Maybe Hollywood has invented a couple, but you might have to come to Montreal to see someone like Marilyne Lapierre sling her rig around town. She just turned 21 and does just fine, say her bosses at AGD Verchres Express Inc. in Verchres.
Do people ask her what it is like to be a woman truck driver and how she got into trucking?
“Yeah, I should run a tape,” she says. Still, she adds, “My favourite compliment is when someone says I do a good job as a truck driver, but act feminine; I like to still act and look like a girl.”
I ask: “That’s better than being told you’re just like one of the guys?”
She replies, “Well I’m not.”
Lapierre picked up her skills driving moving vans.
She says driving schools don’t teach their students the kind of things she learned there.
She laughs about that as she pulls a couple of U-turns while zeroing in on an incomplete address for a titanium oxide delivery in St-Rose.
“There are things you do as a moving van driver and places you have to go where normal truck drivers never go…as long as it is safe,” she says.
“There is a saying in the industry: ‘If it doesn’t fit, we’ll make it fit.'”
Lapierre learned her trade the old-fashioned way. She had gone to Calgary with a couple of friends to sling furniture with Jay’s Moving and Storage, and another female driver took her under her wing and taught her how to drive.
Lapierre spent six months in a straight truck, then took her apprentice Class 1, an air brakes course, and a few months later took her road test.
She isn’t interested in discussing the “woman question.”
She sees the industry, its problems and possibilities from the point of view of a professional driver, period.
When I asked her if the trucking industry should try to recruit more women to help reduce the driver shortage, she asked, “How are you going to do that?”
I answered, “Well, how do you recruit drivers at all?”
She began talking about the problems in trying to recruit teens to the industry when the law says they are too young.
“What are you going to say to a 15-year-old?” she asks, who will likely be on a different career path by the age of eligibility for a Class 1 licence.
As we bounce around the city in a red 1992 International daycab, Lapierre managing the traffic and me wishing I had headache pills to manage me, she mentions how driving schools seem not to prepare drivers for some of the tougher situations.
She tells me about an experience with a driver she was training for Verchres.
“I was training the other woman and she got stuck on a grade on the A-13,” she says.
“It is really hard to downshift going up a hill. I told her to put the truck in neutral, stop the truck, put it in first, let out the clutch really slow and not even touch the gas.
“She was upset because she spent a year in school and they never taught her that.
“I showed her a couple of tricks. Like how to do U-turns,” says Lapierre, laughing.
“It was cool moving furniture. You drive for awhile, do some sports moving people’s furniture, you have your crew.”
As for team driving, Lapierre says, “I didn’t like it. Four hours driving, four hours sleep. After two or three days you are like a zombie.
“It was good money, but it was not for me.”
After her stint with United she answered an ad for a job moving containers.
“I took the job and I liked it.”
The she joined Verchres in 2003, where executive vice-president Raymond Patry and vice-president director general Jacques Dulude tell me how happy they are with her work, especially her ability to quickly get in and out of the sometimes notoriously slow Canadian National (CN) Railway terminal.
On that topic, she says, “I think it is not the fuel, but the waiting time that is killing us.”
But she likes hauling containers: “You go to the Port. You know everyone.”
After picking up 20 pallets of sodium persulphate in LaSalle, Lapierre tells me, “I asked the guy (at the loading dock) if he remembered me from my last visit.
“He said ‘I’ll be with you in a minute, sir.’
“I took off my hat and asked him ‘Do I look like a sir?'”