Female driver keeps on truckin’ – now with a jazzed up cab

When Jess Graham leaves her Snellville home for work, she might not be back for weeks — or even months. That long stretch is lived inside the 8-by-8-foot cab of her 27-year-old truck, “Black Widow.” The steering wheel often served as a table to balance a meal or a computer.

“I pulled this truck out of a field and got it mechanically sound, but the interior was a mess,” said Graham, age 40. “I’ve lived in that mess all this time.”

Credit: spe

Credit: spe

Well, no more. The veteran truck driver of 10 years now enjoys a new living space awarded by transportation logistics company Transfix.

The “TransFIX My Rig” truck makeover by celebrity handyman Jason Cameron was in celebration of National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, Sept. 11-17.

The designer took Graham’s desire to have workable space and moved the sleeper berth to add a kitchen and office area. Personalized touches make it feel like home. The driver also got a new steering wheel, floorboards and storage for all her tools.

Credit: spe

Credit: spe

“There is a humanizing factor in this,” said Graham. “It’s exhausting to balance my permit book on my steering wheel so I could eat a meal. I was relegated to doing every non-driving activity in my driver’s seat.”

Nominated by two truck driver friends, Graham was selected for the $5,000 makeover by being a leader in her industry.

In 2020 she was named one of Fleetowner Magazine’s “Women in Transportation.” In 2021 she was awarded the Trucking Industry Trailblazer Award for her commitment to industry policy work advocating for all women, minorities, and LGBTQ truck drivers.

She is also a board member with Real Women in Trucking, serving as an advocate and organizing events such as Queen of the Road.

Friends say Graham is dedicated to improving the lives of drivers and mentoring new drivers. She’s also the go-to person when anything goes awry.

“No one deserves this recognition more than Jess,” said nominator and fellow trucker Debbie Desiderato. “When any of us technically-challenged drivers need help, advice, or just someone to talk to, she’s always a phone call away and happy to chat.”

Michelle Kitchin, a veteran driver of more than 30 years, also backed Graham’s nomination. The two met through Real Women in Trucking, and Kitchin said her friend spends a lot of time behind the scenes, helping to plan and organize events for the advocacy group.

Graham speaks forthrightly about issues concerning women drivers, namely rape and assault during training. In addition, she speaks up against discrimination against LGBTQ and minority truck drivers. On long trips, she is often on the phone with another driver talking through difficult situations or offering advice.

Credit: spe

Credit: spe

Graham got into trucking at age 30 to escape an unhealthy, abusive marriage while living in Michigan. She saw an ad for a truck driving school that would pay her to attend. In hindsight, she said she would not have chosen that route but didn’t know any better at the time.

After training, Graham returned to Michigan for her youngest daughter, age 10.

“I packed her up and put her in the truck, and we took off,” she remembered. “It was the scariest thing I ever attempted, but I didn’t have any other options. It was sink or swim.”

For the next several years, it was mother and daughter in the truck and homeschooling on the road during the trips. Graham would find places to stop and add to her daughter’s learning experiences, and every week or so, they would book a hotel room to go swimming. Together, they covered 43 states.

“It gave us that bonding experience and those memories,” Graham said.

The veteran driver says she talks to many people who want this same trucking lifestyle with their kids but struggle to make the jump. She tells them her story and encourages them to go for it.

“In a short amount of time, you can provide stability and security and change your station in life,” she said.

With her daughter now in college in Washington state, Graham is likely to putter around the country more, meeting up with her female trucker friends in various cities.

“That’s the nice thing about this lifestyle. Over the years, I’ve developed good friendships with women drivers, so we’ll meet up somewhere, or we’ll cross paths,” she said.

Graham was a company driver for seven years before getting her truck and becoming owner/operator three years ago. She said driving cross-country can be lonely, with days or weeks of not seeing anyone else. In addition, it can be a strain mentally, so having a support system is vital.

“There were a lot of times over the past 10 years when I was like, I don’t know if I want to keep doing this,” she said, “but then I have a chance to meet someone who has been encouraged or empowered by my story, and I keep going.”

Credit: spe

Credit: spe


TRANSFIX MY RIG

For the second year, Transfix invited truckers to nominate drivers by submitting photos of their rig and sharing why they believe their nominee deserved a cabin makeover.

Nominations came in from across the country, but Jess Graham was the only candidate nominated twice by two of her peers at Real Women in Trucking for her leadership and advocacy efforts in the trucking community.