Queen of Carts

Santa Fe hires first female truck driver.

Each trash can that Santa Fe, N.M., garbage truck driver Laurie DeHerrera approaches for pick up presents a new challenge. For nearly seven months, DeHerrera has been collecting trash for Santa Fe Public Utilities' Solid Waste Management Division, driving one of its automated garbage trucks. “For each one, it's like focusing on a new object,” DeHerrera says. “You've got obstacles in the way. You have vehicles. You have fences. You have walls. Every single time you stop, there's a new problem that you're working out in order to do it successfully.”

But DeHerrera is used to confronting challenges. As the city's first and only female garbage truck driver, she quickly earned respect in an industry brimming with male faces. To hear her tell it, becoming a garbage truck driver was only natural.

An experienced school bus driver, DeHerrera says she viewed the garbage industry as the next logical step in her career. Often working with her husband's landscaping company, she was no stranger to tough labor industries where operating heavy equipment — including cranes and Bobcat vehicles — was essential. “It was sort of a natural progression for me,” DeHerrera says. “I'm not an office kind of person. I like being out and about and busy with my hands, so this sort of fit right into what I liked.”

Coupled with her likes and expertise, DeHerrera is accustomed to being in the minority. The oldest of 12 children, she grew up with seven brothers, often striving to keep their attention. Now, she is the mother of three sons. Those experiences prepared her to succeed in what is generally accepted to be a testosterone-driven field.

Nevertheless, DeHerrera says she feels at home on the job. Although having a female team member may have been a new experience for the city's male garbage truck drivers, DeHerrera says she has been welcomed and that her co-workers are always on-hand to help, even if it means having to climb into a compactor to release stuck packer blades. “That's pretty impressive to me that someone would be willing to dig down into all of that mess in there to help me out and show me.”

And, yes, DeHerrera is noticed while on her route, mostly from residents — some of whom she already knows by name — who come out to give her a positive thumbs up or even a treat. She already has received accolades from the city for her work. Yet, she seems genuinely surprised by the reactions and her “first and only” designation. After all, why shouldn't women drive garbage trucks? “It means that more ladies around here need to find out how enjoyable this kind of work can be,” she says. “I think its something that [women] would probably enjoy. I think they're ready for it here. It would be nice to hear a few more female voices on the radio.”