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Delivering steel and lumber, she found the secret to life

GUELPH, Ont. - What does a typical 42-year-old divorced mother of two teenage girls do when she feels she has reached a crossroad in her life after spending 20 years as a wife and mother? She becomes ...

GUELPH, Ont. – What does a typical 42-year-old divorced mother of two teenage girls do when she feels she has reached a crossroad in her life after spending 20 years as a wife and mother? She becomes a long-haul truck driver, of course.

It must run in the family. Prior grew up as the daughter of a truck driver. Her father, Fred, spent his days hauling construction materials and doing excavating jobs around this small central-Ontario city. Always around trucks, Prior says she first felt the urge to get behind the wheel of a truck as a teenager. Unfortunately, her father had a bit of a problem with that.

“Girls just didn’t do those things in the early 1960s,” Prior says. “It wasn’t really him, it was just the way it was. He died in 1977 at 58, but I’m sure he would be very proud of the fact I became a truck driver.”

So Prior ignored her initial call to trucking and set her sights on a more conventional life. She was married not long after graduating from high school and starting raising a family. For the first part of her married life, Prior tended to the children and her home as her husband advanced his career.

It wasn’t all diapers and runny noses, however. Prior had excelled in public speaking in school, and an outgoing personality made her a natural as a professional speaker. Eventually, she started her own business, called Well-Said, doing fashion-show commentaries and guest speaking and teaching effective speaking courses. The whole picture changed for Prior though in May 1988, when her marriage ended.

Alone in her new apartment, Prior said her life hit rock bottom after her marriage dissolved. Still only 42, she knew she had to make a decision about what she would do with the rest of her life.

“I looked out the window and saw a transport truck driving by,” she recalled. “I just said to myself, I’m going to be a truck driver. I think I realized then that it was what I always wanted to do.”

Prior completed a driver training course and got her A-licence, then went to work hauling flatbed B-trains out West. Working with seasoned owner/operators, Prior learned how to maintain correct weight distribution, check brakes, strap down various loads, repair truck and trailer components and run profitably.

“I absolutely loved it,” she says. “To me, I couldn’t understand why everyone in the world wasn’t driving a truck.”

She ran as a double with various partners for a few years until she had saved up enough money to buy her own rig. In April 1990 she took the plunge with a new Freightliner and became a lease/operator. She spent the next five years driving the Trans-Canada with her 80,000-lb., 26-wheeler. Sometimes one of her daughters would come along for company, but mostly Prior ran alone.

Prior remembers getting her fair share of second looks from truckers, shippers and four-wheelers alike. On one occasion, she recalls shocking the manager of a lumberyard where she was delivering a load. “When I walked in to the office, he called over to me, `Tell the guy to drop it over by the fence.’ And I yelled back,`You’re telling him,'” she laughs.

Prior says most people were surprised to see a woman her age driving a truck, but truck drivers were particularly impressed that she chose to do flatbed work.

“With flatbeds you have to work hard and get dirty,” she says. “You have to tarp and chain and strap in all kinds of weather.”

In 1995, having achieved her life-long dream of becoming a truck driver, Prior felt the need to help other people achieve their dreams. She decided to turn her experience of becoming a successful long-haul trucker into a book. She sold her truck and returned to Guelph and wrote She Delivers Steel, an inspirational account of her pursuit of her truck driving dream. She now travels all over the country talking to people about getting past the roadblocks in their lives. She recently conducted a seminar series at the Truck World 2000 show in Toronto.

“I believe everyone can benefit from following their dreams,” Prior says. “We short-change ourselves if we don’t.” n

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