Oil field work, backstabbing driver, inspire ‘Mother Trucker’ novels

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Shelby Matthews is a woman truck driver determined to do what needs to be done to keep her family and home afloat.

Robyn Mitchell with the sand hauler she drove

So she got behind the wheel of a truck hauling sand in the Texas oil fields and beyond when holding down two jobs — teaching school and working the night shift at a convenience store — still wasn’t enough to pay the bills following her husband’s heart attack.

Matthews has three things going for her: the steel will that comes as standard equipment with most Texas women, the love of a good man and the support of her coworkers … except for the ones trying to kill her.

Shelby Matthews is the fictional creation of Robyn Mitchell, and the lead character in “Mother Trucker,” the first in a series of five novels that launched just last month. The first book introduces the kind-hearted, somewhat naive newcomer to the world of truck driving, and spins a tale of what happens when she runs afoul of a nasty and vindictive fellow female driver.

While not strictly autobiographical, Mitchell says her own life in West Texas strongly inspired Shelby’s.

In 2006, Mitchell quit her own job as an elementary school teacher in Odessa, Texas.

“I wanted to do something different with my life,” says Mitchell. “I was disappointed in teaching. It wasn’t fun anymore. There were too many politics.” However, she still homeschools a granddaughter who lives with her.

Mitchell and her husband, C.L. Grumbles, talked about what next she could do. She suggested working as a roughneck in the oil fields like he had done since he was 16 years old.

She put in applications for a number of companies, “and of course no one was going to hire me,” says Mitchell. “I’m not fat, but I’m not skinny, and athletics are not my forte. I got turned down right and left.”

While her husband didn’t think roughnecking was a suitable job for his wife, he did suggest Robyn could probably drive a truck in those same oil fields.

So she enrolled in the driving school at Odessa College. Eight weeks and $4,000 later, “I did really well with the written exam,” says Mitchell. “Driving was another subject. I got an 86 on the test. I wanted to be an ‘A’ student.

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“I had my CDL but what kind of job could I get? I had no experience in the oil fields. I had no experience period.”

Grumbles suggested a company that hauled sand to the fracking operations in the oil fields of Texas and elsewhere. Mitchell landed a position at that trucking company.

Mitchell wound up delivering to what she said were “hundreds of oilfield locations all over west, east, south and north Texas” as well as most of the other western states.

“It was really a lot of fun. I loved it.” says Mitchell who has hung up the keys for now. “I’m not currently driving because I’m working on my books, and I just don’t have time to hold down a driving job and write.”

While driving, Mitchell says she made a lot of friends, but ran up the wrong side of the only other woman driver where she worked. “At first, she was nice,” says Mitchell. “Then she turned on me. She gossiped about me behind my back. She was really irritating to me, but I didn’t want to be a tattletale.”

So, instead she turned her coworker into the protagonist of what would become “Mother Trucker.” And, much of Shelby Matthews’ life is owed to Mitchell’s, with a certain amount of poetic license, of course, since there was no attempt on her life.

Suffice to say, “Mother Trucker” is loaded with many of the people and incidents that filled Mitchell’s life once she got in the cab of her own truck. She draws numerous character sketches of male and female drivers, many of whom she meets over the CB as she drives.

“Shelby starts out as the little princess at the wheel, but becomes the queen bee,” jokes Mitchell.

Just like jumping into trucking with no experience, Mitchell, along with her husband, founded their own publishing company to issue the books. She said she hopes they will be on sale at travel plazas, but adds that she is planning to drive to and sell them at truck shows and other events. Mitchell says she has also started reading them to create audiobooks.

Marketing her books may very well find Mitchell back behind the wheel.

“I do hope within a few months I will have my 2016-2017 longnose, 13 speed, 389 Pete,” says Mitchell. “It’s going to be fully chromed out with customized painting and the latest in technology for the dash (and) pulling  a 53-foot low-boy bottom trailer customized with a box cover, containing RV type living quarters with slide outs and my custom designed traveling book and media store.

“I plan to travel the entire United States, hitting as many fairs, festivals, truck shows, book shows and truck stops as I can possibly hit over a nine month period of time in a year.  Three months will be for my writing time.”

If you don’t see Mitchell at a truck show anytime soon, “Mother Trucker” is also available online.

Other books in the series include:

  • Trucktress
  • Outlaws
  • Jumpers
  • Terror West