On this Monday, the beginning of week two, we lost a trainee, hold the phone – we lost two trainees – and we gained two. It’s possible that they have just been delayed a week. That’s where the two new people came from. They started their training two weeks ago, were put off a week, and came back to the program today. With two training trucks in action the lady went on one team and the guy joined our team.
Today I felt like we progressed to fourth or even fifth grade! We spent the day tooling around the yard, or box, as our new trainer, the Limey, refers to it. The Limey was actually an eight year Stevens employee. He had been an on-the-road trainer for much of that time, but because he had family issues, he opted to leave Stevens but stay in training, now with the Lone Star College system. This keeps him in the trucking business but keeps him close to home. He’s a rather large refugee from north London who retired from the London municipal transportation system where he drove double decker buses (what else?) and engineered subway trains. He tells great stories, likes his fags (cigarettes!), was a British Hell’s Angel (almost sounds oxymoronic) and has a spectacularly real, earthy way of expressing himself and conveying driving techniques. The five trainees in his care each has his strengths and weaknesses, except for Bubba, who hasn’t revealed any weaknesses yet. And to be honest, I’m lying (is it possible to be honest about dishonesty). The new guy on our team, Kareem, doesn’t seem to have any strengths. Even his third time behind the wheel, he was grinding most every gear and administering whiplash therapy to the rest of us.
There are things about driving big rigs that are difficult because they are just plain counterintuitive. This started in straight line acking where to correct your path you have to steer the opposite way than if you were driving a car. Double-clutch shifting is a skill in which you have to overcome your instinct to accelerate your way through the gears. The Limey is coaching us to move through gears one through eight (at least) with minimal use of the accelerator. Of course this works with an empty trailer, and we will have to adjust our technique when we start moving a dozen ton’s worth of freight, but for training purposes, speed and use of the accelerator just complicates things for the driver. Another part of double-clutching is the depth of your clutching.To get into your first gear, whether it is reverse or first or third gear, you have to depress the clutch all the way.
BUT in shifting your way up the gears, you only have to partially depress the clutch, maybe an inch, two max. And you have to do it very quickly – “Boom. Boom,” as the Limey likes to say. “Clutch. Neutral, Clutch. Next gear,” he says. And you have to do it at a speed comparable to the speed at which an automatic transmission moves from one forward gear the the next. “Boom. Boom.” While you may be able to shift quickly in a manual transmission automobile, you do have to shift all the way and the gearbox is synchronized so you only have to depress the clutch once for each gear change.
Downshifting includes an extra step, the Rev. “Clutch. Neutral. Rev (up the engine). Clutch. Gear.” While it seemed as though it clicked just right a few times, it is far from a natural move. I’m sure it will all become second nature … eventually.
The Limey also had great insight into how the first five weeks with an on the road trainer would go. He made it seem like we would hit a vast majority of the lower 48 states during those five weeks.
We’re all excited. Tomorrow we’re heading off the lot and will be driving on the local highways and byways.