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Trucking the’gals’ way !

“The Request Project” An interview with Ruth Degen-Mackenzie, veteran driver

Sunday 6:30 pm as I stop to park my vehicle in front of the ACS (Armour Courier Service) builing on Edingbug Dr. in Moncton, a sand coloured GMC pick up truck stops in a near distance, it's the security guard, I decide to walk over to let him know about the purpose of my presence. Fifteen minutes later appears a white Freightliner Cascadia carrying a box trailer identified as SLH, recognizable to its colour scheme.

Ruth Degen-Mackenzie is pulling into the yard as the eighteen wheeler describes a wide loop in the middle of rising dust.

From the time she was dispatched and left with her load at Bridgewater Nova Scotia up in Moncton, less than five hours had passed. On schedule for our meeting, my camera focuses, already zooming on the motion sequence. Looking at the massive semi immobilized and introductions made, yet talking about all sorts and soon completing the photo shoot the ice would soon be broken!

But first things first, “there’s absolutely no lady thing” with Ruth and laughing about it, we then settle for “trucking gal” as her proper way to bring up our subject as far as introducing women in the trucking context.

Born on June 17, 1959 in Digby N.S. Ruth comes from a family whose grand father had been driving box trucks for local companies at one point in his life. Being a second generation driver by following those footsteps, one can surely testify that her fourteen years of experience behind the big wheel (including ten driving as team) runs in her blood. Currently working for SLH (Sears Long Haul) mostly running Canada/U.S. and travelling two main corridors; hauling basically tires from the Nova Scotia Michelin plant to South Carolina, Maryland, Alabama, Arkansas and Illinois states and delivering back to Canada. “We also haul tires from the province to Montreal QC and London ONT amongst other goods”. Finding her comfort zone with this company underlines all the importance and also the meaning of her past experiences. And yes, a million miller she is. Accumulating as well as logging in countless hours of operation is easier said than done she reminds us.

I asked Ruth what kept her there? “The respect and good treatment given to the drivers…” and adding “…It’s so great! The dispatchers have your back and do whatever they can to make things right… The runs are great also!” As I still listen, she replies “This company runs almost exclusive drop & hook, so not being stuck on a dock or unloading. If a tire load isn’t ready, then they will send you to pick up appliances or some other things that Sears sells. So there’s no sitting around; it is very, very rare to get a layover! They give you more than enough time to deliver. But should something happen, you just let them know and no questions asked. They only change the appointment time. If you get somewhere and there is no load ready, you still have driving time; they pay you for lost driving time.” In conclusion she mentions “I wish I had started there from the beginning.”

Trucking from Ruth’s perspective brings her back to her childhood memories when, at the young age of 13, she remembers pointing up at trucks passing by and telling to her friends “I’m going to drive those one of these days which would put them into hysterical laughter.” (I was so short…). And that resonating phrase “you won’t be able to reach the pedals!” surely made its effect; only in her mind it had a much different meaning. Thinking “Where do they go and what do they get to see!”.

Sure enough, her dream came to be, only much later in life after going on a trip in the U.S. with her eighteen year old sun who already had his class 1 driver’s license. She knew at this point in time what to aim for. E.I. (Employment Insurance) had given her the opportunity to join a local truck driving program. More determined than ever, Ruth had also convinced family and relatives of their full support and encouragement. No one, she says, was surprised about her decision. “My mom was proud of me doing it yet at the same time she worried. But she seemed to be a little more at ease as long as I ran team”.

Thereupon, Ruth is part of the growing presence of women whose contribution bring a whole new approach to this way of life as it does within the trucking industry. “Most people have no idea what this industry is about; but when I tell them I get paid to travel, you can see the light coming in their head so-to-speak.” The fact is that in a daily routine, drivers are bound to adapt themselves with numerous situations including driving time and in many cases long sleepless hours.

And the industry itself is in a constant changing mode. Finding your place and fitting in is a matter of three important elements in Ruth’s book: education, mentoring and security. Her advice to future generation who seek or ambition the specific profession would be the following recommendation: “…It would be nice to get the gals out there on career day, bring the truck and show things off, help them getting a good start on trucking life”.

A lot of drivers, such as Ruth Degen-Mackenzie, travel with a pet as companion. Mr. Chewie was seeking for a home and was offered as a gift to her husband as she states it: “This day I know because it was the hubby’s birthday gift…

Now this is the kicker, I’m getting a free Main coon cat, and his answer is no! (I never understood why he said that)”. As for me this cat made an impression on me just by its size. I never thought how big they could be.

Spending time on the road means making some for our interview when at a stop, at the end of the day (when extra energy can be spared) or on her days off. It made me realize that Facebook came in handy as more than half of our conversation was done over the keyboard.

A full working week has passed, crossing a long period of heavy rain stretching from Tennessee to Ohio state (640 miles) really puts you on your toes. Having logged in 3846 miles all combined and waiting for the next trip. As she recalls, the Freightliner is her rolling home; being away most of the time has develop Ruth’s sense of steady routine, particularly on well managed organisation around pre-trips. From home cooked meals to last minute verification’s of her truck prior to departure time.

On another note, Ruth describes herself as a ‘witch’ “To me a Witch is someone who listens to your feelings, pay attention to surroundings, learn to read and see the signs so to speak”; Being connected with life and people is a rule and fitting in a man’s world takes much determination even today; only in Ruth’s opinion it’s all in the mind and pretty simple: “If you want it bad enough you will become a trucker”… “We have more patience and we are more careful… I think the mother side of us really wants to make sure we don’t hurt anyone or anything”. In conclusion her professional background can be described as a hard one but well earned as far as experience is concerned.

Ruth Degen-Mackenzie to me is a living example for the younger generation although strength of character is definitely an asset . “… the fact we hit the road and live the excitement of travelling long distances is a great thing, but most importantly, I keep my beloved ones in mind…”

Interview realized in June of 2016 in Moncton N.B.

Photo credits: On Silver Wheels Photography.

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