Making A Truck Driver – Week 4

Week 4 of our 5-week course pretty much wrapped up most of the actual training.  Week 5 would be mostly testing (both school and BMV), a hazmat class required for that certification on a CDL and going to the BMV to get the actual license (Lord willing).

By this time, all three of us were reaching the point of fatigue, with all of us able to do pretty well but falling victim to stupid mistakes.  I was told that I exhibited a virtually perfect drive through one of the test routes in the 4th week, but then bollixed up an “emergency stop” that the testers like to make us do.  I have since reprogrammed my mind that in this context “emergency” means a boring tour guide-led experience of easing off the road, shifting out of gear, applying the parking brakes and turning on the 4-way flashers, and does NOT mean “Holy shit, thing thing is on fire so get it off the road f***ing now!!!!” Treating an emergency stop under the second mindset results in lots of yelling and bad words from the instructor.

We had a discussion about which of the three trucks (all Mack CH models within a model year or two of each other) we are going to use for testing.  Unit 208 is what we had been driving.  It has good power and a freshly rebuilt a/c system.  However, it is also really hard to shift smoothly and has some REALLY touchy brakes that would remind you of almost any US car with power drum brakes built in the mid 1960s.  Unit 195 has a far more forgiving transmission for shifting and has brakes that modulate better, but the engine is really worn and it is slow as an old dog.  It also has a right side mirror that is a little funky and makes the trailer look askew when it isn’t.  177 is the oldest and is really only suited to work on the parking lot for parking and maneuvering practice.

The vote went for No. 195, which did not hurt my feelings as it’s the one I had my best-ever drive in.4 weeks in saw the first time I had a driver yell at me out in traffic – I must have slowed down on an exit ramp too soon to suit him.  He got next to me and yelled out of his passenger window “Hey why don’t you learn how to f***ing drive!”  He must not have seen the great big words “CDL TESTING SCHOOL” and “STUDENT DRIVER” on the rear and side of the trailer, or else he would have known that I was doing exactly what he was suggesting.

Speaking of downshifts, those are finally under control.  The transmission in Unit 208 is OK going up the gears, with the instructor telling us to shift at not later than 1600 rpm.  The transmission is VERY picky on when to downshift, and likes going into 4th at 40 mph, 3rd at 25 mph and 2nd at 15.  Cracking the non-synchro downshifting code feels like a great accomplishment.  And feels really bad on those times when I fail to accomplish it.

I should probably note that this entire process took place during a long stretch of good, dry, sunny weather.  We may have had only one really rainy day, and even then it was not terrible – and that was a day we were backing through cones on “the range” and not out on the road.  It was a nice change to be outside on a clear, hot day after a lifetime of sitting in air conditioned offices.  At least the trucks have good a/c units to keep the physical temperatures down in the cab.  The emotional temperatures were higher, of course, with nerves building about the coming tests.

We had the last couple of companies present to us, and it was time to get started on employment applications.  Marianne told me that as of the end of the next week I would change my status from “student” to plain-old “unemployed” (although I prefer retired).  There are a couple of interesting options – as always, there is a trade-off between the best pay and the most desirable hours.  But before I could get a job as a driver, there would be some tests to pass.