When trucker Rhonda Hartman asked her employer to nominate her to be a captain on an industry all-star team of drivers, she knew it would be a long shot.
Old Dominion, her employer, supported Hartman's application to the American Trucking Associations’ 2017-2018 America’s Road Team, but the fact remains there aren’t a lot of female truckers hauling goods across the nation’s highways.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that female drivers account for only 5.1 percent of the more than 3.5 million truckers on the road.
Just 17 female drivers have been selected to serve as trucking industry ambassadors since the Road Team’s inception in 1986, according to Elisabeth Barna, chief operating officer at ATA.
Hartman made the team – alongside 19 men from a pool of 2,200 applicants – after a series of interviews and recommendations.
“For many drivers, being named to America’s Road Team is the pinnacle of their careers,” Barna said.
The elite group of 20 drivers will serve as trucking industry ambassadors, while maintaining their full-time trucking duties. The captains will tour North America in ATA’s Interstate One Image Truck – a Volvo VNL 780 – over the next two years.
“Rhonda’s continuous success is rooted in her dedication, generosity and drive. It is no surprise to the Old Dominion family that she is a leading voice in the industry,” David Congdon, chief executive of Old Dominion, told Trucks.com.
Hartman said she hopes her involvement in the Road Team program will encourage more women to consider trucking as a career choice.
Like many people who grew up driving heavy equipment on farms, Hartman said trucking was a natural fit. When the farm financial crisis hit the heartland in the early 1980s, the Des Moines, Iowa, resident turned to trucking as a way to pay the bills.
Her first job was hauling grain to Arkansas, and chicken by-products used in dog food called feather meal back to her home state.
The 34-year trucking veteran estimates she has about 2.7 million accident-free miles under her belt.
Hartman took a break from trucking for a few years when her kids were younger, she told Trucks.com.
“I got off the road and I drove a school bus for a while – everybody should have to do that once in their lives – it will definitely teach you to have patience,” she said.
For a time, she maintained her trucking job during the week and had a photography business on the side to make ends meet.
She and her late husband, Ron, have a blended family of five children. The couple had been married for 25 years before Ron passed away from cancer eight years ago.
Both worked as solo drivers for Walmart until Ron became too sick to drive.
In 2012, she took a job with Old Dominion, which is headquartered in Thomasville, N.C. The company has approximately 8,030 tractors and around 32,061 trailers.
Hartman’s success could bolster efforts to recruit women to the industry. The ATA said there is a growing national shortage of truck drivers as the current cadre retires and potential recruits take jobs in construction, manufacturing and other industries that are more forgiving of family time.
“Applying for a position on America's Road Team is very challenging and I'd like to see more women on the team,” said Ellen Voie, chief executive of Women In Trucking, the Plover, Wis. trade group for women truckers.
WIT has created its own Image Team that has female truckers who serve as ambassadors “focused on the accomplishments of women exclusively so we can share their successes,” Voie said.
Hartman serves as a good role model, her colleagues said.
“Rhonda is a leader on the road, in our region and now nationally,” said Chris Kelley, vice president of the Central States region at Old Dominion. “Her work ethic sheds a light on how we do business.”
Hartman isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Her job is a physical one as a local pick-up and delivery driver. She makes between 20 and 30 stops – loading and unloading freight – as part of her daily route.
“It is a physically demanding job, but it allows me to interact with my customers and I am home every night, which is nice,” she said.
When she’s not trucking, Hartman said she enjoys riding her Harley Road King.
“I feel strongly about the trucking industry and the importance that is being put on safety,” Hartman said. “I am happy to represent the industry that I love.”