“How come that truck has just been sitting out there,” Bev asked, curious because she was aware that the company was busy.
“What the hell is it to you?” the manager answered.
“Well, if you need a driver, you can hire me,” Bev explained.
“I don’t know what is happening with that truck. Leave me your name and number but call back here at lunchtime,” the manager instructed.
At 11:30 a.m., she returned, with her lunch box in her hand, dressed and ready to work. The manager gave her a steady look, sighed and after a silence that suggested he was unsure how to proceed, he finally spoke.
“Do you know where the pit is up on the 10?’ the manager questioned.
There was no road test, to which she was thankful, because it was the first time she had encountered a dump truck quite like the one that had sat idle for so long – but with practical experience, patience and good old-fashioned know-how, that truck moved.
“If you want a job, you have to go out and get it. If it’s not exactly what you thought it was going to be, don’t wimp out right away. Stay with it,” Bev said. “If I had gone back in there and asked how to get the truck going, I wouldn’t have gotten the job.”
Bev Plummer needed that job and she was neither shy of experience nor a stranger to heavy-duty equipment.
Originally from Cochrane, Ont., Bev began working alongside her late husband.
“I worked with my late husband in heavy equipment; there was always something to drive,” Bev said.
There was always something to drive and it didn’t matter if you were a man or a woman. It never mattered back in the 1960s and 1970s when Bev was working in Northern Ontario, and it certainly shouldn’t matter now – it’s a stance that Bev firmly stands behind, but was surprised that it wasn’t exactly universal.
In 1971, Bev moved from Cochrane to Barrie and was surprised to discover that the industry wasn’t as progressive.
“I got a job as a truck driver with a construction company – I was the first female driver they hired,” said Bev. “I worked locally until my kids were on their own.”
There was no specific reason that Bev kept getting the call to drive, but she simply put it down to the wanderer in her.
“It’s the gypsy in me, I guess – some of us are and some of us aren’t.”
But it wasn’t just driving the open road, seeing new places and meeting interesting people, it was a job and as a single mother of five children between the ages of five and 13 years old, she couldn’t turn away good work.
“When you have five kids that want to live indoors and eat every day, you have to find something that pays a little better all the time,” said Bev and experience told her that it was driving.
It wasn’t always easy to convince a yard foreman or a trucking company manager to hire a woman, a point of contention for Bev that wouldn’t dissuade her.
“(Companies) hire a driver. They don’t hire a man or a woman, they hire a driver,” Bev asserted.
She has never been comfortable with the distinction between a male driver and a female driver – it’s all just a person with a specific skill as far as she is concerned, but it was clear to her that the gender bias ran thick – from the roads where she drove right onto the pages of some of the trade magazines popular at the time.
According to Bev, the emphasis should be placed solely on the driver as a person. The notion of focusing on a woman as a driver seems counter-progressive.
“The more people that try to separate women and men, the harder it will be for women out there to get jobs,” Bev said. “I was out there doing so-called men’s work long before women’s lib came in.”
Men outnumber women in many jobs, Bev believes, noting such professions as law enforcement and the military, but when it came to driving a truck, it was the only job she had where she made the same money as a man – even though she was a minority behind the wheel.
“Men got paid 40 cents per mile and I got paid 40 cents per mile,” said Bev.
Still, “Women are never going to line up (to be a driver),” she believes. “I’ve talked to many of them – I had a friend who wanted to be a driver, but she didn’t become one…When you are out running ten thousand miles a month, you’re not in it just so you can tell someone you drive a tractor-trailer.”
There are no bragging rights, as far as Bev is concerned, it is just about getting a job done and with two million miles racked up on her odometer, she knows how to do it.
Trucks have changed substantially since Bev drove her first long haul – a three-week stint from Barrie to Dallas, Texas. There was no sleeping berth in the truck, just a piece of plywood that could extend from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat – not exactly the most comfortable way to unwind after driving all day – but then there were the facilities.
“When I started out running across the border, there were hardly any showers for women. The Flying J was just starting up in Utah and Petro had a few new ones. Most of the time you just used the men’s room and they put a cardboard sign on the door that read, ‘Woman Inside,’” Bev said with a laugh.
“You’d be in there for five minutes and you’d get some dude pounding on the door, ‘how long are you going to be in there?’ because the showers were inside the men’s washroom.”
The facilities, some so filthy you’d be considered brave just to use them, have changed for the better.
The rest stops have changed and so have the trucks.
“The trucks we have out there now that people are driving, it’s like running an RV,” Bev laughed. “You have everything in them. You can set up a TV, a microwave and satellite TV and radio.”
Handling the equipment has changed and with that transition, Bev would like to see another one alongside it.
“You hear people out there talking about truckers. We don’t want any more truckers out on the road – we want professional drivers,” said Bev. “There’s too many truckers out there now, tailgating cars and billy big-rigging down the highway. We don’t need them.”
Bev has always focused on the fact that she is a driver that is a woman, not a woman driver – something that may seem like semantics, but a distinction she is proud of and hopes others will adopt the same stance, along with a few key pieces of wisdom she has collected on the road.
“Don’t be a lot lizard and don’t talk like a ‘truck driver,’” she advises other women. “I knew a woman that [received her license] ahead of me and every word out of her mouth was f-this and f-that. No one would hire her. That just isn’t necessary.”
What is necessary, Bev gleaned, is always using your head, no matter who you are or where you work.
“I always told my trainees to making a habit of locking their truck doors behind them, even when they were fueling, so you never had to worry about getting into your cab with a stranger stowed away,” Bev said.
She remembered some of the tougher trainees boasting they could handle their own, but always quick to quip, Bev reminded them that even a big tough man is not match against a kid with a gun.
“If you keep your doors locked, your windows up and your mouth shut – you are safe almost anywhere,” said Bev. “It’s the best advice I have ever received.”