You’d never guess what Marla Jones does for a living by looking at her. She’s pretty and petite, weighing less than 125 pounds.
She sure doesn’t look like a truck driver. Neither do her fellow female truckers.
“I guess the best part of driving is when you get out of the rig because people are always saying, ‘Wow! A little girl like you is driving,’” Jones said. “It’s a compliment because do you think most women can drive an 18-wheeler? No.”
Jones is one of five TDCJ freight transportation drivers who make women’s work out of the job of steering sizeable semi-tractor trailers full of prison goods around the Lone Star State. Three other women - Colleen Brymer, Cathy Cook and Stacey Crocker drive with Jones out of the freight transportation office at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville. The fifth female driver, Joann Kahlich, makes her daily runs out of the freight distribution center in Snyder where dispatcher Dora Beasley also drove a big rig until recently.
The five women now on the road for TDCJ are among the 121 civilian truck drivers employed by the agency. Seventy are assigned to the Wynne Unit, 20 to the Snyder distribution center, 5 to the Chase Field complex in Beeville, and 22 to the Central Unit in Sugar Land. To drive the big rigs, all must hold a Class A driver’s license and pass a road test administered by the Department of Public Safety. In all, TDCJ freight transportation drivers drove nearly 6.5 million miles this past year.
Jones began driving 18-wheelers for TDCJ back in October 2001 after running the trusty camp commissary at Wynne for a time. She left to work at a power plant in Houston for 3 1/2 years but got back behind the wheel this past April. She said driving the big rigs with 45-foot trailers attached isn’t much different than hauling livestock to an arena.
“I have hauled cattle and goats and livestock all my life,” she said. “My dad was an auctioneer, so I’ve always been in some kind of truck or trailer. If I could live on the road and haul horses I probably would. But I like to sleep in my own bed.”
|Lady Truckers - Four women drive 18-wheelers out of the freight transportation office in Huntsville. A fifth carries cargo out of the freight distribution center in Synder. From top clockwise, Colleen Brymer, Cathy Cook, Stacey Crocker and Marla Jones.
Photo by David Nunnelee
Brymer has been with TDCJ as a truck driver for the longest haul. In May 1992, she became only the second woman hired by the agency as a driver. At that time, in fact, she was the only female big rig driver employed by a state agency.
“I was the biggest minority the state had for a while,” she said.
Brymer got her Class A license in 1990 and drove cross-country for a trucking company for a spell. She broke down in Houston one day and met her second husband, David, who now also drives truck for TDCJ. Her radio handle is “Turnip” because she was once assigned to drive an old dump truck loaded with rotting turnips 160 miles in 100-degree heat. Jones’ handle is “Honky-tonk Angel,” Cook is “High Pockets,” and Crocker’s moniker is “Blue” because of her blue eyes.
“I just always enjoyed driving,” Brymer said about her chosen profession. “I want to be in control. I am the world’s worst passenger. You can ask my husband.”
Cook married into the trucking business and started driving for TDCJ in July 1994. A month later, she was hit head-on by a drunk driver and spent two years recuperating before returning to work. She now drives a mail van between Huntsville and Austin three days a week and pilots an 18-wheeler once a week.
“It’s all I know,” Cook said about driving trucks. “And it raised two boys.”
Crocker’s husband was also driving trucks cross-country when she met him while working as an accounting clerk at the Education & Recreation Commissary Warehouse in Huntsville. After taking her along with him on weekend trips, he used his small pickup to teach her how to drive a manual transmission.
“I’d been wanting to learn how to drive a stick forever,” she said. “I drove that little truck five times before I got behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler.”
TDCJ’s female truckers say they’ve hit a few bumps in the road since getting into a profession long dominated by men.
“There are people who say it’s unladylike,” Jones said about her job. “But it doesn’t make me any less of a female. I still have the nails and I still have the jewelry. It’s just what I like to do.”
“It’s not just about what you like because we’re in the weather,” Crocker added. “We’re in the heat, we’re in the rain. But it’s what I’m good at.”
Transportation & Supply Freight Manager Larry Adams hired two of the women now driving for the agency. He said women handle the powerful rigs as well as the men and have an almost nonexistent accident record.
“Their accident record is zero, basically,” Adams said. “I’m proud of these female drivers we’ve got. And when you look at their accident record, they prove my point.”
Jones said she might one day like to work as dispatcher in the freight office but that she enjoys the diversity that comes with driving.
“I like getting out and being my own boss,” she said. “Going to new units, new places and meeting new people. I think we have some really good bosses out there. If you need any kind of help, they’ve always been willing to help me.”
Her female co-workers also plan to keep on trucking.
“I’m exactly where I want to be,” Brymer said.
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