Training With Drivers Solutions In Philadelphia

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Oak and Iron's Comment
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Hey all! I'm a few days late posting a diary of my training here in Philly. I posted elsewhere on my drivers license issues and limited opportunities that arose from them but here I am. I was recruited by Drivers Solutions for Swift with training at the training center in Philadelphia by a company called AAA Trucking.

Day 1 July 2: Classes began at 10AM at the classroom and ran til 10:45 PM...at least according to schedule I was given. I was told there would be 10 of us starting that day. As I looked around the room, I counted 9. Oops we lost one already. We filled out a pile of paperwork and waited til noon for the physicals to start. Oops...we lost another one...class is now down to 8. Got a long lunch break in the afternoon...like 2-5. As it turns out, the folks in at 10 were the driver solutions people that were going to Swift or PAM. At 5:00 a bunch of other groups joined ours. I remember CareerLink was represented and several that were initials (DHP, ADP, something like that) but we had a packed room to do a General Knowledge class/test, another for Air Brakes, and a third for Combinations. I call it a review just because the material covered was all the stuff you'll find in the High Road CDL Training material. It was a long day and lots people but Id have to say it was interesting to see how many people were woefully unprepared to go to the DMV the next day for testing.

Day 2 July 3: DMV Day We were warned at the classroom on Monday to get to the DMV early because they would be busy and they stopped CDL testing at 2PM. The only other warning that sticks in my mind from that day was to ONLY take the General Knowledge, Combination and Air Brake tests. We were told that if you took any of the endorsement tests and failed one that it would hold up your permit until you passed. So we got to the DMV around 8 and there was this massive line. There must have been 40 people there already. By the time the door opened at 830, I couldnt see how far back the line went around the corner! But, they were super quick getting people in and separated. My magic number was G600. Turns out, I was the first person in that line solely for the purpose of taking the CDL test! My number got called before i even got to a seat. I explained to the lovely lady that i wanted all the endorsements but i didn't want my permit to get hung up. She told me to pay the fee at the start and i could take the tests whenever I wanted that it didn't need to be the same day or week just whenever. So i had her set me up for General, Combos, and Air Brakes. I sat down to take the test and my room mate was sitting 3 desks away taking his tests. I started and about 15 minutes later I was done and passed all three. My room mate (he drove btw) was still testing so I told her i wanted to take tanker and double/triples. She added HAZMAT to the list before i got to the desk. :) Just as my room mate finished his testing, i was finishing HAZMAT. At this point, I can tell you that the High Road training works and works well. It was probably 90-95% of all my preparation. The information is in there and in showed in my results 6 tests 6 passing grades. I couldn't be happier. Then disaster struck. All my results were in the system....right there...you could see it on the screen...but it wouldn't print. Wont print...I have no permit! Sadly, I was at the DMV until they closed the place at 430. Numerous people in the building were working on it. The fine folks in Harrisburg were working on it. Yet, no one could get it to print out. :(

Day 3 July 4: Holiday!! Like a little kid...no school :)

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

HAZMAT:

Hazardous Materials

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

Dm:

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.

DMV:

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.

Oak and Iron's Comment
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Day 4 July 5: So our schedule says that anyone that has permits is to go to the range. Anyone without permit has to go back to DMV. So, back to the DMV I go. Fortunately, by 10Am the problem is corrected and they are able to print my permit! yay! And off to the range! I'm so pumped to finally be able to start driving the truck! Not so fast. Before we can drive we have to have our Pre-Trip down. Fortunately, Trucking Truth has some great tools for that too! I've learned some but getting to walk around the actual truck to see and identify the various parts is very helpful. So we spend a couple hours walking around the truck and taking notes. I'll be honest, I'm a little concerned that we are learning this from other students in the area or by pulling stuff up on our phones. But, I had to learn the CDL Manual stuff on my own so no problem...I'll do this. I take a bunch of notes and meander over to the area where folks are doing maneuvers. I learned a bunch of valuable info from random conversations. It turns out, there are 2 instructors here that are DOT certified testers. So I know that i wont have to go schedule a test or go back to the DMV until I need my picture taken. One of the testers doesn't actually spend time training the students. He seems to be there for testing only. I guess that's to help eliminate any signs of favoritism during testing. Oh yeah, and the conversations other folks have mentioned in their diaries about the folks planning to change companies as soon as their year is up...they are here too. I guess they are all over. But day 4 ends...I have a permit....and I still cant drive a truck. :(

Day 5 July 6: Our happy little starting group is dropping like flies. Not sure what happened to the others, but its Friday and we are down to 4. Its a test day, so the test truck is busy as is the tester. One of the trucks is being used by the folks testing today to practice maneuvers. One truck no one is allowed to touch because someone broke it once upon a time. One truck is being used on the road for practice. And, one truck is just sitting there. That's it. 5 trucks...and there appear to be about 50 people waiting to get into one. So, we use the sitting to truck to walk through pre-trip but cant try air brakes test because its locked and no one has a key. :( And we begin the waiting game. Around 1:30, one of the instructors brings sitting truck over to far lane and puts my little group in it to start Straight Backs! Yes! We are driving! I guess we are lucky to get the truck to practice and that we are only 4. We each take a couple trips through the lane...switch.....repeat. 2 of the guys in my group had never driven a standard before so we all had a good laugh as they bunny hopped us a few times. A few more laughs as we squashed cones. But you know, just the 4 of us switching seats in the truck with no instructor and we managed to do pretty well. Also, kinda scary because if any of us developed bad habits...there wasn't anyone there to correct them.

July 6-7: First Weekend...I took the time to make flashcards for my pre-trip. I used a ton of different sources to cover everything but I'm comfortable with where I am with them.

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

DOT:

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.

Dm:

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.

DMV:

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.

Jamie's Comment
member avatar

Seems like an interesting first two days Oak and Iron!

It seems so many people go to these schools under prepared, and with little research on what it might be like. They are spending thousands of dollars either out of pocket or through a sponsored program from some company that they have to pay back anyways if they fail, etc. So you would think people would put the effort into studying before they get to school.

It seems a lot of people on here have passed their written exam by using the High road guide they provide here, I have been studying it myself when I have the free time. :)

I'll be keeping an eye on your thread, so hopefully you keep everyone updated how things go! I'll be heading to trucking school this Monday(arriving at the hotel Sunday afternoon).

Oak and Iron's Comment
member avatar

Good luck Jamie! and as I stated above...I'm absolutely 100% supportive of the High Road Training Program here. Take your time and go through it...the results are well worth the effort.

Day 6 July 9: Monday. Another testing day here at the range. So a repeat of Friday for the morning. :( I'm getting a little discouraged with the lack of instruction from instructors. I'm pretty sure I have pre-trip nailed...but how to know for sure? Folks follow me around and listen and I recite the words and no one is correcting me and saying I miss something. But, it would be nice to have an instructor for a walk through. Can't get a truck to try air brakes...that's frustrating. I can say all the words in the right order but i kinda want to get my hand, leg movements in sync with the words. Perhaps tomorrow. After lunch, my little group is told that we can't move on to Offset until we demonstrate that we can do Straight Backs. WooHoo! Seat time with an instructor! Yes, I am that guy in your class that always jumps into the drivers seat first. And yes, I jumped into the seat to test out of Straight backs. 3 times through the cones without hitting them or showing any mechanical issues (stalling, excessive grinding, etc). 3 times...Done! In fact, my tiny group of 4 made in through. Sadly, those handful of minutes doing the 3 trips was all my seat time for the day. BTW, the rules for the range are pretty simple. No high gear reverse...Do not touch the accelerator....and 1st or 2nd gear only. So mechanical issues really shouldn't happen on our range once a person gets the feel of the clutch.

I'd like to take a few seconds to tell you about our hotel. We are set up in a Motel 6 in Maple Shade NJ. I have no complaints with it. Its clean. Housekeeping does their thing everyday. And my interactions with the staff have all been good. The room itself has a microwave and an apartment sized refrigerator. There's Popeye's and a Dunkin Donuts right beside the hotel. There's a fresh produce market close enough to throw a rock at with decent prices and great selection. A Shop Rite supermarket within walking distance and an Acme Market a little farther down the road, Burger King across the street and a 7-11 right by the produce market. The hotel itself has an onsite laundry. There's even a mall within walking distance. So all your amenities are close. The downside is that its in New Jersey and the school itself is across the bridge in Philly. So if you're driving, there's a $5 toll everyday. The PAM drivers do get that $50 a week each of their first 3 weeks of training so that helps them a little. And although I believe Philadelphia has one of the greatest public transit networks in the country, you can't really access it. To get from one side of the bridge to the other is a bus to a train and over an hour of travel time. Then another train, another bus, and another hour of travel to get to the range. Getting back out of Philly to NJ is even scarier. There's a NJ Transit that leaves from Downtown Philly at 5:30 and another at 7:30. If you miss that 7:30 bus, the next is at 4AM. The recruiter and school recommended carpooling from the hotel to the range but I'd caution against that (more on that later.) If I had to do it over again, I'd have driven here and used my personal transportation.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Oak and Iron's Comment
member avatar

Day 7 July 10: Our training schedules that we received on day 1 say that we are to be at the range everyday 8:30AM-5:00PM. There's a sign in sheet we use when we get there. This is my 4th day out at the range. And when you spend a lot of time watching and listening you pick up a few things. Although I can't do an Offset because someone "will get right with me on that" I can still take notes from those practicing and questions to other students. Apparently the sign in sheet doesn't count as a sign out sheet. Several folks sign in, hang around for a bit, then bail. Go back to the hotel, go home, wherever. I've actually been left at the range when the person I paid to carpool with decided to call it a day and take off. That's how I learned the bus schedules going back to New Jersey. Another interesting item of note, there are people that have been out at the range for 5, 6, 7, 8 weeks or more. Supposedly someone tested out the week before and he had 11 weeks in! This is supposed to be a 3-4 week course to get your CDL. That's it. But the commitment level some of these folks are showing is horrifying! Even worse is the watching people try to practice maneuvers and "the Line" is determined by whoever walks up and says "I'm next" whether they just got there, at 8, or whatever. The argument they make is I'm testing sooner." Of course you're testing sooner you've been here for 2 months and should be gone before now! We also have a group that arrives everyday about noon. They get to take over the maneuver truck for the next 2 hours and practice as much as they like. So it seems everyday is dead time from 12 til 2. Right now I'm just a spectator because I haven't been cleared for offset or alley dock. But I don't see this going well. It looks like I'm stuck in the bottleneck of all these folks who can't/won't test out. That's like 50 people I'm behind to be able to practice on our one maneuver truck. I understand that some of these folks live locally and they are just taking their time to build their confidence. I get that. But I put my life and earning potential on hold to come down here and do this program in 3-4 weeks. I am not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel right now. About 3-3:15 I caught up with the trainer that was taking folks "on the road." I said to him "I come out here everyday. Here by 8:30...don't leave til 5. I'm watching all these people just come and go however they please and I'm stuck sitting here and i can't even get cleared to practice Offset. I've been here all day and all I've been able to do is my pre-trip at 8:30 this morning." He said "You've done nothing?" "No. We aren't allowed to touch that truck. The test truck is locked. The other instructor here is working with a private student." He said to me "I have to get all these guys out on the road today but you can ride along. If we have time maybe you'll get some drive time." We crammed 6 of us into that truck and off we went. One of the guys says "you can be next." "I'd love to but I can't until all you guys go." The instructor piped up and said the same. I can tell you that the first 5 guys went through and didn't hit anything or squish anyone as we drove through the streets of Philadelphia. One guy didn't watch his mirrors and had the instructor pull his trailer brakes to stop him from clipping a couple cars. After the second time, he made him get out of the seat. Then I got my turn behind the wheel. It was awesome! No crunching...no squishing...I consider it successful. Hanging out at the range, I had learned folks had failed the road test for shifting on the railroad tracks, shifting on a curve, and also shifting in an intersection. And I thought, that's General Knowledge stuff. How could you do that? Well, now I know how. I was going through an intersection and I caught myself as I went to shift. The truck was telling me to shift and I instinctively reached for the gearshift. I had to stop myself. But the double clutching thing, I think I can do that. Next time out. I'm confident on that. Downshifting, well...I need to work on that. Day 7 was looking pretty gloomy but I ended learning something and making some progress. I'm still concerned about that logjam in front me but I made progress today.

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

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.

Double Clutching:

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.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Jamie's Comment
member avatar

Good luck Jamie! and as I stated above...I'm absolutely 100% supportive of the High Road Training Program here. Take your time and go through it...the results are well worth the effort.

Thank you! Yeah I agree, I have been studying it myself and found it more helpful then reading the manual simply because of the way everything is placed and split up. I have no doubt I'll pass the written exam, thanks to the High Road Training Program.

Oak and Iron's Comment
member avatar

Day 8 July 11: Wednesday another Testing Day. A couple of items of note, some of those testing aren't AAA Trucking students. There have been Fedex, UPS, and random other trucks here for testing. Also, some folks testing for Class B licenses. You can't really get too close to see/hear because they want to make sure you aren't helping the person being tested. This school has an 85% first time pass rate and a 95% second time pass rate. That's got to be pretty good. So, test day. One truck for testing, one truck for those testing today to practice maneuvers, one for those testing to take out on the road, one being used for private student, and Big Red (the one no one is allowed to touch.) Big disappointment. There isn't even a truck to do pre-trip on. So, walk around Big Red and do mental pre-trip. I catch an instructor before he gets occupied doing whatever he's doing that day and ask for the keys to Big Red to do air brakes. No! I get a big story on how someone ripped the drive shaft out of it and it cost like 150k to fix it...blah...blah...blah... Oh and since its Wednesday, the group that started in classroom on Monday the 9th...they are now on the range as well. No instructors available...no equipment available...this is gonna be a long day. And it was. Sometime in the afternoon, they relented and unlocked Big Red. Made it a bobtail and let folks drive it around the range practicing shifting. Sadly, I didn't make the list of people allowed to do that. An entire day wasted. Nothing learned...no progress.

It's interesting. When I found out I was headed here, I looked for a training diary and couldn't find one for this location. I decided I would take some notes and try to do one while I was here. I sit here now and look at my notes and each of these days come flooding back. My notes for this day were Big Red No! and Nothing! And I can see that whole wasted day. To date, that is the lowest I've felt about this commitment I made. I'm not a quitter but I could easily see why folks "on the fence" would take that day and let it become their reason for quitting.

Bobtail:

"Bobtailing" means you are driving a tractor without a trailer attached.

SAP:

Substance Abuse Professional

The Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Oak and Iron's Comment
member avatar

Day 9 July 12: After a disappointing and wasted Wednesday, I was not setting any expectations for Thursday. We arrived at our normal time of about 8:15 and there was an instructor sitting where the sign in sheet hangs. No sheet?? Nope...no one is to sign in until 8:30. Ok...thats different. He wanders away a few minutes later, someone opens the door, grabs the sheet and it makes its way around those of us waiting. Very different start to this day. Trucks are just sitting around so we start doing pre-trip. The instructor makes an announcement "No one gets in a any truck until they have done pre-trip and air brakes." Yes!! I can actually do an air brakes walk through! In cab pre-trip went well but I think I failed my air brakes walk through. When i was doing my LAB (leak, alarm, buttons), I touched the buttons and a person in my group said that's an auto fail on the test. So, I need to watch that going forward. But, I was pleased and could count the day as a success already and its not even 9:30! Things started to get weird then. The instructor was redesigning the practice lanes. Apparently, the test can be done/passed with lane widths of 12-14 ft and the "wall" is set at 60-70ft for the alley dock. The instructor was resetting all the dimensions to the lowest possible acceptable numbers. Hmmmm... Now, I still haven't attempted any of these but the folks that had been practicing were worried that all their spots/markers were getting shifted and all their practice would be for nothing now. It was a disaster once folks started rolling. It was like open season an traffic cones! In one of the newbie articles somewhere on this site, a person (I believe Brett) made the comment that new drivers shouldn't make waves. As the day progressed, we learned that 3 "someones" created waves. I wasn't the only person to leave Wednesday feeling disheartened. Whoever the 3 were took the time to call the school office, Driver's Solutions, maybe even their PAM rep and complained about the school, the instructors, whatever. And, I'm guessing a little butt chewing took place. So the range instructor (or all) decided that if people wanted to complain then they'd give them something to complain about. Now, I'm sure a 12 ft lane or a 14 ft lane is nothing to some experienced drivers but to these folks just learning...take 2 ft of lane away...wow! Even worse I think was taking 10ft of the "wall" away. A lot less room for pull-ups on the alley dock.

About 3:00, one of the instructors took my group in a truck! It was time to learn Offset! On our course, there are 2 different areas set for Offset. On the test and normal practice course, the center cone is identified with a stick painted yellow that you are to pick up in your mirror after you straighten the truck from your hard right/hard left. On the other, there's a tree branch stuck in the cone. We were working the tree set-up. So, i hard right it....then hard left to get under my trailer. There's my tree. Just ease back so I can start cutting into the box...Wait! I lost my tree! I stop...I can't find my tree! The instructor looks at me and says "Use your small mirror." Doh!! I'm an idiot! Left...left...more left...hard right...make it a straight back....in the box and done! By the time my group cycles through, it's close enough to the end of the day. But after such a dismal Wednesday...Thursday is a resounding success....In cab pre-trip, air brakes walk through, and offset.

SAP:

Substance Abuse Professional

The Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Oak and Iron's Comment
member avatar

Day 10 July 13: Friday...another test day. Rumor says there are 14 tests today. Fortunately, most are retests and a good portion of them are road test only. So we won't get to see the resized course's impact on testing. I get into my pre-trip and quick mental walk through air brakes. Of the folks testing, it looks like only 2 want/need to practice maneuvers. So I get myself "in the line." I'm watching people do their offset and I'm a little worried. All the notes and diagrams i had made and studied were made off the observations on the 14 ft lane...now its only 12 ft. Again, its only 2 ft but right now it seems like a mile. A couple are just really good drivers and aren't having issues. Others still have open season on traffic cones. Interestingly, this is the second Friday and I'm seeing a pattern. It seems that's the day most people blow off. Got a small group of those testing , the newest group that showed up on Wednesday, and maybe 12-15 others. It looks promising that I'll get in the truck this morning and relatively quickly.

An instructor came over and told the group to only do Offsets and to do alley docks this afternoon. So the line is moving quick. My turn. I take my note card and head to the truck. I read through my card and I'm sure I have it. Put my fender mirror on the striped cone...hard right...hard left...no yellow stick! I check every mirror...I can't see my marker cone. I jump out and look....it's in a line directly behind the trailer! Now I see the impact of that 2ft lane change. Augh! This is my first unassisted offset...I don't have notes on how to correct this. Simple math tells me I need to change my angle...but how? All I could think was start over, so I move back to the striped cone. Longer hard right...hard left to get under trailer...Boom! Theres my stick! Left...left...more left...hard right...make it a straight back...in the box! Huge sigh of relief. Not a complete success but would have passed for the test...allowed 2 pull-ups and I only did one. Jumped out of the truck and updated my notes. After lunch, I went and found one of our instructors and relayed the process to him. He verified for me that my notes were correct. So I feel a lot better about it. I'll be jumping in again later.

Well, its later. I asked an instructor to come watch my offset because as I told him "If I nail this, I'm going straight into the alley dock and I'm gonna need help." And I nailed it! I'm sure it looked like I was doing it in slow motion cuz I know I was creeping through it, but I nailed it! He showed me my mark to hard left to set up for the 90....my mark for my hard right to get under my trailer. Then he walked me through the process and said now do it. Slow and steady....hard right....little less right...little less right... hard left...OMG I'm in the box! Ok he says back it in and we're gonna do it again. Yeah...I couldn't duplicate it. I couldn't line my trailer up in to the box...I squashed cones...It was a mess. :( But, now I have first hand notes on the alley dock to study and Monday is another day to try. Lots of folks passed so the "line" is shorter and I can count Friday as a successful day...mostly. :)

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Army 's Comment
member avatar

Oak

Your journal is very descriptive. Glad you seem to be having a few more positive and productive days. I think there was another person in your school, I believe she had the same sit and wait issues you have experienced.

Hopefully this week will build more productive training for you.

Chris

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