Posts from the ‘School’ Category

Phase One Complete

Well I passed the road test.  Need to work on my turns though.  The score sheet has three grades for each thing they check; good, fair, bad.  Other than turns my entire sheet was marked good with one fair for position on the parallel park.  Then you get to the turns section and I lost either 18 or 19 points.  I never hit anything but I didn’t pull out quite far enough and I didn’t turn quite sharp enough and things like that.

Of our group of 12, 11 passed with one having to retake the test that same day.  The 12th person was a guy who had been in my truck all week and was really good but he spent Tuesday and Wednesday psyching himself OUT instead of UP.  We had been told we were practicing all three courses they might use and so naturally our examiner took us on a slightly different route.  I think this is the main thing that tripped him up.  He had to get on 37 South and was focusing on his tachometer and speedometer going up the on ramp and didn’t notice until too late that the on ramp turned in to an off ramp and he was no longer on 37 south.  After that it was just downhill.  The examiner wouldn’t even test him again on Thursday and made him come back Friday.  I don’t know if he passed then or not.  I hope he did as he was a nice guy.

Now I have a week off in which I will probably forget everything.  On the 17th I go to Lancaster, just south of Dallas, for three days of orientation during which I get my employee number and can finally start getting paid.  After the orientation it is out on the road with a mentor to learn how the job is really done.  Hopefully I get a good one.  They teach us all the fine points of adjusting your tandem (back wheels on the trailer) and fifth wheel (the part that holds the trailer and tractor together) to properly balance the load so you don’t get ticketed.  Also dealing with deliveries and pick ups, driving in various conditions, handling the paperwork and everything else that is part of the job. That lasts up to six weeks but hopefully I can get done sooner and move on to actually doing the job.

Swift is not hiring many experienced drivers and since it has been nearly three years since Liz drove she is not prime material even with her HAZMAT endorsement.  Plan B is for her to go to the school as a refresher and then get in to the system that way.  Once I am employed the class will be free as long as she works for Swift for six consecutive months.  We intend to cover the entire country, even the northeast which Liz doesn’t really like driving in but if you have to take the good with the bad.

We had a great get together Friday night.  It was a going away party for another LibreDigital employee and we tacked on my “getting my license” party.  It was good to see that crew again and I am sorry more people weren’t there.  Not to say that there we not a lot of people, just wish some others had been able to make it as well.

I started getting some things done around home this morning.  I wrestled a big sheet of plywood out of the upper level of the storage shed and I am getting ready to cut it down for some shelves for a storage rack I have.  The shelves that came with it are rather flimsy.  Later I will be taking pictures of some of my pottery to put in my Etsy store. We also have Aidan’s birthday party today and this evening I plan on spending at Sherwood Forest.  So I suppose it is time to get off the computer and back to work.

Day 20

Well this is it, tomorrow is the big day.  We have to be checked out of here by about 5:15 in the morning.  More paperwork in the morning and then over to DPS for testing starting about 8:00.  There will be two examiners each doing six people at 45 minutes per test plus a probable 90 minute lunch break.  We get to spend the whole time outside and it is predicted to be around 103 for the high tomorrow.  If you fail on the first try, and if there is time, you get to re-test in the afternoon.  Fail again and you can try on Friday.

A new class started today and apparently one of them brought a vial of urine that he kept in his pocket for the test.  One of the first things they do is check the temperature of the sample and it was something like 73 degrees.  He was told he would need to provide another sample and he decided it was time to leave instead.  Why are people so stupid?

Tomorrow should be OK.  I did well enough on the practice runs today and as long as I don’t hit a curb I will pass.  Next is a week off and then the next phase begins.  Up to six weeks out with a mentor to train me on all the details of pickup, delivery, paperwork, and how to do things the Swift way.  Obviously a lot of work on backing in to docks.  I really need to get done in less than six weeks because I very much want to be at my son’s graduation from Navy nuke school at the end of September.

Days 18 & 19

More time spent on the road.  It still goes by pretty quickly, at least when I am driving.  Today was a total mess when it came to shifting.  Down shifting in particular.  I think I may be pushing the clutch in too far, particularly when going from sixth to fifth.  Hopefully it will be better tomorrow as that is the last practice day before the test.

We found out that our orientation is not until the 18th and hopefully we will all be leaving with mentors on the 20th or 21st.  For most of the people this was bad news because it means one more week without a check.  I however am quite happy about it.  I had hoped to take a week off between leaving work and starting training and that didn’t work out so this will replace that.  It means Liz and I get to go see Wicked, much to Erin’s disappointment since she had hoped to inherit the tickets.  This will be the first time in nine years where I have had time off and not had to check in with work to make sure they didn’t need something.  I plan on getting a few things done around the house and throwing a lot of pots.  I might even be able to get a bisque fire in just before I leave.

I realized yesterday that there have been two times in my life when I have made a major decision that changed everything pretty quickly career wise.  Joining the Air Force and deciding to become a truck driver.  Both have involved getting training in San Antonio.  I hope this brings as many good things in to my life as joining the Air Force did.

Day Seventeen and the weekend

Feeling much more comfortable with the driving.  Sharp corners are still nerve wracking and we are only pulling a 48′ trailer instead of the 53′ ones we will actually use but all in all it is going well.

Weekends feel like I am living two different lives.  One is in San Antonio in a dingy motel and spending my days with a generally less educated crowd.  Then on the weekend I come home to my nice house out in the country which is way beyond the means of most of my fellow students.

This is nearly the end of it all.  We will spend the next three days driving on the three possible test routes so we get comfortable with them.  We will practice parallel parking and straight line backing on the street.  I am sure Monday will start out rough what with having two days out of the truck.  Thursday we have to be checked out of the hotel by 5:30 AM to go take our tests.  No idea why it has to be that early since DPS won’t open until 8:00 AM.  It will be a long day too as we have 12 people testing.  A group that went last week only had about six and they were gone most of the day.

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.

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