November 9, 2022

Big rigs and horses define this farm woman

There’s nothing quite like driving an 18-wheeler full of grain, says Malta farm woman Dawn Stohecker. She drives big rigs for Reid Farms.

“I’ve always liked big trucks,” said Dawn. “Peterbilt is my favorite.”

She lights up describing the farm’s newly purchased Peterbilt 389 with its 565 horsepower, long hood, 230 wheelbase truck pulling a 41-foot hopper bottom trailer. The new semi-truck is the farm’s second; she previously had been driving an eight-year-old Peterbilt 388 with 505 horsepower, which they still use.

Trucker & Certified Mechanic

In the fall Dawn has been hauling corn and soybeans from the field to the Malta and Steward CHS grain elevators for storage. The field activity involves her finance’ Gene Reid running the combine, Gene’s nephew Brandon Reid on the grain cart and Dawn driving truck.

“I’ve always liked big trucks,” said Malta farm woman Dawn Stohecker, who drives this Peterbilt semi-truck for Reid Farms. Dawn is among only a handful of farm woman in the county who drive semi-trucks.

The trek from the farm field to the elevator takes 20 to 45 minutes depending on which corn and soybean field they are harvesting in central DeKalb County. She uses a remote control to roll the tarp across the top of the trailer before she exits the field and at the elevator she pulls across the grain pit to open the power traps on the hopper bottoms to unload the grain.

Dawn is among only a handful of farm women in the county who drive semi-trucks for their farms. Most farm women are involved on the farm in other capacities. Driving semi-trucks is primarily a male-dominated field.

Dawn’s love for big rigs is based on her upbringing and work in the automotive industry.

“When I was young, I liked playing with Tonka trucks and Hot Wheel cars (ok, some Barbie dolls, too),” she explained. “And I credit my dad, who worked on cars, for my mechanical nature. He had me hand him the tools.”

During her high school years at Oregon, IL she was in the school-to-work program. At the young age of 15, she worked for a local car dealer. In her junior and senior years she worked more hours cleaning cars, doing oil changes, and replacing brakes.

While other young girls were driving automatic cars, she was driving a stick shift. At work, she learned a variety of car lines from BMWs to Chevrolets.

Being a trained and certified mechanic, Dawn does some of the farm’s truck maintenance in their machine shop.

“I always wanted to be a mechanic, so I trained for certifications and eventually became a parts manager and a service manager,” said Dawn. “I worked in the automotive industry for 25 years.”

Dawn was employed at Arndt Automotive in Malta from 2016 until 2019, when she began working for Reid Farms.

“Dawn has been a big help hauling our grain for our farm,” said Gene. “When I bought the Peterbilt 388 truck three years ago she got her CDL and started trucking for me. And she also custom hauls, which provides some extra farm income.”

Because of her mechanical background, she does some of the maintenance on the farm’s trucks and trailers. She has extra parts in the truck in case she has a breakdown on the road, and oftentimes is able to fix it.

Besides hauling grain for the farm, Dawn custom hauls for CHS. Here, she trucks from the corn pile in Steward to the ethanol plant in Rochelle.

Once Dawn is done hauling grain for the farm, she custom hauls for CHS. She hauls grain year-round from the CHS elevator facilities in Malta, Steward, Morris and Maple Park to the Illinois River and to the ethanol plant in Rochelle.

The 41-year-old trucker averages about 35,000 miles on the truck each year hauling ag commodities. She keeps a logbook in her truck to track her hours and miles as a good practice but also in case she is ever audited by the DOT.

Gene Reid and fiancee’ Dawn make a good team, working together on the farm.

Accompanying Dawn in the semi-truck are her two Blue Healer dogs – Ziva and Pixie. She enjoys having them as companions while on the road.

National Horse Show Champion

Dawn is passionate about her lifestyle of driving big rigs, but she also loves her hobby of showing horses.

“Horses have been part of my family all my life.” She figures she has had as many as 20 horses in her lifetime.

Dawn Strohecker and her horse Spanky are national champions on the horse show circuit. Spanky made a clean sweep at the American Royal in Kansas City placing tops in open and amateur halter classes.

Growing up, her grandparents had a farm in Elburn and raised racehorses. She was two years old when she got her first pony, “Baby.” In 4-H and FFA she showed her horse, “Jewel,” a Paint Mare.

In open shows she competed in a variety of equine classes like halter, showmanship, western, English, barrel racing and pole bending.

After high school she barrel raced with her horse as part of the International Pro Rodeo Association.

As a young adult Dawn decided to enter the show circuit with her Quarter Horse, “Coolest Heir” showing him in the halter class. It provided some good experiences for her and her horse before ramping up her show interest even more.

Dawn has earned a multitude of trophies and rosettes showing Spanky the past few years.

A couple years ago, when she purchased a gelding named “Illicit Intention” (barn name, “Spanky”) she knew the time was right to hit the show circuit harder. And she hit it big!

Her five-year-old horse has won world champion four times. Her gelding was in the top three of the national standings for the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) high points title last year. Spanky also placed in the top five at Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus, Ohio.

In September of this year at the American Royal in Kansas City, her horse placed number one in open and amateur halter classes. He was also open and amateur Grand Champion gelding overall. “It was a clean sweep there,” said Dawn. “Spanky placed at the top among six judges, which earned circuit awards and rosette ribbons.”

“He’s a solid horse in the halter class,” explained Dawn. “And Spanky is very competitive.”

To be a national champion takes a lot of work and commitment.

Competition can be pretty stiff, explained Dawn. Each year she sets goals for what she wants to accomplish. This year her goal is to attend 27 show circuits, which she is pretty close to attaining. Each circuit earns a number of points. Dawn hopes to earn the national high point title in 2022; she currently is number one for the open and amateur halter gelding for the American Quarter Horse Association.

But being a national champion is no easy fete. It takes a lot of work and commitment. On the national circuit it’s pretty unusual to train, groom and transport your own horse.

Dawn grooms Spanky daily and works him regularly so he’s ready for the next show.

“Most horse owners hire trainers, but I do it all myself (with some assistance from Gene). Spanky and I work hard to be champions.”

What’s it take to be a national champion? Dawn works and grooms Spanky daily, provides him with a special high protein show diet, washes and clips his hair regularly, and keeps him comfortable as the weather changes.

In the show ring Dawn’s appearance is important – it’s all about the details – the hat, boots, and belt buckle. For Spanky it’s about the halter, his conformation, stance, muscling, prettiness, good legs – and walking and trotting in the show ring.

This year Dawn has put 16,000 miles on her Ford F250 truck taking Spanky to horse shows. She likes traveling down the open road with her truck and Lakota living quarters horse trailer. Just as much as she enjoys driving the Peterbilt semi-truck and trailer hauling grain.