Former Hawaii resident gains fame from long-haul trucking

Nov. 20—The former Hawaii resident is a long-haul trucker, crisscrossing the country in her cherry-red Cascadia, a semitrailer truck that is the flagship model of the truck manufacturer Freightliner.

Few people have traveled the long and winding road to celebrity that Natasha Schneider has. The former Hawaii resident is a long-haul trucker, crisscrossing the country in her cherry-red Cascadia, a semitrailer truck that is the flagship model of the truck manufacturer Freightliner.

Over the past three years, she's become a budding online star, last year drawing more than 300, 000 views on her vlog Natasha Trucking, and a reality TV celebrity, having appeared on the A &E series "Shipping Wars " last season. In the process, she's become an inspiration in the business.

"I've had a lot of women reach out to me, " said Schneider, 29, in a phone call from Kansas City, Mo., where she is based when not on the road. "A lot of men reach out to me, not in a bad way, but they're reaching out to me to ask me to convince their wife to go out with them."

Trucking is a huge industry. In 2021, about 3.5 million truckers hauled an estimated $875.5 billion in freight shipment from primary shipping destinations, which represented 80.8 % of the nation's freight bill that year, according to American Trucking Associations, an organization comprising for-hire motor carriers, private carriers, industry suppliers, shippers and individual professionals.

Almost 14 % of big-rig drivers are women. Their numbers have increased dramatically over the past few years as the industry has eased some of the physical demands on drivers, according to Ellen Voie, president and CEO of Women in Trucking, a nonprofit focused on encouraging the employment of women in the trucking industry.

"It used to be that drivers had to help load and unload. They don't do that anymore, " she said.

The trucks themselves, she said, are equipped not only with power steering and braking and automatic transmission, but anti-collision and anti-rollover technology, making "trucking less physically demanding and also safer."

The industry is increasingly interested in hiring women as drivers, as studies show that they are 20 % less likely to get into an accident, and they have a reputation for being "better with customers, better with paperwork, better with equipment, " she said.

Schneider has led an itinerant life, even in Hawaii. She lived in Pearl City as a young child then moved to Honolulu for a few years. She attended Moanalua High School before moving to Kapolei and graduating from Kapolei High. She left Hawaii five years ago and wandered the mainland, working different jobs before starting her trucking career two years later. At that point, her only connection to trucking was that "one of my friend's dad drove for FedEx, " she said.

Her interest in trucking stemmed mostly from a desire to have a business of her own ; she said she "wasn't the type " to drive. "I was kind of a tomboy but I'm also a 'girlie' girl, " she said. "I just didn't think it was possible for me. I don't know why. It sounds strange now saying it, but I didn't think women could drive semitrucks."

Her then-husband, from whom she recently divorced, was the one to get trained, obtain a commercial trucking license first and do the driving, while she rode alongside and handled the business side of things. They appeared to be a good fit—until she went out on her own and bought a truck without consulting him. It was bigger than anything he had driven before, even in training.

"He was like freaked out, like 'I've never even been in a truck this big, why did you get it ?'" Schneider recalled with a laugh. "I don't think he really believed that I was going to get it, but I kept telling him for months, 'I'm going to get a truck, and you're going to drive.'"

But after about three months in business, she found herself "bored " with simply riding around and decided to enroll in a four-day crash course in driving. Aided by her observations as a passenger, she was able to pass the necessary exams and get a trucking license of her own.

Now, after three years on the road, she's found that driving a semi "wears you out so much more than driving a car."

"It makes you so much more exhausted, whether it's this hyperfocus—you can't really change your focus as much as a car, " she said.

Even though semitrucks are equipped with power steering and braking, the weight of the load can take its toll as well, she said. "If you're pulling 10, 000 pounds vs. 40, 000 pounds, it will make you feel differently. You have to drive differently, you have to brake differently."

She also had to learn how to share the road with car drivers unaware of the trucker's challenges. "Trucks are really big, but most cars don't even realize they're there, and they zoom around them, and act like we're just these clunky things that are in the way. I have to leave an extra amount of space in front of me at all times to slow down, because it takes me forever. Cars definitely don't realize that and they just take that space."

Now, when she has to drive a car, it's "like driving a go-kart, " she said.

Schneider sees few other women truckers out on the highways, but said there seems to be an implicit camaraderie among them. "I only see a woman like once a month, " she said. "It's so rare, and now I know why they're staring at me, because I'm staring at them."

As for male truckers, she has come to expect them to flirt. Early in her career, she would go into a store at a truck stop, and men would be yelling "Hello ? Hello ?" to get her attention. "After awhile I got sick if it, " she said, adding that she's learned how to ignore the come-ons.

Her vlog, which is streamed on YouTube, started with a simple video about her daily experiences in the trucking business. She'd been posting videos since her teenage years, but one of her trucking videos got a good response, and she decided to post more. Her videos offer tips about the trucking business, from how to book jobs and develop a budget to packing a load and truck maintenance. She has also used the vlog to share more personal business, posting videos about her breast enhancement surgery earlier this year.

"I just liked being in front of the camera since I was born, pretty much, but I never thought about doing it seriously, " she said of her videos, adding that she considers her vlog followers to be like her "tight-knit family."

"Maybe that's the Hawaii side in me, " she said.

Her appearance on "Shipping Wars, " which is now in its ninth season, came about as a result of her vlog.

"(Show executives ) found me on YouTube, and so they reached out to me over email, " she said. "I was like, 'This must be a scam or something, ' so I didn't respond for months. They kept reaching out. I get weird emails all the time, so I don't take it seriously unless they do."

After a few Zoom meetings, "it was real, " and she wound up shooting seven episodes. The show features truckers moving unusual, unwieldy items, such as large sculptures, antique cars and boats—on one show, she did both at the same time, transporting two amphibious cars—to various locations around the country. She's transported a 160-foot tall antenna, a roller derby rink and a vintage firetruck, providing commentary the whole way as she deals with with issues such as equipment breakdowns, bad traffic and weather, or potentially demanding customers. The challenge is in getting the item there safely, on time and on budget.

Being on the show doesn't interfere with Schneider's business, since she's called only when there is an interesting item to transport.

"They just tell me when they need me, and then I go off and do my own thing, " she said.