Every truck driver has a unique story of how they got into the industry. For some, it’s a family tradition. Others take their driving experience from the military to the nation’s highways. And some make the conscious decision to enroll in trucking school at some point in what might be considered the “traditional” route.
When it comes to the story of Rose Rojo, one five drivers honored by the Truckload Carriers Association as a 2023 Professional Drivers of the Year … well, you might say she took a non-traditional route.
Back in 2000, when fewer women entered the trucking profession than even today, Rojo’s ex-husband, a non-English speaker, enrolled in trucking school. Rojo helped him out by sitting in the classroom and working with him to interpret his lessons. Fortunately, she retained what she interpreted. When it came testing time, the instructor told Rojo, “You’ve already taken the class — why not go ahead and get your CDL?”
The rest of the story? Rojo has now been in the trucking industry for more than two decades.
Rojo and her ex-husband started out in the industry as an owner-operator driving team, primarily hauling grain through the Texas Panhandle. After about six years on the road, Rojo left the trucking industry, going to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Texas. But the lure of the highway eventually called her back, and by 2010, she reentered trucking, driving for C.R. England.
During her career, she has worked for about four different carriers including eight years with John Christner Trucking of Sapulpa, Oklahoma, a city of 22,000 not far from Tulsa along Interstate 44. It was at Christner where she was nominated for TCA Driver of the Year after taking home similar honors from the Oklahoma Trucking Association.
Recently, she made the move to for R.E. Garrison, an employee-owned carrier based in Alabama.
What appeals to Rojo the most about truck driving is travel. And that’s a good thing.
“It’s been two and a half months since I was home,” the Amarillo, Texas, resident said. “I’ve driven the I-10 corridor coast-to-coast from Florida to California,” she said, speaking of her years with previous carriers. “Today, I drive a loop from Texas to Louisiana and Oklahoma,” she said. While working in what is still grain country, Rojo no longer hauls grain, instead driving a reefer hauling beef, chicken and similar refrigerated products.
While Rojo may be a truck driver — a profession often viewed as being ideal for loners — she is most definitely a people person.
“I love helping people,” Rojo said. “It’s my goal to help those less fortunate than myself.”
Rojo’s love for helping others manifests itself in several ways. First, she is a mentor for newer drivers, and she loves sharing her experiences and advice with women who are considering entering the industry. In addition, she makes annual mission trips to Honduras, where she provides children school supplies and helps deliver other needed items.
Her true passion, however, is helping abused and neglected children. Rojo, who says she was a victim of child abuse herself, can relate to children who struggle to overcome abuse.
“I’m super proud of what I’ve overcome,” she said of her life and career.
As a mother and grandmother, Rojo says she’s also proud of the stigma she has overcome within the trucking industry. In a business where women are rare — though less rare now than when she started driving in the early 2000s — she has faced adversity.
“When I first started driving, whenever we arrived for a drop-off or pick-up, my ex-husband went inside and handled the business side of things,” she recalled. “He protected me from the awkward looks and snide comments. I just drove the truck.”
Times have changed.
“Today, I believe women make up about 12% of drivers, so it’s not as bad as it was, but we are still fighting to gain acceptance,” Rojo said.
“We can do this,” she continued. “From my background, going from foster home to foster home, I was able to become an owner-operator, owning my own business. You can do it. You have to keep that mindset. Nothing is impossible to achieve.”
When asked about the hurdles she faces on a day-to-day basis as a truck driver, Rojo replied that a lack of safe truck parking and facilities is a big one.
“We have to struggle,” she said. “You have to make sure you get into a truck stop at the right time, or you’re going to miss your mark,” she added, referring to hours-of-service regulations. “To me, it should be up to the driver. When we’re tired, we’ll stop.”
While tracking time spent behind the wheel is important, Rojo is concerned that truck drivers are sometimes regulated too much.
“With ELDs, once you start the clock you can’t stop it,” she said. “You are generally forced to do this or forced to do that. Let the driver choose, and I think it would be easier on drivers and it would ease the problem of truck parking.”
When it comes to describing herself and her goals, Rojo keeps it simple.
“I’m just down to earth. I want to help … and make the world a better place,” she said.
Whether it’s driving a truck, traveling to Central America, or serving as a mentor to others in the trucking industry, Rojo has achieved a great deal in her career. She says she’s extremely proud to be chosen as a TCA 2023 Professional Driver of the Year.
As Rojo says, no matter your background or how you enter your profession, nothing is impossible.
Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.