Day four (4/30) of my journey towards becoming an Over the Road driver was rather exciting. As with the rest of the week, we started out in the yard today. We had a different yard instructor, so things were slightly different. Instead of three groups of three, he broke us into five groups of two (we had a spare person today from the morning drive group). Scott and I started by pre-tripping a Century Class Freightliner yard rig that was available. We were already familiar with the Century Class, as that is the type of rig we drive in the afternoon. Once we had both gone through the whole PTI process, the instructor called the morning group into the classroom to go over angle backing with us.
Our instructor gave us a new way of thinking about backing to help us with the process. He called it 'pushing the box.' Simply put, you watch the rear of your trailer closely. Whenever it drifts to one side or the other, you use your 'elbow' to nudge the tail back to center. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Your trailer is drifting to the blind side, so you 'nudge back' with your right elbow... which turns the wheel to the right, which in turn forces the trailer to the left. Once I got that through this thick calcified material I call a skull, straight backing was a breeze. Now I just have to work on my positioning at the dock.
Once Scott and I had done an hour of straight backing, we got a shot at 90 degree sight-side angle backing. Like straight backing, it isn't as easy as one might think at first. At this school we use a '5 foot' method of backing. What that means is, after we set up and start backing into the jack, we start to back very slowly for five feet, then determine if we should swing the wheel all the way right or left. The first time I went through the process, I did fine while the instructor talked me through it. I thought I had it down. Scott then took his turn, and managed to make it through without pulling up once with the instructor talking him through. I then had another turn... and my confidence went away rather quickly. I swung the tail in too sharply, and thus spent way too many minutes trying to reposition. It took the instructor walking me through again to complete the back. Ugh. I'm just glad that I can go in tomorrow to practice (my school doesn't require students from my state to come in on Fridays).
Lunch was nothing special, no recruiters or anything. It was nice to just relax for once. Afterwards, we pre-tripped our truck and out we went. Scott got the first drive, and he followed the same route we went yesterday. That means he finally got on the freeway. Yay for him! Scott is definitely improving, but he is still having some problems with his down shifting. After an hour and about 20 minutes, we took a short break, then I got to be behind the wheel. It was a tougher route today, and longer than anything I had driven yet. Uphill, downhill, urban and rural, dealing with traffic the whole time. I did miss a few gears here and there, but otherwise I've really got this shifting thing down.
The scariest part of the drive was the last turn around before we headed back to the shifting range to take a break and switch drivers. I was coming down a hill off of the interstate to a side street, and stopped at the light. Once I had the green, I started rolling out for the left hand turn onto a two lane, two way street. The problem was that I didn't hold straight long enough so I took the corner a little short. Now, I would have cleared the white line, but some idiot in a lifted red ford heavy duty pickup had parked with his wheels over the line. By the time I stopped (in the middle of the turn with traffic behind me, I might add), I think I had about 6 inches to his hood.
I think the idiot was more scared than I was, but I know won't forget to take the corner wide again. The rest of the drive was uneventful for me. After another break, Willy got his shot at the same run I had just done. He started off fine, but then he started running into problems remembering to drop the splitter when going into the low range. I'm pretty sure it was the stress of the run itself that caused him to start forgetting that step, because he was shifting fine yesterday.
I also know I got approved by the second major carrier I had applied with, and I should be on the waiting list shortly. This one is offering me orientation shortly after I graduate, as compared to mid-June from the other carrier. I think I know which one I'm going to go with!
Well, that's it for this entry and this week. I won't bore you with my backing practice tomorrow. See you Monday!