She Works She Plays: A life on the road
Nearly three years ago, truck driver Audrey Rippingale found herself at a crossroads.
She was facing the prospect of having to give up a job she loved because of a chronic injury and she wasn’t sure what to do with her life.
A shattered wrist, which required two surgeries and rehab, wasn’t improving and she was in constant pain trying to do her job in the concrete trucking industry.
After spending eight years driving cement trucks, the Oyster River resident knew she had to make a career change.
“I worked in pain with my wrist for about a year and I thought ‘what am I going to do?’” Rippingale says.
Always wanting to own her own rig and her own business, Rippingale came up with the ideal concept – a mobile store specializing in women’s work wear.
With nearly a decade of trucking driving behind her, Rippingale wanted to get back behind the wheel but without the brutal labour of lifting cement chutes and fire hoses that came with driving concrete trucks.
And, she wanted to help women like herself who work in industries traditionally dominated by men.
“It was usually an ongoing joke at my workplaces that I’m flopping around in oversized coveralls,” Rippingale says. “Even finding gloves was always a challenge and it drove me crazy.”
So she did some research and after hearing from other women who were having similar problems, She Works She Plays was born. With help from her husband, a trailer – now known as the Chick Truck – was transformed over a period of three months into a mobile retail store offering top quality brands of coveralls, hard hats, steel-toed boots, work gloves, safety glasses, Stanfield’s, welding gear, fire retardant apparel and construction pants.
The next step was getting the truck out to those women looking for work wear.
So she took to Facebook to determine where the need was. Not surprisingly, demand was high in industrial towns such as Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, and other northern working towns.
Rippingale opened the doors of the Chick Truck for the first time in June of 2015, starting in Campbell River and then expanding to Port McNeill, Duncan and Courtenay. Rippingale ventured off Island for the first time just one month later.
She toured the northwest, parking her truck wherever communities would haver her – typically parking lots or along the side of the highway – in Kitimat, Terrace, Prince Rupert, and Prince George.
Equipped with a murphy bed, a microwave, heat and electricity, Rippingale was able to be self-sufficient while at the same time sell her wares for the five weeks she was away from home.
And apart from the night she spent in a noisy parking lot near a strip bar in Kitimat, Rippingale says that first trip was a huge success.
So she followed that up with a second trip that fall, this time hitting up Chetwynd and Fort St. John before moving into Alberta.
The concept was so popular that Rippingale did it again last year, spending most of 2016 on the road, with trips all over the province, including to Vernon, Kitimat, Terrace, Prince Rupert, Smithers, Williams Lake, Quesnel, Prince George, Merritt, the Kootenays and the more northern parts of the province.
“I was as far north as Fort St. John (a couple of times) and the last time got caught up there when they had early heavy snow in October, with minus double digit temperatures,” Rippingale says. “Made sleeping in the rig a challenge to keep warm. I’m going to insulate the bottom this year. It’s like I am camping most months of the year because I have limited water, power and kitchen. Truly the life of a trucker, I guess.”
After a busy year, Rippingale is currently back home, doing maintenance on the Chick Truck and getting the rig ready for an already packed 2017. Rippingale’s schedule is full, with trips across B.C. and into Alberta. “Everywhere I go, I meet so many great woman, that’s the best part about it.”
That and helping women discover there is something out there just for them.
“When you’re a woman and you’re struggling all the time to find coveralls that aren’t baggy on you, it’s pretty exciting when you find something that fits,” Rippingale says. “I would literally cut mine and sew them so they wouldn’t catch on things where I was working. At least that way it was not dangerous and wouldn’t catch on stuff.”
But besides the safety and annoyance factors, Rippingale says sometimes it’s nice to just find something a bit more feminine than the standard work clothes, which are typically designed for men.
“If you have a good flannel shirt and it has some colours in it, you don’t feel so mucky all the time, but the shirt is still good quality and still holds up.”
That’s why, on the shelves of the Chick Truck, you’ll find pink steel-toed boots, hard hats in colours like hot pink and purple. There are even pink safety glasses.
“Some of the girls pick the pink glasses because then the guys don’t pilfer them,” Rippingale laughs.
Though Rippingale is spending most of her time these days on the road, she is still serving her Island-based customers.
Until March, she is available for private appointments for women working in trades and will be again in October after coming home for the off season.
“I go to businesses or job sites where they are working and take them the gear they need, or women have a Women’s Workwear Party with friends as opposed to a Tupperware party,” Rippingale says. “They’re lots of fun and a safe place for women to share stories and challenges they face in their work as well as get the gear they need.”