In March, when the coronavirus pandemic transformed bustling metropolitan areas into deserted ghost towns as people hunkered down in apprehension, Susan Dawson recognized an opportunity to serve.
Dawson, 57, drives for Brenny Specialized Inc., a trucking company based in St. Joseph, Minn., some 75 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Over the past several months, Dawson has been hauling a combination of sanitation supplies that have been in high demand during the pandemic and regular freight that she would ordinarily move during her over-the-road dispatches.
She has gone all over, crisscrossing from Washington to Boston to Florida. Dawson has delivered hand sanitizer to Houston and, when she spoke to Transport Topics during a stop in Dallas, she was carrying a load of fire extinguisher ingredients bound for Allentown, Pa.
During the height of the outbreak in the Northeast, Dawson delivered water in New Jersey and picked up a load of batteries in New York City the following day. She spent the night in her truck, which she parked behind a building in New Jersey, remaining cautious and safe in what was then the epicenter of the pandemic.
“I never really ran into any danger, but I can tell you, my eyeballs were the size of 50-cent pieces,” Dawson said. “It was an eerie feeling, needless to say. It kind of reminded me I wouldn’t want to be the last person on Earth.”
Susan Dawson connected with Brenny Specialized at the Mid-America Trucking Show. (Brenny Specialized Inc.)
As an over-the-road truck driver, home time is precious for Dawson, who lives in Indianapolis, which is 660 miles from her company’s headquarters but close to her siblings, nephews and cousins. When the pandemic started to rapidly sweep the country in late March, Dawson decided to forgo the home time she had previously booked so she could continue trucking.
“We were extremely busy when all this started. However, we wouldn’t have denied her home time,” said Joyce Brenny, founder and CEO of Brenny Transportation and Brenny Specialized Inc. “We were very, very leery of how we were going to get that load out [to New York City] with everything going on. She said ‘I can take it.’ She does not let fear be her ruler.”
Brenny said the average driver at her company logs 8,000 to 10,000 miles a month. In May, Dawson covered 13,000 miles.
Dawson said her decision to skip her home time and continue working was rooted in a sense of duty and teamwork.
“I was not abandoning ship,” Dawson said. “I just wanted to keep doing what everybody else was doing. My country needed all of us drivers out here and the way things happened so very fast, it was actually scary.”
Dawson ultimately made it home for a few days in June. She doesn’t plan to return again until the holidays, although she may “sneak in around September.”