EDMOND, Okla. – “You can do it,” one volunteer said to Kellylynn McLaughlin as she got into the cab of the truck that accompanied her child’s marching band in 2014. The rig was used to transport all of the brass band’s equipment. Drums, tubes, uniforms and even a golf cart.
The truck that was usually driven by the volunteer was intimidating to McLaughlin. It looked like fun, but she hesitated.
“I thought how many people thought it was a mystery to me,” McLaughlin said in an interview with The Trucker. “I thought you must be a mechanic and a man and have been in the industry for years.”
When the volunteer expressed belief that she could do it, McLaughlin felt a rush of excitement and encouragement. When she actually drove, she wondered why she had doubted herself.
“I felt very stupid because I doubted there was anything I couldn’t do because I have a pretty adventurous mind,” she said.
McLaughlin’s adventurous spirit always had its roots in transportation; In fact, she spent her school years taking flight lessons and becoming a pilot. Her father was also an amateur racing driver who influenced McLaughlin’s longing for life on the road.
“We have engines and speed and transportation in our blood,” she said.
At 50, McLaughlin knew she was dying to learn how to drive a truck – and she already had transportation experience as a passenger safety instructor with the National Transportation Safety Administration.
Her life has not been the same since.
“I just decided that when I got old and said goodbye to the planet, I would leave with no regrets,” said McLaughlin. “I would regret not trying it, and I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot about myself. “
She has now been driving a truck for five years and is a training engineer at Schneider National.
She learned a lot about herself and what she can achieve. Becoming a truck driver enabled her, she said.
“It was very empowering to conquer what you think is better than you,” she said. “Being able to tow an 80,000 pound vehicle at high speed through very tight spaces on the freeway – and to do so safely – is such a sense of achievement. I learned something new every day and met so many interesting people that I would never have met them. “
As McLaughlin got used to her new career, she started asking questions like, “Why don’t we girls tell you can be truck drivers if you want? Why is it so difficult for me to find a bathroom and shower? Why do I have to pay for this shower at all? “
McLaughlin said these thoughts showed her the non-essential feelings associated with being an essential worker.
“I only had men to ask my questions. Sometimes they had an answer that really suited a man, but maybe it didn’t really fit my need as a woman, ”she said. “I was looking for ways to connect with other women in the industry.”
Asking these questions led McLaughlin on a quest to find her mission – one that would challenge and transform her. She had got into trucking on a whim, but now it was time for her to seek wisdom, a quest that led her to Women In Trucking (WIT). WIT is a non-profit organization committed to promoting the employment of women in the trucking industry and providing resources to minimize potential barriers.
“I wanted something in terms of professional development and to broaden my horizons and learn more about the industry as a whole,” she said. “I just want to leave this industry better than I found it.”
McLaughlin noticed when she went to truck shows that WIT always had a booth set up. Eventually she joined the organization.
“It was one of the best things I did to get in touch with other women,” she said. “I received weekly newsletters that sometimes repeated what I heard from other industry magazines, but sometimes it was completely new information that was relevant to me as a woman in the industry. I like the fact that they not only include drivers, but also mechanics, managers, and people on the support side of transportation. “
In 2020, McLaughlin was named WIT’s first driver ambassador.
In that role, posting a YouTube video with topics like safety precautions, truck cooking, fueling tips, and more is on a weekly list of to-do items for McLaughlin. There are also blogs to write and a podcast to produce, as well as media interviews and even some lectures on COVID-19 precautions. Without a pandemic, there would be more of these talking events, she said.
During her visit to The Trucker, McLaughlin was preparing to climb into a truck named “WITney,” which serves as a traveling billboard and educational exhibit for WIT. The trailer is filled with interactive kiosks, quizzes, and exhibits that share stories about the trucking lifestyle.
As a trucker and training engineer for Schneider International, McLaughlin divides her time between Schneider and WIT and turns the two part-time jobs into full-time employment. McLaughlin said it can be difficult to schedule interviews, podcasts, and blogs while she’s on the go, but she can make time for anything.
McLaughlin likes to talk about trucking, which she calls the nation’s “circulatory system”.
“This is an important task and these people make sacrifices every day to make sure our country works. The least we can do is be nice and pay them better, ”she said with a laugh.
McLaughlin said it was the realization that everything in her house came on a truck that made her truly appreciate the industry she had joined.
“If (the trucking industry) isn’t running, the country will just close very quickly,” she said. “This country can’t survive without us, and I never thought about it that much before I got into trucking. I was one of those who took that for granted and the drivers were just a nuisance on the road. “
At home she is more than a driver, a trainer or an ambassador for WIT. She is a mom with two college daughters, one of whom is studying aviation, and animals that need to be raised.
“My daughters and I raise pigs and I like to walk my dog,” she said. “When I’m at home, I like to do things like garden and cook and play with the farm animals. I meet up with my friends and I can just be a completely normal person. “
McLaughlin noted that raising pigs goes hand in hand with her passion for gardening by taking care of the fertilization. She has been breeding pigs repeatedly for about six years and says they are a perfect winter project.
“You are so smart and funny,” she said. “And the best thing about pigs is that you can get them in the fall and they are ready to be slaughtered in the spring. They are very robust; They are coyote safe. “
She encourages her daughters and animals as well as the students she trains and the people she teaches along the way. McLaughlin tries to generate motivation through her YouTube videos, podcasts, and blogs, much like she was motivated: she was simply encouraged to get on a truck and drive.