Making A Truck Driver – Week 5

The final week of my five-week course in learning how to drive a big rig was a week of soaring highs and crashing lows.  At the start of the week, I was presented with the “Top Of The Class” award, which meant that I had done the best on all of the tests we had taken.  It was a small class, but it was a good feeling to be at the top of it.  However, I missed out on the second award.

The school has us do what they call a “rodeo”, where each of us must do a series of maneuvers – straight backing, offset backing, parallel parking and finally alley docking.  But instead of being careful to do everything the way the BMV tester will want it done, this is all about speed, with the object to go through all maneuvers in the least time.  The only thing that will kill you is if you go outside of the cones.  I was up first, and was doing great, but made a bad bet.  On the parallel parking, I figured that I could take the time to get out and look at a boundary line once, on the theory that the other guys would rush and hit a cone.  I was wrong, and came in 2nd.  Oh well, we were all friends and I felt good that one of the other guys had something to be proud of.

The day before the test, the plan was for the instructor to take each of us out for an hour of brush-up.  Partly, this was to get us used to another truck.  It seems that truck No. 197 experienced an air brake issue that made the instructor fear that it might cause some or all of us to fail the road test, so we all agreed to go back to truck no. 208, with its less forgiving transmission and touchy brakes.  Bob was out for two hours with the first guy and was in a foul mood upon his return.  I don’t know what caused that, but he was clearly not happy with the prior guy’s drive.

Road construction was everywhere, and he decided to take me out to an unfamiliar area rather than on the routes we would be driving for the test.  Lots of traffic, road construction and railroad tracks.  Lots and lots of railroad tracks.  One of the no-no’s for the test was shifting while going over a railroad track, and I committed that one a couple of times, which did not improve the mood in the cab (for either of us).  After a highly stressed 1.5 hours, I was back and the third guy didn’t get to go at all.

Test day was Thursday.  The format was that we would start on the pre-trip and air brake check, then what we called “the range” with the backing and parking, and then on to the road test.  Things started off well, except that the guy doing my testing started looking for things on the pre-trip inspection that we had not covered.  They were minor items and only cost me a point or two, but they were a surprise I wasn’t expecting.  Things were going great through the inspection, the straight backing and the right offset backing.  Then I started a right parallel parking maneuver — something that I had done successfully probably 20 times.  This time, things went horribly wrong.

We had the ability to lose a total of 9 points for all 3 of those maneuvers and still pass.  The parallel park can burn up 5 or 6 points even when everything starts out right.  Mine did not start out right, so I burned up maybe 3 or 4 points trying to recover from my initial screwup, and everything went downhill from there.  If you don’t successfully complete the three parking/backing maneuvers, you don’t get to proceed to the road test.  So it was a short day that ended with good ol’ Bob disgustedly muttering “Who in the f*** fails on the range?”  It was actually a pretty good question.   What happened?  A case of nerves that held over from the day before?  Probably.  Or maybe I was thinking ahead to the road test and was not concentrating on the task at hand.  But now I had gotten to experience the setup and the way they work at the test site, so I would be better prepared for the second attempt.

There was a built-in provision for re-takes, and I got scheduled again for the following Wednesday (six days hence). The pressure, however, was far higher.  We had been told multiple times that in the entire history of the school there were maybe three students who had not passed the test on either the first or second time.  I did not want to become the fourth, so I spent 2.5 hours at the school on the following Saturday working on those maneuvers (again) and was scheduled for another road session with the instructor on Tuesday morning.  I was not looking forward to this added instructor interaction, but the extra drive time couldn’t hurt.  Sooooo, my five week course got extended to six weeks.  Hopefully that would be it.