On The Road Again: Week 2, Day 3 of CDL Training

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Welcome back to all those who are following my journey, and welcome to the new folks who may just be starting to read this blog. I hope everyone has been enjoying the ride so far (yes, I know this is only the fourth entry). Enough nattering on my part - so, shall we get into what happened today? I thought you might want to.

Getting The Day Started

Like yesterday, today (4/29) started with my little group out in the yard practicing. Fortunately, we didn't have any rain to contend with this time. We spent the first half hour of the yard time going over the full pre-trip inspection. For those just joining us, that inspection includes everything from the front of the truck, down one side, around the back, then back up the other side, and checked from top to bottom as you go along. We then moved into the cab (as much to get warm as to finish the PTI) and worked through the in-cab inspection. Since we were the first folks out there on this particular yard truck, when we 'checked the fluid levels' - we actually had to check the fluid levels for real. I was glad we did, too, as I happened to catch this particular truck being low on oil.

Now, some of you may be thinking 'it's just a yard truck, who cares?' The answer is, the school cares. After all, we still fire these rigs up to do the air brake test as well as part of the lights test. If the engine seizes due to lack of oil, that's one less truck we have to play with until they get it fixed. Not on my watch, thank you very much!

After the first half hour, we then got to go practice our straight backing. This time we had three trucks available to us, as compared to the one we had yesterday. That made breaking up into groups and getting more time to practice much easier. Easier is definitely the word of the day for straight backing for me. Willy did fine as usual, and Scott was still having some problems. Fortunately, our yard instructor managed to give him a little tip to help back these short pup trailers up. The hint was this: line up the lower rear driver's side marking light with where you want the trailer to go. If it deviates even slightly, correct immediately and with small motions. Once Scott got that programmed into his head, he was backing far better.

Working On Getting Pre-Hires

We then had our first break, and I got to contact another one of the major carriers about a possible job. My application had gone from the first stage (intake, if you will) to where I spoke directly with a recruiter for a short phone interview. The questions were fairly simple: any moving violations in the last 5 years? Did I have any DUIs? Any felonies in the last five years? Did I want to drive 48 state or 11 western regional? The last thing I heard from the recruiter was 'I'll call you as soon as I get you approved.' Now, that does sound like I've more-or-less got a job offer... but I take most things a recruiter says with a salt lick. Until I get the phone call saying 'come work for us,' it's not a sure thing.

Learning Backing Skills

Anyway, after we finished break, we got introduced to the new yard torture: 45 degree sight-side angle backing. In layman's terms, that means backing up from a 45-degree angle truck-to-trailer-to-dock (or the tractor at 90 degrees to the dock and the trailer at 45 degrees to the dock) to the driver's side. In this case, the driver's side is called the 'sight side' since: 1) it's easier to see out your mirrors to the left than it is the right; and 2) you can just stick your head out the window and look!

Now, you'd think that it would be easy to do. Heh, you'd be thinking wrong. It's far tougher than it looks, let me tell you! You turn to the right when backing, you jack your trailer further. You turn to the left and hold it too long, you jack your trailer. You don't turn left far enough, you hit the channel which represents other trucks. There are many, many more things that can go wrong when you're not backing straight. For the rest of the yard time, I got three attempts to try my hand at it. Each time I was off, and it got mildly frustrating. As usual though, all I had to do is remember that it was my first day doing it. I know I'll get better, but I don't have to be happy about it.

Lunch time rolled around, and with it came another recruiter. This time it was a major western regional carrier. He didn't say anything that we hadn't heard before, and quite frankly he didn't come across as an... enthusiastic... recruiter. He did offer to have us come down to the nearby terminal and check them out. I got an application anyway, but I don't know if I'll turn it in. I've got to think on them a bit more.

Going Through The Gears

Finally the afternoon rolled around and my little team got to terrorize the local populace... er... make that 'practice safe driving habits.' Actually, we finally got to get out of 4th gear into the higher ranges. We also got to stop doing the reverse NASCAR (all right turns). We also learned quick shifting and skip shifting, or shifting with very little in the way of RPMs in the lower gears and skipping from an even gear to an even gear (or an odd to an odd). We also practiced downshifting while rolling (yes, we really did not downshift all day yesterday except when we were at a stop). We also got to play in heavier traffic today, which was a thrill. Willy and I got to go on the local freeway from one exit to another, about a quarter of a mile. Scott didn't, but then Scott also jumped a curb with the trailer. That's an automatic fail in this state for the driving test. Oops.

All in all, it was another great day on the road. Tomorrow is the first true driving route and 90 degree sight side backing. I'm not sure which scares me more! Wish me luck!

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