By Rick Romell
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Lindy Hartsfield-Vasquez likes trucking.
She started in January and likes the independence, the money and the opportunity to crisscross the country with her husband and driving partner, Jose, and their cat, Houdini.
She even has a new tractor, a 2014 Freightliner with “all the bells and whistles.” But as a 5-foot-2-inch woman, she faces challenges when she hits the road.
Turning the crank that lowers or raises the landing legs — the things that support the front end of a trailer when it’s standing on its own — can be tough. Same for disengaging the “fifth wheel” that hooks the tractor to the trailer.
After she scales an 18-inch-high step to get into the cab and straps herself in, the shoulder belt tends to cut into her neck. Then there’s a trade-off between good visibility and easy access to the foot controls.
“Being as short as I am, I have trouble,” Hartsfield-Vasquez, 49, said during a rest stop while on her way to Oak Creek to pick up a load of freight bound for Gaffney, S.C. “When I get the seat low enough to hit the pedals, I have trouble seeing over the dash.”
Not exactly ideal when you’re guiding a vehicle weighing tens of thousands of pounds down the interstate at 60 mph.
“It’s absolutely a challenge for a shorter individual,” said Drew Bossen, a physical therapist and vice president with Atlas Ergonomics LLC, a Grand Haven, Mich., consulting firm that has studied discomfort among long-haul truckers.
Now, though, a Wisconsin-based advocacy group and a University of Wisconsin-Stout professor are working to make truck driving easier and more appealing for women.
Their work has gotten the attention of Ryder System Inc., a $6.4 billion Miami company that leases tens of thousands of heavy trucks and runs its own freight-carrying operation with a fleet of about 4,000 semitractors.