Perseverance Pays

FAMILY: Five sons, 12 grandchildren
LEASED TO: Yellowstone 2000 in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
RIG: 2000 Western Star
FREIGHT: Flatbed – mostly airline freight, electrical boxes and air conditioners
NET INCOME: $46,000
ACCIDENT-FREE: 32 years, 41/2 million miles

Peggy Ballinger’s red hair is the first sign that she might be a little feisty. Her solo driving career of 32 years reinforces the notion. A no-nonsense attitude and vigorous work ethic have kept her on the road 350 to 355 days a year.

“I drove until I was eight and a half months pregnant with my third son. I was back on the road when he was 6 weeks old,” Ballinger says. “The two youngest, I potty-trained in a cabover. You haven’t lived until you have a potty tarp-rubbered on the doghouse.”

Now that her sons are older, Ballinger’s dog, Lady, and cat, Mouse, are the only ones that ride in her cab with her.

“Driving by myself, I do it all. Those chains on the side of the cab? I put them on myself. I change the oil. I do a little wiring; occasionally screw up a little wiring. I can dink around and do a lot of stuff,” she says.

Ballinger bought her 2000 Western Star in 1999, along with a new trailer. Her 110-inch custom ICT Sundowner has a shower, toilet, television, VCR, microwave, 45-gallon water reservoir, 6-gallon hot water heater and even a kitchen sink.

“It’s really cool. There’s so much storage space,” she says. “It’s really comfortable. It’s just the payments that are uncomfortable.”

Ballinger has worked hard to earn her truck. Once she had to sell eight acres and take out a mortgage on her house, but she has always managed to stay on top of things.

“I’ve never been afraid of work. I think a lot of people are,” Ballinger says.

Ballinger has been an owner-operator for 22 of her 32 years driving. She currently hauls airplane freight for Yellowstone, sometimes hauling electrical boxes and air conditioners. She drives 48 states and enjoys hauling wide loads since they present a challenge.

“I’ve never run team,” Ballinger says. “Nobody could stand me. I threatened my ex-husband, ‘If you’re bad, I’ll make you ride team with me.’ He’d always be good.”

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The mother of five now meets up with her ex-husband and two sons when they cross on the road. Ballinger trained the sons to drive and has also trained some friends.

“She’s a real go-getter, not a slacker by any means,” says Rebecca West, a driver coordinator at Yellowstone Trucking. “She’s not only a real faithful driver, but she also trained two drivers. She does a good job driving, but does a good job training, too.”

One of Ballinger’s more exciting runs was to a nuclear power plant in Virginia. As she and two trucks were following their designated route through Texas, they came to an underpass that they could not fit under.

“Two rangers came out and stopped traffic. We had to back up a half-mile or more, couldn’t see anything behind us besides this big tank. The whole trip was a disaster,” she says. “Texas, in its infinite wisdom, had given us a bad route. I think someone in Texas just throws darts at a map and wherever they land, that’s how they route you.”

As much as Ballinger loves to drive, she relishes time spent at her 100-year-old house on 12 acres in Smithwick, S.D. She enjoys the company of her dogs, cat and horses when she is not too busy doing laundry or paying the bills.

“That’s all I have time to do,” she says.

HOW I GOT STARTED: I was a blackjack dealer in Reno. I was young, and back then I was cute. I had this guy who played at my table once a week. He was a trucker, and one week he asked me if I wanted to drive. I was adventurous, so I did.

MOST UNUSUAL LOAD: Once I was hauling Cobalt 60, a radioactive substance. It’s in this 5,000-pound box, but it’s suspended in there, so you’re hauling about 2 grams of product and 5,000 pounds of box.

UNUSUAL PLACES I HAVE HAULED: Downtown Jersey City, N.J., with construction equipment. Or hauling into hospitals – they’re not set up for big trucks.

BEST THING ABOUT TRUCKING: Freedom. Or the pretense of freedom, because we really aren’t, but it’s better than punching a time card.

FAVORITE MUSIC: Country-Western; my favorite is Patsy Cline’s “Walkin after Midnight.”

BEST MEMORY: I hauled a 17-foot-wide load last January from Wichita to Seattle – it was a kick in the pants, lots of fun. I had it all planned out in my head where we could stop. When you’re 17 feet wide, that’s really important. And I loved hauling radioactive stuff. That was fun. I like to do different stuff. Anybody can get out there and shut a reefer door. Life is an adventure – you have to look at it that way.


FAVORITE TV SHOW: “Frasier” or “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

FAVORITE FOOD: Fresh fruits and vegetables. I don’t eat a lot of meat. I’m not a vegetarian by any means; I just like salads and fruits. And I love Mickey D’s burgers. That Big and Tasty is a weakness.

PET PEEVE: There’s no cohesiveness, no camaraderie. It used to be that if you stopped on the side of the road, five guys would stop to help you. Now 10 guys stop to rob you. And I hate pee bottles in parking lots. There’s no reason for it.

GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Raising five sons that turned out good in spite of me, and then they gave me 12 darling grandkids.

MOTTO: You can do anything you want so long as you believe you can do it.

If you know someone who has been driving for 15 years and has a great safety record, email us at [email protected].