First Impressions: Day One

There are just nine students in my class. A bit smaller than I expected, but I prefer it over larger numbers. There are three in the class from Washington. Two of us with “Class B” CDL’s (Commercial Driver’s Licenses) and, as it turns out, I will not have to test and get a license here in Idaho. Because we’re so close to Washington they’ll allow us to simply “upgrade” to the “Class A” endorsement by testing just across the river at Clarkston. This means, instead of a battery of five different tests, that those without a CDL have to take, I only have to take one. 20 questions! How sweet is that!

It was an extremely busy day today and having stayed up late last night didn’t make it any easier when those alarms and the wake up call came in at 4 a.m.

After assembling with the other students from three different classes, in the lobby with some breakfast goodies to choose from, we piled into the shuttle for our first venture to the Swift Driving Academy.

First thing upon arrival was an introduction to our classroom instructor, his boss and then her boss, the head of the school. All nice people who clearly want us to succeed and move on to long careers with Swift. Most of the day was spent in either filling out and signing paperwork, going over school policies, or getting our company physical as well as the D.O.T physical out of the way.

After a thorough review of what to expect in the coming 23 day course we all pile back into the shuttle bus for a “Work Well” exercise at a Clarkston Physical Therapy office. Here we proved our abilities to perform the possible physical requirements of the job if, in the unlikely event, we actually had to handle some cargo. We’re told that at least 85% of the trailers we pull are sealed by the loading company, which are unloaded at their destination by their own company employees. The biggest majority of the remaining cargo while unsealed is still handled in the same way.

When these physical “tests” were described this morning my heart slightly sunk as I wondered about my ability to do them. First among them was lifting 65 lbs of weight from the floor to a waist level shelf three times, then to another shelf at a height just above eye level, again three times. The next test was to do the same thing, but with an additional 20 lbs added for good measure, and again three repetitions! Amazingly I was able to do all of them with just a little extra effort.

Next we had to demonstrate the ability to push, and then pull, a 100 lb weight holding it both times for at least three seconds. There was one other similar test involving bracing one foot against the wall and pulling a simulated heavy weight. This was followed by an agility test to show we could handle an initial two-foot tall step followed by an additional step further up a ladder (pretty lame actually). Finally we had to carry 75 lbs a distance of 53 feet, the length of their largest trailer. To say the least it was a huge relief to get through this battery of tests. At the end of each exercise they would read our heart rate from a wristwatch that received the data from a wireless sensor worn around our chest. I noted my heart rate was often below many of the others in my group of 6. I am, by-the-way 5-10 years older than anyone else in my class. Who would have thunk that? 🙂 No one in the class failed.

Then we moved on to a local doctor’s office where we arrived just before 8 a.m. We were there for more than two hours as each of us took our Department of Transportation physical, as required by Federal law, for our Medical Certificate we’re required to carry at all times while on-the-job. I was pretty sure I could make the cut as I had already held a certificate during the 13 years I drove for the transit system in Seattle.

Back to the classroom to fill out more paperwork and then a half-hour lunch break. After lunch most of the remaining afternoon was spent at the nearby Lewiston Terminal building (one of 40 spread around the country) where we all left a bodily donation for drug testing.

After some additional classroom discussion we returned to our motel at 4:00 p.m. ending our first day of training. Our assignment for the night was to review our CDL manuals in preparation for going over all the materials for our variouis state’s student learner’s permit test scheduled for this Friday.

I’m worn out. It’s been a very long day. My roommate is already asleep and I will follow within the hour. There will be little let-up in the number of hours spent at school throughout the days ahead. 4 a.m. comes early!

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