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 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.