Truck Driver Training Adventures in the Smokey Mountains!

by TruckerMike

Greetings from the beautiful Smokey Mountains in PA! It's a beautiful sight out here. But the trip was a bit interesting. As I traveled down the expressway, my trainer was catching up on some sleep. No problem, I can handle it. So I thought! Apparently, I missed a turn, and the expressway sort of turned into a major road going through a decent sized city. I figured something was wrong when I came up to a stop light! Oh crap! Now what!?

I really didn't want to wake my trainer up, but thought that was probably my best option. He wasn't upset and was glad I woke him up right away. He got out the maps and said he'd navigate. We found a way to get back onto the expressway, but it wasn't an easy drive. Since we were in the Smokey Mountains, there were hills everywhere. This was a challenge because I was still a little sketchy on the shifting. I still miss gears from time to time. Also, starting on a steep incline the truck will roll backwards if you don't do it just right. As we continued down this city street, I see my worst fear. There was a huge hill with a traffic light right on top of it. That's when I began to perspire a little bit. I look over at my trainer and say; "Ummm, that's a huge ass hill over there." His response? "Wow, yeah it is. Glad it's you and not me!" HA! Thanks a lot!

As I began my very slow climb to the top of Mt. Everest, I saw that the light was green. Yes! Maybe I won't have to stop. As long as I can keep moving it won't be a problem. Things were fine until I got about 100 yards from the light. Then I saw the green light turn to the dreaded yellow. I had to stop. Ohhhhhhhh crap. I look in my mirror and see that the car behind me is right on my bumper. And worse, cars are piling up behind him.I think my heart nearly beat out of me. My trainer said, "Ok, whatever you do, don't roll backwards!" Sigh.

My trainer instructed me to start in third gear, but give it a lot of fuel to prevent a stall. So, with my shaky foot planted on the brake and my other shaky foot planted on the clutch, my sweaty palm grabbed the shifter and put it in third gear. Ok, now I see the light turning green. I'm ready to scream. I give the accelerator a lot of fuel, quickly get the clutch to the friction point, and start rolling forward. Then, the engine dies! I stalled it! I plant my foot back on the brake to prevent rolling backwards and taking out the entire line of cars behind me. My instructor tells me to try it in second gear, but that I'd need to shift almost immediately. Second gear would only get me going, but wouldn't pull the truck up the hill or else it would over rev. I hit the flashers (light was green and we were stopped), started the truck, and put it into second gear. Once again, I quickly let off the clutch while giving it a lot of fuel. We started moving! But my RPM's were super high. I had to shift immediately! My instructor says "Grab another one!" Clutch in! Shifter to neutral! Clutch out! Clutch in! Third gear! Punch it! "Grab another one!"Then I had to repeat the process all over again for 4th, 5th, and 6th gear before we finally got to the top of the hill. Let me tell you flat out - I didn't realize I could shift that fast. It was absolutely insane!

We finally made it out of that town and got back onto the expressway after some sharp curves, more steep hills, and drivers who obviously haven't seen a truck that big in years. We got onto the turnpike and I found out that the toll booths out here are about 2 inches wider than my truck. I didn't hit anything, but it was quite a challenge for me to keep that trailer from taking out a toll booth. Why are they so narrow!?!

The rest of the trip went without a hitch, and I really enjoy driving down the expressway in the mountains. A lot of the truckers on the CB were talking about how much of a pain it is. But I think it gives me something to do. Downshifting, speed management, taking in the sights, etc. I really enjoy it! The only part I didn't like was going through some construction. There was a cement wall on one side and a narrow lane on the other. I was staying away from the wall and riding the line on the other lane. My instructor said, "You might want to move over a little, that guy is trying to pass you but he's scared to get too close." I told him "Well I'm scared of that wall!" I did move over though and let the guy pass. I just don't like being so close to the wall!

After we finally made it to the receiver, I was exhausted! We dropped our trailer full of 44,000lbs of Kraft Bacon and picked up a new one. We were in an industrial park and couldn't find anywhere to sleep for the night. We ended up having to go to a truck stop 40 miles away just to sleep! By then it was about 2am, so the truck stop was absolutely packed. We almost left to find another place to park, but a truck pulled out of a spot and we grabbed it. After being up for 20 hours, driving through the mountains, feeling like I was going to kill a line of cars behind me, and struggling to find a place to park so we could sleep, I was ready for bed!

What an adventure yesterday was. I'm lovin' it! But man, I sure don't want to miss any of my turns again! My instructor assured me that I'm not a real truck driver until I miss a turn, and that I can look forward to it happening many more times in the future.And after he saw me shift the way I did, he decided I'm ready to learn how to "float" the gears so I don't need to use the clutch unless I'm stopped. This is how most drivers shift, and it'll be nice to take the clutch out of the equation once I get the hang of it. Floating gears is a heck of a lot easier than double clutching!

More stories to come! But since I'll be driving through the night tonight, I'm going to take myself a nap!

Until next time, drive safely!


Floating Gears:

An expression used to describe someone who is shifting gears without using the clutch at all. Drivers are taught to "Double Clutch" or press and release the clutch twice for each gear shift. If you're floating gears it means you're simply shifting without using the clutch at all.

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.

by Brett Aquila

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