THE PRIZE PATROL
As the Truckload Carriers Association’s 2002 Independent Contractor of the Year, Carol Ann Schlussler receives a 2003 International 9900ix, powered by a 500-hp Cummins Signature 15X engine. The tractor comes equipped with an Eaton transmission, Goodyear G300 series radial tires, a Fontaine No-Slack II 7000 Series Cast Sliding fifth wheel, four ArvinMeritor wheel-end stop boxes with new lined MA 312 shoes and brake hardware, a pair of National Premium cloth seats and a set of West Coast mirrors from Velvac.
Schlussler will also receive:
Other winners in this year’s contest:
Second place Artie Reid, Dart Transit, Lancaster, Texas.
Third place Henry Shriver, Smithway Motor Xpress, Fort Dodge, Iowa.
Fourth place Charles Parrish, Warren Transport, Waterloo, Iowa.
Fifth place Ray Wells, Sherman Bros. Heavy Trucking, Harrisburg, Ore.
Second through fifth place winners received plaques and U.S. Savings Bonds from Overdrive as well as many other prizes.
Owner-operator Carol Ann Schlussler has a simple philosophy of life: “When you know you have to do something, you just do it,” she says. This no-nonsense approach has helped the 25-year trucking veteran smooth out more than her share of bumps in the road. From overcoming childhood polio, to supporting her family when her husband became ill, Schlussler has always done whatever needed doing.
The New Richmond, Wis., trucker’s can-do philosophy has paid off. In March, the Truckload Carriers Association and Overdrive recognized Schlussler’s accomplishments by naming her TCA’s 2002 Independent Contractor of the Year. The award, presented March 11 during TCA’s Annual Convention in Orlando, was based on her excellent safety record, unblemished work history and involvement in the community and industry.
“She’s a hard-working woman,” says Don Oren, CEO of Eagan, Minn.-based Dart Transit, where Schlussler has been leased for 16 years. Owner-operators such as Schlussler “have a little more invested in the business,” Oren says. “They’re more dedicated. And their safety records speak for themselves.” Schlussler has won all of Dart’s major awards and has driven nearly 2.5 million miles without a moving violation or chargeable accident. She averages about 120,000 miles per year, hauling general freight.
Schlussler’s interest in trucking began when she was a little girl, sitting on her dad’s lap and holding the steering wheel while he drove. “It always fascinated me,” she says. But when she came down with polio at age 11, Schlussler was forced to watch the world through her hospital window for the several weeks it took her to fully recover. She recalls waving to a delivery man every day when he pulled up in his truck. “He wrote on a piece of cardboard: ‘Hi, how are you?'” she says. “He was so nice to me. I wanted to drive a truck and be kind to others, too.”
But it wasn’t until the late 1970s that Schlussler’s trucking career began.
She and her husband Bob, now deceased, had five children and two foster children, and ran a 300-head hog farm in Wisconsin. Bob, who had worked in a paper mill for years, developed heart problems, diabetes and other ailments from the chemicals he’d been exposed to. “He got $107 a month from his company,” Schlussler says. With no insurance, mounting medical bills and a depressed hog market, the Schlusslers struggled to make ends meet.
Schlussler’s sister Pat Rauschnot, who was a truck driver, suggested Carol Ann take a job hauling hogs to the stock yards in Milwaukee at night and on weekends. After that she drove a city truck for eight years until she broke both her wrists in an accident and the company fired her. “Pat said, ‘Ride with me for a while,'” she recalls. “Then I figured I would just drive myself.”
When Schlussler and her sister got started in trucking, there weren’t many women in the business. The only showers, she recalls, were in the men’s room. Schlussler would wait until a truck stop employee could stand at the door and keep a lookout while she showered. “Even the laundry facilities were in the men’s room,” she says.
One of Schlussler’s favorite stories is of two guys standing on a dock “talking about how long it would take me to back up between a pole and dumpster. The one guy said
to the other, ‘I bet you a buck she
doesn’t get it in there the first time,'” Schlussler says. To their amazement, she backed it right in. “They had their mouths open,” she says with a chuckle. “They asked me: ‘How long have you been driving?’ I told them I just started yesterday.”
But despite the challenges she’s faced as a woman in a man’s industry, Schlussler wouldn’t trade places with anyone. “I love the freedom of driving,” she says. “I like my big windshield so I can see things. I just like to mosey along.” Whenever she has an extra day during a trip, Schlussler gets a motel and takes in the sights. She also makes time whenever possible to hook up with her sister Pat at a truck stop for lunch. The two are very close. “Now with the cell phones we talk every day,” Schlussler says.
Schlussler promotes safety and a positive image of trucking by serving as a Trucker Buddy to a class in Alaska. She also visits schools and scout troops.
As for her recent honor, Schlussler says it doesn’t seem real yet. “I’m still floating,” she says. The award and the grand prize of a 2003 International 9900ix couldn’t have come at a better time. “Every time I pass a garage, my truck drives in,” she says, jokingly, of her six-year-old rig. “Now I don’t have to worry.”
And she looks forward to putting several hundred thousand miles on her new truck “As long as my health is good, there’s no reason I can’t keep driving,” she says. “There’s nothing I don’t like about driving.”