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The Nation

Life-changing experience: Oregon driver shares story of entering trucking industry

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Life-changing experience: oregon driver shares story of entering trucking industry
Women In Trucking’s December Member of the Month Jessica Luttrell with daughter Athena and rescued friends Lucy (Shepherd) and Cash pay a visit to Umpqua Community College where her trucking career began. (Courtesy: Jessica Luttrell)

When some people enter the trucking industry, it’s a career change. For Jessica Luttrell, it was a life-changing experience.

“I wasn’t getting anywhere in Arizona,” she said in a recent interview with The Trucker. With a past that included raising her two children with government assistance and periods of homelessness, Luttrell needed a change. Thus began a transformation that continues today, thanks to the trucking industry and one special driver. That transformation includes selection as the Women in Trucking December 2019 Member of the Month.

Jessica hauls dairy products between distribution centers for Umpqua Dairy, a 75-truck operation with headquarters in Roseburg, Oregon. She typically works evening/night shifts, running dairy products to Umpqua “depots” for the coming delivery day. “I think I have it easy compared to some other drivers,” she said. “I don’t do the retail runs, I haul truckload to the Umpqua distribution centers.”

Like many, her trucking career began with a solo over-the-road position. Once her boyfriend obtained a CDL of his own, they teamed together for a couple of years before Jessica found local work in order to spend more time with her two children. “I worked for a farm that serviced septic tanks and porta-potties,” she explained. Her job was to haul the fermented sludge to local farms, spreading it on hay fields as fertilizer.

She also drove dump trucks for a local construction firm before hiring on as Umpqua Dairy’s first female driver.

“I love being able to support myself and my kids, provide benefits and all the things that the trucking industry provides,” she said.

Luttrell’s odyssey in trucking began with her (then) boyfriend’s suggestion that they give Oregon a try. They loaded their possessions into an RV and hit the road. “Unfortunately, our RV broke down and we had to get a U-Haul for our belongings, so we were travelling in a U-Haul with two kids a dog and a cat,” she explained. “Then, the money ran out.”

The young family found themselves stranded at a truck stop in Corning, California, without the funds to complete their trip. That’s when a big-hearted trucker did what truckers so often do. “A woman truck driver walked up and asked ‘What’s your story? I can tell that I need to help you.’ Then she told us to pull the U-Haul up to the pump. She filled it up and then gave us money to buy food,” Luttrell said.

That fuel and the encouragement that came with it was enough to complete the trip. “I can’t believe I didn’t even get her name,” she said.

Once in Oregon, she couldn’t help but notice the large variety of trucks plying Interstate 5 and local roads. “They were amazing,” she said. “I still want to try heavy haul and I want to drive a log truck.”

Her curiosity piqued, Jessica began to check out the industry. “It looked fun and seemed to offer (financial) stability,” she said, but she didn’t get much support at first. “People told me ‘that’s stupid,’” she said. “Nobody took me seriously until I got my permit.”

That’s when she applied for a scholarship to the Umpqua Community College CDL program through Umpqua Training and Employment, a partnership between the college and local trucking businesses. It wasn’t easy. “I had to pass an assessment, interview drivers and participate in a scholarship selection process,” she explained. “I thought I was going to have to take a remedial math class to go to CDL school!” When all was said and done, “I was awarded a scholarship for the four-week CDL course at the college.”

Since then, she’s worked to become more active in trucking, joining WIT and visiting classes at the community college with her (now ex) husband. She was interviewed by WIT President and CEO Ellen Voie for the organization’s radio show and also appeared in a promotional video for the college where she obtained her CDL (youtu.be/wnbsyXc9NxU). Currently, she’s communicating with a representative of the college about making regular visits to address the classes.

Luttrell’s future plans are to move into management. “I am like the safety police,” she laughed, “so I think I would do well in a safety role.” She knows, however, that more knowledge leads to more opportunities. “The more I learn about the industry, the more I want to learn about the different parts and how everything works.”

She understands that a move from her current residence in a small town a half-hour from the Umpqua headquarters in Roseburg may be necessary.

When asked about her hobbies and work outside of the trucking industry, Luttrell was specific. “My kids are my life, my dogs are my life,” she explained. One of her two daughters is 19 and has since moved out of the home, but the 11-year old still lives with Luttrell. That’s another reason she’d like to work regular daytime hours in the office.

She also describes herself as “a hardcore animal lover,” who is proud of the work she and her ex-husband did with Gettin’ Em Home Transport (gettinemhome.com), a charitable organization that utilizes volunteers to transport dogs and cats from animal shelters to rescue centers and foster homes in other states. “Some of them were great to travel with and some we couldn’t wait to get rid of, but we loved doing it,” Luttrell said, explaining that it wasn’t always easy. “There were a lot of relays to get the animal where it was going,” she said. “Some didn’t understand we were in a big truck and kept trying to arrange a meet at Starbucks, but we worked it out.”

Luttrell still has one dog from the program, along with another rescued elsewhere.

She understands that there’s a message in how far she’s come, with credit to the help she received getting started, and she wants others to know their lives can improve, too. “I want people to know you can make a future for yourself,” she said. “If you’re stuck in a rut in your life, go out there and do something for yourself.”

As a member of the family of trucking, she has a simple message to her fellow drivers. “We are all on the same team and we all have some of the same struggles,” she said. “Let’s work together.”

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The Nation

Minnesota Trucking Association names Scott Post as 2019 driver of the year

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Minnesota trucking association names 2019 driver of the year
Scott Post, a contract truck driver for FedEx Ground, has been selected as the Minnesota Driver of the Year by the Minnesota Trucking Association. Post has been driving a truck for 41 years and has more than 2.5 million safe miles. (Courtesy: Minnesota Trucking Association)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — The Minnesota Trucking Association named Maplewood, Minnesota resident, Scott Post, a professional truck driver contracted for FedEx Ground in St. Paul, Minnesota, as the 2019 Minnesota Driver of the.

“This award is a great way to honor the best in our industry. Driving safe is no easy task, especially when you take into consideration his daily driving conditions like congestion, driver distractions and Minnesota winters. Having 2.5 million safe driving miles is an outstanding accomplishment,” said John Hausladen, MTA president. “We’re proud to award Scott for this achievement.”

Post is employed by Spartan Logistics in Newport, Minnesota which is a contracted service provider for FedEx Ground. FedEx Ground provides 1-5-day delivery of small packages to all 50 states, plus Canada. Scott has been driving a truck for 41 years and has driven more than 2.5 million safe miles.

“Scott Post is one of the safest, most attentive, detail-oriented drivers I’ve ever had,” said Randy Kurek, Owner of Spartan Logistics. “He’s always ready to learn and at the same time, is a sponge for industry knowledge. He lives and breathes trucking.”  In addition to being an outstanding professional truck driver, Post is involved with many community organizations, including Operation Lifesaver, the World’s Largest Truck Convoy for Special Olympics and the Minnesota Trucking Association’s Trucks for Toys program.

Throughout 2019, drivers are nominated by their companies and one driver is chosen each month to be the Driver of the Month. The drivers who are chosen meet a high standard of requirements including an outstanding driving and work record; contribution to industry and highway safety; and involvement in the community.

In January, MTA hosts the Driver of the Year Banquet and one of the twelve nominees is selected as Driver of the Year by a panel of judges including Matthew Marin, division administrator for Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; Deb Ledvina, director of commercial vehicle operations at MnDOT; and Captain Jon Olsen, Minnesota State Patrol.

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The Nation

Transportation Secretary calls on industry to ‘Put the Brakes on Human Trafficking’

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trucks on highway
The Department of Transportation wants to train the transportation workforce, including professional truck drivers, on the issue of human trafficking. The DOT anticipates over 1 million employees across all modes of transportation will be trained because of this program. (iStock.com/WendellandCarolyn)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao has announced a series of efforts to combat human trafficking in the transportation sector. Secretary Chao was joined by leaders from Congress, state governments and the transportation industry responding to this call to action.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation is committed to working with our public and private partners to fight human trafficking on America’s transportation system,” Chao said.

Among the initiatives announced by Secretary Chao is a renewed focus on the “Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking” pledge to train the transportation workforce and raise public awareness on the issue of human trafficking across all modes of transportation.  Secretary Chao is challenging the transportation industry to commit to “100 Pledges in 100 Days.” The Department anticipates over 1 million employees across all modes of transportation will be trained because of this initiative.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, affecting millions of adults and children in the United States and worldwide. Victims are of every age, race, gender, background, citizenship, and immigration status. Some are trafficked within their own communities on various forms of transportation, while others are transported to new locations.

To amplify counter-trafficking efforts, Secretary Chao established an annual $50,000 award to incentivize individuals and entities, including non-governmental organizations, transportation industry associations, research institutions, and state and local government organizations, to think creatively in developing innovative solutions to combat human trafficking in the transportation industry. The Department will review applications and determine the individual or entity that will most effectively utilize these funds to combat human trafficking.

Secretary Chao also announced $5.4 million in grant selections through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Human Trafficking Awareness and Public Safety Initiative. Twenty-four organizations across the country will each receive funding for projects to help prevent human trafficking and other crimes on public transportation. A list of the selected projects is available online.

To support the Department’s counter-trafficking efforts, the DOT Advisory Committee on Human Trafficking completed a report in July 2019 that recommends actions the Department can take to help combat human trafficking and best practices for states and local transportation stakeholders.

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The Nation

Former NASCAR driver and Talladega’s iconic trucker John Ray dies at 82

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Former nascar driver and talladega superspeedway’s iconic trucker john ray dies at 82
John Ray whose diesel big rig sporting the giant American flag became iconic during the track’s national anthem performances, has died. (Courtesy: Talladega Superspeedway)

TALLADEGA, Ala. —John Ray, whose big rig sporting a giant American flag became iconic during Talladega Superspeedway’s national anthem performances, has died, according to a news release. The former NASCAR driver was 82 years old.

Since 2001, Ray had driven his gold, brown and chrome Peterbilt with a large American flag down the Talladega frontstretch prior to the start of races.

“National anthems at Talladega Superspeedway are the most iconic, and it’s because of our great friend John Ray,” said Speedway President Brian Crichton. “What he brought to our fans can’t be duplicated. He was an incredible, passionate man who supported the track and all of motorsports with everything he had. His spirit will live here forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ray family.”

For more than 40 years, Ray was a member of the White Flag Club, a dedicated service group of local businessmen from surrounding communities that assist during race weekends.

In 2001, after the 9/11 terror attacks and the tragic passing of his longtime friend Dale Earnhardt Sr., Ray, along with then Talladega Superspeedway Track Chairman Grant Lynch, looked to boost the morale of a country, and a fan base that had gone through tough times.

“I had a crazy idea to run my rig out on the track with an American flag attached to the back,” said Ray, who lived down the street from the track in Eastaboga, three years ago. “It started off as a tribute to the country and to Dale.

“I never thought it would become the heart-felt moment that it has over the past some-odd years, but I’m glad it has become a tradition that means so much to the fans and the Talladega family. It represents such a sense of pride that we all share together as a nation and as a community. It is my honor and privilege to do it,” added Ray, who eventually gave up the driving duties of his big rig and handed them off to his late friend Roger Haynes, and last year to his son Johnny.

That wasn’t Ray’s first time at the 2.66-mile track. Ray, who owned “John Ray Trucking Company” since the early 70s, actually set the world speed record for a semi-truck and trailer around the mammoth track at 92.083 mph in 1975 — in a powerful Kenworth.

“We were testing brakes for a company out at the track,” Ray said. “One thing led to another — and there I was truck, trailer, and all — making my way around the track, trying to set a speed record. It was something else.”

Ray drove in the NASCAR Cup Series from 1974-1976. He competed in eight races, four at Talladega (where his best career finish was 22nd in 1974), but an accident at Daytona in 1976 ended his driving career. He continued as a car owner and essentially gave one of the sport’s greatest legends one of his first opportunities: 10-time Talladega winner Earnhardt. It would be Earnhardt’s third career start.

To read the full release, visit Talladega Superspeedway’s website.

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