when Debbie picked up the truck, the frame was not the correct color. Upset was an understatement, however, with the steady hands of Keith Eccles of Raw Tin Garage out of Salt Lake City, UT, pinstriping was added that brought all of the colors together and made the truck look like it was planned like this all along.
In August 2020, Debbie took the plunge and ordered her first trailer, as she had always pulled a leased trailer. She took delivery of this trailer in April 2021 and dubbed it “Anita” (“I need a” load). The 2022 trailer is a custom 53’ Wilson step deck. Debbie said pulling a step deck is way more laid back and there is little to no sitting around. She enjoys tarping, for the most part, because it is therapeutic. Debbie runs all 48 states and Canada, but she really enjoys going west because of the beautiful scenery. What is her favorite part of trucking? She considers herself a paid tourist, because she gets paid to see things that most people have to pay to see!
Acknowledging that trucking has evolved, Debbie said that the industry has proved to be way more welcoming to female drivers/owners over the years. She recalled a story from several years prior about heading back to her truck after being in the truck stop. After being stopped by a security officer, she had to prove that her truck was hers and that she wasn’t just a “lot lizard” walking the truck stop lot. To women looking to get into trucking, Debbie said, “Be confident in yourself, don’t come into trucking thinking you are better than anyone else, and never stop learning.”
One of my favorite parts of writing feature articles is the trucking stories. The funnier the better, I think, and Debbie has no shortage of funny trucking stories. We always laughed as she refers to herself as the “Lucille Ball” of trucking. One story she told me I made her repeat so I could write it down because it was so funny. If anyone has had the opportunity to hear one of Debbie’s stories, you know how great at storytelling she is! This particular story was about how she managed to shut down the westbound Banning scale with her truck one day in January 2020.
The Banning scale is off I-10 in Banning, CA. Earlier that week, Debbie had the truck serviced, which included the changing of the oil and fuel filters. On this particular day, the weather had been fluctuating from cold to warm. Normally, she just bypasses the scales, but that day the PrePass was shut off, so everyone had to pull into the scale. The truck wasn’t responding as it should as she was coming off the interstate and, as she came up behind another stopped truck, her Kenworth just shut down. She tried to start it, but it was starving for fuel and the “Starter Protection Mode” light was lit on the dash. Being about a half mile from the scale and totally blocking the entrance, she got out of her truck and walked to the scale house.
When she got to the scale house, she found a big, tall, DOT officer there who was already chewing out a couple other drivers. He turns to Debbie and says, “Is that you blocking my scale?” In response, she broke down crying and apologized. He stated that he was going to need to call a tow truck in and she said, “No, it has to be something simple and, well gosh darn it, just look at how beautiful the truck is. It just has to be something simple!” He told her, “Start walking, and by the time I get there, if it isn’t started, I’m calling a wrecker.”
So, Debbie began her walk of shame back to the truck while honks and waves from the passing trucks happened. She told me she felt like she was at a pageant with all the waves of thanks as the trucks didn’t have to drive into the scale. She got back to the truck and opened the hood as the officer arrived in his car. The officer asked if she figured it out and she said, “You guys inspect these, so you should know what is wrong!” He replied, “We inspect, we don’t fix.” To which Debbie came back with, “Then what good are you then!” He again stated the need for a tow truck, but she told him to just wait.
There is a glass dome for the water/fuel separator and Debbie realized that it hadn’t been tightened properly and was allowing air in. Basically, it vapor-locked itself. After tightening it up and priming the fuel filters, the truck finally started. Running over to the squad car, where the officer was on the phone with the tow company, she did her best impersonation of the “Superstar” movement from the 1999 movie named the same, which starred Molly Shannon. Throwing peace signs, she added, “Oh my God, it started!” The officer smiled and, over the PA system, said, “Get outta here lady!” Debbie’s stories are pretty entertaining, including one where she was pulled over for speeding. The officer asked if her truck was a show truck and her response was, “It’s not a show truck, but it’s a fast truck.” But not all the stories are funny.
One day she was picking up an oversize load at Richie Bros. in Morris, IL. If she didn’t load quickly, she would be stuck there for the weekend. She had to load a backhoe and a dump truck, and a guy there offered to help, because she needed to put a plank under the backhoe as it was being loaded. The guy lifted the machine up with the bucket but prematurely set it back down – on her hand. She calmly said to lift the machine back up, but he panicked and set the machine down all the way instead of lifting it back up. She thought she was going to lose her fingers, but 63 stitches later, she was back on her way.
The very next day, while switching trailers, her foot got caught on an airline and she fell and knocked herself out. After visiting a specialist, she was told she might lose her fingers, but she was determined. For the next eight weeks, she had the wounds cleaned every day and, in the end, kept all those fingers.
Today, 56-year-old Debbie, an Owner Operator running under D. Setter Trucking, LLC, remains leased on with Heritage Transport, Inc. out of Alexandria, MN since signing on June 14, 2013. She is the proud mother of four children and is known as “Truck Grandma” to her 10 grandchildren. The most influential individuals in trucking are her father Leo and her brother James. Leo because she had always admired him and wanted to be like him – he was a great teacher who let his kids do and be what they wanted – and her brother because he is very particular and a perfectionist. It may have looked like she was in competition with her brother, but Debbie looked up to him and wanted to be as good as he was. Unfortunately, after several medical issues, Debbie lost her father on August 3, 2015.
I met Debbie for the first time at the 2019 ATHS National Convention in Reno, NV and we just clicked. She has become a great friend of mine and through that, I learned, just like all my other articles, she deserved to have her story told. We photographed the truck in one day and were fortunate that there was still just enough green left and a little fall colors to make each photo look amazing. I was also able to get photos of Debbie loading as I was able to ride along with her. It was originally going to be a “quick” loading process, but y’all know how trucking is. The quick went from loading around noon to not arriving back in Fargo until 11:00 PM.
Special thanks from Debbie to her mom, Karen, because she is always there for her in some way, shape or form, whether during good or bad times. Thanks to Heritage Transport that is a company full of individuals who have helped her through hard times, continues to be supportive, never gave up on her, and continues to believe in her potential. Thanks also to the friends who have been there for her, helped her, and showed support along the way. Lastly, thanks to Wallworks in Fargo, ND for always taking good care of the truck when it is in for service or repairs.
Big thanks to Debbie for the time we had hanging out in North Dakota, all of the laughs and, most of all, the continued friendship. This was my first trip to the state, as none of my travels had ever taken me through there. Some of us have a kept desire to go trucking, while others, like Debbie Setter, who was destined to drive, go out and make it a reality. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.