Wow! What a week we’ve had. I can’t believe all the things I’ve learned in the past eight days of training.
We lost one of our Washington drivers on Wednesday. The examining doctor claimed he found blood that showed up in one of those tests we’re all familiar with. This immediately disqualified the student for the medical certification required to hold a Commercial Driver’s License. I was stunned to see him have to suddenly leave after putting in a full week of training. He was a good guy and part of our little group of five drivers from the other Washington. We work closely in a group as we prepare to pass Washington’s “Pre-Trip” and “Road Test” which varies in several ways from the tests our other classmates will take here in Lewiston for their Idaho licenses. We’ll be traveling across the Snake River to either Spokane, or possibly Pasco, where we’ll test, I believe next Wednesday. There’s a reason we’re not testing in nearby Clarkston, Wa., but I won’t go into that today. Once we complete those final two stages of testing we’ll finally receive our Class “A” Commercial Driver’s Licenses.
So, here we have this semi tight-knit group working toward the same goals when we suddenly lose one of my favorites! But there’s a “silver lining” to the story. It turns out our specimen tainted friend goes home to Walla Walla and calls his doctor asking for an immediate retest. Guess what? His doctor says there’s nothing wrong … his blood is fine! So our friend makes a quick call on Thursday morning to the school and after their verification of the facts, with the approval of the original doctor that performed the first test, he’s back in class and out on the road range with us by 10:30 that morning. I was, to say the least, happy to see him back with us. I had felt so bad for him when he was suddenly told he had to go home and with the unanswered questions looming about his health. But now, all is well and he’s back “in the fold.”
Things have changed dramatically since completing our first full week. All those more than 20 mind-numbing written tests are behind us now, there will be no more of those as we look ahead to just two more hurdles as described above. The pace is more relaxed and a lot more fun! The bulk of our time is now spent in the academy trucks learning all the basic skills of driving these big rigs. Since Wednesday we’ve alternated between circling the enclosed range here at the school, and practicing backing up as well as what’s called “Alley Docking.” We’ll not be on the public roadways until next Wednesday.
Learning to back these trucks into a 12′ wide by 20′ long coned off “dock,” within a 70′ square enclosed area, can be both challenging and frustrating, as well as amazingly satisfying when you’re able to “park it” or “dial it in” in your first attempt after setting it up. We have an excellent “range instructor” who, no matter the problem or the position we might find ourselves in, can stand next to our driver’s window and walk along as he talks us, with just a few minor corrections, right into “the slot.” He’s amazing and has demonstrated abilities in handling these truck and trailers in a way you would have thought impossible. Like turning these nearly 70 foot long mechanical beasts completely around, within the confines of that square box, with dimensions less than 5 feet larger than the rig itself! And doing it in one graceful, uninterrupted maneuver! It’s a work of beauty that anyone would be amazed at seeing.
Just like in the Bill Murray movie “What About Bob?” I’m reminded it’s just a series of “baby steps” from moving these 500 horsepower trucks just a few yards to taking them anywhere on the road and in whatever conditions. As I wrote in the beginning of this post I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned in the short period of time I’ve been in school. From safely operating the trucks, the numerous rules, regulations and procedures that go along with “over the road” commercial driving, to identifying the components that come together to create these impressive machines. While I was a bit apprehensive before leaving for school, and even questioning the choice of the company I’ve signed on with, all those things are behind me. I’m convinced I made the right decision. To say the least our training has been superb. Our instructors are well qualified in their personalities, knowledge, patience and especially in their dedication to tutoring and advancing us in our struggle to reach our goals.
So come mid-week we’ll be entering the final phase of our training here in Lewiston. Our Washington group will be working with yet another new instructor who will take us out each day for our road training. We’re told we can expect to be behind the wheel an average of 2 1/2 hours each day. The driving in the area can be quite challenging with some of the narrow two-lane roads and steep grades that drop down into Lewiston. But I’m not too concerned as I feel I have somewhat a head start with my thirteen years experience driving 62 foot long articulated buses through the downtown streets of Seattle. It’s not quite the same, but I’ve often thought that without that experience I’m not sure I would have taken on this new challenge.
On Monday I’ll have just nine more training days left with graduation to follow on Thursday May 3rd. That’ll be followed with a few days off and then three days of “Orientation” as a new Swift company driver. Orientation begins the following Monday, also here in Lewiston. Then it’s on the road for six weeks for a serious dose of reality with a “mentor driver” before I’ll go “solo” and be assigned my own truck in late June or early July. I’ll also finally go on the payroll beginning with that six weeks of mentor training. I’m hoping sometime, either just before or after orientation, to get in a quick trip to the western part of the state to see family and friends.
It’s going to be an especially busy summer. My son Matt gets married in mid June and also graduates from Arizona State. I’m told I should have no problem getting a day or two off from my mentor driving to be there for his wedding reception. Shortly afterwards my son Sean will be leaving for his two year church mission that he’s looked forward to for some time. In addition my youngest son Devin graduates from high school, and from a local community college where he’s earned his AA degree having been in the state’s “Running Start” program the last several years. All these things are happening within a week or two of each other. These events, as you can appreciate, will mark milestones and a new beginning for me in a variety of ways. With my travels ahead and these changes just around the corner, to say the least, it should be quite a year.
Thanks for checking in … and thanks especially to all my family and friends that have offered encouragement and support in my new endeavor. And by the way, drive carefully out there and give those truckers a little extra room.