43 Year South Dakota Trucking Veteran Turns in Her Keys
Jeannie Pritts has been driving truck for 43 years. In fact, it would have been 48 years if she hadn’t had a five year break for a neck injury. Her late husband was involved in trucking for 64 years. In all that time they never had a single accident, but they saw quite a few. Now that she is facing retirement, Jeannie took some time to chat with us and give her perspective on how trucking has shaped her over the years.
First Things First
Jeannie wouldn’t have ended up in trucking if it weren’t for her husband. While his birth certificate said his name was Wallace, everyone called him Lonesome. “He got that nickname at a truck stop,” said Jeannie, “He was sitting alone and the waitress stepped over, put her hand on his shoulder and said, ‘You look lonesome!’ Well, his friends overheard, gave him grief and the rest is history.”
Lonesome started driving trucks when he was a mechanic for the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) at the young age of 14. He quickly fell in love with the freedom of the road. Jeannie and he had some great times together on the road and even before she started driving with him full time she used to fly out to his driving location, get on his truck and finish the trip home with him.
It wasn’t long until she got behind the wheel. Raised on a farm in Pennsylvania as the oldest girl, she was used to hard work, long hours, and big trucks. So when Lonesome suggested she take their rig for a spin, she thought it sounded like fun. Soon she fell in love with driving.
Jeannie drove with Lonesome for three years before venturing out on her own. And even then, they would still have fun together on the road. “We used to do figure 8s together with our two trucks in the truckstop parking lots,” she said, “Stuff that would get you in trouble nowadays.”
Having fun along the journey was always part of it for Jeannie and Lonesome. According to Jeannie, he used to say, “What other job will pay you to be a professional tourist?”
How They Found K&J Trucking
The first time Jeannie saw a K&J truck was at John Morrell’s where she was picking up a load. Jeannie didn’t know it at the time but the beautiful, gold Peterbuilt with a K&J emblem on the side that she was admiring was none other than Brad Schipper’s. Then a few weeks later she ran into a K&J driver who suggested that she and Lonesome consider working for K&J.
“He told us they have good equipment and take good care of their drivers,” Jeannie said.
It wasn’t long before she and Lonesome joined the K&J family. “Over the years, Lonesome and I worked for most of the Sioux Falls based South Dakota trucking companies,” Jeannie said. “But once we started at K&J Trucking, we never thought of leaving. That’s saying something.”
The Journey Over the Years
Jeannie saw a lot over her years on the road: the best and worst of human nature, tragic accidents, and self-sacrificing acts of kindness. It is all equally a part of her story and kept her going when times got hard.
When she had an unexpected fall slipping on the ice at a truck stop and broke her neck, no one thought she would be able to drive again. But, after five years off the road, a mound of debt from her husband’s unexpected death sent her reeling and she came back to the truck life.
“I was in debt up to my ears,” Jeannie said. “Lonesome didn’t have any life insurance and we had to pay for his funeral. I owed over $100,000.” But Jeannie didn’t let her fear stop her. “In four years of hard work, I paid of all my debt, paid off my house, got a new car purchased with cash, and paid off my daughter’s house as well.”
Her secret was being smart and consistent with her loads. For those four years she ran ice cream from Le Mars to New York State every week. “Some like to avoid the east coast at all costs, but there is money running loads there too,” Jeannie said. “The roads aren’t as hard on your truck and you don’t have to mess with chains and mountain passes. The traffic is horrible, but you do what you have to do.”
Her Final Thoughts On Retirement
“My dad always said, ‘if you want something, work for it.’ He wasn’t kidding believe me. I worked my tail off in the trucking business,” Jeannie said, “But I can definitely say that we haven’t lived a boring life. I’ll probably miss trucking after a while, but… DO YOU REALIZE how many shows there are that I never saw? It will take me quite a while to get caught up on what is going on in the world.”
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