Archive for July, 2009

Day Sixteen

Well today was much more interesting.  We drove the damned trucks on the highway and in town.  We stayed in south east San Antionio and China Grove.

First we went up and down the frontage roads for 410 and also on 410.  This helped us with merging and slowing down and stopping for stop signs and traffic lights.  In the afternoon we drove on city streets again working on stopping but also on right and left turns.

You have to understand that stopping a truck is not the same as stopping a four wheeler, even one with a standard.  You start out by pressing on the brakes, it takes a half second before they do anything, then when you drop to 35 MPH and about 1000 RPM you can shift down from ninth to eighth.  This involves pushing in the clutch, and shifting to neutral, then let the clutch out while you take your foot OFF the break and rev the engine to boost it by about 400 RPM then foot off the accelerator, and other foot back on clutch and then shift in to gear.  As you drop each 10 MPH you repeat until you get down to fifth or so.  Don’t forget to flip the range selector switch from high to low between six and fifth.  You have no idea how hard it is to convince yourself that it is a good idea to take your foot off the brake and hit the accelerator while you are approaching the back end of another vehicle.  Of course because you are in neutral hitting the accelerator doesn’t impact the speed of the vehicle but it is still not “natural.”  Also there is no coasting up  to a stop with clutch pushed in and brake depressed.  Doing that for more than the length of the tractor means you are not in control.

Turning is also quite different.  With a 45′ or 53′ trailer on the back you have to pay close attention and can’t just whip around corners.  When turning right we proceed forward until our shoulder is in the middle of the lane we want to be in and turn hard to the right while keeping an eye on our rear most wheels in the mirror to be sure we don’t ride up over the curb and crush anyone.  Turning left is a similar maneuver.  You have to go very far forward before you begin to turn.

Tomorrow we will be driving back and forth across the south side of San Antonio hitting traffic light after traffic light to get down shifting sorted out.  Most of next week will be driving the various routes the examiners take and practicing what we have learned these two days plus parallel parking on the street instead of the range.

It is hard to believe that by this time next week I should be licensed to drive a big rig.

Days 14 & 15

More shifting. Pretty boring although we did get to go 15 MPH today.

This mornining I woke up around 3:00 and was freezing. At 3:30 I finally got up and turned off the A/C and also went to the bathroom. My roommate gets up around 5:00 and leaves at 5:30 which is when I get up. Today he came back about 6:15 to be sure I was up. He was afraid I was sick because he heard me get up earlier. I thought that was very nice of him.

I also discovered the guy I have been driving with is a rennie too. He noticed the pouch I Carry my camera in as well asy celtic knot belt buckle and commented on them.

Tomorrow we finally get to drive on the road with the trailer. I hope it goes well one week from today I take my road test.

Day Thirteen

Sunday, day twelve, was a day off and I went home.  That was great seeing family, having a couple of home cooked meals, sleeping in my own bed.  All good stuff.

Today we started shifting.  “Dry shifting.”  That means no accelerator, at least not when the clutch is engaged.  We shifted up one gear at a time from second to sixth and then back down.  The trucks are 10 speeds, five in the low range and five in the high range.  Those ranges are simply RPMs.  Once on the road we will be in 10th gear at about 45 MPH.  You also have to do a crazy thing called “double clutching.” Unlike in a car or light truck where you push the clutch pedal to the floor and move the shifter from one gear to another we only push the clutch in about half way, then shift out of gear to neutral.  Now release the clutch and then push it half way in again and shift in to gear.  That is while working up the gears.  In addition when you want to go from fifth to sixth you flip the range selector switch from low to high.  While there are 10 forward gears and two reverse there are only six positions in the shift pattern.  The selector lever is what changes you from low to high range and back.  Kind of like a 10 speed bike. The only time you push the clutch all the way to the floor is to put it in gear from a dead stop and that is in order to bring the engine gear to a stop so it can the line up with the drive gear.  It takes about five seconds from the time you push the clutch pedal to the ground until you can shift in to gear.

Down shifting has some additional things to remember.  After you shift to neutral you have to rev the engine up about 400 RPM and then clutch and shift into gear after releasing the accelerator pedal.  If you have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time this will be challenging.  In particular sixth down to fifth as you have to flip the switch, clutch half way, shift to neutral, let the clutch out, rev the engine 400 RPM, let the accelerator go, clutch down half way and simultaneously shift in to fifth.  Got that? You also can’t skip gears on the way down

The day did go by a lot faster as there were two to a tractor so we spent a lot of time driving and of course doing new stuff helped.  Part of the range intersects with a functioning truck lot so we also had to be aware of other vehicles passing through and make way for them.

Day Eleven

Writing this during lunch. More of the same. Monday we move on to shifting.

The class behind us went from 27 to nine between Wednesday and today. Given that they only have four trucks for backing practice and only four people per truck they don’t count on having more than 16 by the time you get to backing.

No cloud cover this morning so it is hotter than hell on the range. Well only four hours until the “weekend.”

Day Ten

More time on the range doing basically the same thing, backing up.  One more day tomorrow and then we move on to shifting!  Yes we have been doing all this stuff in just second gear and reverse.  We don’t even touch the accelerator pedal!

Tensions are beginning to flair though.  We have one guy, about 29 and an idiot.  He has been married twice, has a girlfriend who has his child, predicts that within a year or two they won’t be together anymore.  When asked how many kids he has he wittily says “Four that I know of.”  I truly think he has a disorder that lets his mouth run before he thinks about what he is saying.  As we headed out the door of the building after lunch today he spouts out “Wow it is hot, that makes me sexier.”  Now this is to a group of two woman and 10 guys.  I hate to think what kind of trouble he is going to get himself into in a truckstop somewhere.

One of the woman is around my age and not had access to any reasonable amount of healthcare during her life.  At the end of each day she is literally limping because pressing the clutch is aggravating the arthritis in her knee.  Granted we probably do a lot more shifting on the range than in a typical day on the road but I still have to wonder how long she will last.

This time tomorrow evening I’ll be home for 24 hours and I am looking forward to it, as if I haven’t mentioned this before.  It is really the goal of the moment.

Day Nine

Well the excitement continues.  What seems challenging one day is pretty mundane the next.  I have reached a point where I am seeing how fast I can get through the parallel parking drill.

Today we began learning how to back in to a dock.  We start out parallel to the dock, back up about 80 feet, turn the wheel so that you end up with the tractor at 90 degrees to the trailer.  Then we back up pushing the trailer around 90 degrees and getting the tractor nearly straight with the trailer again.  After that you pull forward to straighten out and then back in to the slot.  Did it pretty well the first time.  Had to pull up several times on the second attempt but still got it in there.  Our group only had to do it twice each and it seemed like the others were spending a lot more time. Friday and Saturday we continue to do this although Saturday we get to choose what we want to work on the most.  The parallel parking is part of the road test but backing in to a doc is part of the day to day job so I think I will certainly spend some time working on that.

Looking forward to Saturday because we get Sunday off and I plan on going home Saturday night and coming back Sunday evening.  Another opportunity to feel like a person for a day at least.  Living in this hotel gets real old real fast.  My roommate is perfectly nice but going from the room to school and back to the room is just not that much fun.

Day Eight

New challenges today and another player drops by the wayside.

One person was still unable to pass the written exams so she can either leave or start over.  I believe she opted to start over.  We also had one person who had been on “safety hold” return with the new class that started today. Our class is down to 13 and will probably get smaller before we are done.

It was strange listening to the “new kids” and realizing that a week from now half of them will probably be gone.

Today’s challenge was learning to parallel park a semi.  While it is daunting it was actually a lot easier than I expected.  I have not yet perfected it but I can hit everything pretty well and just getting closer to the curb is the final challenge.  Here is the end result of one of my better attempts.

Parked!

Consider that where I started was the entire width of the truck and then some to the right of where it is parked now.

Looking forward to Saturday as we are off on Sunday and I am going to go home for 24 hours.

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