Debbie Tucker is not driving a big truck today at the Pilot Truck Stop in Scott County, but rather a white Dodge Avenger holding three of her 13 children.
Her children are the reason that she became a trucker — to give them things like weddings and to buy land on which they can live, she said. “We wanted to be independent contractors. There are so many things we want for the kids, that we want for ourselves.”
Debbie Tucker had been an at-home mom since 1990, when she and William married. He had seven kids, she had five. They later adopted 6-year-old Ava.
“We got married on a Saturday, he moved himself and his kids into my house on a Sunday, on Monday he was gone for three months,” Tucker said. “You’re married to a telephone.”
So, most of the children grew up. Debbie Tucker lost more than 300 pounds, down from a high of 450, but that’s another story.
In February, Debbie went to trucking school. In October, she will be qualified to drive 18-wheelers. Now, she and William share a “street truck” — like a moving van but with a sleeper cab on it.
William Tucker, 61, has been trucking for 42 years; Debbie, 47, is two months in.
Although she’s a newbie in trucking, there are some points on which Debbie is unwilling to compromise — like shoes. She’s wearing heels, and she likes wearing makeup and dresses — yes, even while driving. Her nails are an immaculate bright pink, but, she said, it’s hard to find a place to get a hair cut and manicure on the road. She thinks this is a business niche that’s ready to explode as more women truck drivers take to the road.
The website Gobytrucknews.com reports that of the more than three million truckers in the United States, an estimated 200,000 are women, a 50 percent increase since 2005.
Although Debbie took up truck driving to earn money and spend more time with her husband, the couple get only about two hours a day together. Each drives an 11-hour shift, then sleeps. During the two-hour break, they will share a meal, then shower and connect.
It’s not a large amount of time, “but two hours a day is more than we had,” Debbie said.
Daughter Gracie, 21, oversees the house in Millersburg and the remaining children — which includes her brother, Tigger, 15, — while her parents are gone.
Working together all day, every day, can be a strain on each person’s patience, Debbie Tucker said, observing that the curtain separating the sleeping quarters from the driving space can’t be slammed. So, she said, she is learning patience.
One week in June, the couple drove 5,000 miles, including time in California, North Carolina and Maryland. To stay alert and pass the time, she listens to books on CD, starting with Michael Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead: “I can’t just sit there because my brain is going to turn to mush.”
Debbie said her experiences on the road so far have been pleasant, but former trucker Kim Bourne is exploring a different side of the female trucking experience. Bourne, who also is a nurse teaching at Western Kentucky University, is working on a doctorate at the University of Kentucky.
Her focus: workplace sexual violence and intimate partner violence among female truck drivers.
Bourne and her husband saw violence occurring between couples while they were on the road.
“When you’re with somebody 24/7, with just a thin curtain that separates you, it’s hard to walk away,” Bourne said. “Sometimes it takes just a very small thing to set somebody off.”
Bourne enjoyed her time as a trucker, which came after working “two very high-stress jobs,” as a flight nurse and in an emergency room.
Her husband was gone two to three weeks at a time, she said, and trucking “was something I’d always wanted to do.”
“I have met doctors who have gone to trucking, I have met lawyers who have gone to trucking,” Bourne said. “They just decide they’re done with the rat race and want something different. There are many people out there in the trucking world that you wouldn’t even imagine.”
Her time in trucking gave Bourne a chance to visit 46 of the lower 48 states, and Canada. One of the Bournes’ favorite runs took them to San Diego, where they bought season passes to Sea World.
When she stopped working in trucking, Bourne decided to return to teaching: “It had always bothered me what I saw on the road, with the intimate partner and sexual violence. … I knew after I started teaching that I was going to do my Ph.D., and I wanted to make a difference for female drivers. Nobody should feel they can’t get out of their truck, or be in fear in their truck.”
The Bournes would frequently be approached by prostitutes, known as “lot lizards.” Once, when her husband was pumping fuel and Kim Bourne was in the truck bunk, a prostitute climbed into the passenger seat, determined to offer her wares.
Bourne kicked her out.
Debbie Tucker, still new to the job, said that initially she feared going down mountains. She’s already gotten past it.
“I still cannot parallel park a car, but I can put a 53-foot trailer in a spot like God himself put it there,” Debbie Tucker said. “It doesn’t even feel like a job.”
If you go
Expedite Expo for truckers
When: July 15-16, Lexington Convention Center
Free admission, free parking
Seminars include “Life on the Road as Team Drivers: Pros and Cons,” “Women in Trucking,” and “Straight Talk on Buying a Truck.” Expedited trucking is a niche in the trucking industry referring to time-critical shipments in which freight has to be delivered more quickly than usual.