“Ok, today we’re going over the nuts and bolts of a class 8 heavy-duty truck,” Sherry, the lead instructor announced.
Sherry is a Mom and Grandmother, a million miler and many moons ago, broke the glass ceiling inside the truck cab – no pun intended. Although her services were highly demanded at home, Sherry knew that life on the road was her true calling. Many days and nights spent over the road were lonely and monotonous, and she didn’t want to be anywhere else but in Middletown, VA to nurture her family. But deep down inside, Sherry knew, she was living life to the fullest and providing a valuable service to the nation’s economy.
Sherry drove dry van exclusively. She loved being dispatched to deliver household items. Places like Walmart, Amazon, Giant – to pick up non-perishables – products that she recognized and understood their true value.
Whenever she sees an item on a supermarket shelf that she had previously delivered, she develops a great sense of satisfaction that she’s making a noticeable difference for American families.
On her free time, Sherry loves to strum the guitar and sing classic rock hits. She is a big fan of NASCAR and loves grillin’ and chillin’ on the beach.
Sherry also enjoys working under the hood and getting dirty, but she also likes to chill and put on female clothes every once in a while. Even as a trucker, it’s ok to don purple leggings, a pair of pink, bedazzled crocs and to get her nails done, once in a blue moon. Trucking and designer clothing aren’t mutually exclusive. You can work a tough, manly job replete with big engines and boosted horsepower and still flaunt your feminine side like a cover girl.
“Are we gonna learn to be grease monkeys?” asked Todd snidely.
“No, not literally, but we’re sure gonna talk about and touch all the working elements of a tractor trailer,” Jd added.
“During your CDL test, you’ll be required to point out every nook and cranny on the truck, not just under the hood, but also throughout the entire length of the tractor trailer,” Sherry stated. “You have to talk fast and roll out buzz words like you’re a cattle auctioneer, and it could still take up to an hour to go through the entire spiel.”
Sherry stood in front of the truck and spoke with both arms raised like an aircraft Marshall directing traffic.
“The first thing you do is to look for lights, leans and leaks. Verify that the lights on the truck are the proper color, securely mounted, not cracked or broken, and clean. Next, make sure the truck isn’t leaning to one side, which could indicate a suspension problem or low tire pressure. Finally, ensure there are no leaks underneath the engine compartment. Doing this daily will prevent break downs and fewer break downs means less chance of an out-of-service violation and fewer accidents.”
We all listened attentively – rolling our eyes and scratching our heads. When can we start driving? It’s gonna be a long weekend – there certainly was a ton of crap to learn. And I didn’t expect to get under the hood and get my hands dirty.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Jd added. “You didn’t come here to be mechanics. But the more you know about your truck, the better a driver you’ll be. You and the truck become one.”
The next weekend, Sherry went over the air brakes test.
Another way to think of the relationship between the governor and the compressor is that the governor is the bossy wife and the compressor is the lazy husband. When the system reaches minimum pressure the wife tells the husband to go to work and put air in the system. When the system attains maximum pressure, the bossy wife (governor) tells the husband (compressor) that he can go relax in the living room, watch NASCAR, drink beer, and fart.
This was the best analogy I’ve heard and things were beginning to sink in.
The following weekend, we first started with straight line backing.
“First put the truck in reverse. Take the foot off the clutch, both feet on the floor, and let the truck backup on its own. Turn your head side to side and look for any drift on both mirrors. If you see it drift to one side, turn the steering wheel to the same side, hold for 3-5 seconds and return the wheel to center. Turn the wheel towards the problem and remember to go easy on her.”
“Shit this is so simple, I can do this in my sleep,” Todd mocked. He grew up in a family of truckers and has been driving the farm grain truck since he was eight. He learned how to detach a Fifth Wheel before he learned how to ride a bike with the training wheels off.
“Yes, it’s simple but even the most experienced truck drivers mess up straight line backing sometimes. They lose patience and often oversteer,” Sherry explained. “Why do you think most accidents occur in the truck stop or in the yard?”
We can’t run a marathon if we don’t know how to walk. So after we all got straight line backing drilled into our brain housing group, we were ready for the next step: offset backing.
“Offset why are we wasting our time with this BS? Why can’t we cut to the chase and start learning how to parallel or alley dock like the Big Boyz?” Todd asked. “That’s where truckers make their mark.”
“While offset may not be something truckers do very often, it’s actually an important piece of the puzzle,” Jimmy answered.
“There are times at the shipper, you back into the wrong dock, or worse they switch docks on you, and you gotta slide over to the next door. Well, it’s not easy to move an 18 wheeler 10 feet to one side or another,” Sherry added.
“Say you have to move the trailer to the right. Turn the steering wheel hard left. Back up and stop when you see 3/4th of the landing gear in the convex mirror. Then turn the steering wheel hard right and back up until the trailer is directly behind the truck. Then back up straight, looking for the target cone in your right mirror. When the trailer tires clear the cone, turn the steering wheel hard right again and bring the truck in alignment with the trailer and push the trailer into the box. STOP.”
All eight of us took turns making two maneuvers at a time. The rest of us stood around shooting the breeze or poking fun at our classmates as they ran over cones or completely mucked up the maneuver. Martha and I spotted each other and gave tips on when to turn the wheel — advice worth ignoring. The poor cones took more abuse than Conor McGregor in a boxing match.
“So which company do you wanna work for?” Martha asked.
“I’m leaning towards Coastal Transportation. Their headquarters is in Savannah, GA., only an hour from my Mom’s house in Darien,” I replied.
“Whatever company that gives me the best rate on health insurance,” Todd stated. “Now that we’re getting f’**d by Obamacare.”
Not wanting to incite partisan politics, I quickly changed the topic to sports.
“So who are the Redskins and Ravens drafting this spring?”
As we gossiped about potential football trades and Hollywood’s latest flings, a herd of deer moseyed carelessly in the grassy field across the street. They didn’t care about us, and they could care less about the trucks.
“K-Bam…Boy would I love to mow down one of those right now,” Todd added with his hands drawn together in a shape of a shotgun.
“That’s a beautiful White Tail. Why do you want to shoot one?” I asked disdainfully.
“For the thrill of the hunt. Can’t wait till November when it’s open season. The last time I shot a buck, I was a month early and the game warden had me arrested for poaching,” Todd answered with a ruddy scowl.
“So what was prison in the Shenandoah like?” I asked with a chuckle.
“Cold, boring, hard mattresses, gross food, what else can I say,” Todd replied.
“You mean you weren’t given the Martha Stewart treatment?” I replied in jest.
Martha laughed. Then looked straight at me and asked. “I wonder what jail is like in the city?”
“I think I’m qualified to answer that. I was just locked up last week,” I responded. “The Friday before we started our straight backs, my tenant, Faith, called the police on me for allegedly breaking her remote control. I was here in Middletown when the DC Police issued a warrant for my arrest. My other tenant, Zahera, informed me that the police came looking for me so when I returned to town, I turned myself into the precinct on Monday morning. That was a huge mistake.”
“Really for breaking her remote control or for turning yourself in?” Martha inquired.
“Neither, for turning myself in later in the day. After the precinct locks you up, they wait until they accumulate a van full of detainees before you get transported across the river to the Downtown courthouse in Judiciary Square. The police department normally makes this trek twice a day – once at daybreak and once at midday. If you miss the earlier trip, you gotta just hold tight for the next ride, even if it means spending the night.”
This garnered a collective laugh from Martha and Todd.
“Welcome to the flock of jailbirds,” Todd smirked. And if the state doesn’t decide to drop those charges, you’ll have a hard time finding work from any reputable trucking company, even Western Express.”
“Alright guys, stop shooting the breeze with your fellow drivers – we can joke in the classroom, but when we’re in the range, this is serious,” Jimmy warned. “You could kill someone here.”
That was it, I had enough of backing and gossiping for the weekend. It was now time to return home to see how my properties and more importantly my tenants are doing. And I was starting to miss hosting networking events around the city.
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