Nearly 9 million miles and counting.
That's how many miles Idella Hansen and Sandi Talbott have between them. The best friends and big-rig truckers have been at it for an awfully long time. But back when they started, they were a rarity on the road.
"There weren't that many women out here driving trucks," Talbott recalls with Hansen, on a recent visit with StoryCorps. "And my husband's health was not good; he only had one leg, so consequently I did all the driving."
Talbott first got into trucking in the 1970s with her husband. But when his health started declining a couple of decades later, she started taking care of her husband while she was still on the road — a "rolling nursing home," as Hansen calls her. After his death, Talbott carried on without him.
Hansen, for her part, got her start hauling freight when she was just a teenager.
"It was important for me to be able to take care of myself," she says. "So at 18 years old and pregnant, I filled a gasoline tanker with gas and I got in it and I took off."
Since then, Talbott and Hansen say they've hauled missiles, live tadpoles and just about everything in between. And while more women have joined them on the road, they say it's not uncommon to get a sidelong glance.
"When I take the truck in, it's, 'Oh, here's a little old woman. We'll make a bundle off of her,' " says the 75-year-old Talbott. When that happens, she's quick to call up Hansen, who's 66 herself. "I'm not going to get any kind of hogwash — you're going to tell me how it really is."
Age be damned, Talbott says: She's going to keep driving as long as they'll let her — and as long as her health allows.
"Four years ago, I had a heart attack while I was on the truck," Talbott says. "And when I got ready to go back on the road, I pulled out of my driveway and started through the gear pattern, it was like I'm back in my element. It is my life."
"I'm not interested in retiring," she says. "When I get in that seat, instead of being slump-shouldered, all of a sudden I have sat up straight, pulled my shoulders back, and it's like a rush of hot blood."
But what happens if Talbott's health should fail?
"I'll stuff you in the truck with me," Hansen says, laughing.
"When they pry our cold dead fingers off the wheel — that's when we'll retire," Talbott says. "Because when people retire, they die. And we ain't ready for that."
It's settled then, says Hansen.
"I'm not interested in going home. I just want to drive my truck."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps. Today, a conversation between two big rig truck drivers. Idella Hansen is 66. She started hauling freight when she was just a teenager.
IDELLA HANSEN: It was important for me to be able to take care of myself. So at 18 years old and pregnant, I filled a gasoline tank with gas. And I got in it, and I took off.
MONTAGNE: Idella sat down for StoryCorps with friend and fellow truck driver Sandi Talbott, who's 75. Sandi got into trucking with her husband in the 1970s. And after he died, she carried on without him.
SANDI TALBOTT: When we started there weren't that many women out here driving trucks. And my husband's health was not good. He only had one leg. So consequently, I did all the driving.
HANSEN: Plus, you were taking care of him.
HANSEN: You were a rolling nursing home.
TALBOTT: Yeah, kind of.
HANSEN: You're a tough old bird, girl. You ever hauled missiles?
TALBOTT: Yeah, I hauled all kinds of missiles.
HANSEN: I remember hauling tadpoles.
TALBOTT: Live tadpoles?
HANSEN: Yeah, there's a place that makes baby frogs. And you have, like, 36 hours to get them delivered.
TALBOTT: Yeah. We hauled all kinds of stuff. But when I take the truck in, it's - oh, here comes a little old woman. We'll make a bundle off of her. And if I don't like what they're saying, I'll call you, Idella. I'm not going to get any kind of hogwash. You're going to tell me how it really is.
HANSEN: Can you imagine doing anything else, Sandi?
TALBOTT: Absolutely not. Four years ago, I had a heart attack while I was on the truck. And when I got ready to go back on the road, I pulled out of my driveway and started through the gear pattern. It was like, I'm back in my element. It is my life.
HANSEN: I'm not interested in getting out of it. I'm not interested in retiring. When I get in that seat, instead of being slump-shouldered, all of a sudden, I have sat up straight, pulled my shoulders back. And it's like a rush of hot blood.
TALBOTT: I'm like you, Idella. Don't talk to me about cooking meals. I certainly don't want to clean. But what if something happens to my health? What am I gonna do?
HANSEN: I'll stuff you in the truck with me.
TALBOTT: (Laughter) When they pry our cold, dead fingers off the wheel, that's when we'll retire. Because when people retire, they die, and we ain't ready for that.
HANSEN: Hopefully, I'll be one of them you find sitting behind the wheel somewhere. I'm not interested in going home. I just want to drive my truck.
HANSEN: That's what I want to do. I want to drive my truck.
MONTAGNE: That's Idella Hansen speaking with her best friend and fellow trucker Sandi Talbott for StoryCorps in Dallas. Together, they have driven nearly 9 million miles and counting. Their conversation is archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.