Knowledge and Skills: Preparing for the Road

Hello again! We Just today began week three, the final week of our training here at the Swift Academy in Lewiston, Idaho with graduation scheduled a week from tomorrow. The last week went by rather quickly now that we’re out of the classroom and driving on the “range” most of our day.

In order to qualify for our Class “A” Commercial Driver’s License we’re required to pass four different categories of testing. This is what our schooling is all about. Training and preparation to meet the state’s licensing requirements. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m frankly amazed that they can do it in as short a time as they’re able. Of course they simply give us the tools and the training and it’s up to us to make something of it.

First in the series of testing is our battery of “Knowledge” tests. This comprises three separate exams. “General Knowledge,” “Air Brakes” and the “Combination Vehicles” test. Although the school required me to study and test on all three, the state only required I take the Combination test which consisted of just 20 questions. Nice! Since I already hold a Class B license, and had passed the first two in acquiring that endorsement, there was no need for me to test in those areas again. I completed that requirement near the end of my first week.

The second prerequisite is what’s called a “Pre-Trip” inspection. This involves an in-cab check of the various systems controlled from within the truck, as well as a walk-around of the entire tractor and trailer pointing out more than 100 inspection points. During this inspection we have to identify to the examiner the various parts and what exactly it is we’re looking for with each. An example would be, “Mr. tester, this here red knob inside the cab is the tractor protection valve. It must activate before the air pressure drops below 60 p.s.i.” Or “This thingy next to the brake canister is the brake slack adjuster. It’s securely attached and has no broken, loose or missing parts. It should have no more than one inch of free travel and it’s adjustment angle must be less than ninety degrees with the brakes applied.” It goes on and on and on!

The inspection includes items on the engine, the various components that make up the braking and suspension systems, the wheels, the tires, the lines, both air and electrical, that connect the tractor to the trailer including the tractor “fifth wheel” components. There are also the various parts and systems on the trailer, including it’s brakes and suspension as well as the “landing gear” and the sliding tandem wheels at the rear. And don’t leave out the lights and other safety equipment and devices scattered all about! It takes me about 45 minutes to recite the entire inspection and the worse thing about it? I gotta wear gloves or my hands get really really dirty!! This is actually only a portion of the inspection required by the federal government that drivers perform on a daily basis before beginning a trip, and it has to be documented in our log books. And those log books! Don’t get me going on that! I’ll have to save that commentary for another day!

The third testing category is what’s referred to as a “Skills” test. In Washington there are just two skills we are required to demonstrate, “Alley Docking” and “Straight Backing.” I described Alley Docking in my last post. Straight backing is simply starting outside a 12 foot wide lane and entering that lane, while backing up a distance of 100 feet, without wandering outside the marked boundaries. Washington people are expected to stop the rear bumper of the trailer, roughly 60 feet behind the driver, within a two foot wide space. Are they kidding!? Of course all of these are performed under the watchful eye of a state examiner.

For some reason Washington doesn’t deem it necessary for us to demonstrate the ability of negotiating a right hand turn as Idaho does in their skills testing. Our Idaho classmates are required to make their right turns getting as near to a small traffic cone as possible without touching it. Although I didn’t have to worry about it, as a Washington student, I always try to get as close as I can and do pretty well with it due, I’m sure in part, to my transit experience in Seattle.

The final test we’re required to complete is a “Road” test with the state examiner. This is usually a 20-30 minute drive (unless the examiner has a particular fondness for your company — and then it could be longer) through town and “over hill and dale.” This of course demonstrates our ability to negotiate turns etc. as we mingle with other cars, trucks, pedestrians, traffic signals, signs, obstacles and whatever else might venture our way. Just like the written and road tests one takes to be licensed to drive a car we have the same requirement, only there’s a lot more information we need to know, and of course our vehicles are much larger in every way including weight.

So our last week has been a constant regimen of practicing our alley docking and backing skills, as well as preparing for the pre-trip inspection. Before students can move on to the final phase of their academy training, and in preparation for the “real” tests with their state, we have to prove our competency in these two areas. I’m happy to report that yesterday, after some tense wailing and gnashing of teeth, I was able to pass that requirement. Nice!

In the pre-trip inspection I lost 9 points of the allowed 12. I would have done better had I not completely forgotten the trailer tandem axles and their 3 or 4 inspection points. In the skills test I got the backing maneuver dead-on losing no points. I couldn’t believe I hit that little two-foot box! But I lost 3 points in the alley docking by having to pull-up once and being a bit out of line once stopped. Of the two skills we’re allowed to lose 8 points, so I had five to spare! Shoot, I should have knocked over a cone or two, just for heck of it! I only wish the test had been with the state and this hurdle would now be behind me, but our instructors are kind enough to give us an additional half-day this Saturday to hone our skills.

So, beginning tomorrow (due to some technical problems it should have been today) I, and two of my fellow students, will be together in a truck with our instructor on the roads somewhere along the Idaho/Washington border. We’ll have just four training days on the road as we draw another day closer to becoming real truck drivers. If you’re in the neighborhood, look for the big white Freightliner truck and trailer. You’ll recognize us by the white-shirted gentleman sitting next to us with trepidation in his eyes. But hey, that’s why he gets paid the big bucks!

There’s so much more I could write about, people, places and things, but the hour is late and my eye lids are heavy. ‘Til later take care and thanks as always for stopping by.

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2 comments on “Knowledge and Skills: Preparing for the Road

  1. usatran says:

    Well, I’m glad that Metro prepared you for something worthwhile. It’s true that Metro’s training is not as helpfull as I’d like, but it made you’re transition a little easier. Good luck on this new journey Rick.

  2. daveettl says:

    Hey Rick..Nicely Done…never had a doubt that you would pull it off as class valedictorian!! still…glad to be a couple hundred miles away 🙂 when do you head out acoss the fruited plain with all those tales of the truck stop cuties…thats what i’m waiting for! continued success! DJE

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