Women In Transport – An adventure to be had…always

14 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineSeptember 17, 2018

Jill Barker never thought she‘d end up driving trucks, but after meeting her truck-mad kiwi partner Chris Hockley in England in 1997, that changed. Moving from a software sales role to trucking was quite the career change! 

Photo: The Bedford with ‘stand-up‘ steering.

Chris was working at theatre transport company G. H. Lucking & Sons and the couple met through a friend at the Penguin Hockey Club in Worthing, where Chris played. Although she regularly drove horse trucks, Jill didn‘t have a rigid truck licence.

“ The laws have changed since, but at the time I was allowed to drive up to a 7.5 ton truck on my car licence. Chris encouraged me over time to train and take the test so we could drive together as a team, but in the end, he much preferred his own space and it wasn‘t going to be my forte either!” Jill says she found taking the rigid truck test quite easy, however when it came to the artic, reversing was another matter entirely. The trainer would rug himself up with a huge coat, scarf, gloves, etc when it was time to practice backing. “Other trainers in the office would ask ‘why are you so rugged up?‘ and he said, ‘I‘m taking Jill down the aerodrome, it‘s going to be a long morning‘. He‘d start me off straight and then say ‘okay Jill, just back it – STRAIGHT – back‘. But it wasn‘t long before I was zig-zagging, and by the time we got down the end he‘d say ‘righto, let ‘s start again, don‘t fiddle with the steering wheel, STRAIGHT back. I guess this is something a driver takes to like a duck to water, or, not so much!”

Photo: Jill and horse Ibn Silver Blue (aka Wills) and their much-loved ride, the Ford Cargo.

UK-born Jill had been a talented equestrian endurance rider who represented her country. She took on the role of postie for Royal Mail, driving her red postie van around the countryside with daily deliveries. This role, starting at 4am, allowed her time later in the day to train her horse. She also worked hard to be sponsored by Royal Mail – planning marketing events for TV, radio and press coverage.

Jill says a reliable horse truck was absolutely vital as she travelled thousands of miles around the UK and Europe, to events a couple of times a month. “My first was a TK Bedford which was so heavy (non-power steering) I had to stand up to turn the steering wheel when parking and manoeuvring. I then graduated to a Ford Cargo that was half accommodation, shower, kitchen, toilet the lot, and half equestrian for my precious cargo. We both loved this truck, it was much lighter to drive (power steering) and a comfortable ride for my horse. It was painted Royal Mail red with the logo and ‘sponsored by‘ on the side. One driver at a motorway service station was heard to remark, ‘Don‘t know why they don‘t just stick a stamp on and mail it!‘ I loved being part of the trucking fraternity, although in a different field, and my desire to drive full time started there. I would whizz past the speed-limited (90kms/h) artics on the downhill, but they would kindly let me back in line when I was struggling up the next one.”

Photo: You only get about 29,000 days on average. Jill Barker‘s making the most of every one. 

Jill says together with her horse Ibn (Arabic for ‘son of ‘) Silver Blue (Willoughby, known as Wills), she did achieve her ambition to ride for Great Britain, but shortly after Wills injured a leg while out in the paddock and her plans had to be put on the back burner for a while.

“During this time I met Chris. I now had the time to go away with him for weekends in his truck. Sometimes, when plans changed and he wasn‘t returning to base, this involved being dropped on the Sunday night miles from home and having to find my way back via public transport!” Jill‘s stories about life on the road with Chris make for entertaining reading, especially her interactions with foreign law enforcement. The pair later worked for a company moving music productions around UK and Europe.

“ We were in Naples, doing an ‘out ‘. I left the venue before the other trucks and turned right instead of left and then got completely lost. I pulled in and the next thing a policeman comes up and points a gun at me. He can‘t speak a word of English, I can‘t speak a word of Italian, and I thought ‘I am in big, big trouble now!‘ It was a real sticky situation trying to explain who I was and what I was doing. I eventually realised I was going the wrong way, so he let me turn around and go back.”

Jill found humour in most situations, including being pulled over by the Gendarme while driving through France. “It was my turn to drive and lucky ol‘ me was the one to be pulled over. I‘m sitting in the driver‘s seat, looking in the wing mirror as he moves down the length of the truck, checking it out, looking for something to fine us with. He‘s wearing a uniform, as they do, of tight jodhpurs and high leather boots, striding towards me with an authoritative air. I found this to be like something out of 50 Shades of Grey!” Jill says she personally found the theatre work more enjoyable than general freight work. “ W hen you‘re moving the general freight, it was “‘ere Love, put it ‘ere!” I never had a name, I was Love, Honey, Darlin‘, never Jill. I loved theatre work, I had so much more respect, it was clean, fun, and women are accepted as part of the team. There are many different types of trucking, but in my experience, in general freight, I found the attitude was ‘if it ‘s a woman, let ‘s make it really difficult for her‘ – and [non-truckdriving] women were the worst. I was in some really difficult situations and the women would go, “get out of the way, what are you doing?” I thought there would be some sisterhood, but apparently not.”

Photo: Life on the road doing the theatre and show work was a favourite of Jill‘s , much better than general freight.

However Jill did find a lot of help, often from unexpected quarters.

“I stopped once on the outside lane of a large roundabout in Leicester as I didn‘t know where I was meant to be going A little face popped up at the passenger window, and this bloke, standing on the bottom step, said, ‘are you lost?‘ I said ‘I have NO idea where I am going, I‘m tired, lost and fed up‘. It turned out he was a trucker, and he said he could tell I needed help by the way I‘d just stopped. He jumped in the cab and directed me to where I needed to go, then got a taxi back to where he‘d started! A top bloke!”

Jill says that being a female in a male-dominated industry meant toilets were an area she sussed out early on. “I was making do with the gents most of the time as that seemed to be all that was available. However, I quickly learnt to look around the site for a female and she will have in her possession a key to the ‘ladies‘. And what a difference it makes too, nice and clean, tissues, soap, and a clean fluffy towel.” When the couple were not two-up, Jill says she liked the theatre and music work and found the companies liked her style.

“ They would rather have me who took my time reversing, but who is careful with the truck and good with clients.” THE COUPLE had teamed up with the aim of gaining driving work together, but found they were being sent on different tours, and their working styles weren‘t always compatible.

Jill liked being on the road, meeting people, seeing how different industries work, thinking through quicker/better ways to do the job, etc, while Chris had a more suitable disposition and learned to wait patiently for instructions from the controller/office, realising there could be other factors that the driver was not aware of. Chris also liked to keep his truck clean and tidy, and Jill‘s penchant for shelling monkey nuts to keep alert during the night tested his patience. Driving together, particularly in Europe, gave Jill time and plenty of material to explore her other passion, writing about their experiences.

“If we had time, it was good fun to see as much as possible of Europe and meet the locals. Being a tad limited in the language department, we found so many locals have helped us in our search for delivery points by hand gestures, mud maps and leading us to our destination on their scooters or cars.” After being together for nine years, the couple decided to go on a six-month trip to see where they wanted to live, spending time travelling around Australia, New Zealand, and the west coast of Canada, before eventually settling in Perth, WA. Jill now works full time in real estate sales in Perth, WA, which keeps her back at base in an almost 24/7 role, while Chris is away driving the road trains. As he is often away several weeks at a time, they lock in time to travel the outback together, their all-time favourite thing to do. ….next month. Chris‘s side of the story.