26 September 2010

An insiders' point of view

"Trucking down the road" by Quilly @ www.quildancer.com

Quilly and her guy were out visiting family last week, and when they returned she posted this little blip about trucking. I don't know Quilly, but she and my sister are friends. Her site is varied and very interesting. I'm truly envious of her talent. Quilly is right...there seems to be plenty of freight to haul, and if you want a job as a truck driver it's easy enough to get one. But I'm getting side tracked.

Trucking isn't for the average John or Jane Doe. Trucking is hard work! Let me tell you this from my fifteen years of experience in the industry. Driving and maneuvering one of those big rigs down the highways ans byways of the United States takes practice and skill. They say practice makes perfect. In this case it isn't the perfect you're after, it's being a highly skilled professional that you're after. It isn't as easy as it looks.

Today, if you don't know someone who is already in the business and is willing to teach you, going to one of the many truck driving schools is about the only option one has to get into a big rig. The school is 160+ hours of classroom, skills learning and road practice. Unfortunately, the road practice time is never enough and basically all you learn in the school is enough to pass state and federal complaince guidlelines and laws to hold a Commercial Drivers License.

The real learning doesn't start until the day you climb into the rig with the driver mentor or driver trainer who is going to be your constant companion for the next six weeks or so. A driver mentor or driver trainer is the guy or gal who has spent at least a winter on the road, hopefully more experienced than that, and been through the training program with their company and has been certified to mentor/train and assist you in refining the skills you have already learned, teaching you the rules of the road, and the company policies. This second phase of learning can be an excellent experience, it can be mediocre, or it can be disasterous. Fortunately, while I was learning, I had excellent mentor/trainers, and I learned a great deal. I have a short story to share, too.

I've rescued a number of lady drivers from ill fitting situations with their driver mentor/trainers. These scenarios have many faces, from verbal abuse, lack of hygeine, the second logbook syndrome (this is someone who is in it just for the extra money they earn), and lastly to the driver who really doesn't have the necessary skills or mindset to do the job they've been certifed to do, which is to mentor and train new drivers entering the industry. This is a huge, huge issue within the industry, one that is difficult to remedy. I won't go into it here and will save it for another posting.

There are excellent mentor/trainers, there are average, and those who do it just for the money as I noted before. Add to this the stress of the time spent away from family, the lifestyle, and the fear of being in a confined space with someone you don't know 24/7 for at least the next six weeks. It's an emotionally charged situation, and this can be just the beginning. If by chance or by fate, you get one of the good guys or gals as a mentor/trainer you have a good chance of beating the odds and becoming a decent operator. So you're on your way, good luck!

The next six weeks .... what to expect

Okay, so now you're headed for California on your first trip, but you have to get loaded.....Get loaded, what's that? Well my friends, it's what you're going to be doing for a living for however long you have chosen to be an over the road truck driver. You're going to be moving all kinds of commodities all over the United States.

Hopefully, your partner is going to give you a break on this first run, so sit, watch and ask questions. While you're at the dock getting loaded you might take a nap, it would be a good idea. It's probably going to be a long night. It isn't long before the shipper knocks on the door and says it's ready to go. You follow your partner inside and watch while the shipping documents are signed. Whew! That was not so bad, eh? Down the road you go in the passenger seat. Piece of cake. Not so fast. Hopefully, you had questions during the loading process. Ask questions, if you don't ask then you can't learn. Hopefully, you grasped some of the idiosyncrasies of backing into a tight space. Probably not, that will come, so don't get frustrated just yet.

The load gets delivered the next afternoon, but whoa you're really tired, hungry and need a shower. But your partner tells you 'we don't have time' and 'you need to get some sleep, I'll be driving us out from the next shipper, but it will be your turn to drive very soon'.

Into the bunk you go. Sleep? What's that? Nope, not happening. The rig is moving, can't sleep behind someone you don't know or trust, or whatever it is, you just can't get to sleep, so you get up and sit in the passenger seat again. Your partner looks at you sideways and asks what's up? Answer, can't sleep.

Okay, the rig gets pulled over to the side of the road as soon as it's safe. Partner says, 'Your turn to drive...not going to sleep you drive!' Shit, it's pitch black out there and you have to have flashlight in hand to inspect the equipment. Partner says, 'no just get under the wheel and lets get after it'. Red flag! Reality check! Harsh! Do something that wasn't drilled into your head at the school? What's this? Partner reminds you, you will do safety checks and inspections, but since he/she has already done it...it's not necessary. The rig needs to get down the road.

There's no point in arguing, they're the boss, so it isn't going to be a partnership at all. He/she assists you with your logbook and settles you into the seat, reminding you to check the adjustment of the mirrors, reminds you to have cigarettes, lighter, drink, and anything else you need close at hand. Scared? You bet. Hands are shaking, you don't know if you can shift this rig, it isn't the same as the one in school. Panic sets in. Then the crowning blow, he/she suggests you're going to drive 350 miles before you can swap drivers again. Mind is spinning with what ifs ....ask questions.

Okay, your partner has relented with instructions and tells you they're going to be right behind the drape if you need something or feel like you're going to fall asleep. Waits until you get the rig rolling and into the flow of traffic. Fortunately, the traffic is light, but it's pitch black outside and you can't see anything around you. Fear, major fear! Grinding gears as you struggle to get up to speed with out getting run over by another big rig, or run under by some little four wheeler. Down the road you go, hands with a death grip on the steering wheel. White knuckles. Partner reaches through the drape for a pillow and settles into an uncomfortable position in the passenger seat with one eye open...you get the message that that person is not going to sleep either until you prove you can get down the road. This is just the first lesson of many you will learn in the days and weeks to come. But you've made the start and you're on the road.

The weeks fly by...and before you know it....

Finally, you get to take a break for a couple of hours. In the first hour, you get a shower and then have the opportunity to have something decent to eat. You sit with your partner and talk mostly of inconsequential things. He/she wants to get to know you and is willing to share parts of their life with you, too.

Your driver mentor/trainer now has a chance to critique how you did on your first time driving. You get some praise, because he/she thought you did a good job getting down the road for the six hours it took you to move 350 miles, especially since you didn't fall asleep or wreck the rig. Don't let the praise go to your head, you're no where ready to fly by yourself. Theres' still a lot to learn.

Your logbook is beside you on the table and together you work on finishing the previous days entries and getting current. It's important that this becomes a regular routine. The penalties for not having your logbook current are.... well you really don't want to know. This will get drummed into your head, if your driver mentor/trainer is any good at what he/she does. They will be thorough and patient with you every step of the way while you learn and refine the skills you have learned and will learn from this person.

I can warn you, there will be days or a time when your driver mentor/trainer will not be in the best of moods...sometimes from the lack of sleep. But in any case, you will do something so trivial that he/she will go off. Take it in stride, it's all part of the learning process, especially if that person is good at what they do as I noted before. Hopefully, you've gotten one of the best to get you where you've chosen to go, and that's to become an over the road truck driver.

It's been a pleasent enough couple of hours, but you're really tired and want to go to bed. Your partner is going to hang out a while, maybe talk with some of the other drivers around. You are free to do what you need to do, you have a set of keys for the rig and can get in/out as you need to. The suggestion is made if you leave the rig, you leave the overhead light on above the passenger seat. This is to ensure that he/she will not drive off and leave you behind. In the reverse, if you've gone to bed, leave your footwear on the floor in front of the passenger seat. That way your partner will know you are sleeping and will try not to disturb you. You're reminded again, there is no smoking in the bunk area. It's a safety issue.

The days and nights begin to fly by and you learn at a rapid rate. Eventually by the end of the second week you're out during this segment of your training, you and your partner will be running 'team freight'. That means that you will be driving at least a ten hour leg and your partner will be in the bunk getting their rest. There will be trips where you will not have time for a shower or to eat a decent meal, but you will adjust, and the good thing is after the load has reached it's destination, you will more than likely have time for that shower and a decent meal. It can be a hectic pace. It becomes routine, a good working routine, and you will also like the pay check.

When it's all said and done, six weeks have past and you're on your way into the terminal to test out of your mentor/trainers rig and be assigned to your own. What a feeling! Pride! You're going to be responsible for your own equipment! Wow!Hopefully, you've learned how to manage your logbook, take care of all the paperwork, inspections and fueling, learned what to do in an emergency or during a breakdown, learned how to operate the communications device, have a good relationship with your driver manager, and have learned how to back that big rig into tight spaces, laugh! It's been worth it hasn't it? You feel pretty good about yourself and the accomplishment. You should feel pretty good, you've earned it and some time off.

A few final words of caution, don't let that pride go to your head, it can cloud your judgement, you still have a lot to learn. Going solo in your own rig is an adjustment, but you've been well prepared. So go home and enjoy the time off you've earned. Come back and make some money. We look forward to seeing you out there on the road, sometime. Welcome aboard.

23 September 2010

just thoughts

It's time I drew some attention to this blog and I haven't a clue where to start of where to begin... I'm not much of a writer I suppose, but I do give it a 'good ole college' try every time I post something. Good or bad, its here for everyone to see.

I've been looking at other bloggers sites. I am impressed with what they do. I think I'd have to work really hard to have sites like they have. I'm envious and I wonder if I have the energy.

It's been a helluva a year for me. The company I worked for closed it's doors in 2009 and I've worked a sum total of four days since that time. I've had a myraid of medical issues this year as well. I'm pleased to announce, I've received a clean bill of health and will go on living.

I'm frustrated and often times even angry about the state of affairs in this country. Never mind the state of affairs in the state I live in. I'm ashamed to admit where I live, and I don't want to live here any more.

Today's politics during the best of times is confusing. In today's age of real time media reporting, it becomes more confusing, more frustrating, and in my opinion more convoluted. I'm not political by any stretch of the imagination. I tend to sit back and adopt a watch, wait and see attitude. I try to stay informed so I can make a reasonable choice when the time comes to vote. Yeah, I get that if I am not at least a little vocal about how I feel....I might not motivate someone else to get out and vote. It's not important who or what you vote for, the bottom line is to get out and vote. The choice is yours and not mine.

I've wanted to relocate for a number of years. Unfortunately, I find myself in the untenable situation of not having the funds to make it happen, let alone the assets to cover living expenses until I find a job in the new location. Yeah, yeah having a job before I leave where I am presently would be the best course of action. On the flip side, the move, when it happens is nearly 3000 miles. A five to six day driving trip across country with three cats and a horse. Logically having that new job to go to before I move is the best case scenario. Since the moving part of the trip is so long, it may be necessary to get there first and establish myself. It's a coin toss. Both ideas have merits. In any case, I'm frustrated because I can't make it happen today! So, I dream, wish, and strategize. It makes me crazy sometimes.

What else bugs me? I'll have to think on this question some. I'm sure I'll think of something sooner or later. I'll post it another time. Have a wonderful day everyone.