April 2019 – Myrna Chartrand

If you have taken this article to the bathroom to use for some light reading because you forgot your cellphone, you’re welcome.  You have been saved from having to read the back of the shampoo bottle or count the tiles on the floor.

My name is Myrna Chartrand and I was born and raised in Oak Point, Manitoba where I lived until after I graduated from high school. My earliest memory of the trucking industry was back when I was about 8 years old. My dad worked for Hugh Munro Construction and used to work out in Ontario at times. In the summer months my mom would pack us up and we would spend some of our summer vacations there with him. He was driving a Ford 9000 day cab and he set up a milk crate with a throw pillow on it between the seats and that’s where I would sit with my parents proudly looking out the windshield. This was back in the day when your parents used their arm as a seatbelt and that was a totally legit restraining device.

I used to love going on road trips.  Our family didn’t take a lot of big vacations but we would hop in the car and go on day trips on weekends or holidays.  We would drive to random towns in Manitoba just to sightsee. As long as I had my Walkman and cassettes with me, I was a happy camper. I could listen to music and stare out the window for hours. Hence, the makings of a truck driver. It didn’t matter where we were going, I had to tag along. My mom always told me that if there was a road to the moon, I’d be on it.

I don’t recall exactly when I first thought I wanted to become a truck driver. My brother, Cory, is a truck driver and when I heard him tell stories of the road I had always thought it seemed pretty cool. I was fairly good at math and the sciences in high school so when it was time for career planning my mom handed me the Red River College course guide and told me to pick something. I decided on Chemical and Biosciences Technology. I enrolled in 1999 and graduated with a course diploma in 2001. I worked at a generic pharmaceutical company, Apotex Fermentation Inc. for 7 years in various departments. I worked as a Laboratory Technologist, Process Support Technician and Quality Control Microbiologist.

I had taken a few trips with my brother to New York City during this time when he worked for Trappers Transport. I loved to ride along and ask questions and see the different sights. I thought to myself that I could really see me doing this, so one day I went and got the books to study for my Class 1 beginners. I didn’t tell anyone I was writing the test until I wrote it and passed. Once I had passed I told my mom what I had done and that I wanted to be a long haul truck driver. She didn’t seem too pleased about the choice as I already had a good job and it paid the bills. I couldn’t carry on at a job when I felt I owed it to myself to at least give trucking a shot. I would never truly know if it was for me or not if I didn’t actually attempt it. Eventually my mom came around and supported my decision. I know it wasn’t that she was trying to hold me back. I don’t think she was ready to let the baby of the family fly the coop. It’s a dangerous world out there and I think having me move to the big city of Winnipeg after graduation was a big step already. She called me every day from the day I moved to the city to the day she got too sick to talk. And if I missed the call and didn’t call back right away she always said, “Thank heavens you called back. I didn’t hear from you so I thought you could have been hit over the head in the back lane.” Now I had never thought about that before but for darn sure I will worry about that now!

In July 2008 I enrolled in the Arnold Bros Training Academy. I had never been behind the wheel of a big truck before and had never even driven a standard transmission vehicle. I was a total greenhorn to this. It was terribly frustrating trying to learn how to double clutch and shift gears. So frustrating to a point I thought I might just give up and maybe it wasn’t for me after all. My brother convinced me to keep at it and in time it would come to me. I was also thinking about what kind of life was I going to have, what friends am I going to make? Am I going to have a little “posse” that I hang out with? Cory had introduced me to a few of his friends so I thought at least I will have a solid start to this life because he and his friends I’m sure, would be there to help with any questions I may have, and I had a lot! I had also heard of these two guys, Smiley and Bear, and they seemed to be staples of the trucking industry from what people said.  I could only imagine maybe one day seeing them on the road somewhere and maybe they would say hi. Well turns out Smiley works at Portage Transport along with his brother, Dave, who has since passed away. They helped me so much along the way and I couldn’t be more thankful for all the help I received from them. Dave even treated me like one of his own kids. I was introduced to Bear through Smiley and he has become one of my closest friends. I felt like I made the big leagues just knowing these two guys! Anyhow, I’m glad I decided to stay on track of this new lifestyle because 6 weeks later I passed my Class 1 road test on the first try. Now was the hardest part, trying to find employment. The day I got my license Cory was working at Lee River Transport and put me in touch with his friend, whose name is also Corey, (different spelling) who was also working there. The day I got my license, Corey agreed to take me along for a few weeks for training as long as the owner was ok with that. We joked that the ink wasn’t even dry on my license when I got my first trucking job. I was so grateful for this opportunity. So I set out on my new journey of flatbedding. It was a scary thought as our first couple of trips were to British Columbia, Oregon and to Las Vegas. Mountain driving right off the bat seemed like such a feat to take on but Corey never lost hope in me even when I thought I lost hope in myself. It wasn’t until many years later he admitted that quitting smoking the week he decided to take me on for training was probably not the best idea. We trained for about 6 weeks and then I was put out on my own in a Freightliner FLD112. I had to inquire about the model of this truck the other day as I didn’t think to keep this stuff in my memory. I didn’t think I was ever going to need to know this and be tested on this in the future.  I mostly went to Minneapolis, MN as I never truly felt confident to expand my horizons yet. One trip I made to Virginia though, I followed a fellow driver to the delivery destination and then was all alone to get to my reload. I reloaded in South Carolina back to Selkirk, MB with a driver from DeckX. I had no idea how to navigate the route home so I asked him for a bit of help. We scoped out the route on my atlas and I was still quite apprehensive about the whole thing so I kindly asked if he wouldn’t mind if I followed him all the way home. He was gracious enough to allow me to do so and I will never forget that kindness. He must have thought I was a total lost cause. They say that in your first few months of driving you are going to make all kinds of mistakes and they were not wrong. I had a few of those, “ Did I do that?” moments. (Please insert your best Steve Urkel voice here.)  I skidded off a set of trailer tires, backed into a hydro pole and went in the ditch after someone whited me out. At this point, I still wasn’t sure if trucking was really for me.

My mom had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007 and in December 2008 we received the bad news that there was nothing more the doctors could do for her. I couldn’t carry on driving truck at that point as I wanted to be home when the day came to say she had passed away. I knew there was going to be a lot of paperwork and stuff to take care of afterwards and wanted to be around to help out my dad.  So I left Lee River Transport and took a job with Ger-Ed Transport where I reviewed logsheets and trip envelopes. My mom passed away February 2009 and as I was going through her laptop to find some necessary letters and such, I came across some of her emails to her friends and she was telling them how proud she was of me for getting through the mountain driving and giving it my best shot. She was amazed at the kind of loads I was hauling and that I wasn’t letting flatbedding get the best of me. It really made my heart swell because I knew her hesitations about me venturing into truck driving and I knew that I had made the right decision. I have always wanted to make my parents proud and in that one moment, I had the proof. It’s unfortunate that she is not here today to see all the progress I have made and that I have been able to take this career path or lifestyle choice as I like to call it, to a whole new level that I had never imagined. I have always felt that she has been riding shotgun with me all these years.

In September 2009, my brother, Cory, was working for Portage Transport and convinced me it was time to get back on the horse and give trucking a go again. He put in a good word for me with Bernie Driedger, the owner. I called them up one afternoon and they said if I wanted a job they had a truck available for me so I gave Ger-Ed Transport my two weeks’ notice and prepared to embark on another journey. I showed up at Portage Transport one Sunday and they handed me the keys to this little Peterbilt 386 flat top and showed me to the flatbed that had freight for three different drops on it. I was totally new to the world of LTL but I made it to Edmonton safely and called in to say I had all the freight delivered.  All I remember them saying is, “I guess you passed your road test.”

I was only working with Portage Transport about a month when they said they had a load heading to Maine with three other drops along the way.  I was excited to see some new country but at the same time totally terrified. I mean, here I was, the person who had to follow someone home from South Carolina because I panicked. My dispatcher seemed to have faith in me so I thought well, I’m sure glad someone does. I also had a new awareness about me as to what fear and strength was. I had just watched my mom’s life be taken from her too soon and it was as if I had this whole new strength and confidence about me. If I can see someone fight for their life with every ounce of strength they have, surely I can make it across the country.  It was an opportunity I did not want to pass up so I set out on my first big solo journey.

A few months later the company announced that they were doing away with all of the flat decks and doing solely reefer and dry van work. All I could think of at this point was, I’m finally going to have to learn to back up. Backing up had not been a strong point in my career thus far so this was going to be quite entertaining, to say the least. I was told by another driver one time that what I lack in backing skills, I make up for it with personality. I guess that was open to interpretation as either a compliment or insult. Once I transferred over to vans I was upgraded to a short hood Peterbilt 379. I drove that for a few years and when the 2010 Peterbilt 389 flat top became available I jumped at the chance. Bernie had told me if I could get my stuff out of one truck and be in the next that afternoon, it was mine. You have never seen anyone toss around their belongings like they were on fire. I drove that truck for a few years and one day I thought it would be nice to add a bit of a girl’s touch to it. So I asked Bernie if he wouldn’t mind changing the company decal on the door from a black decal to a pink one. He had no problems with that. As time went on some drivers had suggested that it would look kind of cool if the fenders, tanks and roof matched the decals. I thought in no way was my boss going to change the whole look of the truck. Much to my surprise, he did it! Bernie had attended the truck show in Louisville, KY and spotted another pink and white Peterbilt flat top that was done up for Breast Cancer Awareness.  When he got home he asked if that was something I would be interested in having on the truck. I didn’t even think twice about it and said it would be an honour. This is how Pinky 1 was born. I started getting into events such as truck shows, Wowtrucks photo shoots and some Breast Cancer Foundation fundraisers such as the CIBC Run for the Cure, the Alberta Convoy for the Cure, the Breast Cancer Pledge Ride and also the World’s Largest Convoy for Manitoba Special Olympics. I’ve even taken in a few events in the US including the Big Iron Classic in Kasson, MN and the 18 Wheels for Bubba truck party in Janesville, WI.  Once Pinky 1 reached the one million kilometre mark it was said she was going to become a local truck and I was going to be getting a new one. I jokingly made a threat to my boss that if I couldn’t have another pink and white flat top that I was going to quit. It was an empty threat mind you but one day Bernie asked what I would like to be different or stay the same on a new 2017 Peterbilt 389. I was so shocked to hear this! I was pretty pumped to hear I was going to get a new Pinky which I was going to name Pinky 2.0. I had caught wind from a fellow driver that he had seen a pink and white flat top headed northbound on Interstate 35 in Oklahoma and thought maybe that was my new one on route to Winnipeg. A couple of days later I went to the Peterbilt dealer in Winnipeg and sure enough there she was in all her glory. Pinky 2.0 has a PACCAR MX13 with 435 horsepower and an 18-speed transmission. The decal scheme stayed with the Breast Cancer Awareness theme but they added a few different colour dimensions to it and I was just “tickled pink” when I caught my first glance.  I was jumping up and down and clapping my hands like a little kid. I get so many smiles, waves, compliments and people asking to take pictures of it on a daily basis. It brings a smile to my face to receive all this positive attention.

Last year I decided to dye my hair all sorts of rainbow colours and in June I decided to dye my hair pink to match my truck. The feedback I have received on that has been pretty uplifting. The lovely folks at Del Monte Fresh Produce in Galveston, TX keep telling me I look like Penelope from the show Criminal Minds and if trucking ever falls through for me, I should take myself to Hollywood to be her stunt double.  I’m a girly girl with a pinch of tomboy. I like to get my hair done and put pretty bows or flowers in it but yet I can sit back and shoot the breeze with the guys at truck shows laughing at fart jokes. The inside of my truck is any 5-year-old little girl’s dream. I have pink from front to back with pink shag carpet rugs and My Little Pony bedding. This all works to my advantage because when I take time off there is very little chance one of the guys would feel comfortable enough to spend that much time in “Barbie’s Dream Truck.”

Our customers love seeing me bring Pinky 2.0 around which I think helped lead to this next event. Last spring I was told that my boss was sending a nomination package to the Manitoba Trucking Association for some awards. This was so great to hear and I know it sounds cliche but I was honoured just to be nominated even if I didn’t win. All said and done and much to my surprise, I was awarded the Kenworth Award of Excellence and the Volvo Trucks MB Driver of the Year Award. (Shhh…no one tell the award sponsors I drive a Peterbilt.)  I was totally shocked and was so glad I was able to share this experience with my dad, who accompanied me to the banquet. Sometimes in this industry, we think we are just a number but to have my boss single me out, for something positive, was pretty darn humbling.  This was quite a rush for me because never in a million years did I think my career was ever going to take me to this whole new high.

Often I get asked if being a female driver has ever made me a target for strange behaviour. I remember a couple instances at truck stops that stood out to me. This one guy at the Flying J in Wisconsin was about six trucks down from me and looking at me through binoculars. I thought that was so creepy because I could totally see him doing it. All I thought was, “Hey there Inspector Gadget, you better sharpen your discretion skills before you take your show on the road fighting crime.” I was only into trucking a few months by myself when this next instance happened. I was coming out of a Pilot in Texas with my shower bag over my shoulder and this guy outside says, “It’s nice to see a ‘working girl’ keeping herself clean.” I was shocked! I thought I knew what he was implying but for the life of me I could not come up with any witty response. So I quietly walked past the guy selling pirated movies and other suspected stolen goods out of the trunk of his car and made my way back to the truck. I’m thinking this whole time, “And I’m the one being judged?” This kind of stuff doesn’t happen very often but remembering it now kind of gives me a chuckle.

As I’m writing this I think back to where it all started and how I didn’t even know if I was going to make it out of the training academy never mind having a custom truck ordered for me to winning awards. It has been quite nostalgic to say the least. I’m so fortunate that I’ve had such a great circle of friends, family, coworkers, fellow drivers and customers etc. that have always been there to brighten my day and get me to the point I’m at today. As anyone in the industry knows, this can be a totally thankless job at times but we still need to find the positives in a world that focuses so much on the negatives.  It has been a real wild ride these last eleven years and I wouldn’t change a single thing about them! Here’s to many more good years ahead of me.

In the words of Matthew Wilder, “ain’t nothin’ gonna break-a my stride, nobody gonna slow me down, oh no, I got to keep on movin’”