Couples’ Commitment Continues Behind the Wheel
By Pauline Hovey
The first time Mary Littler attempted to drive a standard transmission she was 37 years old. And she was seated behind the wheel of a tractor trailer.
Not an easy feat for anyone, but even more intimidating for someone like Littler, who admits, “I was scared of trucks.”
Her motivation? She wanted to spend more time with her husband.
After Chad Littler retired from the U.S. Navy in 2014, Mary expected they’d be seeing more of each other. After all, during their 17 years of marriage, Mary found herself raising their two children alone for months at a time while Chad was onboard ship.
“I sometimes felt like a single mom,” she admitted.
But Chad’s new 9-to-5 schedule at a sheet metal shop didn’t last long. After six months he decided he needed to follow his dream – drive a tractor-trailer and see the country. Plus, as Chad saw it, truck driving was an opportunity for a second career – one that would allow him to “support my family, travel, and be my own boss.”
After researching various programs on the Internet and talking with experienced drivers, Chad enrolled in the National Tractor Trailer School (NTTS), based out of upstate New York. The NTTS 602-hour Advanced Commercial Driver Course certified by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) met his criteria for thorough and intensive training – not unlike what Chad was accustomed to in the military. Another added benefit – NTTS had been training veterans like himself since 1972, as well as reservists and active duty military, including soldiers at Fort Drum. And with the Post-9/11 GI Bill® offering paid tuition, Chad could easily afford to attend.
But Chad hadn’t counted on his wife’s reaction when, after graduating, he excitedly started his career in trucking. Being away from home anywhere from 30 to 45 days at a time was not what Mary had signed on for.
“It was just like having him back in the navy,” Mary said. “I told him, ‘I want you home more.’”
Realizing “that was too much for her,” Chad turned to another employer – Gypsum Express, of Baldwinsville, NY. A 600-truck carrier, Gypsum Express employs Chad Monday through Friday, making deliveries to New York City and the eastern states. He may travel down the East Coast as far as Virginia or North Carolina, but is back home by the weekend and some weeknights as well.
“It works great now,” Mary said of Chad’s schedule. “And I actually love the company he works for. They treat you like family.”
Employees at Gypsum know both Littlers by name, something that makes Mary feel part of their team. And Mary is not only happier, she plans on joining her husband behind the wheel.
Also a military veteran as well as a mom, Mary was more than ready to learn something new. Once her self-sufficient teenage children didn’t need her in the same capacity as a mother, she figured why not spend time with Chad on the road and learn a new skill at the same time?
Her choice of tractor-trailer training programs was easy.
With schools in Liverpool and Buffalo, NY, NTTS has been training drivers for more than 45 years. And NTTS is not new to training women behind the wheel. According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), nearly 200,000 women currently drive trucks in the U.S., and NTTS has trained its fair share of women seeking competitive salaries, significant job prospects, and the lure of the open road – all factors in the growing popularity of female truck drivers.
Although Mary doesn’t fit that category to a tee, she does love to travel and she expected NTTS, with its extensive training and PTDI-certified courses, to properly prepare her for her new career. She was right.
Upon completion of the 18-week program, Mary will know how to safely operate a tractor-trailer, thanks to her classroom, lab, and behind-the-wheel training on a variety of tractors and trailers. She’s already been learning to shift gears and back up a trailer while gaining confidence in her abilities.
“I was scared to death the first time I had to back up a trailer,” Mary chuckled. But after less than two weeks she claimed to be “actually starting to love it. I’m getting a lot more comfortable. And the instructors have been very patient.”
That’s a special benefit to someone like Mary who lacked experience and possessed a fair amount of fear. “It took me six months to even get used to climbing into that rig and getting behind the wheel,” she said.
Lauding her enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment to her education, NTTS’ Training Director John McCann has been behind Mary 100 percent. “She is very cooperative with other students and her instructors and she regularly seeks their assistance. Her efforts are significantly helping in her progress to successfully completing the course.”
With patient instructors supporting her, asking for extra help was not an issue for Mary. Nor was the fact that she’s the only female in her class. Although more women are considering trucking as a career, they still make up less than 10 percent of drivers nationwide, according to ATA statistics.
Once Mary graduates from NTTS in October 2016, husband and wife want to become a driving team for Gypsum. With both of them employed as drivers, they will not only get two paychecks, but will be able to get more mileage in since they can trade off hours behind the wheel. This will allow them to go beyond the 11 hours per day limit for a solo driver and still remain in compliance with hours of service.
“I think it’s probably one of the best things you can do in the trucking industry today,” said Harry Kowalchyk, president of NTTS, Inc. “With two incomes, you could make over $100,000 a year. Plus, their communication as a couple increases.”
These are just some of the reasons why Chad is looking forward to experiencing the road alongside his spouse.
“It gets lonely on the road,” he explained. “It’ll be nice to have Mary there to talk to as things happen.”
And not only will driving together bring them closer together, he said it will bring them closer to their goals of retiring in 10 years and becoming independent owner-operators. Once Mary joins him, Chad expects they’ll work toward gaining the appropriate experience and financing to make that latter goal a reality.
As for Mary, she’s not entering this new venture with blinders. She knows their success as a husband/wife team is not going to come together without effort. “What it will take to make this work is communication – lots of communication,” Mary said.
Having occasionally ridden as a passenger with Chad on assignment, Mary’s already aware of some of the challenges of life on the road. She’s slept on the truck, prepared food on the truck using Chad’s slow cooker, and traversed the country for hours in a rig. She doesn’t find any of that challenging.
The most challenging thing remains backing up the truck. But she expects to master that by the time she graduates from NTTS. She mentions a gentleman from Indiana who enrolled in her class at NTTS after finishing a much shorter, non-certified truck driver training program elsewhere. “He didn’t feel comfortable being on the road after graduating from that program,” Mary said. “It didn’t teach him enough. There are actually only 57 schools that have PTDI-certified courses.”
And she and Chad are grateful they enrolled in one of them.
“There are definitely drivers out there who can’t back up a truck,” Chad noted. “I’ve talked to other drivers about the training I’ve had and they’re surprised. Any time you get more training on something, it’s a good thing.”
The detailed and repetitive aspects of training that the PTDI-certified course offers has been especially attractive to the Littlers. Chad says it reminds him of their experiences in the military.
“We would repeat the same drill over and over again,” Chad explained of his years in the navy. “It makes you learn a whole lot better. And there’s no room for error.”
Something else about truck driving that Chad finds similar to military life – he’s providing a much-needed service that requires dedication and responsibility.
“I feel a lot of pride and freedom in what I do,” Chad said. “I’m still delivering, still serving a need, still serving my country.”
Once Chad and Mary hit the road as a team, they hope to blog about their experiences, helping fellow truck drivers, especially women, along the way and promoting the benefits and adventures of their newfound career as husband and wife team drivers.
PTDI is a national, nonprofit organization established for the twofold purpose of developing uniform industry skill, curriculum, and certification standards for entry-level truck driver training and motor carrier driver finishing programs, and certifying entry-level truck driver training courses at public and private schools and driver finishing programs at carriers for compliance with PTDI standards. PTDI is based in Alexandria, Virginia.