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    6 years, 10 months ago

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Posted:  6 years, 9 months ago

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My CDL school experience with Hunt's Heroes, part two.

Initiative will win the day. It was in the upper 90's during the entirety of our training. Some students chose to stay in the shadows, hang out in the trailer and sit around until they were specifically called out by an instructor. The rest of us put our boots on the ground and raised our hands when anybody asked "who wants to...?" It did not matter what it was, either. PTI, offset in the automatic with the hard clutch, alleydocks with the beat to hell super-10 - whatever. If I saw an instructor standing around and nobody was getting in a truck, I was asking him if I could do a live brake check. When everybody else sat down because it was 2:30 in the afternoon and we were all drowning in sweat, I walked around a truck and practiced my PTI. After I passed all my tests, I talked to an instructor about this and he admitted that students who show initiative do tend to get more training. It's really that simple. You can be the student on the bench or the student in the truck. Be the student in the truck. And if you really do have it all down pat, get in the truck and do it all again anyway. Because the next day, you may not be all that hot. You will have setbacks. Minimize them by spending time in the truck. Your goal should be to ensure your worst day is good enough to pass the test.

Orbit your routine around your training. Get a lot of sleep. Eat a good breakfast and bring a good lunch. Save the beer for Friday. Everything you do during these four weeks will affect the quality of your training. Keep life simple and focus on your training - it will pay you dividends on testing day. I went to bed every night at 9:00, had breakfast every morning and brought a good lunch every day. Sounds simple, but you will be working very hard. Being hungry and tired will make it all that harder to be that guy who is always in the truck.

"Thank you" is a magic phrase. It may seem silly, but I thanked my instructors after every session of whatever they were teaching me. PTI run - "Thank you." Alley dock session - "Thank you." Road trip on Hell's Highway (as I called it) - "Thank you." It got to the point where they said I didn't have to thank them. I did it anyway. Because here's the thing. When I needed a private chat with the old timer on break about how the transmission actually works, he gave me a complete lesson on how the darn thing actually works. When I needed coaching on how to keep my temper in check, I got it. When I wanted more live brake checks, I got them. When everybody else went on break and I asked for one more shot on the alley-dock, I got it. And I got many private "when you get out there" tips. I genuinely appreciated their guidance and patience and I do believe that it made a difference when they knew that I meant it when I said, "Thank you." Instructors are people too and they like being appreciated just like the rest of us.

When it's all said and done, your CDL training is a series of small triumphs. To my mind, there was never anything too trivial to strive for. From smoothly letting out the clutch without lurching the truck to butter-shifting through the gears as I slowed to a stop - they all meant something. And when you do something really well, then your next challenge is simple. Do it again the next day.

Be a professional. Milk this training for everything it can give you, because when it's done, it's done. Never again will you really have this opportunity to explore the various tasks of driving in detail in a relatively risk-free environment. The next time I get behind the wheel, it's going to count. And even after all the sweat and hard work, I can't help feeling that I'm just now ready to actually start learning what it means to drive a truck. But school's over. Next time, there will be paid freight behind me, miles in front of me and an account trainer saying, "Let's go." How well he is impressed with my first exit from the yard will depend entirely on how much I invested in those long 90+ degree days in Arkansas. I hope it was enough.

Posted:  6 years, 9 months ago

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My CDL school experience with Hunt's Heroes.

Just finished CDL training with JB Hunt through their Hunt's Heroes program in Springdale AR. In no particular order, here are my observations for those waiting to go to school:

As expected, the clutches on the trucks have very heavy springs. My first road trip, I actually put the truck in neutral at an intersection and held her in place with the service brakes while I waited for traffic to clear. Instructor was not impressed. After a few days of holding in the clutch for traffic, my left leg actually got stronger and by the end, it was no big deal. If you are currently waiting for school, some leg presses and extensions would be a good idea.

Brakes: the air brakes are very sensitive and take about 1/2 second to kick in when you press the service brake. Very common learning step for all of us was to press the brake lightly, not get any response and then press harder. The lag and hard press would then catch up with each other and then the truck would lurch to a hard stop. Press it in lightly, wait for it to kick in and then adjust your pressure. The truck and and will come to a stop in 500 feet at 55 mph just fine. by the end, I was able to pull a 200 foot stop at 45 in tenth gear on a short yellow light. Air brakes are truly powerful things and it takes time to learn how to use them with finesse.

Do not worry about learning anything fast. You will be overwhelmed by instructions and your environment for the first week or two. This is normal. You will get more wrong than right - do not expect to be good at anything at first. During a turn, the instructor will tell you to watch your trailer so you don't hit the curb. Just as you get proud of missing curbs, he will tell you not to turn so wide and keep your lane closed. Just as you figure out how to track the double yellow line in a turn without hitting the four-wheeler sitting in the turn lane, you will grind sixth gear because you forgot to flip the selector. Then you'll hear: "Don't coast." Lots and lots of input from the truck, environment and instructor that will seem to overwhelm you at first. The absolute most important thing to do at these times is this: stay calm. You will get frustrated, angry, flustered and irritated. One of the most important things about driving a truck is your mental game and your instructors know this, which is why they hassle you so much. I struggled with keeping my emotions in check and the instructors worked very hard to cure me of that. The sooner you work on that for yourself, the better.

You will miss gears. Let me repeat that. You will miss gears. Even after you have your up shift pattern down pat, are able to put on a clinic for the 7-5 downshift and can grab three gears on a short yellow light, you will miss gears. The important thing isn't missing them: it's recovering them. Every time you miss, recognize it as an opportunity to recover. It's a critical skill. Missed gears are part of the game - learn to deal with them. (So you don't coast!)

Never again will you be in a hurry when driving. Dealing with traffic, negotiating intersections and executing safe turns is all about planning ahead and configuring your truck well in advance. For example, if you're coming up on a right hand turn at an intersection, you will start that turn at about 1500 feet or so. First, you will note the light condition and timing. Then you will slow down and gear down, most likely from 9-8. You'll put on your signal at this point (or even earlier.) Then you'll brake and gear down to 7th at about 500 feet. (a little less when you get the hang of it.) While your instinct from driving a four-wheeler will be to "keep up with traffic" as you approach the turn, you will actually let them run on ahead and slow down even more so you can grab 5th gear for your turn, a good 100 feet or more in advance. At first, it is an unnatural act to go slower than everyone else as you approach your turn, but slow turns are safe turns and you absolutely want to have it in the right gear *before* the turn. Then you'll sweat the light as you approach the intersection at a whopping 5-10 mph because you know it's going to turn yellow just before you get there. Then you'll crank through it real slow, watching your trailer, watching traffic and closing your lane without hitting the curb. And you thought driving a truck would be easy. :)

It took me a full two weeks to figure out my offset and I was at the end of my third week before the alley dock finally came together. Here is my best advice: Go slow. Slower. No, slower than that. It is not a race. Stop and adjust as much as you need. Get out and look. My test allowed me two free GOALs for my offset and another two for my alley dock. I used them. A lot. It is *not* about impressing anybody with your mad wheel turning and mirror-watching skills. It's about getting the truck in the slot without going out of bounds. Be humble. Go slow. Get out and look. It takes time to figure out your mirror picture and how it relates to the actual position of the truck.

More to come...

Posted:  6 years, 10 months ago

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High Road Training and my Journey to CLP

So, I started studying the HRT program here on TruckingTruth several days ago. I read sections required for the permit and answered all the questions. Finished it up and went in for my test today. Passed General Knowledge, Air Brakes and Combi with plenty of room to spare. A lot of the questions were different than the practice questions, but I was able to think through them based on the knowledge pounded into my head by the HRT. Quite a few questions were insta-wins even so, looking exactly like the practice questions I had answered during HRT.

The real value of HRT is the repetition and addition model. It asks the same stuff over and over until it's just embedded in your brain. And the areas you're having trouble with, it lets you know right away so you can study it on the spot.

It paid off. I saw very few questions where I felt truly clueless and generally felt comfortable with the material on the test. HRT ftw. It works. I do not believe I would have done as well just by studying the paper manual alone.

Posted:  6 years, 10 months ago

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Rewriting History

Look up the Interstate Truck Driver's Guide to Hours of Service. It's an FMCSA pdf that explains all this in black and white.

One thing it makes very clear is that any work done for another employer is considered as duty hours for the purposes of the 60/7 or 70/8 rule and needs to be in your rolling 7/8 day log. It's in there. It also affects your 14 hour window in terms of when you must get your next ten hour rest period. 8 hours at pizza, 6 hours driving, you must stop and reset. (for example) This is why it needs to be logged.

Posted:  6 years, 10 months ago

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Slowing down - the real story, please

The CDL manual talks about slowing down from 55 to 35 in wet weather. Now, physics says this really is a good idea and it makes sense to me. However, in my lifetime, I have driven a lot of miles on the interstate in a 4-wheeler. I've driven on interstates in 20 of the 50 states. Not once have I seen a big rig driving 35 mph in wet weather unless they were going uphill.

In fact, I have usually been the one slowing down while rigs pass me routinely, splashing mist right into my windshield. I typically run 55-60 on wet roads in a 4-wheeler and have seen MANY rigs blow right past me on the left. I'll be honest - I cringe in wet weather, because just about everybody, from 18 to 4 wheels, is going too fast in my book.

So, what's the truth here? What's the real story on wet-weather driving? If I go 35, my biggest fear would be somebody plowing into me from behind because, let's face it, NOBODY goes this slow on the freeway unless they are in a major rainstorm, blinding snow or fog. And "flow of traffic" in wet weather is almost always too fast to be safe.

I know what the book says. I know what physics say. And I know what I've seen. What I want to know is what real experienced truck drivers have to say on the subject.

Posted:  6 years, 10 months ago

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Rookie Checklist - phase one

Thanks G-Town. I actually need my CPL before orientation, so the study guides are much appreciated.

Posted:  6 years, 10 months ago

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Rookie Checklist - phase one

Mike...the orientation you referred to, is it for school, or your first driving job? Please give a few details and I apologize for not knowing this if you already stated it in another post. Your answer will help me reply to your Christmas List more precisely.

School. It's a company orientation, then off to school the following week. (Company sponsored program for veterans.)

Posted:  6 years, 10 months ago

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Rookie Checklist - phase one

So, I'm posting this for feedback from the gang. I still haven't gone to orientation, so this is way early in the process, but I'm trying to prepare myself mentally. (Which means I know this list is uninformed, but I'm just trying to get my head as right as I can before things get tough, because I know they will get tough.) Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Thoughts on drivecraft.

- 1. Drive safely. 2. Drive legally. 3. Complete the assignment on time. In that order. Always.

- Do not hit anything. This is my fundamental position. Drive the truck safely. Maneuver the truck safely. This means, because I am new, it will take me longer to do things than it takes for other drivers.

- Get Out and Look. Understand the maneuver space, know where you are in it. Step into it and think about it before moving into it.

- Stop often. The Ohio CDL manual says we have to stop every 150 miles or three hours to check the cargo. Not sure if this something drivers actually do, but for me, that's probably a good idea. Drive a ways, pull over, take a break, check things. Take the trip in steps.

-Drive in segments. This is related to the above. Drive short legs, focusing on the route for each leg. Know that segment. Know the turns. Plan it as much as possible. This is also an exercise to get my head into the professional driving space. It's not just about going down the road. It's about moving a lot of somebody else's money.

-Never move the truck without a route plan. Even if it's just going across the yard, plan the route. The reason I've come up with this one is the stories of getting lost when least expected. Short trips across town, getting stuck in residential areas, that sort of thing.

- Go slow. This comes from my background. When I was a kid, my dad (who also drove for North American for about a year) was an insurance adjuster in Gallup New Mexico. I went with him on many truck wreck investigations on I-40. This was in the 70's. I saw the consequences of big trucks converting kinetic energy rapidly. It has stuck with me all my life. Invariably, when asked how fast they were going, a driver would say "About 55." More often than not, they were going faster. (According to skid patterns and other stuff my dad was real good at analyzing.) 55 gets the job done and gives me time to react to my environment as I hone my drivecraft. It also extends my endurance and stamina. To this day, ungoverned rigs blasting by at 75 make my very nervous.

-My rig, my problem. This is my truck. There are many like it, but this one is mine. I am responsible for everything my truck does or fails to do. I am responsible for keeping the logs, planning my routes, making sure my rig is in good working order, driving it safely and legally. I will pass inspections. I will. Whatever problems occur are mine to solve.

Thoughts on business

- All unloaded cargo is good.

- My dispatcher has a list from a load planner. Their challenge is to match that list to available drivers as efficiently and reliably as possible. My assignments will be based on my proven ability to help them solve that problem, nothing more, nothing less.

- Other drivers will get the more important hauls. They have proven that they can handle them.

- I will get the less important hauls, because I am the highest risk to my dispatcher. It is up to me to build their trust and confidence.

- Every load is an opportunity to build trust, confidence and value. Don't worry about miles. Worry about performance.

- For now, it is better for me to get hauls that are lower miles with more time between appointments. I am new. I am learning my drivecraft and my businesscraft. I am not as proficient or efficient as other drivers. I cannot perform at their level, because I haven't learned how yet. I need time to learn.

- Everybody has problems. My dispatcher, my mechanics, my customers. Like me, they are doing their best. I will do my best to help them solve their problems by doing my job well. I will be thankful when they help me solve mine.

- Good help is hard to find. Let somebody else whine, complain, get angry, create stress and get in the way. Hauling freight is a tough business and a challenge at all levels, from the CEO down. Getting freight to the receiver is hard enough already, don't make it worse. I will be part of the solution, not the problem.

So, there it is, for now. Like I said, this is more about attitude alignment than anything else. I'm trying to program myself for success, if you will. Becoming a truck driver is a major change for me and I don't want to just walk in, be surprised and fail. Tying to gear up to walk in, be surprised and deal with it.

Posted:  6 years, 10 months ago

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Embarrassing, but I gotta fess up

Well, but you were at the end of your clock. Because of the loading time. What were you supposed to do, bust your clock to go find somewhere else to park? (Seriously.) What if you have been pulled over for a log check on your way to somewhere else to park?

Posted:  6 years, 10 months ago

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Autonomous Trucks - a response

In one of those amazing coincidences, I opened up Patrick Netzel's article on self-driving vehicles just minutes after having a conversation on that very subject with my wife.

I don't see autonomous vehicles "replacing" truck drivers any time soon for a couple of reason.

First, autonomous aircraft have not replaced pilots. Any modern airliner is equipped with a Flight Management Computer and a very complex Automated Flight System. We're talking about vehicles that cost millions, equipped with very sophisticated electronic control systems that make a good part of that cost. And there are still two people up front managing all that stuff. These modern aircraft can do almost everything on their own (and do, because they are efficient.) Once a modern airliner is about 1500 feet off the ground, the Non-Flying Pilot presses a little button called VNAV and then another one called LNAV. From that point on, the airplane climbs to altitude, manages the throttle, turns at waypoints and flies itself to its destination. There is literally nothing the pilots have to do for the plane to get to where it's going. When it gets there, the plane can descend, maneuver into approach and land itself. Once on the ground, the pilot takes over to deploy the reversers, slow the aircraft down and taxi to the gate. (Most pilots turn off the autopilot at around 1000 feet and land the plane themselves, but it *can* land itself and will when visibility mandates a CAT III automatic landing.)

Now, for all of this to work, there still needs to be somebody up front to push all the right buttons on the Control Display Unit to properly program the Flight Management System. But, honestly, that could be handled by any variety of data uplink methods. STILL - there are pilots on board. Why? Because there are people and/or cargo in the back and the Federal Aviation Administration requires that there still be trained pilots to do the one thing all that fancy hardware can't do: make decisions.

And maneuvering an aircraft in open sky is less complex than maneuvering a car in traffic, even if it's the congested skies of the TCA for Newark, La Guardia and JFK.

The feds will continue to require an operator to man the cab of a truck for the same reasons they mandate pilots to sit in the ****pit and engineers to man electric diesels on the railroads: safe interstate commerce. Drivers may very well find themselves migrating into the role of a control operator as cruise control systems get fancier, but they're not going to be removed from the equation.

Secondly, and this is the far more important problem in my book, is the security risk. Smart cars are connected to the Internet of Things. Which means hackers will be salivating to get their mitts on them and make them do stupid things. (Aircraft, oddly enough, are not connected to the Internet in any way that interfaces with their flight control systems. There's a reason for that.) The first time we read headlines about all the smart cars in Detroit suddenly going 90 mph and plowing into traffic, that experiment will be over. And, yeah, I see that happening. It's already part of the conversation in the data security world.

The first place we might see actual autonomous transport vehicles is rail, where it makes the most sense and is easiest to set up. But we're not reading those headlines. I wonder why.

"Autonomous" and "automated" are two different things. Automation will continue to find its way into the cab, and in ways that will make hauling freight safer and easier. Autonomy - the ability to make decisions rather than follow programmed configurations - is still way down the road, so to speak.

In the meantime, autonomous vehicles make for cool headlines and are an interesting project, but they're not a practical solution to commercial freight hauling.

What I would be more inclined to look for is remote control driving via V/R interfacing. Unmanned Commercial Vehicles - controlled by telecommuting drivers sitting in the comfort of their own homes. How about that? And *that* can be done. (But we need a massive data infrastructure upgrade first.)

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