First off I want to thank all the truck drivers who were on the road yesterday and away from their families. We were in that category of drivers yesterday and it was really lousy being away from all the traditional family Christmas events. There were hardly any trucks on the road, much less at any of the truck stops. Freight keeps rolling though, deliveries don’t stop. I just don’t think any truck driver should have to be away from their families on Christmas. When it comes down to it, it is hard for anybody to be away from their families on Christmas. There are a lot of occupations that require people to work through the holidays, but there’s nothing like being in person. It’s funny to think of all my past Christmases with my family and how they all kind of blend together, but this one time I am away from them on Christmas and the absence certainly makes itself known. I didn’t even eat a decent meal yesterday, but you can’t dwell on those details too much… if you do, it will just make you sad. All you really can do is count your blessings and be thankful for what you do have and really ask yourself, is this trucking thing worth missing out on holidays for? It is certainly not worth it; nothing could ever be more important than being home for Christmas. I didn’t think it would affect me that much but once you experience being away from home for the holidays it just puts a bad taste in your mouth.
Anyway, trucking is very interesting. Interesting in that it is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING LIKE TRUCKING SCHOOL. For those of you who went to trucking school to get your CDL, or are currently in trucking school, or are contemplating going to trucking school- learning how to drive a truck is completely different than learning how to get your CDL. I am a person who is very ‘by-the-book’ so when I read or learn information, I retain it. When I feel it is appropriate to apply that book knowledge to a real life situation, it is not always the case. Everything in trucking is on such a case-by-case basis. There is no strict rules for anything- it is mostly judgment based. I mean, it is good to learn all the textbook stuff they teach you in trucking school to keep it in the back of your mind, but learning it and actually DOING it are two completely different things. For example… the textbooks tell you not to use your jake brake in bad weather. Not always the case. You can use it intermittently in bad weather as long as you are going straight and your tires are on the pavement. And downshifting is overrated- I was taught to downshift to 2nd or 3rd gear when coming to a stop. You don’t really have to do that. You can keep it in 4th or 5th when coming to a stop. And also, going up and down mountain grades can be done in top gear, without downshifting!… as long as you are empty/really light. Everything in trucking is all about:
-weight of the trailer
-your experience/comfort level
-looking ahead as far as you can, and
-READING ALL TRAFFIC SIGNS!!
It is imperative that a truck driver pay attention while out on the road. There is constant stimuli that a driver must be receptive to. For example, when downshifting on an exit ramp to go to the fuel station, as soon as you get on the exit ramp you need to be looking around at which direction the fuel stop is at. You can’t be paying 100% attention to your gears because you have cars around you and you will be coming to a stop and you need to figure out which lane to get into. Some exit ramps do not list which direction different gas stations/restaurants are located; it will not tell you that the TA is to the right .5 mile down the road. You also need to be on the lookout for 'no truck’ signs. NEVER turn down those streets. If you end up missing your turn and keep going, you could end up in a residential area or an area that you cannot turn around in. In trucking, it really is best to stay on the beaten path and not take the road less traveled!!
In my short time of trucking I am learning that the whole gender thing with trucking is not relevant. The most important thing in trucking is having control over the vehicle at all times and being constantly aware of your ever-changing surroundings. Physical strength is secondary. Being out here has not even called my attention to me being a female and doing the whole trucking thing. My major concern is learning how the truck is and being one with it and driving it and not letting it drive me. I am still double clutching even though I have been demonstrated how to float gears, but I am not entirely comfortable with gear floating yet. I don’t know if it’s just because I feel overwhelmed with trying to learn something a different way- and it probably is easier than double clutching.
I find that I am pretty hard on myself as far as expectations go; in other words I expected myself to be good at this right off the bat. I mean, I did go to school and earned my CDL. I did all those pre-trip tests, backing tests and road tests, right? I know how to upshift, downshift, turn and stop, so that makes me qualified to drive for real, right? Wrong. So so wrong. It really doesn’t help you in school when you’re learning how to drive the truck on the same route day after day, especially if you live in a region where it is only one kind of terrain. I learned on all flat roads so driving on inclines/declines kind of scare me. I learned in sunny weather, maybe rained once so the thought of driving on snow or ice scares me. All you really have to prepare yourself is what you read in your trucking books, which really doesn’t do much. You hear “ice and snow, take it slow” but what does “slow” really mean?? I was driving through Montana yesterday on I-94 and only the right-hand lane was dry pavement for travelers. The left-hand lane was covered in snow and tire marks from passing cars. And all those passing cars travel at 70mph in the passing lane! Quite shocking to a non-seasoned driver. Also, all the exit ramps were covered with snow and ice. When I took off from a rest area, the rest area parking lot was covered in snow. I put it in 1st gear and slowly let off the clutch so I wouldn’t spin the drive tires, and I kept it at an idle all the way out of the rest area. Even while on the road to get back onto the interstate, I was crawling along in 2nd gear barely on the accelerator. YES, it IS important to go that slow, all the while trying to keep in the designated tread areas that other vehicles have taken. At that time there were no other cars at all on the road, but even if they were you HAVE to go that slow. Keep in mind my trailer was filled with only 3,000 lbs so that makes you have a lot less traction!!
I can’t imagine learning the whole trucking thing with a complete stranger or someone that I did not get along with. First of all, you hardly get any privacy in the truck unless you use the curtains in the middle behind the 2 front seats which blocks off the area with the bunk beds and drawers/cabinets. Just because you are in training mode with your trainer does not mean you can handle all of the driving or drive the full 11 hours… Everybody is going to be at a different level, and I really thought I was okay until I realized I didn’t have clutch control; I was having trouble taking off from a stop WITHOUT stalling out because I didn’t understand the point at which the clutch was engaged. As you are coming off the clutch, it needs to be done SO slowly, ever so slowly, and even as you feel and hear and see the truck moving, do not let up quickly on the clutch, it has to be done so gently. It definitely helps to have an understanding of the clutch and how it works, in order to get a “feel” for it.
I wish my trucking school had taught gear recovery better. It’s almost like, you are taught how to shift gears, double clutch, etc but you are not taught how to handle many troublesome scenarios… like what if you are downshifting, and try to go into 5th gear but it grinds and won’t go in… do you keep trying to rev it and shove it into 5th or do you rev it and go back to 6th…? We were taught in school that if it won’t go in once, put it back in the gear it was last in. Learning accelerator control is another big thing, learning how much to press the accelerator in order to rev up the RPMs to put it in the next gear, whether upshifting or downshifting. Every truck is different. In the Pete that I learned on, you really had to mash the accelerator. In other trucks, just a little “tap” will do. If you over-rev the engine, in other words putting it past the top of the shifting range, it is NOT good and it will let you know because more than likely your gear will not go in… So do yourself a favor and learn how the gears work and what happens when you move the shifter and press the clutch, etc. For all of you who said in order to learn how to drive a 18 wheeler you didn’t ever need to have experience driving a manual transmission, that is BALONEY! It definitely helps you grasp the concept of what you are supposed to do. I’d rather already have an idea of how a manual transmission works and tweak the way I do it than learning for the first time in this huge Class A tractor trailer combination vehicle. It’s KIND OF a lot of pressure for the first timer!! Like, in order to learn how to paint, one first needs to learn how to draw. Being out of gear is nothing to joke about, and totally uncool… you can’t just give up when the gears are grinding and it won’t go where you want it to… any time you are in Neutral you are pretty much telling the truck “I’m tired of driving right now, why don’t you drive for me?” It seems like downshifting is a lot more complicated than upshifting because every exit ramp will be different and you also have to take into consideration outside factors like how far ahead you realized you needed to slow down, what time of day it is, the weather, traffic, etc.
Also, for those of you who say you want to get into trucking because you like to drive… THINK AGAIN! It is SO much more than driving. I wish everybody drove like they were driving an 18 wheeler… constantly being aware of your surroundings, watching out for other cars around you that they don’t do anything stupid, having to look in your side mirrors every few seconds, keeping an eye on your road signs, watching the trailer behind you in your mirrors and making sure it’s in your lane, etc. You know, it really isn’t as bad as one might think when they tell you to look in your mirrors every 5-7 seconds. That is something that is NECESSARY in order to drive the big trucks. You HAVE to know what is around you. It’s part of the whole driving process. You can’t just have tunnel vision and daydream while looking straight ahead and at nothing else. Trucking requires 500% of your attention. The great thing about that is that everything you need to know is right in front of you, on both sides and behind you. Signs will tell you what mile marker you are at, what town you are approaching, what lane you need to be in, etc. Using your hood mirrors helps check your blind spots especially on your passenger’s side. Rear view plane & convex mirrors help you to see who is behind you and in the lanes further out to the sides. You can also check both side mirrors to see who is behind you, because you may see them better in one mirror than the other depending on which side of the lane they are positioned on. Looking ahead will tell you the traffic conditions, if there are any brake lights, if people are slowing down, merging, etc.
As a truck driver you are responsible and accountable for the way you handle your vehicle but you also need to look out for others… for example, when a whole line of cars are merging ahead of you onto the interstate and you are in the right-most lane, it is wise to let off the accelerator instead of speeding up or maintaining your speed, EVEN THOUGH the mergers are supposed to yield to you, most of them won’t, and will expect YOU to get out of the way. So it is always best to let the crazies go ahead of you than trying to keep up with them and trying to prove who’s bigger, even though you are by default!
And for anybody driving a regular car with 4 wheels- DO NOT EVER GET IN FRONT OF A TRUCK!!! Who ever thought it was a good idea for you to cut in front of a tractor trailer? Yes, trucks generally gain speed much slower than a car, but they take so much more room to stop!! It is such a foolish thing every time I see a car get right in front of the truck like nothing will hurt them and they are in their own little world. And also, it is funny how every 4 wheeler looks so TINY when sitting up in the big truck. Like all the 4 wheelers are a bunch of matchbox cars. You have no idea what any truck is hauling (unless it’s hazmat- that just means stay further away), how many pounds it is hauling, whether it is top heavy, whether or not the driver is paying full attention, so it is best to stay away from any big truck on the road, back off and give them room. And for pete’s sake, DO NOT RIDE ALONGSIDE THE PASSENGER’S SIDE OF A TRUCK!!! That is the biggest blind spot on the truck. I don’t care how many mirrors a truck has, it is very dangerous to be in that zone. It is called the “blind side” for a reason, and no I’m not talking about the movie!
Venting complete. lol