Every November we remember a great friend and awesome ambassador for the trucking industry – Bette Garber. Her famous line was, “I can’t make you rich, but I can make you famous.” She started “shooting” trucks in the late 1970s and continued photographing and writing about drivers and their trucks until she passed on November 13, 2008. Her work documents a lot of trucking history, and her memory lives on in all the friends she made along the way.
I met Bette at the Walcott Truckers Jamboree in 1990 and we became friends. Her first trip with me was to Los Angeles, CA in October 1991. I still have pictures from that trip, and the most memorable one was when she stood on top of my T600 in the Virgin River Gorge so she could get pictures over the barrier in the middle of the interstate. Over the years she took several trips with us, shot stock photographs, and found stories along the way. She had five books published, but she never got to do the personal memoir of her journey in the trucking industry. We had talked about it, and she wanted to title it “A Memory Every Mile” – hence the title of this month’s column.
But this month’s article is not about just Bette, as we are tying the story of another friend of hers together. Susie De Ridder of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada has been a long haul trucker for 44 years and has won many awards over that time. Last year she was honored to be chosen as a TA Citizen Driver Award recipient. The TA Travel Center network created the award to recognize professional drivers who demonstrate traits that bring a high level of respect to the truck driving profession, including good citizenship, safety, health and wellness, community involvement and leadership.
As part of the honor, every Citizen Driver Award winner gets to select a TA, Petro Stopping Center, or TA Express location to be dedicated in their name, allowing their story to be displayed for all travelers that pass through. The TA Susie chose is the one on Lenwood Avenue in Barstow, CA.
Growing up in a trucking family, Susie traveled with her dad from the time she was a toddler. She spent every chance she got around the trucks. If she wasn’t busy helping wash the trucks, she was learning how to drive one – she could drive a truck before she got her license to drive a car. There weren’t many women drivers back then, and when Susie asked her dad why he said, “The steering wheel doesn’t know who is holding it.” It’s a quote she still cherishes after all these years. She set out on a mission after high school to get her license to drive a truck and then went on to pursue her trucking career. That mission has been fulfilled on a very high level.
The TA Citizen Driver Award isn’t Susie’s first time being recognized. She was chosen to be on the Women In Trucking (WIT) Image Team in 2018; cover for Port Magazine promoting International Women’s Month March 2020; first “Driver of the Year” for WIT 2020; named as one of WIT’s (and Fleet Magazine’s) Top Woman to Watch in 2021; was featured on the Wall of Fame at MATS 2022; Women of Inspiration Authentic Leadership Award based on a global platform of five continents 2022; Top Fund Raising Efforts by a Driver for Cancer Research and Awareness in the Atlantic Region of Canada; and the first female to lead a convoy in that region.
As an active volunteer at WIT events and truck shows in Canada and the US, Susie mentors young women at events at high schools and community colleges to promote trucking to future generations. Her lifetime memberships include WIT, OOIDA and OBAC (Owner Operator’s Association of Canada). She is also a regular guest on Sirius XM Radio trucking shows and podcasts.
One night on one of our “party line” phone calls, Susie told us that years ago some of the guys in the shop in Ontario asked if she could stop by West Coast Choppers and get them some t-shirts, since her loads took her near there. She said she would be happy to do it. After she was unloaded, off she went to find this place in Long Beach, CA and when she got there all the guys were on break and came out to see her extra-long nosed “Pinocchio” Peterbilt. It was an awesome place, and Susie took pictures of the mint old cars and choppers inside to show the guys back home.
In the store, she took notice of the aquariums filled with piranhas and the great inventory of shirts. After Jesse James’ wife Karla helped her with her purchases, she went outside and got to meet Jesse himself. She remembers the tattoo on his hand that said “Pay Up $ Sucker” when she shook his hand. All the time she had no clue about the show and how famous this place really was until she got back home and presented the guys with their shirts and told them about her experience getting them. At that point, they filled her in about the show and who Jesse James was.
She delivered to Long Beach, CA often and, after this meeting, she would occasionally see Jesse at a light in one of his cool old low rider cars and he would always give her the thumbs up when he saw her. Her favorite trucks over the years were “Pinocchio” – a custom 1987 359 Peterbilt with a 147” hood and a 320” wheelbase pulling a 48’ stainless spread-axle reefer, a 1957 Peterbilt 281 with a butterfly hood and a “coffin” bunk with a crawl through hole, and a 2007 Peterbilt 379 Legacy (#417 of 1,000).
Susie was hoping to have her truck stop dedication ceremony on her birthday, but because of a collapsed lung she was unable to fly, so the date was set for October 12, 2023. When she called John and I to invite us, John told us that it would coincide with the truck show and NASCAR race being held in Las Vegas that weekend, so we decided to make a week-long vacation of it.
We got a group of friends together and John and I, along with Eva Knelsen and Mark Harter, flew out to Las Vegas to help Susie celebrate this awesome honor. How could a trip out west not include taking a detour to Huntington Beach, CA to see Jean Osugi, one of the founders of 10-4 Magazine, and having a wonderful visit at 10-4’s southern headquarters. So many great memories are in that house and office, and we even took a little time to remember Bette Garber and Erik Sieben. Tons of original 10-4 Express Magazine covers are hanging on the walls from before the name was changed (back) to 10-4 Magazine in 2000.
The day Susie had been waiting for was here! Norma Bradford and her dog Atlas surprised Susie, who thought she was still in Florida, and Jacob Murray drove up from his home in Ontario, CA to join the celebration, as well. Rick White, General Manager of the TA, along with the District 32 Manager Pete “Wicky” Wickramanayake, met us and took us to the room at the Black Bear Diner where they had set up for the reception.
Chuck and Sarah Fiske drove down from Montana to be there, while David, Carol and Martin Kohn drove out from Southern California. Rich and Debbie Weger from Barstow, CA (who have helped with security at the Truckin’ for Kids shows over the years) also joined us. Steen Gronlund, who was a 2019 Citizen Driver Award winner from Denver, CO, had his company work out a load that would get him in Barstow for Susie’s dedication. His truck stop is the Petro in Laramie, WY. Chris, the official photographer from Long Beach, CA, told Susie, “If this trucking thing doesn’t work out, you can be a model.”
At 2:00 PM Rick took us out in the area by the Subway and gave a speech before unveiling a poster with a picture of Susie and her information on it. Then, we went outside, where they unveiled two beautiful bronze plaques – one at the front entrance to the truck stop and the other at the driver’s entrance, featuring Susie and her story. Back inside, we had a nice dinner and a yummy cake.
With such a diverse group of old timers present, we had some great conversations between the drivers and shared memories of “how it used to be” out on the road. Rick White, the General Manager, shared with us a lot of Barstow, CA history that most of us didn’t know. It was really cool. Then, it was time to leave and go off on our next planned adventure – the truck show and race in Las Vegas! Look for that story next month. But for now, here’s celebrating “A Memory Every Mile” in honor of the late Bette Garber and our friend and awesome trucker Susie De Ridder.