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The history of freight transportation and trucking is not specific to men even though women still only make up a small percentage of drivers and owners in the industry. Women have often been found in the driver's seat, not just in recent history, but as far back as the 1800s when stagecoaches rolled through the dangerous western landscape. These three pioneering women took to the roads and highways of America when it was least expected they would go there.
Luella Bates got a job as a test driver for Four Wheel Drive Auto Company in Clintonville, Wisconsin in 1918. She was one of several women hired to fill the gap left by male workers who were away serving during World War I. Luella logged plenty of miles in the Model B truck and soon became quite adept at taking care of the maintenance and mechanical needs of all the trucks. It was as if she was born to drive.
Once the war ended and the men returned, they reclaimed their old jobs and the women were left unemployed except for Luella. She insisted on staying and was subsequently kept on as a demonstrator and company goodwill ambassador. She traveled throughout the United States demonstrating the Model B and the company's new fire trucks. Luella was the first woman to receive a driver's license in the state of New York.
Lillie Elizabeth Drennan had a rough start in life but it didn't stop her from later becoming the first woman to be the sole owner of her own trucking company. She and her new husband, Willard Ernest Drennan, founded a trucking business in Hempstead, Texas in 1917. Lillie learned to drive her own truck and helped the business grow and thrive. When she and Willard divorced in 1929, Lillie took over the reins.
Lillie had to fight to attain her commercial driver's license but finally prevailed citing her years of experience and exemplary driving skills. She continued to expand her successful trucking empire for nearly 24 accident-free years. Lillie's company earned several nationally-recognized safety awards while she served as a publicly-lauded inspiration to women both in the industry and in general.
Rusty Dow started her life as Benzie Ola Scott but was quickly nicknamed Rusty because of her auburn hair. She was born in Texas but made her way to the frontiers of Alaska in 1932 by way of California where she hauled dairy and vegetables for years. It wasn't long after she arrived in Alaska that she was offered a job with Fort Richardson, a United States Army installation.
Rusty wanted nothing more than to drive the new 1600-mile Alaska Highway and, on June 1, 1944, she got her chance. She checked over her ten-wheeled Studebaker 6X6 which looked as rough as the road she was about to tackle. Rusty wasn't worried. She completed the entire length of the Alaska Highway from Fairbanks to Dawson Creek in an admirable seven days.
These trailblazing women helped break down the barriers keeping women out of trucking and the industry is now all the better for it.
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