My Private CDL School Experience As A Veteran

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Steven N. (aka Wilson)'s Comment
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Hello all.

I wanted to share my experience at CDL school so those that may wonder what goes on there would get a front row seat. But first, a little about my situation so you can compare it to yours and see what may be similar to your own.

I am retired military (army) and I qualified for the Post 911 GI Bill. I am also 60 years old and my situation steered me to seek a new career. At the time I was wondering who would want to hire someone my age. I received some direction and started checking it out. I surfed the Internet and eventually came upon this site. I began to ask questions and became very encouraged at the answers I was getting. I was living in Germany as I retired from the army in Germany. I just stayed and got a job at an auto hobby shop. Well everything went well until a situation arose that I would have to move back to the USA. It was during that time that I discovered TruckingTruth. Through all the research and follow-ups I did, I became convinced that this is what I had to do.

So I looked at the different options I had to obtain a CDL and decided that the best thing for me was to go to a private school. I learned that as a veteran, the VA covers ALL costs and even includes funds for housing and food. To make the long story short on which school I chose, I decided that Premier Driving Academy in Mobile, AL would be the place for me. I called them from Germany and asked them a million questions and they gave me the honest answers I wanted.

So as time went on, I packed up the house and finally, in the last part of April, flew back to the USA to make my new home in Alabama. I had started the High Road Training Program and got part way through it, but had to stop as I was just overwhelmed with the move. Once I got to AL, I was able to start the training again. I contacted the school and asked if I could come down and visit. While I was there, I showed them that I had my VA letter of eligibility and the secretary made a copy of it and told me that everything else would be done by the school. I made a date of May 12th.

So in the time leading up to the first day of school, I made up my mind that I would get my DOT physical out of the way, study the High Road Training Program and go and get my CDL permit with all the endorsements so I could bring that to school with me on the first day. I won't go into how the testing went, other than that I passed and got my permit! All that was due to the High Road Training Program.

So the weekend arrived before school starts and I secured my hotel room and got my car rental. The school is actually a 3-hour drive from where I live. But, there are only 4 days a week that they have classes. Monday through Thursday from 0700 to 1800. There are 2 15-minute breaks per day and an hour for lunch. So I'll just drive the long drive Sunday afternoon and drive home on Thursday for 3 days off.

That's the schedule that I have to keep for my class. Next up: my first day in 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.

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.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

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

Thanks for the post. I am also a veteran going to a private school on my GI bill (on my 3rd week now). How many weeks does your school last? Best of luck to you and hope to hear more updates.

Steven N. (aka Wilson)'s Comment
member avatar

Day 1

I drove to Mobile on Sunday evening and arrived at the hotel at 0130 Monday morning. I had learned from my many questions that this particular school has a class that starts every Monday. That gave me some leeway to delay it a week if need be instead of some schools that start classes once a month or so.

Alarm went off and I get my breakfast and shower taken care of and head off to school. The school is only a 10-minute drive away. I arrive and it appears that there was only one parking spot left. I secured that and went inside. The classroom was half full as there were still a lot of students outside finishing their cigarettes and visiting. I found the faculty room and caught someone's eye and said, "I'm a new student." "Find a chair in the first row and have a seat," said a heavy-set woman in a commanding voice. I found a seat and there was a packet of papers as well as an Alabama CDL manual. Once the class started, the heavy-set lady came out and took roll call. The room was really packed out with students. In listening to all the chatter, I could tell that there were students from different levels of their CDL education.

Once the oldies were accounted for, she had us new students introduce ourselves. It turned out that the student that sat next to me had the same first name as me. It was a brief point of laughter. Then the rest of the instructors came out one by one and introduced themselves. Once the introductions were completed, they read off the lists of students that would be accompanying them to the range for their specific tasks. When the oldies were all gone, we were left and finished filling out all the paperwork. The director of the school came and gave us about a 45-minute talk peppered with tips on jobs, trucking companies, work ethics and the like. It was informative to say the least.

When he finished, the heavy-set lady (her name is Allyson) came back out and started talking to us again. She asked different ones questions and proceeded to tell us that we would not be getting into any trucks during the first week as we all had to study and pass the state written exam for the learners permit. Finally, I mentioned that I had my permit and she was surprised. She told me that I only needed the log book class and then I would be going out to the range to start driving instruction. I thought, "yessssss!!!"

So the rest of the day was devoted to learning the log book and the HOS rules. We went through some example days and filled in our log sheets for that particular day example. We all asked questions along the way and the instructors are very happy to answer any and all questions. The encourage the students to ask questions and not to hesitate.

Come to find out, we are going to be logging every day of our classes and turning them in once a week. Our days off will be the equivalent of a 36-hour reset. Good practice, I thought.

At the end of the day, there was supposed to be a recruiter from Werner come in and talk to all the students. Something came up and he didn't make it. So, Allyson started asking some of the oldies to recite a portion of the pre-trip inspection. She would name a location of the truck and they would have to recite that portion. They went over the brake tests as well.

Once that went on for about 40 minutes, they decided to let us leave early. Just before we were let go, one of the other instructors said to me that I would be with him tomorrow. Cool. Everyone beat feet for the door and went home. I just took my time and looked around at the posters and things on the walls.

I got outside and I noticed that there were still a couple of trucks out on the range and I decided that since I still had some time left, I would go out there and watch. A lot can be gleaned by watching. When I got to the closest station to the classroom that still had a truck practicing, the students started laughing about something. One student said, "He DOES look like him, doesn't he!" Since I had on a similar hat, I guess I looked like "Wilson" the neighbor from Tim on that show Tooltime. Wilson was the neighbor that you could never see his entire face because he always talked over the fence to Tim. I covered the lower part of my face and they all laughed. They all thought I was the spitting image of Wilson. So I guess I earned my new nickname.

The instructor also invited me to walk with him when the truck came in for his ally dock maneuver. He walked me through it showing me the different points to watch for and to position truck by. I thought it was pretty cool that he was taking time with me and class was already dismissed for the day. Hmmmmm.... Some special attention as well as a new nick name. Not bad for the first day!

Tomorrow: The ally dock.

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.

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.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Steven N. (aka Wilson)'s Comment
member avatar

Thanks for the post. I am also a veteran going to a private school on my GI bill (on my 3rd week now). How many weeks does your school last? Best of luck to you and hope to hear more updates.

Hey Weatherman. Glad you're a Vet, too.

The school here is supposed to be 4 to 5 weeks long. However, the State of Alabama is back logged in administering the skills test. I have to make an appointment tomorrow sometime to secure a date for that test. The trouble is, it is usually after the end of the instruction. But this school allows you to keep attending beyond the end (for no extra charge) and keep practicing your skills to keep them sharp for the test. That's what the students were doing out there when I went to watch. They have their test tomorrow. So it looks like a nice set-up and the instructors are genuinely concerned with the students being successful. This school also gives you a free refresher course in the future, should you ever need one.

Well good luck to you, too, at your school.

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.
Steven N. (aka Wilson)'s Comment
member avatar

Day 2 - Morning

Today was very interesting. They sent me to the yard since I already had my permit. Apparently, they want to get the students in the trucks as soon as possible: the more practice the better. Where did they send me? The ally dock station. I arrived at the station and there were 4 other students assigned. I sat down (there was a canopy to keep us out of the hot Alabama sun with some chairs) and watched. It was indeed "clown soup" with some of those guys. Now, we are all mixed up as far as our skill levels, but we all learn together. I watched as a student maneuvered his truck into the box, the instructor stopping him at certain points and giving him instruction on what to do next. When he was done, someone said, "Who's next?" The instructor said without hesitation, "Wilson, come on down!" I thought, I haven't even sat in a truck before. And I am supposed to back that trailer into that spot??!?

The instructor reassured me and I got in the truck. He climbed up on the door and told me what to do through the window. The yard trucks are always driven in 1st gear at idle speed. So we went around to set up our approach. He pointed out the cone at the mouth of the box that I was to line up the tractor tandems with. Once there, I had to do a hard right and then a hard left. When the truck got to the edge of the maneuvering area, I stopped and got out and looked at the set up. The instructor explained the maneuver and walked me through each step and I ended up putting that trailer into the box perfectly! I was amazed. So I waited my turn again watching some students put their trailer in the box with hardly any trouble and some students performing clown soup. It was my turn again and the instructor asked me if I wanted him to ride along on the door again and I told him I wanted to try it by my self. This was just to position the truck at the start point. Once the student ahead of me finished and the truck pulled out, I was able to bring my truck into setup position. He told me what to do for the first maneuver and I got out and looked. Each maneuver he told me what to do and I would execute and look. I kept doing this and the trailer went into the box again. This was getting exciting! The other students took their turns and I got to have my last turn for the day. On my last turn, I did more steps without his help than the previous times. He was there for me to consult and I did. But the trailer went into the box again. I was really happy that it was going seemingly well. Then it was lunch time...

Day 2 - Afternoon

We all gathered in the classroom for attendance after lunch.

a group of <span class= CDL students in the classroom at truck driving school" title="a group of CDL students in the classroom at truck driving school">

The instructors came out one by one after attendance was taken and read off names for the students that were going to go with the. Then an instructor came out and called out "Wilson! Red truck." I thought, "What's this all about?" I followed the other students that he called out for the red truck and asked them where the red truck was. They told me to follow them and they would show me. Surprisingly, the red truck was not on the backing yard. It was parked out front. I asked the other students what is taught in this truck. They said this one goes out on the road! "What," I asked? Yes, it goes out on the road. I had forgotten that there are older students here and they were getting their road time in. Me? I was headed to the shifting range. The shifting range is simply an industrial area that had a four-lane street with a grass median. Very light traffic.

An older student went first and drove for about 45 minutes. I watched and listened to everything. Saw the mistakes and heard the corrections from the instructor. When the break came, we all got out and milled around. Some smoked. Others just talked. Then the instructor said, "Wilson. Get in the driver's seat." I thought, "Uh oh." I climbed in and sat down. Once the instructor was in (along with the rest of the students), he gave me a 30 minute orientation about all the gauges, switches, how to adjust my seat, how to start the truck and other things. It was very informative and I soaked it all in. Then he also explained how double-clutching worked and why. When he was finished, there was 15 minutes left. He said, "Put it in 3rd and let the clutch out." I did and the truck moved slowly forward. He had explained about the RPMs being at the right speed and how to change gears. I was getting the whiplash jerkies! Soon, I was shifting all the way to 5th gear and double-clutching. He asked me if I had ever driven a truck before. I told him no. By the time the 15 minutes were past, he had asked me again if I had ever driven a truck before. I guess I was catching on quick or just had some beginner's luck. All during this time, I was also learning to make these wide turns to accommodate the offtracking of the trailer. It felt so weird driving wide. He had me pull over to park so the next student could have his turn.

Again, I watched and listened soaking up everything I could. So much to learn, but it is definitely fun.

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.

Tandems:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

Tandem:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

HOS:

Hours Of Service

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

Sounds like a great time. Keep us posted. Of course you know what your CB handle has to be now.

CB Handle:

This is the nickname people use on the CB

Steven N. (aka Wilson)'s Comment
member avatar

Sounds like a great time. Keep us posted. Of course you know what your CB handle has to be now.

Thanks, John S. I will also try to live up to my handle as well.

guy with hat hiding behind freightliner truck like Wilson from home improvement

CB Handle:

This is the nickname people use on the CB

Steven N. (aka Wilson)'s Comment
member avatar

Day 3

Today we had more ally docking. This will happen every day as all of us will need to practice this as much as possible. I was able to get three docks in today with all the turn taking that has to be accommodated. I am learning the little tricks that come with the maneuver; like how to get the trailer off the right wall and left wall, depending on where it ends up. The instructors are very helpful and will answer any question you have.

In the behind the wheel portion of the day, we were on the shifting range when it was my turn. I reviewed the 3rd - 5th upshift and then was taught how to shift into 6th. I must say that it is very weird moving to a gear position that shares the same place as 1st gear. So as I progressed and started to smooth out my upshift, my instructor introduced me to the downshift. Now with me personally, I can hear it in my head on how a downshift in a truck should sound when it is done correctly. However, my motor skills would not allow my to match the sound I heard with my actions. By the end of my turn, I was doing half of the downshifts I attempted smoothly. So I can say I had a pretty good day.

Steven N. (aka Wilson)'s Comment
member avatar

Day 4

Today was kind of neat as there was something weird about the setup of the maneuver positions. Somehow, there were seemingly more people on the ally dock as normal. So as I was patiently waiting for my turn, I noticed that someone was in a truck nearby. The truck was in the straight backing lane. I thought that I would take advantage of the situation and jump in and try it.

backing up practice at truck driving school

My first try we really well until I made it halfway through. Then it was clown soup!!! But since no one seemed to be interested in backing up, I went again. This time I made it all the way through. I got off the truck and asked who was going next. No one wanted to go so I hopped back in and tried it again. "This is great," I thought. "I can keep doing this all day long." So I ended up getting in 5 straight backs today. Not bad, I must say. I also got in one ally dock. So not a bad half day if I say so myself.

The afternoon was shifting range. I rode with a different instructor this time which helps in getting a larger cross-section of experience. Today I graduated from 6th to 8th gear. I also went over downshifting as well. I started to develop a hybrid up shift. My engine rev that I do on the down shift has migrated over into my upshifts. I know when I do it, that I'm not supposed to do it; it's just sort of involuntary. I don't do it all the time, but I am working on it. All the time we go around the block doing these shifts, my instructor keeps saying from time to time, "Watch your trailer." I get so focused on the shifting, I forget that I have a 53' trailer following my around like a lost puppy!

My instructor assured my that I was doing fine and I would get it down in time.

I sure hope so.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Steven N. (aka Wilson)'s Comment
member avatar

Well today is Monday. I don't know if I should call this Day 5 or Day 9. Friday and the weekend are off. So since Monday was the next day of training, I will call it Monday, Day 5.

I had watched some You Tube videos on ally docking over the weekend. I saw some things that were interesting and the videos took new life as I knew what was happening every time the steering wheel was turned.

I got in 3 ally docks in today. I tried doing it mostly without coaching from the instructor so I could develop a sense of where the trailer is and what to do to get it into the box. For the most part, it worked pretty well. Practice, practice, practice!!!

Yellow Prime Driving Academy truck

So the driving portion arrived and it was just three students instead of four this time. The older students went first and I happened to be last. I started around the shifting range watching my trailer and honing my shifting/down shifting skills. It wasn't perfect, but it was getting better. Then came the BOMB!!!! Where we normally turn left to stay on the shifting range, the instructor told me to keep going straight! I said, "WHAT?!?" He said, "Yeah, I want you to keep driving straight." I told him, "I know what's to the left. But I don't know what is straight." "Don't worry," he reassured me. "You'll do just fine." I was so nervous. I had my sunglasses on as the Alabama sun was shining brightly today. 200 feet further, and I had to remove my sunglasses as they were fogged up! We came to the first intersection and it was a dedicated turn lane to the right. Ultimately, he had me drive the truck back to the school. What an experience! I was suppressing my nervousness to try to enjoy the experience of driving this big truck out on the road. An unforgettable time it was. To think that just 6 days ago, I have never even sat in a big rig before. Now I was driving one!

When we got back to the school, I thought, "Hey, I think I could do this for a living."

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