“I'm just glad it was a woman who did it, most of all. Its challenging for a woman because you're invading a mans world.”
Renae Dohrer has now gone where no man has gone before.
On Monday, she was celebrated by Covenant Transport officials for hitting 3 million consecutive, accident-free miles as an over-the-road driver.
She is the first driver in Chattanooga-based Covenant's history to hit that milestone. The company turns 30 next year.
"This is a huge event for Covenant," said Joey Hogan, president of Covenant Transport and COO of Covenant Transportation Group. "This is a first for us."
He said Dohrer's loyalty is "extremely rare in our industry," especially in these trying times when finding drivers is harder than ever and keeping drivers is an uphill fight. According to the American Trucking Associations, the average driver turnover at large fleets is in the high 90 percent range.
"In a climate of driver turnover like we have, to work for one company is outstanding," said R.H. Lovin, executive vice president of administration at Covenant.
"If we had more drivers like you, we could print money," he said.
Before a room of Covenant officials, employees, Dohrer's family and Dohrer herself, Lovin reminisced about meeting the now-decorated driver for the first time.
"Renae and I met the first day she came to work here," he said.
Choking up, Lovin said "we have laughed together, and we — "
"Have fought," interjected Dohrer, drawing laughs.
For those familiar with her, the plain-spoken, tell-it-like-it-is Dohrer is a beloved — and bellicose at times — force. She doesn't shy away from conflict, and when she stops in at company headquarters, people scatter, she jokes.
Dohrer is originally from Iowa, and she grew up the daughter of truck stop owners John and Patricia Dohrer.
John Dohrer died in August of this year.
Monday was the first time the family had been together since the funeral. Patricia Dohrer flew up from Florida, and Dohrer's sisters came in from Iowa.
"It's been a hard time for Renae," said Patricia, talking about the months since her late husband's passing. "So I'm so glad they did this."
Being the mother of an over-the-road trucker is no easy task in and of itself. It requires going long spans without seeing your child, and sometimes days without hearing from them.
But Patricia said she and Renae make the best of it.
"We call and talk almost everyday, or every couple of days" she said Monday. "We always say we love each other, and be careful on the road, because — you never know."
Renae lauded her family for enduring the hard life she chose for herself.
"My family has supported me in everything," she said.
She misses her father, and said she cries now out on the road more than she used to.
"He loved hearing about my job, and what I was doing," she said.
Dohrer also, through the years, has adopted the staff at Covenant into her family, and said the people there are the reason she has stuck around for two decades.
"I have a lot of people here who care about me and love me," she said. "Covenant has been very good to me, and I'm very loyal. I'm like the dog you keep kicking and they keep coming back."
To commemorate Dohrer's accomplishment, Covenant officials cut her a $7,500 bonus check and ordered her a brand-new Freightliner tractor to come in any color of her choice.
She chose purple, her favorite color, and also the primary color in the Minnesota Vikings' — her favorite NFL team — logo and uniform scheme.
Dohrer now drives the only purple truck in Covenant's fleet, which is made up of more than 2,700 tractors.
Dohrer said she'll probably drive another three years at least, which will get her longtime partner James Carrell to retirement age.
Dohrer isn't stuck on her accomplishments. She doesn't like or attention hogs, or "hot doggers," as she calls them.
But she is happy to get the accomplishment under her belt, even if it isn't for herself.
"I'm just glad it was a woman who did it, most of all," she said. "It's challenging for a woman because you're invading a man's world."
That may be, but in Covenant Transport's fleet at least, Renae Dohrer is now queen — and she won't let you forget it.
Asked whether she and Carrell mutually decided on purple for the color of their new truck, Dohrer shot a quick look at the big Freightliner soaking up the afternoon sun, and she set the record straight.
"I rule the roost," she said.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6480.