BARBARA Herman always wanted to pull a big, shiny tank trailer. That opportunity finally came in 2008 when she was hired to drive for K-Limited Carrier Ltd, and she has now been honored as the best of the best among tank truck drivers.
Herman recently was named the National Tank Truck Carriers 2018-2019 Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year. Hers is just the sixth name inscribed on the William A Usher Sr trophy, and she is the first woman to achieve that honor. The trophy is sponsored by Great West Casualty Company.
Over more than 30 years, Herman quietly and diligently built a distinguished career as a truck driver who is actively involved in the industry and community. She has more than two million miles of accident-free driving on her record, and she was the K-Limited Driver of the Year in 2010. She was a finalist for the Ohio Trucking Association Driver of the Year in 2015.
Based at K-Limited’s Toledo, Ohio headquarters terminal, Herman has participated numerous times in the Ohio Truck Driving Championships as a contestant and volunteer. She has been a guest instructor at Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy. She also works in the “No Zone” display at the Ohio State Fair.
Herman says she became a tank truck driver because she believes they are the elite among professional truck drivers, and she shares their passion for and dedication to safety.
“The most important responsibility that I carry with me each and every day is safety,” she says. “For me, safety isn’t just a word, it’s a way of life.”
Dean Kaplan, chief executive officer of K-Limited Carrier, wrote in his letter nominating Herman for NTTC’s Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year: “I have watched for the past 10 years Ms Herman rise to the pinnacle of our company’s tradition ‘Pride, Performance, and Professionalism’ taking the word ‘excellence’ to a whole new level. In what is generally considered a man’s domain, Barb has ascended to the very top with grace, maturity, and vision that I have seldom witnessed over my career in trucking.”
Kaplan puts Herman in the top 15% of drivers at K-Limited Carrier. “She has quietly done an outstanding job, and accomplishes anything she puts her mind to,” he says. “She takes great pride in her truck, and she has a great understanding of regulatory compliance. She hasn’t had a single recorded event over the time we’ve had on-board cameras in our trucks.”
Candi Coate, vice-president, safety & regulatory compliance at K-Limited Carrier, adds: “Barb has a true passion you don’t see in many people when they talk about their career. It is this passion that will help put a positive light on the trucking industry. In the current driver shortage situation we are experiencing, it is so important to have an ambassador who can speak honestly about the positive aspects of a trucking career. Barb is that person.”
Asked what she would like to accomplish during her year as NTTC’s Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year, Herman says she wants to make truck driving exciting for young women.
“Trucking has a place for women,” she says. “Equal pay is a big factor, and it has always been that way in trucking. Trucking has supported my family quite well.
“In addition, a woman doesn’t have to give up her femininity to do this job. She can have stylish hair, wear makeup, and have her nails done up. She can be all female. She can also cook dinner for her kids and help them with their homework at the end of a driving shift.
“I’m going to enjoy this year. I really hope that I’m invited into some of the high schools to talk with the kids. I believe I can suggest good career options to some of the kids who don’t want to go to college. I want to get out into some different areas of the industry.
“When I’m speaking to groups of children, I usually focus on the younger girls who say they don’t think they could ever drive a big truck. I tell them I’m 5 ft 2 inches and I can drive a truck.”
Herman grew up in the trucking industry in Johnson City, Tennessee. Her father was a produce hauler.
“I knew I wanted to be a truck driver by the time I was six years old,” she says. “I watched my dad go off to work every day. When he had a local haul—less than 50 miles from home—he would often come by and pick up one of us kids. I always said ‘me daddy, me.’ I have two brothers and neither of them wanted to go.
“On one trip he backed up to the loading dock, turned and looked at me and said ‘Now I want you to stay put. I don’t want you getting out of the truck, because I don’t want you getting hurt.’ I remember like it was yesterday.
“So, in a little while I felt movement in the trailer. I thought if I got out I could help him and we could get done faster and go get ice cream. I climbed out of the truck and onto the dock—where he had told me not to go—and went into the trailer. I asked please daddy, please let me help. So he handed me a 10-lb bag of potatoes. I weighed 35 pounds. I struggled with all my might and got that bag of potatoes to the rear, but I was done. It wore me out, but I did get the ice cream.
“On the way home that night I told him I wanted to be a truck driver (this was around 1965). He said women just don’t do that.
“My mother also told me I should be somebody’s secretary or become a nurse. I tried the secretary job, but I like my office with a view that changes mile after mile.”
Many years later while Herman was living near Dayton, Ohio, she met an owner-operator named John. “We were later married but before our relationship took off, he told me: ‘Look, this is what I do. This is what I am.’ I told him I really admired him for what he did.”
It wasn’t difficult for John to talk Barbara into going for a ride to California with him.
“When we reached Amarillo, Texas, I looked over at him and I said I don’t like this. He asked ‘what is it you don’t like?’ I said I want to be over there in the driver’s seat. From that moment on he started teaching me to drive a truck.
“It was 1984 and he drove a red Kenworth W900 at the time. The rest of the way to California and back, I learned how to shift and float the gears. I drove mostly in the desert on that trip. Then I told him I wanted to learn to drive in the city. From then on, I would go with him as often as I could.”
After marrying, they drove together as a team for almost 20 years. “We worked for Werner Enterprise for a while as well as Jamestown Transportation,” Herman says. “We pulled flatbeds, freight boxes, reefer trailers. We ran all over the country. A steady route was New York to Los Angeles to Ft Lauderdale, then back home. The most unusual load was cadavers.
“Tanks were the only trailers we never pulled. I always wanted to pull tanks. I tried to talk John into it, but he didn’t want anything to do with tanks. He said it was dangerous. The cargoes are dangerous.”
Then came 2006, a year of personal tragedy.
“We were asked to handle a regular load to Orlando (Florida),” Herman says. “It didn’t really require a team. Our grandson had a soccer tournament, and I really wanted to watch. John said he didn’t feel well so I suggested we not take the load. He said he’d do it anyway, so I said I’d skip my grandson’s game to go with him.
“For the first time in 20 years, John looked me dead in the face and said: “No, you’re not going.” That was on a Saturday. He had a massive heart attack on his way through Atlanta. The truck jumped the guardrail hit a bridge abutment.
“Eight months prior to John’s death, I had lost both of my parents 13 days apart. The tragedies hit me real hard that year. Sometimes I wonder how I survived.
“My kids asked ‘Mom how do you climb back up into a truck after seeing what happened to dad?’ I replied: He’s the one who taught me how to do this. If I quit it would throw everything he ever stood for out the window.”
Months later, while Herman was still grieving, her sister-in-law asked if she would help someone else through the grief process. He had just lost his wife.
“We had several conversations and realized we could lean on each other,” she says. “We realized we could laugh again.”
At the time, Herman still lived in the Dayton area while Bill lived in Toledo. As their relationship grew, Herman decided to relocate to Toledo, and she asked Bill to suggest some truck fleets she might want to work for. She said she was interested in tank fleets in particular.
He told her there were several tank fleet terminals near the chemical company he works for. One of the fleets was K-Limited Carrier.
“I found out it was a family company with a woman as president,” Herman says. “That was impressive. I’ve always liked smaller family companies. You are more likely to be seen as a person in a smaller company.
“I filled out an application, and the safety manager interviewed me. Her office was on the second floor, and as I looked down at the parking lot, I was so impressed with all the shiny tanks in the fleet. I didn’t hear from them immediately, but then I got a call for a second interview. I met with John Spurling (K-Limited senior vice-president of operations) and I told him I was looking for a home where I could spend the rest of my driving career.”
With no experience in tank trailers and hazardous liquid cargoes, Herman spent three and a half weeks in initial training. She had to learn about how surge can impact the safe operation of a tank trailer.
“My trainer made a hard stop with a loaded trailer to show the effect of a surge,” Herman says. “It really grabbed my attention. Then he taught me to apply the brakes to mitigate the surge.
“I don’t find the job particularly difficult physically. You don’t have to be muscular to do this job. You just have to be determined and patient.
“I do wish I had learned more about the mechanical factors of trucks when I was beginning my driving career. My husband took care of those things. Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of support from K-Limited’s skilled mechanics.”
Today she hauls solvents, xylene, caustic, hydrochloric acid, and oils. “I handle just about every cargo hauled by K-Limited,” she says. “I love pulling tanks, and I make better money doing that than I did pulling a freight box. You couldn’t pay me enough money to go back to dry freight.”
Asked to rank the top issues facing truck drivers today, she says distracted driving is number one on the list. “It’s more than motorists texting,” she says. “It includes tablet computers and safety technology alerts in our own tractor cabs. There is so much noise around us.”
Parking is another huge issue. “We have to pay $18-$20 a night to park at a truck stop, which K-Limited covers,” she says. “If they are going to charge so much, the truck stop operators should at least keep the parking spaces clean.
Some states only allow two-hour parking at rest areas. Many rest areas are being closed, which makes it even more difficult to find a place to park.
“If you are not parked by 4 pm you probably won’t find a space,” Herman says.
At truck stops, the traditional restaurants have been replaced by fast food outlets. “We used to be able to mingle with other drivers at the restaurants,” she says. “You could get a lot of good advice from the experienced pros. That camaraderie has largely gone away along with the image of truck drivers as Knights of the Road.”
Electronic driver logs have been a good change. “It took me a little bit to get used to them, but now it’s nice to know that when I stop I just push a button to finish the log,” she says. “I don’t need to figure out my location or find a pen or pencil to draw a line.”
Finally, Herman believes the industry needs to do a better job of promoting trucking opportunities. “The trucking industry is an ideal source of employment for many people,” she says. “If you like working with your hands, trucking has a place for you. Trucking is right for you if you like working outside.”
So what is it like as a woman hauling a chemical tanker? Herman says one of the most frequent comments is “We don’t get many women in here pulling tanks.”
“People also ask how I see over the hood,” she says. “I tell them I put more air in the seat.”
Herman acknowledges that she has faced challenges in the workplace as a tank truck driver, but she is surrounded by a solid cadre of mentors at K-Limited Carrier.
“I reached a point not long after being hired by K-Limited when I started to feel like I had gotten in over my head,” she says. “After one really bad day, I was ready to quit. I was walking toward the office when Jerry Knotman Sr walked up and told me don’t quit, that it would work out.
“On another occasion, I told Kim Kaplan (president of K-Limited Carrier) that the harder I try, the harder it gets. She said quit trying so hard. You’ve got what it takes.
“Ron Hawkins also took me under his wing. He was one of my trainers and was one of three other K-Limited Carrier drivers who were nominated and selected as finalists for NTTC Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year. He was on America’s Road Team and was the Ohio Trucking Association Driver of the Year. He shared those experiences with me, and I was awed. In the back of my mind, I thought I could never get there. When Ron talked about those awards, I could see the glow in his eyes.”
Herman also greatly values the support that her family has given her throughout her truck-driving career. “My family is very, very important to me,” she says. “Truck driving would be a very lonely occupation without the support of my family.
“There are two photographs that I keep in my head at all times. One is of John’s truck after the accident. The other is a recent photo of me and nine of my grandchildren. Those photos help keep me safe out there.
“I would like to drive five to six more years. After that, I want to spend as much time as possible with my grandchildren and great grandchildren.”