At 75 years old, Sandi Talbot says she thinks some people may see her as a novelty in the trucking industry. Talbot, an owner-operator from northeast Texas, started driving in 1979 and has hauled boxed meat with her 1996 Peterbilt 379 for Cargill Meat Logistics Solutions for the last 12 years.
Like all drivers, she spends the majority of her time behind the wheel, but when she isn’t driving she’s relaxing on the porch of her home, situated on 53 acres between Paris and Texarkana, or out for an adventure. One of her favorite ways to spend her downtime is on cruises, which she says she thinks are the perfect vacation.
“To me, a cruise for a truck driver is a fantastic vacation because you’re not fighting with traffic, you board the ship, they bring you your luggage, you unpack, you’re there for the duration of however many days your cruise is,” Talbot said. “Everything is on the ship. You visit different ports of different countries and you can see what their lifestyle is really like.”
She’s always cruised the Caribbean but she can’t pinpoint any one trip as having been better than the others. She isn’t anxious to visit Mexico, but she would like to go to Hawaii one day. Talbot says she enjoys Antigua, an island in the West Indies, and wants to take her family to see it someday.
“I have a timeshare, and I said one year we’re going to take the timeshare and we’re going to fly into Antigua and spend a week down there because I just like the island,” Talbot said.
When she isn’t cruising or at home, you can find Talbot on the road hard at work. During her career she’s delivered all kinds of freight, including 20 years she spent delivering for the government and 3 1/2 years she hauled radioactive materials. She knew she had what it takes to be a trucker from the time she was a child.
Talbot said that when her marriage to her second husband, a diesel mechanic, ended, she decided to get on a truck herself. She learned how to drive the old school way: On the open road.
“You’ve got to remember this was like 38 years ago, and so consequently I didn’t have to deal with any of the driving schools or anything like that. I learned on the truck. I’ve loved it from the day I ever got started. I loved it and I never wanted to do anything else,” Talbot said.
She’s been an owner-operator for her entire career, minus the one year she took off to haul empty plastic bottles for a company. She likes having authority over her business and not having to accommodate a boss or coworkers.
“I feel like I am in charge of what I’m doing. I don’t have a superior watching over my shoulder,” Talbot said. “I don’t have to go into a cubicle and work with the same people day in and day out, hear all their stories about all the things that are going on in their lives that I’m not really interested in, like if they’re having trouble with their children or having trouble with their spouse. That doesn’t interest me and so consequently trucking allows me to have that solitude.”
Talbot was one of the first members of Real Women in Trucking and she was recently honored with the association’s Trucking Trailblazer award. She says she’s happy to share advice with other women who want to have a long, successful trucking career like she has.
“I don’t see myself being anything special. This is my life. This is a way that I can live independently, be self-sufficient,” she said. “I’m just willing to share with anyone if they’re having problems. If there’s something that I can help them with, I’m willing to share.”
With all of the information available online these days, Talbot recommends women interested in the industry do a lot of research. In order to be a successful trucker, she says, you have to have “at least a little gypsy in your soul.” Individuals who like having a regular schedule or are a part of lots of social clubs may not enjoy trucking as much.
“If those things are extremely important to you and you really miss them, you’re going to be a miserable person in the trucking industry because the truck has to come first, Talbot said. “If you don’t take care of the truck then you cannot expect the truck to take care of you. That’s why you’re out here, to have the freedom of not having to see the same people everyday, not having somebody looking over your shoulder all the time. It’s a feeling that you’re mature and you can do this.”