Women in Trucking - Preparing for the Road
Planning, Packing and Patience
Congratulations on joining the trucking industry! Your lifestyle is about to drastically change and so will your priorities. While driving a truck seems adventurous and romantic, there will be a mixture of up days and down days. Truck driving isn't easy and if you're unprepared, you might find yourself experiencing one disappointment after another. But with proper planning, packing and patience, you can keep the adventure of your job at the top of your list.
When I left for orientation to begin my training several years ago, I packed my bags as if I was going on vacation. With three duffle bags in tow, one backpack and one laptop computer, I quickly realized that I missed the extra hands of my husband who I would normally designate to carry the extra weight. My trainer quickly taught me a valuable lesson when he told me that the baggage was welcome, but I would get to sleep with it on my cot–sized top bunk.
Women have a tendency to over pack regardless of how long their stay is, but overpacking for orientation and departure on a trainer's truck will leave you highly uncomfortable and miserable.
Additionally, I endured the dirty rest stops and truck stop restrooms, and held my bladder longer than any one person should! After feeling and looking like a man, I found ways to not have to compromise my femininity. Just because trucking is known as a "man's world" by some, it doesn't have to be. There are shortcuts and tips that will make life out on the road more tolerable for you. I have listed several of my life lessons and ideas, and even shared a few I've heard from others. It's up to you to take what useful information you want and leave the rest.
Leaving on a Trainer's Truck
DON'T OVERPACK! The items you will carry with you will be slightly different than what you would carry if you were a solo driver. When you are with a trainer, you are in training, not at a fashion show. You are also in another person's truck, which may double as his/her home. It is important to pack only the necessities. Your trainer will most likely provide you with the basic tools necessary to get the job done. Additionally, he/she will provide your paperwork and most office supplies. After you graduate training, you will be given the opportunity to get a run by the house and gather the necessities for your own truck.
When packing your clothes, remember that you have limited space within which to store your belongings. In fact, there may be no room at all and you will be forced to sleep with whatever luggage you brought with you. If you've never seen the top bunk of a 70–inch sleeper, it's not full size and does not accommodate a mattress. It is to your advantage to take only the necessary items and live without some conveniences for a few weeks. Trust me when I say you will be glad you did!
The Necessary Items When Training
- Seven changes of clothes (bring clothes appropriate for both warm and cool weather)
- Extra underwear and socks
- One jacket
- One rain poncho
- One pair of sunglasses
- One pair of safety boots
- One pair of tennis shoes
- One pair of work gloves
- Sleeping bag
- Toiletry and shower items in a separate, small knapsack or duffle bag
- Two pens
- Spiral notebook for taking notes
- Laundry soap (tablets are more convenient)
- Extra bag for dirty clothes storage
Permanent Personal Items for a Woman to Have With Her
Truck stops, rest areas, warehouse restrooms and other public restrooms are dirty and germy places. Because women's personal needs are vastly different than a man's, there are various ways women can make their life on the road easier.
- BODY POWDER: This item in and of itself is one of the most useful items you can use. Did you know that sprinkling a little powder in your hair will freshen it between washes? Sprinkling a little powder on your sheets or sleeping bag will freshen cold, stiff sheets. Sprinkling powder in your shoes will help absorb moisture and using antibacterial powder in your socks after stepping out of a public shower will help deter foot fungus. Dabbing a little baby or face powder over your makeup will keep eyeliner and mascara from running and will seal in your foundation base to make it last longer.
- BODY LOTION: Temperatures and air quality change as you travel. Air in the higher elevations can dry your skin quickly. Using your body lotion before and after you head over the higher elevations will keep your skin from itching.
- BOTTLES: Keep shampoos, conditioners and other bottled toiletries inside a separate zipper–seal bag. Air pressure changes cause the pressure in your bottles to pop open the lids. By keeping them in a plastic baggie you can avoid a big mess later. Avoid pump style toothpaste, as the pressure inside the bottle will force toothpaste out of the flip top lid.
- STAY COMPACT: It is easier to use and refill travel–size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, etc., than to carry a bag of full–size, heavy items. One full–size hair dryer is nearly three times heavier than the smaller, compact type. It is a reality that shower lines can be long. An 8–10 pound shower bag can get very heavy after holding it for a half hour or more.
- DEODORIZER/ANTIBACTERIALS: You will shower in a public shower. You "assume" that the janitor did his job. But what if he didn't? You don't know who was in there ahead of you. It would be to your advantage to carry a can of deodorizer or antibacterial spray for the shower and floor area. Foot fungus is prevalent in public showers and is very contagious. Antibacterial wipes are an excellent idea when using the restroom in a rest area as well.
- BABY WIPES: Baby wipes are a must. Many brands now have soap wipes using your favorite brand of soap! Just use and throw away. No water, no mess. There may be days when getting a shower will not be possible. In these instances, wipes are very handy. They also have millions of uses in a truck such as cleaning up sticky messes from spilled soda, or cleaning dirt or fifth wheel grease and grime off your hands. The uses of baby wipes are endless!
- PORT–A–POTTIES: No woman driver needs to go without a port–a–potty. Most of them are small and have easy cleanup. The investment, while a little steep at first, will be worth its weight in gold when you are unable to find a restroom!
General Maintenance/Truck Must Haves
After running team with my husband for several years, I got used to the convenience of waking hubby up to do all the dirty work for me. Imagine my surprise when I found out that life wasn't so easy as a solo driver? My stubbornness to listen to advice from other drivers taught me the error of my ways. While my experiences are small as compared to many senior drivers, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the basics; but why learn the hard way?
I have pulled on tandems and fifth wheels until there wasn't an ounce of strength left in me, and have known only how to pout when I found myself in mechanical emergencies. Below are a few tips I learned from other drivers while out on the road that made my driving days easier.
Necessary Tools to Make Your job Easier
- GLOVES: Find gloves that fit. Mens gloves can be bulky and too large to stay on. Rubber gloves for fueling are best and a second pair of leather grip gloves for pulling tandems and opening trailer doors would be ideal.
- FIRST AID: Always keep a first aid kit with you. Stock it well.
- PULLING TANDEMS: There are several tools necessary for pulling tandems. They range in price from $10 to over $100. You can spend a small fortune in finding the "right" tool. However, what works without fail is a $4.00 radiator or small engine belt of some sort. The problem with pulling tandems is leverage. With an engine belt, you can get a good grasp and good leverage, and can use all your available strength without hurting your back. It works well on pulling fifth wheels too! However, use a newer belt and not one with cracks to avoid injury.
- LONG STEM TIRE PRESSURE GAUGE: Checking your tire pressure daily is very important, but it can be cumbersome with a small tire pressure gauge. The long stem gauges are available in a truck stop for a little extra money, but they will enable you to get a good and accurate reading without the difficulty of struggling with a smaller gauge.
- CHANGING HEADLIGHTS: I found out what an Allen wrench was when I had to change a headlight at a DOT inspection. Always carry one, as some headlights require an Allen wrench to change the light!
- RUBBING ALCOHOL: A few drops of rubbing alcohol in the fuel lines dissipate moisture that accumulates in airlines in very cold weather. Also, rubbing alcohol poured on the doors of an icy trailer door handle or other frozen components will enable you to release frozen doors, fuel tank lids or keyholes.
- SCREWDRIVER & HAMMER: Keep both of these items with you at all times. They are two very necessary tools that you will use on a regular basis. (A screwdriver hammered through the top of a fuel filter can be used to twist the filter off when the proper tools aren't available. Be careful however; it can get messy so take extra precaution and use this only in an emergency.)
- JUMPER & KNEEPADS: An old jumpsuit and a pair of garden kneepads are must haves when having to adjust your slack adjusters or crawl underneath the truck or trailer. Both will keep you from having to change your clothes and will protect your knees from rocks, pebbles and slivered glass fragments.
- PIECE OF CARPET: The bottom of a small piece of carpet quickly removes bugs and tar from your truck paint, grill or windshield without damage to your truck.
- PAINT SCRAPER: An old paint scraper works beautifully when having to pry ice off of mirrors, windows or windshields.
These are only a few examples of ways to make road life more tolerable. There are hundreds of other uses of household items and tools to make your job easier. While it sounds silly at first, there will come a time when you will find yourself making up your own helpful hints!
The best advice you need when trying to perform the most difficult of tasks is, "Where there's a will, there's a way." With those words in your mind, your opportunities for getting a job done are endless!