With 2020 introducing a virus that changed daily routines seemingly overnight, social and political unrest not witnessed in America in arguably half a century, and unemployment running rampant, this year is a goulash of potential threats and complicated dilemmas.
Now imagine being a widowed, 78-year-old female truck driver in a male-dominated industry with challenges ranging from near robberies to broken-down trucks in desperate need of repair. Outsmarting the bad guys is easy as Sunday apple pie for Denver-native JoAnne Hansen but getting her broken-down trucks back on the road with a shoestring budget calls for a little help from her friends at Kyrish Truck Centers.
“It wasn’t her idea for me to drive the trucks”
As a little girl, all JoAnne wanted to do when she grew up was to drive trucks, and she accelerated her career as she entered her teenage years by driving cattle here and there for her grandfather. Be it tractor or truck, JoAnne knew she was meant for the great outdoors.
“Working,” she laughed when asked what her childhood was like. “My grandparents raised me, and my grandmother was a schoolteacher. It wasn’t her idea for me to drive the trucks, but my grandfather taught me everything he knew, and I just kept doing it. Back then, you could drive in Colorado so long as you had your own livestock as young as 14.”
After another quick laugh, JoAnne quipped, “Believe it not, I remember back then in Denver, Colorado, when diesel fuel was ten cents per gallon.”
Fast-forward decades later, and now living in the greater Houston area, JoAnne has years of experience and thousands of miles behind her thanks, in large part, to Kyrish Truck Center’s generosity and kindness.
“Get out there and work!”
“I bought three or four trucks from Mr. Kyrish. I owed him a lot of money over the years. I’d see him in the office, my truck would be in the shop, and I’d say, ‘Mr. Kyrish, I just can’t pay you right now.’”
Ed Kyrish, who purchased the Austin International Harvester branch in 1976 and has thrived ever since, responded to JoAnne, “Have I asked you for any money? That truck’s not making any money there sitting in the shop. Get out there and work!”
JoAnne laughed while telling the story of Ed Kyrish’s extreme generosity and kindness, “Mr. Kyrish … I just think the world of him,” but it’s par for the course for the family-owned business.
When Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas in 2017, Kyrish Truck Center sheltered over 40 employees, spent countless hours on the phone to transport 30,000 pounds of meat from Florida to their tattered and torn region, and handed out $140,000 to its displaced worker.
Duane Kyrish even went the extra mile to personally house employees for a week and a half as the waters receded and communities rebuilt.
JoAnne routinely experiences this type of Kyrish kindness, which is precisely the support she needs when navigating a trucking industry dominated by her male counterparts.
“You have to prove yourself every day”
“It’s hard. You have to prove yourself every day,” is her response to the demands of being a female truck driver, often delivering cargo from distances as far as Texas to Alberta.
What about the pros of her industry?
“Oh, I dunno. Ya just do it. It’s just something ya do. And there’s a lot of women out there that do what I do. I’m not alone.”
Although JoAnne expressed seeing fellow women on the road, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, she’s in rare air: Only 6.2 percent of America’s truck drivers are female. Furthermore, the American Trucking Association’s data purports that the number of women in the industry has increased only marginally from 4.5 to approximately 6 percent in the past 15 years.
How does she deal with the ups and downs of an industry where consistent routes are interspersed with periods of downtime?
“You just deal with it. It’s chicken today, feathers tomorrow.”
And what advice does JoAnne have for women who desire to command the driver’s seat as she does?
“It’s like my grandfather always told me: ‘Slow and easy is a hell of a lot better than fast and crazy.’”
“You drive too slow”
The costs of diesel fuel, long hours on lonely highways, and hazardous road conditions are only a few challenges JoAnne has conquered over the years — along with smart remarks from fellow drivers.
“Everybody’s giving me a bad time over the years. ‘You drive too slow.’ Well, 68 miles per hour … it doesn’t matter if I’m 16 feet wide or 16 feet tall, I run 68 down the road while everyone else likes to drive superfast.”
Other than sliding slightly off Canadian roads now and again, JoAnne has escaped the estimated 500,000 trucking accidents per year in the United States.
One thing she couldn’t escape was an attempted robbery of Alaskan King Crab.
“One time I was workin’ for C.R. England, and they had me load up Alaskan King Crab in Washington for Boston. I had never hauled crab before, and while I was loading, this car pulled up and told me that if I pulled over at the next truck stop, there would be some money in my permit book. But I didn’t do it. I picked up my load and didn’t look back.” When asked if she had other gossipy stories from the road over the years, she cackled through laughter and said, “There’s a few wild tales, but none that I wanna repeat!”