Highway Diamond Spotlight: Julie Barnett


Q: Who is your fleet manager? Are you lease or company?

A: Bron Beck is my fleet manager and I’m a lease operator. When I started, we didn’t have company drivers. I’ve leased since the very beginning. It was a company of all lease drivers. You couldn’t work here if you didn’t sign a lease. So, the experience level was a lot higher back then. They came out of the schools, but they were educated on what the lease process was as they went through training. It was different then. You had an education on what a lease was and how to do one. Now they don’t teach that in the schools. They don’t teach you how to read a map anymore either.

Q: If you could give advice about leasing, is this something that you’d recommend?

A: I think new drivers should do 6 months to a year as a company driver in today’s time. Close to a year as a company driver and learn the ins and outs of the industry. Because it’s much more complicated now than it used to be. Go company. Learn it, learn how to drive that truck. Learn about handling that truck when someone else is covering all your bills.

Q: What made you choose trucking as a career?

A: Well, there’s a couple of reasons. But the main reason is because I’d lost my mother at age 18.  And I was seriously addicted to drugs and in this trucking industry, you must stay clean because you take drug tests all the time. And so that was incentive for me to stay clean. I had gone to college and that’s where I became addicted.

Q: What did you do before coming into trucking that may or may not have contributed to that decision?

A: I grew up on a farm. My brother drove a truck. It was like life just kept happening and the truck just kept popping up. When I was a kid running out to the mailbox and pumping my arms at semis coming up the hill, that just got in my blood from a very young age. Things kept reverting to that.

Q: Did you train through Prime Inc, or did you go somewhere else?

A: Prime didn’t have any training when I began my career. I was hired by a man named Bob Rushin. He was an owner operator with a small fleet of trucks. His company was leased on to North American electronics division. He taught me how to…. well, my brothers had taught me things about a truck. It was one of those things that had an engine and wheels. You make it go and you figure it out. (LOL) He put me in an old cabover that he had a mechanic make road worthy, because he didn’t hire women. He said that he wouldn’t lose any money if I wrecked that one.

Q: In the 35 years in trucking did you ever choose to train?

A: Yes, I trained for Prime. That’s when I had to take my first test. Because I had never took a test. I was grandfathered in from having my chauffeur’s license. That is what was required back then. MTS was the school Prime used before their training program. Robert had his hands in that program. It used to be at the Campus Inn where our students are now housed. I came in right as they were converting over from that school to their own. I was in the very first class to become a certified trainer. I trained off and on for Prime for a while. I was really excited about that program at the time, and I put forth the effort to jump into that program. After that, my husband and I ran teams off and on in the flatbed division. I trained in both. I trained in the flatbed division and in the reefer division during that crossover. I did it for about 4 or 5 years.

Q: Did you have any specific goals when you entered the trucking industry?

A: Initially I had been kind of disowned by my family. It was desperation to not be homeless at first. But it was that little kid thing. The big trucks coming up the hill. Don Williams had a song called “big wheels in moonlight.” (It’s a beautiful song if you’ve never heard it.) It’s a truck driver’s song. I fell in love with that as a kid. Trucks would be coming up this big hill where we lived, and it always went back to that. Even though I was homeless, I lived in the truck. I had a home, I had a job, I had money. And because of that, I can get a real home. All these things in life, that was my solution to life at the time.

Q: When did you start at Prime?

A: I started at Prime Inc in April 2001.

Q: During your time at Prime, what do you think are some of the highlights of your career? What has change from the time that you began your career?

A: Oh my. The one thing that stands out, as far as changes, the trucks have slowed way down (LOL) When I first started over there, after you’d leased a while, you could move up in the trucks. You could move up to a fancier truck. Every time I would get close to that, the rules would change. I never got to drive that classic. (LOL) I did get to order my own truck, with my own graphics and do all of those things. Today, I drive a good old Freightliner. I don’t need fancy. Everything from logbooks to electronics has changed. When I started, there were no cell phones. The truck I had, there was no jake brake. There was a trolly valve. It was spring ride, no air. And now the electronics guide you everywhere. A lot of people don’t know what an atlas is anymore. Or how to read one. They don’t know how to break down a tire or how to change a starter or alternator. We did all of that on the side of the road.

Q: What are the things that you think could be improved in the trucking industry, especially where women are concerned?

A: I would like to see the professionalism brought back with the driver. It’s just a different world. There’s no comradery anymore. There’s no respect amongst the ranks out there. It’s a doggie dog world. It used to be about people helping people. With another truck driver, you could feel safe. You could get a ride from them to go somewhere and get help. Nowadays, I wouldn’t get in someone else’s vehicle; trucker or not. It’s just not there. The respect and the professionalism. There’s just so many of them showing up at the receivers in their pajamas and flipflops. It just blows my mind. If I could wave a wand, I’d change all that.

Q: If you could give advice to a woman who was choosing to come into the trucking industry, what advice would you give those ladies?

A: Pay attention to the basics and learn the actual skills of the trade. And not worry so much about who am I in this truck? The truck is not your fingernails. Painting it up does not make the person. You must work hard, and you must understand that. My mama used to say, “you’re going to get out of it what you put into it. It’s about the career to me. It’s about the love of the truck. Trucking to me, used to solve a problem. You can’t wrap it up like a Christmas package. You must take the good, the bad and the ugly and it’ll all come out in the wash. You got to put it in perspective. You need to stick to the basics.

Q: If you were talking to a woman who came to you and said, “I want to do what you do.” What would you say to her specifically, that she needs to know to be successful in this industry?

A: I think I would have to ask her why first. Why do you even want to be here? And if they were to answer me what I consider to be a good or real answer, I would tell them to open their eyes. Pay attention to everything. Take it all in, every bit of it. Take it in, pay attention. Watch these people in the parking lot. Watch them back up. Watch them correct their mistakes. Watch everything that’s going on. That’s how you learn is to open your eyes and be openminded at the same time.

Q: Obviously you’ve been at Prime longer than the average driver. Is this a company that you are happy working for? If you had it all to do over again, would you still choose Prime Inc?

A: I would’ve probably started there sooner. I’ve been at 4 companies, but at Prime gave us a great opportunity compared to those other companies. The thing that keeps me at Prime, if you do your job and something happens there, you can go to management, and they will help you. I had stage 4 cancer, and I also had a stroke. I was in and out and I stuck with this company because they stuck with me.

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