Beginning Week Two Of CDL Training: What Do You Mean, 'Don't Hit That Car'?

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Day two of week two dawned (if you want to call it that) chilly and rainy. Of course, that's typical for the Pacific Northwest at this time of year. We broke up into our separate groups, three of which got to drive this morning. The other three groups, which included mine, started off in the yard. I'll tell you this much, five hours in a trucking yard in the rain is no picnic.

My group consists of Scott, Willy, and myself. Even at 36, I'm the youngest of our group... and that can be a bit intimidating at times. We started out on one of the yard rigs going over the external portion of the Pre-Trip Inspection. All nine of us (the three groups) went around the truck and went over everything we needed to check in the engine compartment, front steering and suspension, driver's fuel tank area, service area, etc. Once we completed this, the three groups split off to work on three separate trucks.The truck my group wound up with was a traditional model Freightliner. We couldn't do a whole PTI, as the light system on this rig didn't work.

After a short break, we moved to a different rig, an International this time. At this point we were wet and miserable, but still glad to be out of the classroom phase. On the International, we were able to do the light test for the PTI so that we were at least familiar with the process. Afterwards, we climbed into the cab (well, I climbed into the sleeper) and worked on the in-cab portion of the PTI. As I had gone through it twice yesterday (4/27) and my partners had only gone through it once, I let them work on the process while I heckled them from the back. Yes, we do tease each other. It helps keep the tension and the worry down.

Next, the three groups gathered back together at the one truck set up for backing practice. We were only working on straight backing. Heh, only. For something so simple, it was incredibly difficult for me. I kept forgetting about the amount of distance the trailer needed to start correcting, so I'd over-correct and almost run out of the lane. I would also miss reverse and accidentally put the rig into drive, or I'd forget to clutch when coming to a full stop. No matter what I tried, I just could not get it right. Now, intellectually I understood that this was just the first day, and I understood that I shouldn't be able to do it perfectly the first time. I've backed boat trailers and U-Haul trailers before, but I just could not handle that pup trailer.

After everyone had a shot at the backing (some of the folks hitting it right the first try), we adjourned for lunch. Lunch was provided by one of the trucking companies that came by to introduce themselves and to try to sell us on their company. If you're lucky, your school should have recruiters coming through every so often to give you some insight into what they do, what they pay, and what you can expect from them. Of course, you need to take anything a recruiter says with a grain of salt, just as you would if you were talking to a military recruiter.

The afternoon brought what was, to me, the most fun part of the day: actually driving a rig. My group (Scott, Willy and I) were placed in a Freightliner Century Classic and taken out to an area that the school uses as a shifting range. I was lucky, or unfortunate enough, to go first once we got there. It was, for lack of a better term, a reverse NASCAR run with stops. Nothing but right hand turns, and we never went higher than 4th gear. I even got to experience taking off from a downhill stop into a right turn. The turns, those were easy. I cut a corner close once with the trailer, but never scuffed the tire or bumped/ran over the curb. What got me?

Double clutching appears to be my absolute bane. I was either going too deep on the clutch, a habit from shifting cars, or I was pausing too long when shifting, causing a grind or a bump in RPM before being able to shift in. I don't know how many times I ground the gears, but definitely more than I wanted to. Eventually I traded off with Scott and got to watch him work, then after him came Willy. We took another short break, and started driving again with me behind the wheel. As I gained confidence on the track, I started to get the pattern of the double clutching, but I still don't quite have it down. Frustrating doesn't even begin to describe how I find the process. Ultimately, I know I will get better. It's only a matter of time.

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