Day Ten – 2 Hours of Pre-trip Inspection, then driving

As I mentioned on my last post, I’m having to make this shorter than I would have liked.

However, I do need to share what happened today. In the morning, we had 2 hours of pre-trip. We’ll be going over this every morning until the exam next week. Each time it gets easier, so hopefully I’ll have this down soon.

Then, driving.

We are in Las Vegas, and in the north of town there are several large industrial areas with big roads and little traffic. Perfect. The school starts the students out on these streets for shifting practice. I’m in a truck with two other students. I haven’t driven a stick since 2009. I’m very nervous.

First student is up, and it all goes wrong. He can’t find a gear to save his life. Nothing is working. I’m shocked that the transmission wasn’t ground to dust after his time at the wheel. One hour, he went about 3 miles.

I’m up next. For some unknown reason I mutter to myself, “Fake it ’till you make it,” and I go for it. Turns out, that was the phrase that pays. I’m getting the gears, double clutching , even downshifted successfully a time or two. We get to the end of this one road and where the instructor told the other student to turn left, I was told to turn right. I did it without thinking about the destination.

He pointed us into town. I was horrified. I spent my time navigating actual streets, with actual traffic. 18 wheels of real mayhem. There were plenty rough spots, and I screwed up a right turn that blocked an intersection for about 30 seconds but felt like a lifetime. Overall, however, no actual damage, no carnage, we all made it back to base camp safely.

Later on, the third student was up, and it all went wrong for him, too. He can’t find a gear to save his life. Nothing is working. I’m shocked that the transmission wasn’t ground to dust after his time at the wheel. One hour, he went about 5 miles.

I went about 20 miles overall.

On one hand, I hate that the instructor made me go out into traffic with so little practice. Then, on the other hand, I feel like I just won a prizefight. And I can’t wait to get back into the ring again.

Fake it ’till you make it, indeed.

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Day Eight – Final written exam, then beginning Pre-Trip Inspection

I passed the final. Total score for the classroom part of the course; 93% = A.

As I said before, it all gets reset next week. Being good in a classroom doesn’t automatically translate into real world competency.

And, again, I want to thank Trucking Truth for The High Road Online CDL Training Program. I would never had done so well without it.

After we finished the final and were given our scores, we said goodbye to our classroom instructor and said hello to our driving instructors. The first guy started by saying, “I’m an *******. If you don’t like it, **** you.” I love trucking already. No, honestly, I really do.

Some random end of week thoughts.

I really dig all my classmates. One guy got laid off from one of the big casinos here in Vegas, he had worked there for 20 years, mostly as a pit boss. He told me, “I’ll never put on a suit ever again. I gave all my shirts, ties, slacks, all to Goodwill. If I have to go to a funeral, I have a jacket….”

One guy had been the manager of a chain food store for 8 years. Like me, he’s looking forward to being alone for long periods of time. Because customers suck.

One guy is from Eastern Europe. Seems very shady, he drives a big black Mercedes that costs more than many of the houses here in Vegas.

This morning I actually went into a truck stop, a Pilot near the school. It was like this in-between place on a scale from 7-11 to Walmart. With showers. From what I understand, I’ll be spending a lot of time in places like this from now on. It was weird.

Also, I’m still trying to figure out what my CB handle will be.

Lastly, I actually have one phone interview tomorrow. Yes, with Big Blue Trucking. And, after that, I have a call back with yet another company. I’ll keep you posted.

Thank you for reading all this, have a great weekend, everyone. I’ll be back next week with Week 3.

Day Seven – Introduction to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and then Cargo Documentation

Day 7 – Introduction to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and then Cargo Documentation.

Yes, the day was every bit as exciting as that sounded.

I still don’t understand the Bridge Law Rule Thingy. I might have to Google that.

I mentioned last week that several random people had wandered into class, other instructors and former students just in the neighborhood, and they would share their stories and we got to ask them questions. I’ll never forget what one of them said;

“Your first year, you won’t even know how to spell truck.”

That’s really stayed with me. It’s a good perspective to have. Especially in relation to picking an employer.

I mention that because I will often find myself thinking, “After this school, you’ll have a marketable skill. People with Class A CDL licenses are in demand, dammit!” And so I’ll go off trying to submit my application to Magic Unicorn Transportation, the small yet lovable company where all the dispatchers know your name, all the loading docks you’ll visit only require straight backing, you’ll be paid .51 cents a mile right out of school and you’ll get 3,000 miles every week, plus all the home time you want. Straight out of school. With zero hours on the clock.

Listen, I know that I’m going to have to eat a shit sandwich when I start, I get it. I’m just making any effort to reduce it from a triple decker to something like a patty melt. And maybe some curly fries.

With that in mind, we had our second recruiter into class today. In keeping with the anonymous theme, we’ll call the company Big Blue* Trucking.

Big Blue was totally different than Big White Trucking. It was a man, not a woman, and I’m truthfully quite horrified about the snap decisions I made about the previous recruiter simply because she was a she. Maybe I’m more misogynistic than I though I was.

Anyway, Big Blue recruiter has a big bag of swag for each of us. Brilliant. Big White only had a three-fold brochure and a pen. Seriously.

In the bag were several full color booklets about the company, it’s history, mission statement and what they have to offer. Also, there was a printout of the recruiters powerpoint presentation. There were also sheets describing, in detail, their training program, their pay and incentive packages (including signing bonus! Take that Big White!), and all the different opportunities within the company.

The recruiter was forthright and knowledgeable, especially about their trucks. Yes, he was a former driver. Big White’s recruiter had previously been in real estate.

In truth, I had no qualms at all with anything the recruiter for Big Blue Trucking had said. He was honest about our place on the totem pole. However, he was also upfront with the fact that their business doesn’t really make money if all they do is train new drivers, and it’s in the companies best interest to work hard to retain drivers.

Well, it’s not Magic Unicorn Trucking, but I really liked what I heard.

We’ll see.

Tomorrow is the final exam in the morning, then we head out to the yard to start learning about pre-trip inspections.

It’ll be nice to get dirty for a change.

Wish me luck on the final.

____________________________
*please note that blue does not indicate the actual color of their trucks.

Day Six – More Trip Planning

Because this is the 160 hour course, I’m assuming that they have to prove that the students have 160 hours of class time. That’s 40 hours per week for 4 weeks. However, I’m pretty sure they don’t have 40 hours of material this week. But they are required to keep us there for 40 hours.

That’s not a class, that’s a hostage situation.

The bright spot today was our first recruiter. She was a smartly dressed woman who worked for, oh, let’s not call out names here, we’ll say she worked for Big White Trucking. That could be several different carriers.

She began by spending a disproportionate amount of time going around the class asking for people’s name, what they did before school, and why they wanted a job in transportation. With every response I am sure she was sizing up her potential client pool, but I felt the time could have been better spent promoting her company. Who knows, maybe she assumed that everyone knows who Big White Trucking is.

Once she got rolling, however, it was a fine presentation, though she made the connection that Big White Trucking is like the WalMart of trucking. I know what she meant, but I’m not convinced that was the best analogy. Here’s some of my other favorite quotes from her presentation:

“Yes, I’m aware of what people say about our company, but in terms of percentage, it really is just a small, vocal minority….”

“Our drivers love the driver facing cameras….”

And when asked if her company offers a sign on bonus, she replied, “Sign on bonus is a fancy terms carriers like to throw around….”

The actual nuts and bolts of the terms, truth be told, did not seem that bad. They do offer tuition reimbursement, the option to go either OTR or Regional , a pretty good medical plan, a clearly defined training program and not a horrible beginning pay rate.

I know what you are saying, “She is a RECRUITER! It’s her JOB to make Big White Trucking look good.” Which is a valid point. On the other hand, I actually know some people who love their job at WalMart. Truth, I do. Are there horror stories about working at Wally World? You betcha.

But I know people who love working there. I do.

So, who knows, I might actually look into joining the team. After all, I did take one of the pens she was giving away. I guess I owe them something now.

I’ll do some more research. More recruiters are coming this week as well. I’ll keep you posted.

Day Five – Log Books and Trip Planning

$80.00 for a road atlas, eh? No, the school isn’t selling them, we were using ones from 2008. I saw the price on the back. I wonder if the price has gone up since then.

Everything is on a bigger scale with trucking. Vehicles are bigger, jobs are bigger, coffee mugs are bigger, road atlases are bigger. Danger is bigger. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the scale of the whole thing.

Trip planning seems both fairly straightforward and confusing at the same time. Lots of hours to keep track of, 11 hours, 14 hours, 70 hours. Lots of hours. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it soon. Same thing with log books.

Can anyone tell me the why drivers object to e-logs, because filling out all this stuff out by hand is a drag. I appreciate I need to know the mechanics behind the daily log, and I have no problems learning this decades old-school trucking tradition. I’m just curious.

We were supposed to have a recruiter from a major carrier come speak to us today, but they bailed. I guess they don’t need drivers that bad. I wonder if I should take that as emblematic of how the company works.

More recruiters are scheduled throughout the week. I’ll keep you posted.

The more I looked at the maps today, the more I wanted to get out onto the road. Learning about air brakes and weight restrictions is important and necessary and good, however seeing real destinations stirred something in me. Places I’ve only read about. Denver. Lubbock. New Orleans. Spokane. St. Louis. Can’t wait.

Get in. Let’s go. I’ll drive.

Day Four – Test Day

Went over HazMat in the morning, then released at lunch to go to the DMV to take the written.

General Knowledge: Passed
Air Brakes: Passed
Combination: Passed
Doubles and Triples: Failed
Tanker: Passed

Oh well, the idea of driving a double or triple trailer at this point scares the bejeebus about of me anyway.

So, I got the permit, and brought a stack of backup paperwork to get the REAL ID Card. Whatever the hell that is.

A couple of guys in my class didn’t make it, they’ll go back tomorrow I guess.

One guy, NOT in my class I’ll have you know, walked into the testing room, sat at the screen for about 3 minutes furiously punching answers, then yelled some obscenities at the screen, shared with the entire class that he failed again, punched the screen, more obscenities then stormed out.

Yeah, he’s the one I want behind the wheel of a 70,000 lbs rig.

I’m glad this is over, if I’m honest. This was just beginning stress anyway, preparation stress. A stress taster spoon. I’m sure the actual driving test will be the Everlasting Gobstopper of stress.

I’m glad tomorrow is a day off. Have a great weekend, everyone.

Day Three

More tests passed, combination vehicles, doubles & triples, tankers. More review for the CDL Permit test at the DMV tomorrow.

In general, I just want to say I’m very happy with my driving school. I’ve read some horror stories about some schools, however this has been a very positive experience so far, no complaints. Well, I say that…

Today, we were watching safety videos made in 1989. That’s 27 years. For some context, if I was watching a 27 year old movie in class when I was in high school in 1985, that would be a film made in 1958. I dunno, maybe the foundational principals of safety are eternal, never changing.

And, besides, those 1970s cabover’s were SWEET!

70s Cab over

But, again, that’s just nitpicking.

I got a line on a company that’s hiring, but they only deliver to the Western 11 states. I’m based in Vegas, so that would be cool. Or would it?

I mean, going OTR is kind of an opportunity of a lifetime, to see more of the USA in one or two years that most people ever see.

But, then, you’re really not “seeing” it, are you, you’re just driving through it. And seeing truck stops, mostly. So, staying in the Western 11 would be fine.

Or would it? What about getting all that experience of driving through so much different weather and different traffic conditions. I would be far more well rounded if I went for a company that drove through all the lower 48.

But, then, I’d probably get more home time with a local company.

Seriously, I can go back and forth like this all night. I’m a mess.

I’m going to go study for my DMV tests tomorrow, wish me luck.

Day Two

Day 2 of class. The scores from the written tests so far:

Backing: 25 questions, got one wrong
General Knowledge: 50 questions, got one wrong
Air Brakes: 25 questions, 100% right.

This has no bearing on whether or not I’ll be a good driver, it only means I’m really great at taking tests.

For the 3rd exam, one of the questions was utterly nonsensical, and had no relation to any material we studied. Most everyone got it wrong. I argued my case, and eventually the instructor brought the big boss in and he said we were right. When he left, the instructor just looked at me and said, “There’s one in every class.”

I didn’t care. I wanted my 100%.

Over the last two days, we’ve had various people wander into class, other instructors and former students, and just tell us their stories. That’s been the best.

When I first began to research this industry, I wanted to keep a level head and not get too excited. So to make sure I got the scoop on the “real world” of trucking, I focused only on the doom and gloom reports, negative reviews of companies and thinking that any positive stories from people were just spin. Or hyperbole. However, it’s been refreshing to hear people actually happy with their work, and their companies.

Tonight, I’m doing more research on companies because I want to start sending out applications this weekend.

Day One

First day of class. It’s the 160 hour course, 2 weeks in the classroom and 2 weeks in the trucks.

A couple guys got removed from class almost immediately for failing the drug test. I knew this industry attracted it’s fair share of chuckleheads, but My God, people, they told us a dozen times they were going to drug test us first thing in the morning. Wow.

Anyways.

My initial impression of the course is that I am supremely thankful for the The High Road Online CDL Training Program. I spent all last week going though it and I can’t express how much of a difference it’s made. The classroom is set up as the most basic rote memorization, “Highlight this, it’s going to be on the test. Highlight that, it’s going to be on the test.” Going through the High Road course has given me a much more comprehensive exposure and understanding of the material.

I questioned why I was even taking the course because, obviously, I could have done this part online. However, I began to appreciate how different people approach the material, how they bring up different questions that I would never have thought about. Never dismiss the benefits of learning as a group.

The class. All guys. One is over 21 by, I would guess, a couple of days, because he looks 17. One guy looks like he’s in his 30s or so, and the rest of us are all 40s to late 50s. I’m talking late 50s. Late.

Why does trucking seem to attract a more mature workforce? Discuss.

Lastly, finally being in a classroom made this all seem real. I made the decision to become a truck driver only about three weeks ago. It’s been a whirlwind of planning, budgeting, and worrying if this was the right decision. Watching other drivers YouTube channels, doing online CDL testing, it was all abstract.

Being around real trucks, hearing real people tell their stories, smelling grease and bad coffee, it all solidified the decision for me.

This is really happening. And it’s going to be great. Hopefully.

We’ll see what tomorrow is like.