Monday, November 30, 2009

First Drive

Our original plan called for me to attend a trucking school to prepare for my road test. We've been in contact with an owner-operator, however, who doesn't believe that's necessary, and who will be content with Hoss training me on our own. The tuition we'd planned to spend will now simply be spent on renting a truck to train in.

Today, we rented a 26' from Ryder. Hoss drove it home, and we parked it on the street in front of the house. It was raining quite heavily, so while we waited for the rain to let up a bit, I studied my pre-trip list.

After 90 minutes, the rain had lessened enough for us to venture out. We climbed into the cab and Hoss demonstrated air pressure testing for me. And then? He set me loose on the pre-trip.

Pre-tripping is common sense: test and point out the obvious. Leaks. Loose. Damaged. Illegal. Or more accurately, pointing out what's NOT leaking, loose, damaged, or illegal regarding the vehicle you're about to drive. The challenge is in remembering all of the parts and systems that need to be checked, and in the proper order.

My first pre-trip went pretty well. Starting at the driver's cab door and working clockwise around the truck, always from top to bottom, provides a common sense framework to the process. Glass? Okay, can you see through it? Is it broken? Something that latches - a door, a hood - is it latched and secure? Is there ample tread on the tires? Is anything leaking? Are any light lenses broken, or any bulbs burned out?

But there's much more, of course. Suspension components must be checked. Slack adjusters must be manually tested for excess play. Piston rod indicators must be checked. As you pre-trip during your road test, you must call out each item you're checking, and you lose points for each one you miss or fail to point out.

The braking system is thoroughly checked, by intentionally dropping air pressure and calling out the PSI when the alarm sounds and when the spring brakes engage. The brake pedal is depressed for a full minute to check for pressure loss. The driver's window is rolled down to listen for air leaks. The parking brake is tested by engaging the clutch and stressing the brake.

Gauges are checked. The defroster must be demonstrated. Ditto the wipers and washers, as well as the horns. You must point out the fire extinguisher and the fact that it's charged and ready for use; you must point out the three reflective triangles; you must point out the extra fuses you have on board, unless your truck uses breakers.

It's a lot to remember. And I've only touched on the complete list.

We went through the pre-trip several times, and then it was finally time for me to drive. Unloaded, first and second gears are overkill. To save time and aggravation when driving an unloaded 6-speed, start in 3rd gear. This, I learned straight away. :)

I knew of a rarely used street nearby, situated behind a few McYuppie restaurants. We headed there first, to practice parallel parking and straight backing. I did fairly well with both. Parallel parking in a truck is completely different than that in a car, of course; according to Hoss, you're allowed craploads of space to perform the maneuver and adjust as you go. If that turns out to be true with the person that road tests me, I should be okay.

We headed out toward 690, practicing L-turns, lane centering, and distanced stopping. Although it had been 10 to 12 years since I'd driven a manual transmission, the only issue I seemed to have with shifting was slipping the bitch into 3rd when I wanted it. For some reason, it required considerable fiddling and force. Other than that, all went well shifting-wise.

We hit 690 and Hoss informed me it was time to start calling out hazards. "Approaching overpass; no height restrictions posted; 14 feet or higher." "Approaching bridge; no weight restrictions posted; 40 tons or better." "Congested intersection ahead." "Speed limit change; now 45 mph." "Approaching on-ramp; merging traffic."

Anyone who has driven 690 through town knows this exercise required constant attention.

It sucked.

I missed a handful, which Hoss gleefully pointed out. He thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I suspect we'll be driving 690 more in coming days.

At the end of the day, I was exhausted. Although there was a good deal of physical activity required, I suspect the exhaustion is more from concentration and stress than anything.

But I'm closer. :)

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