Women in Expedited Trucking: Sandi Putz
Meet Sandi Putz. Sandi and her husband John have been on the road together as expediters for 13 years, spending the first six years as contract drivers before they became owner-operators in 2010. What led Sandi and John to become expediters? What advice does Sandi have for other women who may be considering a career in expedited trucking?
EO recently spoke with Sandi to learn more about her journey--how she got started in expediting, the lessons she's learned along the way, and what she likes most about the expediter life. Here are edited highlights from our conversation.
EO: What were you and John doing prior to becoming expediters?
Sandi Putz: John was working at AT&T, where he drove a digger derrick truck [used for digging holes and setting telephone poles]. And so, he already had his CDL. He retired from AT&T after working there for 30 years. And I was a secretary at a Lutheran school, and I retired after 16 years.
Now, what happened was that, after we both retired in 2002, I kind of got bored with John being at home. So, I told him to go get a part-time job, a hobby, or something! Then a friend of a friend--you know how that goes--said that there was a trucking company near us that was looking for drivers for freight trucks. So, John went and applied, and for about a year and a half, he drove team with another guy.
EO: So, how did you get into it?
SP: In 2004, he went to driving solo for the same trucking company, and I would ride along with him. I wasn't driving or anything at the time. But the dispatch guy there said, "Well, we need someone to do a team run with you. Would your wife want to drive?" They said, "You don't need to have a CDL with this truck. Just have to go and get your medical card." So, I looked at John. He's shaking his head "No," but I'm thinking, "Well, this might be okay." I went and got my medical card, and I've been driving ever since--and I love it!
Later I got my CDL, and we drove as contract drivers for about six more years before we made the jump and bought our own truck.
EO: When did you become an owner-operator? SP: In 2010, when we purchased a used [2007-model] truck. A year later, we bought a new 2011 truck, and then in 2015, we traded that in for another new truck that we're still driving.
EO: What was your experience with that used truck--the first truck you bought?
SP: I think it had over 700,000 miles when we bought it. I'm not really sure, to tell you the truth. All I know is that we ended up having so many repairs on it--like, $17,000 in repairs.
So, we sat down and figured out that, with the $17,000 a year, if you divided that up by 12, we could afford the payment on a new truck and have the warranty and not have to breakdown all the time--not turn down a load because we're sitting and waiting at a repair shop.
EO: Why do you think that you and John chose expediting versus, say, over-the-road trucking?
SP: When I said to John, "Go do something. You're driving me crazy," the trucking company he started driving for was using expediter trucks.
So when I joined John a couple years later, the thing I liked about it was that I wouldn't have to drive a tractor-trailer. I had never driven one and just the thought of it makes me kind of nervous. I personally like the smaller expediter straight truck. I think my husband does, too, because we can basically go anywhere. You can go out for dinner. You can go for a movie. You can get into a Walmart parking lot easily. There are a lot of different things that, when you're not driving, you can get to or do, without the truck getting in the way.
What I also like about being an an expediter is that you can be in one area of the country one day, and the next day or two days later, you can be completely across the country. You never know where you're going, and that's what I like. I wouldn't want to be a tractor-trailer driver, where I would have to drive the same route every day. I would not like that at all. I wouldn't even like to be in a straight truck and do the the same route every day. To me, it would just become too much of a job.
EO: That's precisely why you retired in the first place, right? You wanted to do something more enjoyable?
SP: Well, we didn't know this at the time. If you were to ask me before I retired, "Would you ever drive a truck or would you ever go into expediting?" I would have said, "No." But I'm a Christian and believe in God, and I think, in this case, God just opened the door for us.
EO: Now, have you experienced any challenges unique to being a woman in expediting?
SP: I really haven't had any challenges [specific to being a woman] that I would say because, of course, I have a man in the truck. When my husband has had to have surgery while we're out on the road, I have been lucky enough to get to park in hospital parking lots. But I have always made sure that the front doors are secure. This is especially important for any woman who is out there driving alone. We use one of those tie-down belts where you slip it through each of the door handles and crank it down and lock it. Then the doors can't be opened from the outside.
The other thing, especially for women, is that you don't leave your truck in the middle of the night. I don't even do that with my husband with me. There are port-a-potties that you can purchase for a decent price. Just don't leave your truck in the middle of the night, no matter where you're parked.
EO: What advice do you have to give to other women who are thinking about the expedite life?
SP: I would say go for it. I was worried about driving a large truck. But I've gotten over that.
The key is that they have to know themselves, of course. If they're really uncomfortable being alone in a truck, then I would say don't do it. But if they're thinking, "Oh, I wonder if I should or I shouldn't," I would say go ahead and try it because you really can't fail at any job. You might find out that it's not the job for you, but if you really want to do it, you can do it.
EO: Would you recommend that they start out as drivers, like you and John did?
SP: Yes, that's one thing that I would recommend to everyone. Start out as a driver of a company. Within two or three years' time, we knew how to get to the shippers. We knew how to get to the receivers. We knew where to get fuel at the best places. When problems arose, like the truck breaking down, we knew all of that before we actually got into our own truck. Boy, oh boy, that made a big difference for us.
EO: Any parting advice that you think would be important for our readers to know, especially for women considering expediting?
SP: Number one, if you're a single woman, don't be afraid to ask for help. Be cautious where and how you ask for help, of course, but if you need some help with something, don't be afraid to ask for help, because there are many people out there in trucking who are willing to help you. I wouldn't stand out on a dark road with my truck broken down trying to flag someone down. So, you have to use some common sense. But I've found that there are a lot of people out here in trucking who are willing to help someone.
And if you're married or with a significant other, I would definitely say don't go into this type of job if, say, your marriage or the relationship with your significant other is not strong, because you're with each other 24/7 in a very small living space. As for my husband and I, we will be married 47 years in October!