Faces of Trucking: Jama

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When Jama Trainer was a kid in Sturgis, Kentucky, a small country town amidst farms and coal mines, she and her friends often sat on the hill and watched the coal trucks rumble by on Highway 109.

"We used to make them honk," recalls Jama, 35, who now lives in Calvert City, Kentucky, not far from Sturgis.

Those coal truck vigils were just one of several indications that Jama was born to drive rigs.

For instance, there were all those friends in church who owned farms, and, Jama says, "they'd let me drive old beat up farm trucks and ATVs, just run them down the gravel roads."

Then there was Grandma Bertha. She wasn't really a Grandma, but she acted like one. She insisted Jama drive her to and from church every Sunday for years. It began when Jama was 12—and heck yeah, she said, I'll drive. Plus, Grandma Bertha's car was a nice, new Lincoln, so hey.

Then there was that time Jama and a guy friend drove to Atlanta. She insisted on driving the entire way, loving it. As they passed a big truck, her friend remarked, "The way you like to drive, I think you could drive one of those things."

Not long after all of these indications, at age 20, Jama was a single mother of a son, and she needed an income. She had to quit college and got a job as a gas station clerk. The lousy pay and a few too many robberies encouraged her to look elsewhere.

That's when she saw the newspaper ad of Truck Driver Institute. Three weeks training, guaranteed job, it read. She called, and "when they said $36,000 to $45,000 a year," she was all in.

Not unlike other women drivers, she encountered some pushback by her father, who thought she was crazy. This was not a woman's job, he said. Women belonged home. He was adamant. Luckily, so was Grandma Bertha.

"She told my dad, 'Now, you leave that girl alone. She can do this. Back off.' That always stuck with me."

That was November, 2006. Jama was the only woman in a class of 20. "It was a little bit of an in issue for me," she admits now. "I felt like the guys were looking at me, thinking, 'Why are you here?' I wanted to work harder. I felt I had something to prove."

She succeeded; she was just one of five in that original class of 20 to get her license. But it wasn't easy. She never had seen, much less operated, a manual transmission, and backing up was a major challenge. It took three tries to finally pass the CDL test.

After working a variety of trucking jobs—including hauling coal for one summer—Jama started driving tanker trucks for Quality Carriers, "and that is my passion," she says. "I am a bulk liquid hauler to the heart of me. I love to pull tanks. The trailers are aerodynamically so much easier to pull than trailers."

She has hauled milk, gasoline, juice, wine, pure grain alcohol, and lots of chemicals. Plus, she says, "I like the loading and unloading process, so I get to do some physical labor."

What she especially appreciates is her role as a dedicated driver. She credits Quality Carriers for her wonderful schedule. "I can't say enough about Quality Carriers," she says. "They've worked with me to make everything work, and I am so grateful."

She runs the same load to the same customers, so "they all know me by name." She is home most nights, which means a lot for her son, who is 13 now.

He's a trucker's kid, for sure. Jama took him with her on her runs until he started school. "By age 5, he could shift the truck," she says. "Kids love trucks!" She and her truck have been the star of "show and tell" many times.

Today, things with women in trucking have evolved, Jama says. She gets questions all the time on social media from women about trucking. She has helped encourage many women through school. She's helping Quality Carriers—a company she loves—recruit and mentor more women truck drivers.

Today, Jama makes between $70,000 and $80,000 a year. But the money isn't the primary motivation it once was.

"It's a lifestyle; it's not just a job," she says. "It's not something you forget at the end of the day. You eat, sleep, and breathe in that truck. It's an addictive thing, too. If it's in you, it's something you just enjoy. I don't even look at this as just a job. I love the people I work with, seeing things, meeting new people."

She also has been able to complete her bachelor's degree with Quality Carriers' help. Better yet: She just purchased her first home.

Grandma Bertha would be so proud. She passed away not long ago, having suffered long from Alzheimer's disease. But strangely enough, she seemed never to forget one thing, Jama says.

"Any time someone mentioned my name, she said, 'I taught her to drive.'"

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