Not everyone’s cut out for the world of hauling flatbed, oversized, and extreme over-dimensional freight. But at Lone Star Transportation, it’s a challenging and satisfying career for a handful of women drivers – and the company is recruiting more.
Lone Star driver Sage Mulholland drove over-the-road several years for a major dry van carrier before deciding to drive a flatbed.
“I may be just 5 foot 2 inches tall, but I can strap, chain and throw 50-pound tarps over loads as well as any other driver,” Mulholland says. “I don’t feel intimidated one bit, from hauling the small stuff to the big stuff. Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I’m not able to do something like this.”
Lone Star Transportation, part of the Daseke family of companies, is a specialized heavy haul carrier that transports flatbed, oversized and extreme over-dimensional loads (including being an early entrant in the wind energy hauling business). Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, the company has 16 full-service terminals and runs some 450 trucks, a mix of company trucks and owner-operators.
CFO Kristi Williams says the company is seeing an uptick in female driver applications, partly because flatbed and over-dimensional trucking jobs pay better.
“Women truck drivers, like women in other fields, want to earn more money and respect in their careers,” Williams explains. “They want access to the same advancement opportunities as men. As a professional truck driver, that means taking on jobs in which they haul bigger, more specialized freight.”
Ellen Voie, president and CEO of the association Women in Trucking, says women make up 7% of the over-the-road truck drivers, “and they are moving all types of freight. You’ll find them driving tankers, hazardous waste and extreme over-dimensional loads. Pay is a major consideration when women transition into moving larger freight,” says Voie, “but so is the challenge it brings.”
Williams says typically they get maybe an average of one woman applicant per month.
“Open deck is very demanding,” she says. “You have to be outside in the elements, you’re strapping or tarping or securing your load, you’ve got to throw chains and straps – it’s very physical. We have men who think this is what they want to do, they want to haul the big stuff, and then they get through orientation and don’t last a month. There’s a reason open deck pays better.”
Nevertheless, she says, the fleet has always had one or two women in the fleet. “But we’ve had two new ones that have come on in the last three months.” And in March, the company had six female applicants.
Lone Star’s social media expert, after engaging with these women drivers on Facebook, identified the company’s women drivers as an untapped promotional resource.
“She came and said, these women are fantastic, they’re excited about being here, and maybe we should start gearing some information toward women.”
A February press release and videos, posted on Lone Star's website and sent out to the media, highlights these women’s stories.
One of them is Paula Stroud, a longtime Lone Star driver, today is an important part of Lone Star’s elite four-axle tractor fleet, qualified to haul freight of any length, width and weight. Stereotypes were chief among the obstacles she overcame to haul over-dimensional freight.
“I’ve heard a woman shouldn’t be doing this. It’s not your place. You shouldn’t be out here doing a man’s job, and certainly shouldn’t be doing a man’s job better than him,” Stroud says.
Williams says that attitude has improved since Stroud started with Lonestar some 15 years ago.
“When Sage came through orientation, her experience has been that these guys out here help her, they don’t tease her, they don’t mock her, they’re like, ‘Let me show you how to do this a little easier. Those guys out there are really trying to build them up.”
Currently Lone Star has nine women drivers – four owner-operators and five company drivers.
Williams explains that Lone Star has a leveling program that helps drivers – male or female – advance through five levels of increasingly difficult open deck responsibilities.
“We have a training program where we can get you to that big stuff and help you make your goals,” she explains. “And it’s like a college degree, it takes four to five years. You have to have so many loads at each level before you get to promote up.”
When we spoke, Williams said the company has a new woman driver who started about a month ago plus another new female driver currently in orientation.
“We’re really excited about trying to break down the barriers,” Williams says. “It’s physical, you’ve got to be in good shape to do it, but if you want it, you can do it.”