Well here it is Thursday and I’ve completed all my training. I’ve got my new Class “A” Commercial Driver’s License in hand and I’ve been through the 2 1/2 day Orientation at Swift. After checking out of my motel room yesterday morning I was checked back in to the same room by early afternoon. Believe me over the last several days I’ve grown quite adept at packing and unpacking my things. A lot of my fellow students have left Lewiston for their homes and should be on the road in an 18-wheeler sometime between tomorrow and Monday. As for me, being low on funds and with all my worldly possessions in storage — with no home in Yakima to return to — I chose to stay here and live in the luxury of a local motel paid for by Swift.
There are only a couple of things keeping me from getting my “Driver Code,” a six-digit number making me an official employee of the company. One is confirmation of employment at my first job in Yakima and clearing up another “loose end.” I’m not worried about either, but it’s a bit frustrating especially when the job confirmation issue should have been settled several weeks ago. But that’s bureaucracy! Over the years, I’ve gotten used to it.
Orientation was a breeze! Some of it was a rehash of things we learned while in the Driving Academy. There were 18 of us in attendance. About half-a-dozen from my Academy class and others who are recent graduates of other schools. In addition there were a few seasoned vets of long-haul trucking looking to make a change in employer.
Our last several days were mostly devoted to learning about the company, it’s benefits, policies and procedures. One of the more interesting things we reviewed was the Qualcomm Satellite system. It’s a small keyboard unit and the link that will keep us in contact with our Driver Manager and other offices within the company. It’s amazing to see all the data our supervisors can see about us and our trucks on their computer screens. Just by typing in our truck number they can see our current location, where we’re going and where we’ve been. How many days we have left on the road as well as our average speed and how long our transmissions have been in neutral! If we’re pulling a refrigerated trailer they can even monitor it’s temperature! There’s a lot more but I think you get the point. I’ll also be able to send and receive private email with family and friends through the same system, it doesn’t matter where I’m located so long as I’ve got my connection with an overhead satellite.
So here I am, drawn closer still to my ultimate short-term goal of getting assigned my own truck and becoming a “solo” driver. I expect that will occur in late June or early July at the latest. Before that however I’ll have to go on the road for 42 “dispatched days” with a “mentor driver.” That comes out to be about six weeks.
Mentor drivers are experienced drivers whose job is to train and prepare rookies like me in the rigors and ways of “real world” long-haul trucking. I’ve only scratched the surface of what I’ll need to know while on the road. Mentors get paid handsomely for their sacrifice and deservedly so. I’ve learned that my mentor is a 60 year old who lives about 45 minutes from Lewiston. I spoke to him on the phone this morning. He’s been driving 18-wheelers for 34 years, so I should be in “good hands” as the Allstate Insurance people would say. We’ll be on the road beginning this Saturday morning. He does what’s called “dedicated runs” for The Potlatch Corporation. An interesting company Potlatch is “a real estate investment trust, or REIT, that owns and manages 1.5 million acres of timberlands.” It’s probably Lewiston’s largest employer with a big manufacturing plant along the banks of the Clearwater River. My mentor said to expect to travel as far east as Chicago as well as St. Paul, Minnesota (where there’s a Swift Terminal), Lost Wages, Nevada, Salt Lake City and Spokane, Wa. So that’s the game-plan for the near-term. Sounds like fun, especially the Las Vegas part! AND I’ve never been to Minnesota!
Orientation provided a lot of new information as well as answered a lot of questions while confirming many things I’d heard from other drivers. One of the best things about my job is that I can take my days off anywhere I want! I just have to ask my “Driver Manager” to route me to virtually anywhere in the country! This means I’ll be able to visit family and friends and parts of the U.S.A I’ve never seen before. My Academy roommate and I are already planning to rendezvous at several locations. One of them — at next year’s Daytona 500, the granddaddy of Nascar racing! I’m looking forward too to visiting our Memphis Terminal, which I’m told, is just down the road from Elvis’ Graceland. Best of all my transportation is paid for! The only thing I’ll really have to fool with is renting a car if need be. And of course I’ll have a place to sleep in my truck which will be well accommodated.
In addition to the standard bunk bed, air conditioning, cruise control and other fun gadgets that’s found in all Swift trucks, I’ll be adding a number of things to make it a more comfortable “home.” Among them a CB Radio, a 13″ TV/DVD player as well as a small microwave and refrigerator. I’m planning to replace the standard AM/FM/CD in-dash radio with a unit that’s iPod and XM Satellite Radio compatible. It’ll include a built in Global Positioning Satellite (G.P.S.) system with a pop-out touch-screen video display that controls the iPod, XM Radio and the G.P.S. features. It also has a remote control to page through and select from the various menus. One unit I’ve been told about is the Pioneer AVIC-N3 Multimedia AV Navigation Receiver. It’s loaded and sells for around $1100 discounted. Sounds like a lot but the separate individual components would cost more and it’s all in-dash with no unsightly wires. Over the next six weeks I’ll be doing more research and of course will be saving my pennies!
One of the first things Swift requires, after I go “solo,” is that I attend a “Simulator” course at one of 10 different Swift Terminals around the country. One of them is at the company headquarters in Phoenix. It’s a course that only takes a “couple of hours” so the rest of the time, during my two or three days off, I’ll visit with family and friends there. After “clearing solo status” I have 30 days to attend the class. I’m really looking forward to it, but it will probably be in July … not the best time to visit the southwest! So let this be notice to all of you in the Phoenix area!
Another great benefit is the ability to take passengers along. Swift has a liberal policy in this regard allowing it’s drivers to take anyone over the age of 12. Swift does not limit passengers to immediate family as many companies do. The paperwork is minimal and approval via fax can be accomplished in minutes. So, anyone interested in hitting the road in an 18-wheeler for just a few days, or up to two or three weeks, is welcome to let me know. If you could tag along for a full two weeks we’d be able to visit any part of the country you’d like. Now how fun could that be? Imagine the possibilities!
Well there’s plenty more to tell, but it’ll have to wait until another day. I’m always willing to answer any questions you might have or will write about something regarding trucking and the industry you might be interested in learning about. Just leave a comment or email me to let me know. While this is a diary for me to chronicle my travels and experiences, I hope it’ll be something folks will enjoy periodically checking in to read. To make that experience more interesting I need your input.
As always thanks so much for stopping by!