Sunday, July 17, 2011

Truck driver orientation

I made it through orientation with the trucking company that wants to hire me, but have not been officially hired because they still need some more paperwork, in particular my W-2s to confirm I worked for an employer they cannot get ahold of over the phone. I do not want to reveal my future employer's name on the Internet because I'm sure there's some kind of company policy against that, but it is one of the largest trucking companies in the United States.

So far, I am impressed with the company, it's policies, the trucks, the routes, and notice that most of the truckers who came into the terminal seemed happy. I hung out at the terminal most of the afternoon Friday after orientation ended. It is like any way station, a constant flow of human traffic, baggage left near the wall, conversations creating a din in the open atmosphere. A television blares rap videos from BET, two truckers laugh over some crazy warehouse guy at a shipping location, a skinny guy all covered in tattoos comes in and scans documents to finish off his trip. I read a Louis L'Amour book, waiting for a ride to a Metra station so I could ride two trains and get home to my family for the weekend.

The first day of orientation was the busiest. They shuttled us off to a clinic for a physical and drug test. Blood pressure, vision, hearing checked, ears, nose, throat, and testicles examined, and I had to crouch and then stand up. Later, back at the terminal, I had to carry a box weighing 70 pounds the length of a truck and back three times, each time having my heart rate checked. I had to do a tug and push test, step on and off a ladder, and walk like like a duck under a piece of string. These tests are to prove you can do everything necessary to get in and out of a truck, unload it, and be able to check underneath it.

After that was a road test. One challenge was hooking up to a trailer. It's not complicated, but I only did it three times in my training. And the trailer I hooked onto was recessed between two other trailers. But I did fine and had no problems. Another challenge was doing a 45-degree backup into a dock. I had to do a similar backup as part of my CDL yard test, and for this one I only needed three pullups to straighten out my angle. The company tester also walked me through a pre-trip to ensure I knew what to do. I passed with flying colors.

The next couple days of orientation were not nearly as active. The second day we watched videos about company policies and safety regulations, health insurance, lease options, pay scales, etc. And the third day we learned how to use the onboard computer on the truck and do electronic logging. Federal law requires all interstate truck drivers to keep a record of their activities behind the wheel. Drivers are only allowed 14 hours on duty each day and 11 hours behind the wheel, with a couple rare exceptions. The company I will work for does all of this logging electronically, which makes it really easy to do and also means the company won't ever ask me to break the law and fudge my log books, as some more unscrupulous employers will do to expedite a load.

The guy who trained us on e-logs moved quickly through the training and then chatted with us for about 90 minutes about trucking in general. Truckers sure love to tell stories. But I learned some valuable tips about eating on the road, not trusting GPS navigation systems, and keeping good records of your logs and paperwork. Truckers tend to seem like simpleton good ol' boys, and for the most part they are, but they also have to keep a lot of paperwork straight and make decisions that could cost thousands of dollars and save lives. It's not a job to be taken lightly. Every day truckers die out on the road.

Tomorrow I go back to the terminal. I most likely will wait around for a trainer to be available. If they don't find one tomorrow I'll probably get another night's stay at a La Quinta hotel, which is a lot nicer than my normal travel accomodations (a tent). Once with a trainer, I'll have 150 hours on the road experience, including 10 hours of backing up, before I'm given my own truck.

When I got home Friday night, my old drum corps buddy Andy called, happy he made it through training and he has his own truck. He said it's got half a million miles on it, but he's solo and that's all that matters. I won't be making any real money until I go solo, but the dream of full employment inches ever closer to reality.

Keep on truckin'.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like it was a busy week for you. Every day sounds like it will a challenge. Tryi
ng to stay cool. Love, Mom

Duncan Moredock said...

Yeah, keep on truckin', dude. It's a lot of hard work, but keep up with it and you'll soon be going solo in the truck. You're doing good, getting into the groove of truck driving.