Girl power

by Sonia Straface

CORUNNA, Ont. – They say if you last your first year in trucking, you’re hooked for life.

And it must be true if the average age of Canada’s professional commercial drivers continues to rise.

One of these drivers who became addicted to trucking since she first climbed up into a cab is La Vonne Walker of Corunna, Ont. She is a veteran truck driver having been in the industry for nearly four decades. Truck driving is all she knows, having started the career when she was fresh out of high school at the age of 18. She claims truck driving is a career she loves and wishes more women tried.

la vonne
La Vonne and her brother Lawny

Walker started her career at the advice of her brothers, Lawny and Laurie, who were truck drivers themselves. They’d often take Walker with them on trips to Toronto and she instantly fell in love with life on the road.

“My driving career just kind of expanded after that,” she said. “I started with my brothers and then I got married to a truck driver and after that my husband and I teamed off-and-on all of our lives, basically.”

She has worked all over the industry, mostly as a driver, hauling lumber and but also tried her hand at dispatching. Her longest driving gig was with Mackie Moving Systems, where she worked for 21 years.

“Mackie was a great company to work for,” she said. “I really enjoyed working with them. They were there for everything. If I had a problem, I could always go to (management).”

After her husband, Les, passed away in 2002, Walker and her brother drove team for the company all over the US and Canada for close to 12 years.

She took a leave from the company after her brother Lawny passed in 2014, saying highway driving wasn’t something she wanted to do anymore.

Today, she works for Wicks Construction based out of Sarnia, Ont. and drives a gravel truck.

“The guys I work with are awesome, they’re all really good,” she said, although she admits the some people in the industry (save for her employers and fellow coworkers) isn’t exactly fair to women.

“As a female driver, I am treated differently,” Walker said. “It seems like you have to do twice as much as a man to be considered half as good as them. As soon as a female walks in, a wall goes up and they think ‘Okay, let see if you can do your job.’ I find that. It always seems like there’s two sets of rules: one for men and one for women. There is discrimination, and I think there always will be.”

She recalls a time when she worked for a lumber company and her driving job involved unloading bags of cement from the truck.

“I went to deliver bags of cement to a customer,” she said. “And I had one guy stand back and watch me unload these bags of cement and he said ‘Well okay, if you think you can do it, do it’. I was kind of upset. I mean, if I were a man, they would have helped me. But because I’m a woman, I have to prove I can do it.”

On top of that, she said there’s the harassment that sometimes comes with being the only woman at truck stops.

“There’s always catcalls from some guys, too, and all that stuff,” she added.

Despite this, Walker claims she likes her job and is good at it. She insists her biggest mission as a female truck driver isn’t to just get more women into the industry but to inform the public what the job is really about.

“I want people to know that there is more to trucking than just driving a truck around a parking lot, like ministers do to promote trucking to women,” she said, referencing a recent demonstration by an Ontario politician. “There’s a lot of work involved. There are other things to consider, too when you are driving. You’ve got to get your loads on and off that trailer. Are you going to run team? Are you going to run single? If there are any problems with the truck can you handle that? It’s just not getting behind a steering wheel and driving a truck. There’s so much more to that, so many more aspects behind the scenes. There are a lot of skills involved. It’s a professional job.”

She added that the bonuses of the truck driving are never highlighted, either, making it harder for women and younger people to join the industry.

“It’s a great career choice,” she said. “If you like to travel and see the country, it’s one way to do it. Plus, the paycheques are not too bad either. I have a friend who I introduced trucking to back in the ’90s and she’s still driving.”

Walker is currently 58 years old and plans to hang her keys up in two years when she retires. She said she couldn’t picture herself doing anything but trucking, and sincerely loves the work she does. She is a proud and professional truck driver through and through. She is an advocate for trucking, who wants the public to know the depth and challenges of the job, but also its benefits.

Let’s hope for more long-time truck drivers like her who make trucking look good.

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  • Should women be truck drivers YES bottom line I have two Daughters in this industry. At first the men where awful as we carry petroleum products and hey their is no way girls can do this job. Well guess what guys these girls come highly sought after by my customers . We pump Jet fuel into water bombers in the far North we bring fuel into the bush camps hundreds of kilometers in the bush where this is no Tim Hortons guys. Now that time has passed men have called me and ask who is driving my trucks. I ask why they say seen one coming from Esso on Finch Ave if their was a half glass of champagne on the hood they wouldn’t spill a drop. The girls by far get better fuel mileage than any man out there. Do they complain about pumping off a load of fuel when the temperature dips below minus 45 never. If I could have more drivers you bet your bottom line they would all be girls.

    • Come on doug is that really called for/There’s nothing worse than a man bashing his own gender. there’s enough women doing that Doug. Lets hope there’s not a whole lot of sexist like you out there.I know you have daughters in the trucking industry. Nothing wrong with that. What there is something wrong with is men like you bashing your own gender.If most trucking companies have your attitude there will be as many men getting pink slips as there are pink cabs on the road.
      shame on you Doug.

  • Doug what a terrible sexist thing to say!There’s nothing worst than men bashing there own gender. There’s tons of women doing that already. I just got through reading another blog in which it said they wanted to get sexism out of male dominated industries. Well Doug they sure didn’t have you in mind because you said positive things about girls and not one positive thing about males. Is that sexism? Of course not because you glorified females so that’s not sexism as long as there is nothing negative said about girls. but its perfectly alright to make out men are a bunch of jerks isn’t it Doug?
    Well if they want to get rid of sexism they should start with you Doug.I am sure there are plenty of men that can drive a truck as well as your daughters if not better.But seeing as how they are your daughters we will have to excuse you because your obviously prejudice .

    But Doug you could have told us how good your daughters drive a truck without inferring that all females drive as good as they do and all men are inferior truck drivers. Give it a try the next time you want to encourage women to be big rig operators. You might surprise yourself that you really can by being honest write a good ad for women without marginalizing men.

    Please give it a try because there are young men who don’t deserve to be marginalized. They need encouragement to. We need more men saying positive things about their gender than what’s going on to day. Its seems marginalizing males is the in thing.

    I got a suggestion as to how to attract more women into the trucking industry. And it doesn’t involve marginalizing men. One of the biggest reasons why more women aren’t entering the trucking industry is their fear of not being able to handle the big rigs. There are now some two hundred thousand female truckers. Now the data reveals that women are every bit as good as the men in handling the big rigs. The problem is that nobody know it except truckers so All the trucking companies should encourage their female drivers to drive a pink cab with the letters in big bold type saying THE NATION’S FREIGHT HAULED BY GIRL POWER.

    That’s like two hundred thousand bill boards going up and down the high ways advertising for recruiting women drivers.
    During the course of even just one day tens of thousands of women will see these trucks and each truck will be driving the message home to the girls that see them will be getting the message yes we can hammered into their minds women will have absolute proof that they need not fear being able to handle the big rigs because they see women driving the big Rigs. You can’t have a better commercial than that.

    to make it work though the cabs have to be pink otherwise people who see these big rigs won’t known they have women drivers.

    And Doug you see there was no marginalization of men. give it a try.