Colin's Swift Training Diary From Fontana, CA

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Colin K.'s Comment
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My name is Colin and I'm currently in the Swift Training Academy in Fontana, CA. I just completed my first week and passed my first test. It was on Air Brakes. It wasn't the Air Brake test that I took at the DMV though. It was a test on how to use and test the air brakes in an actual truck. I'm really enjoying my experience so far.

Before I get into detailing my experiences at the Academy, I want to give you some background info on myself and how I got here.

I'm 55 and in March of 2015 I was laid off from one of the major tech companies when my job was outsourced. I was there for 13 years. When I went to EDD (California's version of the Unemployment Office), I was told that I would have a hard time getting a job because of my age. (The economy wasn't as strong then as it is now.)

I decided to explore every job opportunity that was available to me, whether I'd ever worked in that industry or not and, most importantly, even if it was outside of my comfort zone. In the meantime, I worked various temp and seasonal jobs to make ends meet.

Long story short, I met a recruiter for a trucking school and he put the trucking bug in my ear. As I tend to do, I researched the industry to death. Thankfully, I somehow stumbled upon I read Brett's great book and every article and diary that I could find here.

I'm a loner and an introvert. Never married, no kids and an only child. I love a challenge and am a hard worker. Once I know what to do, and how to do it, I don't need anyone to hold my hand. Trucking checked every box on that score.

I lost my medication coverage when I lost my insurance. My high blood pressure, sleep apnea and Type II diabetes got way out of control. I worked hard and lost about 30 lbs. I spoke to my pharmacist and doctors and they gave me services at a reduced cost if I paid cash.

It took a while, but I got my high blood pressure, sleep apnea and blood sugar levels under control and took my DOT physical. I checked to make sure that the doctor was DOT approved before I made the appointment. I now have my one year medical card. (Note: The DOT requires that your blood sugar levels for Type II diabetics be under 300.)

During this time, I studied for my DMV exams. I took them, and paid for them, on my own. The reason I passed was because of the High Road Training Program on this site. Thank you, Brett!!! Trust me, if you use the High Road Training Program, you will have no problem passing the DMV written tests.

I got every extra endorsement except Hazmat as the Swift recruiter told me not to bother with it. I may go back and get it before the year is up, I'm not sure yet.

Based on all of the great information that I got from here, I decided to go with a company paid training program. I eventually also want to take a dog along with me. That narrowed my choices down considerably.

I mostly spoke with recruiters from Prime and Swift, both fine companies. The Prime recruiter was the most aggressive at first. She had asked me to fax in some paperwork, which I did. Something must have happened to change their mind, however. I never found out what.

From what I've read here, I've come to believe it was the gaps between my temporary and seasonal jobs after being laid off. I should have included my extensive volunteer work on my resume, but I did not. That is on me. (When you apply, if you have gaps in your employment, make sure to include any volunteer work on your resume!)

That left Swift. Fortunately for me, they recently decided to allow drivers to have a dog with them.

The Swift recruiter was very nice. As I was wrapping things up at home, I discovered that I needed to start a couple of weeks later than we had originally planned. She was kind enough to extend my start date. My first day was Tuesday, April 24th. That's how I got here.

I decided to go all in on this. I sold my house and got rid of most of my possessions. A dear friend was kind enough to let me live with him and his family for quite a while so I could get my medical card and study for my DMV tests. God bless him for that!

If you have any questions, please feel free to post them. I will do my best to answer them.

Next up: My first week at the Academy!

Best Regards, Colin K.


Hazardous Materials

Explosive, flammable, poisonous or otherwise potentially dangerous cargo. Large amounts of especially hazardous cargo are required to be placarded under HAZMAT regulations


Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.

Sleep Apnea:

A physical disorder in which you have pauses in your breathing, or take shallow breaths, during sleep. These pauses can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Normal breathing will usually resume, sometimes with a loud choking sound or snort.

In obstructive sleep apnea, your airways become blocked or collapse during sleep, causing the pauses and shallow breathing.

It is a chronic condition that will require ongoing management. It affects about 18 million people in the U.S.


Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.


Department of Motor Vehicles, Bureau of Motor Vehicles

The state agency that handles everything related to your driver's licences, including testing, issuance, transfers, and revocation.

Army 's Comment
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Welcome. I look forward to reading it diary for school. Thank you for sharing your story. Best of luck


Han Solo Cup (aka, Pablo)'s Comment
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Colin, your situation is one I would not be surprised to find myself in. I've been laid off many times in DoD contracting and, the older I get, the harder it is to find a job. It seems as if the tech companies only want the youngsters fresh out of college who are cheaper and have the latest tech/languages. I'll be following your diary as I intend on making the switch to truck driving after... when, not if... the next layoff occurs. Good luck and study, study, study.


Operating While Intoxicated

Colin K.'s Comment
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Thank you, Chris and Han Solo Cup.

Here is part one of an update on my first week of training at the Swift Training Academy in Fontana, CA. I'm also going to include some tips on how to be successful at the school. First, the tips.

The first day of class consisted of filling out paperwork. In addition to a urine test, Swift also took hair follicle samples. The results took a week to come back.

One student I spoke with was surprised. He thought his drug test worries were over when he passed his drug test for his DOT physical. He was surprised that, in addition to the Swift drug testing, truck drivers are subject to random drug tests.

The Academy has simple, but strict rules, including:

Only one tardy OR one absence is allowed. (More than one in any combination and you are gone.) Swift has zero tolerance for sexual harassment. More on that in a little bit. No hooking up at the hotel. As Swift says, “We are not a dating service.” No alcohol during training. No drugs. Zero tolerance. Swift can randomly test you at any time. Be respectful of others. Work hard and don't be afraid to ask questions.

You need to think of your time at the Academy as a business trip. No extra curricular activities. They throw a lot of information at you and you will NOT pass if you do not use your time outside of the Academy to study the materials and training videos.

The Academy will not train you how to be a truck driver. They will teach you the bare basics of how to drive a truck. There is a big difference. As the instructors say, “We teach to able to pass the test.” It will be up to your mentor to teach you the skills that you need to be a successful truck driver.

I was amazed at how many students failed to take the rules seriously. For example, after learning about the one tardy or absence rule, three people were late to class on the second day!

Also on the second day, one knucklehead was kicked out for making inappropriate sexual gestures and comments to a Swift employee! If Swift can't rely on you to treat their own employees correctly, they certainly can't rely on you to treat their customers correctly. The head of the academy can in to talk to our class after this incident. He was rightfully very angry.

You don't have to dress in fancy clothes, but dress appropriately. Think business casual or at least clean and non-offensive clothing. One student kept having his pants fall down below his butt. He has to be reminded that this type of dress is not acceptable. His response? “I forgot my belt.”

Keep in mind that you are being graded each day that you are there. The grades don't just apply to how you are doing on the various tests. They also grade you on your behavior, how you treat your fellow students, how you treat the instructors and other Swift employees, whether or not you are putting in the extra time (the instructors can spot that right off), whether or not you are afraid to ask questions, etc.

If you still need mom to wake you up in the morning, or you are not willing to work hard without being told to do so, this is not a program for you.

They will give you the material. They will answer all of your questions. They will NOT hold your hand. One instructor told us, “I'm going to go over and plop myself down on that chair. If you have questions, come and ask me.”

If you think about this, it makes sense. Part of being a successful trucker is being able to handle problems on your own and/or to work with others on figuring our how to do so. This type of philosophy tests whether or not you can do that, as well as how well you interact, learn from, and help out, your classmates.

It won't take long before you know which students are serious about training and which students are not. When the instructor breaks the class up into groups, make sure to pair up with the students who are serious. Take your lunch and breaks with the students who are serious. You will be able to help each other get through this training.

During my time at the academy, students were staying at the EconoLodge and Motel 6. There were shuttles between the hotel and the training facility. Myself and the other serious students were always on the first shuttle. It usually left at 5:45 am. We got there at 6 am, class started at 7 am We used that extra hour to study what we learned the day before.


Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.

Colin K.'s Comment
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This is part two of my update on week one of my experiences at the Swift Training Academy in Fontana, CA.

There are several stages of training at Swift. People come and go on daily basis. As a result, you are asked to change rooms and/or will change roommates quite often. After my first room change, I quit unpacking and got used to living out of a duffle bag. If you go, I suggest that you do the same.

Also, each time that you get a new roommate, set some ground rules right away. For example, you can't have two people trying to use the shower and bathroom at the same time in the morning. My roommates all preferred to shower in the morning, so I adapted and volunteered to show the night night before. It made my mornings less stressful.

As to what we did that first week of training, we learned how to test the emergency, parking and service breaks. We also studied how to do a pre-trip and in-cab inspection. We were tested on the brakes and in-cab inspections the first week and will also be tested on this as part of our final test to see if we move forward to work with a mentor.

These aren't hard to learn but you need to be able to adsorb a lot of information. For example, there are 89 things to call out for the pre-trip inspection. As I said earlier, you won't pass the class if you don't use your off-hours to study.

I did end up passing my in-cab and air brake inspection tests. We did not have a pre-trip inspection test yet. That will happen in the final testing phase to see if we passed.

Thank you for reading this. I hope you found it helpful. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Best Regards, Colin

Pre-trip Inspection:

A pre-trip inspection is a thorough inspection of the truck completed before driving for the first time each day.

Federal and state laws require that drivers inspect their vehicles. Federal and state inspectors also may inspect your vehicles. If they judge a vehicle to be unsafe, they will put it “out of service” until it is repaired.

Colin K.'s Comment
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This is my update of my experiences during week two of my training at the Swift Training Academy in Fontana, CA. It featured some victories and a big setback.

This week we divided our time between the practice range and going out of the road. On the practice range, we learned basic things like starting the tractor, learning how to shift and clutch and several basic backing drills. One the road was just that, drive on the road. Don't worry though. For the first day out they take you on roads that aren't really traveled much by the general public.

Swift wants you to clutch as you come out and go in to each gear. For example, coming out of first, clutch to go to neutral, clutch to go to second, etc. Down shifting is the same. Clutch coming out of tenth, clutch again and go into ninth.

Some people who had driven with a clutch before had trouble getting used this as they didn't “double clutch” in their vehicle. The instructor said they prefer students like myself who had never driven a clutch before as we didn't have to “unlearn” anything.

I am not shy about questions and was the only student out of 24 in my class who asked the instructor for some time to learn how to clutch and shift. He was happy to oblige, though I did not pick up the skill quickly.

As I have mentioned before, Swift has rules. For example, part of the homework was to memorize the shifting pattern of going from gear to gear. Some students failed to do this and were put on probation. They will be taken off probation once/if they learn the shifting pattern.

As we have read on this forum, backing up a trailer isn't easy. I am really having trouble with even the basics of doing a straight back. I'm fine until I need to correct the problem. When I correct, I over correct and then try to over correct the original over correction. By that time, things are spiraling down big time.

The instructor told me that I am misdiagnosing the problem and over thinking things. He is 100% correct.

My first day of street driving was bad but not nearly as bad as my backing. We missed four traffic lights as I continually stalled when trying to accelerate and make the turn at the light.

I finally realized what my problem was. I'd slowly release the clutch and then take my foot off the brake as we began to move. I failed to put my foot on the accelerator, however. Doh! It was embarrassing but my truck mates were nice and we all poked fun at me setting the stalling record. (You can't have thin skin if you want to survive this.)

My driving improved a lot by the second day and people in my truck even started keeping track of the number of times I started from a dead stop without stalling. (It got up to five times without stalling!)

I asked my instructor for an honest assessment of my driving as my other truck mates were ahead of me by various degrees. He said that if I improved as much over the next few days as I did between my first and second day, I would be fine.

I still have a lot of work to do but I now know that I can do this. Too bad trucking doesn't only consist of driving forward. :)

We continued to learn various backing skills. I did manage to parallel park. Not great, but I did it. I still can't get the other backing skills, including straight back.

On Thursday, we got a chance to practice any of the backing skills that we still needed to work on. Going on the theory that I needed to be able to crawl before I could walk, I used the time to practice my straight backing. I slowly got better but I am not where I need to be.

Part two of my second week of experiences in next!

Best Regards, Colin

Double Clutch:

To engage and then disengage the clutch twice for every gear change.

When double clutching you will push in the clutch, take the gearshift out of gear, release the clutch, press the clutch in again, shift the gearshift into the next gear, then release the clutch.

This is done on standard transmissions which do not have synchronizers in them, like those found in almost all Class A trucks.

G-Town's Comment
member avatar

Colin...straight line backing trick I want you to try...

Place both hands, palms down at the bottom of the wheel. Make sure your steer tires (front) are straight.

Keeping your elbows tight to your sides, begin moving in reverse. Watching both mirrors adjust the wheel based on the direction the trailer tail begins to move. If the trailer is drifting to the right, adjust the wheel to the left. And visa-versa. Right wheel input moves trailer to the left; left wheel input moves trailer to the right.

Don't make any adjustment until you see off track movement to either side. Be patient with yourself, don't rush.

The placement of your hands with your elbows close to your sides will significantly reduce if not eliminating the propensity to oversteer.

Schmidtrock's Comment
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Best wishes out to you Colin on your journey! It will get better and better each day have faith. I've enjoyed reading your missives thus far and will continue to follow you.


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