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People of Yellow
The Yellow Team | Nov. 10, 2022
When Peggy Arnold decided more than 30 years ago to become a less-than-truckload driver, it represented a turning point – not just for her working life, but for her family as well.
For years, she had worked a series of minimum wage jobs to support her two children. By becoming a truck driver, Arnold found a role that offered good pay, health insurance and sustainable support for her family.
“I wanted better for my children and truck driving was just a life-changer for my family,” she said. “It really moved me into the middle class.”
As a driver for Yellow since 1990, Arnold has close to two million accident-free miles. She has become a head of safety training at the Nashville terminal and a strong advocate of truck driving as a career option for people of all backgrounds.
In March, the Women In Trucking Association named Arnold its “Driver of the Year” for 2022. She has been named among Women In Trucking’s “Top Women to Watch” for 2022 and was named an America’s Road Team Captain finalist by the American Trucking Associations. Women In Trucking will honor Arnold at its Nov. 13-16 Accelerate! Conference & Expo in Dallas.
The past year has been a busy, memorable one for Arnold. We recently sat down with her to discuss her driving career, her commitment to safety, and why she believes truck driving is an opportunity for many people to build brighter futures for themselves and their families.
The following is our interview, edited for length:
I’ve been a professional driver since the early 1980s. I got my start when I went to truck driving school in Lebanon, Tenn., and I worked for Builders Transport for several years. I really earned my keep there by staying out for about 30 days at a time and coming home for three days.
It felt like, when you came home and by the time you did your laundry and caught up with normal things, it was time to just go right back out there. And I worked for a few other companies until I eventually found my home here at Yellow. I’ve been at Yellow for 32 years, about 30 years full-time and I worked two years casual.
It’s been a game-changer for me to come to LTL freight. I was not able to stay in trucking and had to leave it because of those long periods that I had to stay out on the road. It was just unacceptable to be away from my children for that amount of time.
So, I got out of trucking and went into the service industry, working at small stores and waitressing for a period for time. And one day I met a fellow truck driver. And he said, “You know, there’s LTL freight you can do. And you can haul this freight and be home every few days, and not be out on such long, drawn-out trips.”
So, I set out on a mission to get that done. I went back to school and got my credentials, and went to work. And I worked for CF (Consolidated Freight) for a little while. This was casual work, so I worked for UPS at the same time. I finally landed at Yellow and I’ve been here ever since.
I got started with safety training mainly after my children were raised and I had more time. When you’re in trucking and you get your children raised and that sort of thing, you start to think, “You know, I could give more. I could do more. I could give more back.”
So, I started to seek out things I could do. The safety training – it was there. I applied for that and I started doing training and joined the safety team in Nashville. I moved up through the ranks and now I’m head of our safety training in Nashville.
We have a whole program that we do for them starting as soon as they come out of the Driving Academies. We work with them in the back lot and teach them all the drop-and-hook and streaming, staging, all the different things that they need to know.
We teach them all this stuff and once they get that done, we start to go on the road. And every day we’ll go on the road and do some dropping and hooking, some maneuvering and some tail swing practice—all of the kinds of things that you need experience in to hit the road. Once we feel like they’re able and they feel like they’re able, then we move them out to a trainer and then they have to have 160 hours on the road with a trainer, going from terminal to terminal.
They do their 160 hours' training and if everybody then, once again, is equally okay with that – the driver and the trainer – then they go out into the truck by themselves. And once they do that, we still monitor them for 30 days.
So, we’re there for them and we walk them through the 30 days. Most of the time, they will stop reaching out to us after a while. That’s a good sign that they’re becoming comfortable in the truck and on the road.
It has changed and here’s the reason why: prior to the academies, generally you’d get new people in who were maybe in their 40s and experienced.
Now, we have the academies and we’re getting a lot of 20-somethings with zero experience. That is a huge difference.
We have had to adapt to that, and we understand that dealing with a 40-something-year-old who has experience is very different from a 20-something-year-old who doesn’t, and it’s a big challenge. But it’s a challenge that we love and we strive to do it better. We just keep evolving to have the best training program out there anywhere and we’re continually trying to improve it.
It’s just an absolute game-changer. If you’re a single mom, for example, you can get stuck in this position of, “I’ve got to work this week to make it to next week” and that sort of thing. You feel like you can’t make any progress.
But they have the academies here set up in such a fashion that everything is covered. Every little expense is covered so that you can have your best opportunity to come here and be successful. They’re going to cover your hotel and your travel fees; you’ll have a rental car or some form of transportation that they’re providing you with. They provide money for food, and you’ll be paid for your time and your training is free.
You’re not having to pay anything for your training and you’re being paid to train. So that’s just hugely awesome for a young person wanting to break out of that cycle where they’re stuck with this feeling of, “I can’t do anything better because it takes everything I’ve got to make it from one week to the next.”
So, it’s an awesome opportunity right now, not just for women. There’s a lot of men now who are single parents. So, we’re producing well-trained drivers for our nation’s highways. That’s important to us, and to them.
There are just no words, really. I was so thankful and so appreciative. It was just an awesome feeling to be honored.
I didn’t know I was going to win, but I took my granddaughter with me because I wanted her to meet all these awesome women in all different kinds of roles in life, and I wanted her to see that you, as a young woman, can do anything in the world that you want to do.
I told her before we went, I said, “Now I might not win because it’s tough competition. But I want you to remember that even if I don’t win, I want us to be very proud because a woman has won that. There’s going to be a woman to win, and we can be proud for women everywhere, and you’re one of those young women.”
So, when they announced my name that I had won, I just couldn’t be more proud, especially that my granddaughter was there to see that. it was just awesome and amazing, and I’m so grateful to Women In Trucking.
Arnold (right) receives the Driver of the Year award at the Mid-America Trucking Show. Standing with her are (L to R), 2020 Driver of the Year Susie DeRidder, Michael Del Rosario of Walmart and Women In Trucking CEO Ellen Voie.
I think you must be absolutely committed. You have to never give up. There are things I have failed in and lost in, and you have to do what your parents told you from the very beginning. Get up and knock the dust off and start again. I have done that over the years. I have worked hard and been committed. I credit the Smith System a lot for my driving experience. I wish they would make everyone take it before they get their driver’s license. It’s like the seatbelt. Every day, you have to put on your seatbelt for it to protect you. It won’t protect you if you don’t put it on. So, every day I put the Smith System on when I get behind the wheel.
And I use the “increase/decrease.” Always increase your following distance and decrease your speed. That’s going to work for you across the gamut of everything: winter driving and heavy traffic. So, those are the three big things: the increase/decrease, always put your seatbelt on and always put your Smith System on. That’s my advice to people about driving.
I tell my trainees to remember that the motoring public expects more from you when you’re a professional driver. Remember that inside every vehicle is someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, significant other. I say that over and over to the new trainees.
That helps them because, on the road, someone doesn’t always deserve you to give them the right-of-way. That’s another thing I say is to always give right-of-way if you safely can, because it puts you in control of the situation. If you’re giving right-of-way, you know exactly what’s going to happen – that person is going to take it because you gave it to them. If you take the right-of-way, you’re unsure of what’s going to happen and that can get you into a situation.
I tell them all the time that the door is wide open right now. Come on in. You’re welcome and you’re going to be met with someone welcoming like me or someone else at another terminal like me who’s going to walk you through every step of the way.
And the way has been paved now and the opportunities are there for you to have a good living and a long-term career. You won’t have to change your career every five years. You can come into trucking and have a long-term, good-paying career with good benefits, insurance and stability.
Well, I was struggling at the poverty level. When you’re working for, like, about $3.65 an hour back then. It was just struggling.
You sort of get into this – and I know that there’s a huge number of women out there right now doing this – you’re struggling to make enough to make it this week, and it’s the same thing the next week. And there’s not any money to save, and you feel like you’re stuck there in the poverty level. So, when your kid wants to do something like join the basketball team, you can’t even afford the jersey.
I wanted better for my children. And truck driving was just a life-changer for my family. And not just my immediate family, but also my brothers and sisters and my mother. So many family members have benefited from me getting this job and keeping it. So, it really moved me into the middle class. And it’s one thing to move into the middle class, but also to stay there for these 30 years. For someone who came from poverty, and I mean poverty, that is huge.
One of the stories from my safety training that has touched me was I had a gentleman and he was just failing. He was just failing and you just hate sometimes to say it, but you tell them, “I don’t think you’re gonna make it. Even if you work and work and work.”
But this guy said to me, “I just want to be able to buy my kids a Happy Meal when I get home.” And I was just crushed. And so I said, “You’re gonna make it! If I’ve got to come in here and drag you across the line, you’re gonna make it.”
And this guy today works in Nashville and is thriving in his career. And things like that drive you to do everything humanly possible to help people to make it. I want to do that because when he said that to me about the Happy Meal, I remembered where I came from and what it was like for me. I mean, I used to take the kids over to the airport when we were broke so they could watch the airplanes take off. Because it was something to do without having to pay. It brought those memories back for me and I was determined to help this guy make it. He was going to make it and he was going to move into the middle class if I had anything to do with it.
And now he is one of my inspirational stories. You get so much back. You get more back here than you give in the long run and I’m grateful for that.
Yellow’s growing network of CDL Driving Academies is graduating hundreds of new professional drivers and addressing an industry need.
Whether it’s rescuing a fellow motorist or helping others in need, these are just a few examples of how Yellow drivers perform heroically on the road.
Yellow made a special stop at Times Square on Sept. 16 to celebrate and talk about the importance of America’s truck drivers.
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