New Life as a Road Warrior

Automotive, Home & Family, Hometown Heroes, People
on July 22, 2001

The stocky woman with the merry eyes looks ready to take on the world. She lays her hand on the fender of the pristine FL 70, a looming boxcar of a truck powered by a 300-horsepower Caterpillar engine. Its obvious she can barely believe this behemoth is something she really owns and that in a few hours shell head westand she wont be on vacation.

Ive only had her a week and a half, says Jule Hazzard. Shes my pride and joy.

Hazzard, a 68-year-old former bank employee, has just signed on to become an independent trucker. The gleaming white Freight Line transport vehicle with the FedEx logo emblazoned on its sides is more hi-tech than humble, but from now on its home. Inside the extended cab, a fold-down bed doubles as a sofa; a television set and VCR keep company with a microwave oven.

The FL 70 has everything Hazzard needs to start a new life as a road warrior. After 30 years in Wilmington, Del., she quit her bank job, turned her home over to real estate agents, and took on a $63,000 truck ownership debt. Like scores of other senior citizens, she wanted to retire, and she wanted to travel. Because she couldnt afford to do both, Hazzard found a way to make travel pay: She qualified for a Class-B commercial drivers license.

It took her a while to find the right trucking school, thoughone that was nearby, affordable, and had a part-time program. In the meantime, she hung out at truck stops, asked a lot of questions, and picked the brains of anyone in the business.

Ultimately, she found a school with weekend classes. But the eight-week course was tough; so was mastering an A-Class, 18-wheel vehicle.

It was too much for me; those babies were too big. Then one day I discovered B-Class trucks, like this one, she says, with a nod to the double-axle FL 70. Its twice as easy to back up. Plus, it has a sleeper.

The other studentsall men ranging in age from 21 to 35became her friends. In school, they treated you for what you could do, Hazzard says, explaining the common bond bridging gender and generation gaps. We all cheered each other on to the bitter end.

One of her biggest hurdles was performing the mandatory pre-trip truck inspection. Its difficult to learn and difficult to dofor an old lady, she grins, explaining the exertion of opening the hood and the complicated nitty-gritty of the air brakes. If your air brakes fail, youre dead. And you might kill somebody else also.

After qualifying for her Class-B license, Hazzard moved on to the FedEx orientation class in Akron, Ohio, where, this time, her fellow students were three couples, all in their late 40s to 50s.

When Hazzard was ready to start looking for a truck, she called dealers all across the country until she found what she wanted: a used transport truck with only 10,000 miles and a price that saved her $11,000. She was ready for the road.

Hazzard appears to have few doubts about her late-life career change, despite the pressure of knowing shes committed to paying off the truck loan in three years. And despite her marginal healthshes been wearing a pacemaker for five years, takes medication for high blood pressure, and is dependent on two hearing aidsshe has no problem justifying the risk.

If you do the same thing youre doing now for the next 10 years, are you going to look back and say youre glad you did it?

She expects to work 70 hours a week but will take an annual mid-winter break. She hopes to earn $50,000 the first year. Some would say its a grueling life, but for Hazzard, long hours on the road are no problem.

Afraid of nothing but snakes, shes carrying only a knifefor food preparation, not protection. For exercise, she carries a folding bicycle and a jump rope. Shes chosen the path of adventure and has no interest in acquiring more possessions.

The only things we remember, she says, are the things weve seen and the things we donot the things we have.