Trista Friemoth says she knew from an early age that she wanted to drive trucks for a living. The idea first occurred to her during those long family car trips we all know so well. “I was always amazed by the semi trucks on the interstate,” she says. “When I got my driver’s license, you couldn’t keep me [tied down]. I love to drive.”
What wasn’t obvious to Friemoth was what kind of truck she would drive or how to get behind the wheel. Then, one day, she saw an ad in the paper stating that the Fort Atkinson, Wis., branch of Veolia ES Solid Waste Midwest was looking to recruit garbage truck drivers. She was hired, trained and earned her first commercial driver’s license. She’s been driving for the company for five and a half years.
“I’m the only person that I know of in my immediate family who drives for a living,” says Friemoth.
Speaking of her immediate family, Friemoth says they were initially caught off guard by her choice of career, and with good reason. As Veolia attests, females working in the waste industry make up a small population, and the number of women working within the operations branch of these businesses is even smaller.
“They were kind of surprised, but excited and supportive,” says Friemoth. “And they’re very happy now to see that I have a job that I like.”
Though Friemoth currently drives a front loader, she’s also driven rear and side loaders. While working in the summer heat is her least favorite aspect of the job, she says she loves getting out into the community. “My favorite thing, I suppose, is that I just get to drive around all day; the different scenery, the changing of the seasons, neighborhoods changing. I see everything. It’s different every day.”
Despite being the only woman in Veolia’s Fort Atkinson driving division (most female drivers face similar situations, according to Veolia), Friemoth says she’s never faced prejudice or condescension from her male coworkers: “Everyone here has always treated me as an equal.” While she doesn’t necessarily consider herself “one of the guys,” from pre-dawn company stretching sessions to punching out each night, she works hard to prove that she’s just as capable as everyone else out driving a route.
That drive reveals itself when Friemoth is asked about the most interesting item she ever picked up: “I guess the most interesting thing would be figuring out how to get a sleeper sofa in there,” she says. “It’s different, but once you figure it out, it’s not bad. They teach you how to lift everything properly.”
Addressing other women who might be wary of taking a job in a field not traditionally populated by women, Friemoth says they shouldn’t be apprehensive. “Just go for it. It’s great! It’s never boring. It’s always exciting and you’re always learning new things every day.”