BROOKVILLE — While many may not think of truck driving as being a profession for women, Virginia Shumaker of Brookville is proving them wrong.
While it was not a career she originally chose — she was a waitress for 25 years — circumstances in her life led her to it and she is enjoying the ride.
“My man had died and I wasn’t making enough money to take care of the household and I needed a little extra money so I went to driving,” she said, explaining why she decided to become a truck driver.
Making the decision was just the beginning, Shumaker had to go to school and had to “run with someone for a while to train me.” But she’s been driving a truck on her own for 14 years. She drove a flatbed for four or five years, “parking the loads and all that,” she says. But back surgery forced a switch to driving a box truck. She now drives a Kenworth for McCauley Trucking Co., New Bethlehem, off of Interstate 80, exit 81.
She used to drive a route to California years ago and will sometimes go out to Arizona to swap trailers with another driver, but her regular routes have her driving to Alabama, Georgia and Florida, as well as New Jersey and New York.
She doesn’t mind traveling on her own, but her parents sometimes take turns traveling with her so they can see some of the country. But they have not been able to travel with Shumaker for a while since her dad was diagnosed with bone cancer and is undergoing chemo treatments.
The hardest part of her job, she says, is waiting to get unloaded or reloaded.
“It depends on where you are at and how long it takes them because we have the electronic log now. I’ve been running it about three months, and I like it, but there’s some times you’d like to go that little extra mile and you can’t,” she says with a laugh. “It, the little box on the dash, will send them a warning that you’re going to be over your 14 or you’re going to be over your eight hours before your break. And they can look on the computer and see about where you’re at now.
“I have a goal in mind and that’s what I do. I don’t stop to mess around. I go do what I have to do and be where I have to be and then I can start out the next day fresh. Because you can’t make any money if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do,” she says.
While truck drivers travel a lot of miles and see a lot of the country, they don’t normally have time to stop and enjoy the sights. Shumaker agrees that usually is the case but sometimes if “you’re running ahead of schedule” you can take a break, she said. She is mandated to take a half-hour break before eight hours are up, she notes.
“And a lot of places you may like to go to, you can’t get a truck in, so you just keep going,” she says.
The “money and the camaraderie” are what she enjoys most about her job.
“There’s a little group of us that talk every day on our headsets because you have to be hands-free,” she said, noting that if you don’t you can be fined.
There have been tough moments over the years because of her being a woman, she says.
“Usually women drivers – you don’t hear them on the CB because guys always have something ignorant to say,” she said, adding not all guys, but a lot of them.
Shumaker takes precautions when she’s on the road by herself. She goes to the restroom facilities before she parks her truck for the night.
“I don’t get out of my truck after dark,” she says. It’s a safety thing for her, she notes. “I don’t get out and wander around after dark unless I’m at the fuel island and go in there and get what I want...after that I go park.”
So what about when a truck breaks down?
Shumaker says if a tire goes flat or someting major happens she has to call someone else, but she’s changed hoses and clamps herself. The little repairs she can do, she will, but not a flat tire as a tire weighs 100 pounds or more.
“You know when you hear that big pop you probably blew a tire and you have to get to the shoulder,” she says, adding then it’s a call to the company.
She has advice for other women who might be looking to drive.
“It’s not bad. I don’t listen to the CB. I may have it, but I don’t talk on it. I just do my job. You can be as good as any man. I can back in just as good as any man. You just have to do your job. The thing is being away from your family, but I’m home every weekend and get three weeks’ vacation every year and paid holidays. It’s all in what you make of it just like any job,” she says.
To Shumaker, driving isn’t lonely, she says. The people she meets at the sites she delivers to have become friends. She has regular stops on her routes and can name people at each who she has gotten to know over the years. They become like family and she enjoys catching up with them when she see them. But she also enjoys returning home to spend time with her children and grandchildren as well.