Spirit of a pioneer

| May 01, 2006

Team drivers at CFI for the past decade, Dora and Butch Colvin have driven 2 million miles without an accident or out-of-service order – or a major fight.

Dora Colvin has been a groundbreaker more than once. She was the first woman CDL holder in her Kansas county in 1965. She was the first woman driver at two trucking

Now, she is the first woman to be named the Company Equipment Driver of the Year. The award is sponsored by the Truckload Carriers Association and Truckers News. She was honored at TCA’s annual convention in Kissimmee, Fla., last month.

Her driving career has been long – 41 years and 2 million accident-free miles – and she has faced discrimination, physical challenges and balancing work and family. But the effervescent Dora wouldn’t call it a hard life. She likes to make the best of things.

“I’ve had four career changes and never had a job I didn’t like,” she says. “If I didn’t enjoy it, I figured it was probably my fault. If you aren’t happy with yourself, you can’t expect anybody or anything to make you happy. Happiness is strictly from within.”

The 64-year-old driver grew up in a remote town in North Dakota, where the snow sometimes reached higher than the tops of the telephone poles. Young Dora identified with famous pioneer/author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her father died when she was 11, so Colvin helped her mother run the tiny 17-seat family restaurant. That first job put her through college to get her teaching degree.

Dora moved to California and on the way met trucker Gordon Colvin, better known to friends and family as Butch. The pair clicked instantly and got married just months later. Forty-two years later they’re still together, driving team.

“He started driving as a teenager in 1962,” Dora says. “He was born with a steering wheel in his hands. His mother told me when we got married, ‘I’ll give you a word of advice. If you just consider you married a truck, and Butch is the bonus, you’ll never have a moment’s trouble.’”

The Colvins settled in Udall, Kan., and at first Dora taught school while Butch drove truck.
“We always tried to have everything done when Daddy came in,” Dora says. “That was free time. There were no honey-dos, nothing; it was just fun time with the kids. There’s enough strain on the road without worrying about stuff at home.”

In 1965 Dora decided to try for a CDL herself. There was a 5-foot-3-inch height requirement (now eliminated because it’s discriminating), and Dora was 2 inches too short. She didn’t let that stop her – she wore boots.

“Even in her cowboy boots, she has to get up on her toes to get in,” Butch says.

No woman in their county had ever taken the commercial driver’s test. Dora had to wait for the patrolman to stop laughing before he would administer the test.

“They thought it was the funniest thing they ever heard,” she says.

She left with a smile on her face, a baby on her hip and a license in her hand.

“The first truck I drove was exactly like what we’d driven on the farm, except it had this great big thing hanging out behind,” Dora says. “Then the next truck we drove was a 4×4 cabover. In order for me to turn a corner, I literally had to stand up and turn that wheel around. It was a wonderful truck for the time.”

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