Student Driver
Truck Notes
notes to self
For Swift: the instructions with your email should add “should bring work gloves, a rain resistant coat or an umbrella, and a 5-6 week supply of any medications you’re taking.”  Change the pillow to a “maybe.” 

After talking to the Swift recruiter, I thought it would be a 3 day orientation session.  But then the email said to bring clothes for 6-8 days.  At orientation, we found out about mentors and the 240 hours BTW (behind the wheel). Then we found out that there’s a driving test and another 2 days of orientation after the 240 hours BTW.  As another student remarked, “this keeps getting longer and longer and longer.”

It’s difficult to follow instructions when you’re told to fill out a form and then the instructor talks as you’re filling out the form.  Do you concentrate on the form and miss something important that he might be saying?  Or do you listen to what he’s saying and risk not being done when he says, “OK, pass all forms to the left.”  This happened over and over!

The Tuesday session started at 7:30 not 8 AM so some of us were late because we went by the email instructions.  The instructor said, “I told you all yesterday that class would start at 7:30.”  Was this one of the times we were doing 2 things at once?

My goals: 
1.  A part time job where I can work or not work as I please.  This may follow working full time to get the required experience.
2.  Something out in the world away from a desk and computer screen.  After 45 years in engineering, I want to try something new.

Day 1:  1st delivery is 22 tons of Coca Cola to a warehouse in Jamesburg, NJ.  Then pickup 22 tons of waste paper from Avenel NJ and deliver to Knoxville TN.

My mentor driver, whom I will calll Bob for legal reasons, is from a part of W Va that speaks a sometimes incomprehensible dialect.  I often have to say, "what,"  "say again,"  "what was that," etc.

Day 2 - hauled 22 tons of wood from Tenn. to Laredo, TX.  Someone else will take the wood in to Mexico where it will be shaped into ax handles.

Day 6 - About the driving, my biggest accomplishment is holding in my own lane when another truck passes me.  The first day was terrifying, I would drift to the right and the trailer would overhang the shoulder or, even worse, the lane on my right, but now I got the lane positioning down and seldom even check the spot mirrors on the front fender to check lane position, and pretty much ignore anything passing me.

Day 7 - A big problem is that the truck (loaded) gains speed going down hills and if I'm thinking of something else, like looking at signs and forget to apply the brakes, my speed goes above 67 mph and Bob gets excited about losing his job because I'm going too fast (Swift Transportation knows and monitors everything!).  And if I go below 60 mph, Bob gets on my case about impeding traffic.  So I spend too much time looking at the speedometer when I should be looking at signs and traffic problems up ahead.

Day 8 - Shifting is getting better.  I still grind the gears sometimes, but so does Bob.  Bob saw a wrecked truck alongside the road as I slept.  He said that before driving time was limited (can drive up to 11 hours only after 10 hours continuous off-duty or in the sleeper), he used to see 2 or 3 wrecked trucks alongside the road on every trip.

Day 9 - My eyes are only 20-40. I have trouble reading signs at night.  Options:
1.  Drive only during the day
2.  Have someone with good eyes with me to help read the signs
3.  Drive only in familiar territory so I don’t need to read signs.

The last 3 nights driving, I got drowsy and had to let Bob drive so I could sleep in the sleeper.

Currently stuck in Laredo, TX, waiting to get the truck AC fixed.  Maybe the heat was why I had trouble staying awake?  So far I have 38 hours BTW with 202 hrs to go...

I hear that trailers that go into Mexico with new tires often come back with bald tires.

1. Bob dropped his wallet in a stall in the mens room at a truck stop, went back later and found it in the trash - money gone but at least he got his drivers license back, otherwise neither of us could drive.
2.  I just locked myself out of my room at the terminal (since our truck is in the shop, we get to use one of the rooms here), but the terminal people let me in with another key.

Day 13 - Laredo TX trying to get truck AC fixed.   Bob slept 14 hours.  I slept 12 hrs.  When the A/C finally is fixed, it only lasts 3 hours before it breaks again.

Day 14 -  I log on 12 minutes too soon (before the 10 hr off-duty time was complete) and screw up everything.  I ruined my 10 hr off duty and can't drive for another 10 hrs.  Bob must drive.  After we delivered truck parts to Kenworth Trucking (from Mexico via Laredo, TX) near the Colombus Ohio terminal, we get another truck (temporary) with good A/C but no upper bunk.

Day 16 - Last night I forgot to change the "primary driver" to me and screw up logs - Bob must drive when I shoulda.  He drives to the Costco warehouse in Atlanta to deliver a trailer load of red cups..  I decide to resign - later change mind when I see I'm 1/4 way thru the 240 hrs BTW required.

I had thought that I might have problems with:
1. Need for frequent pit-stops, but Bob and I seemed to be on the same schedule.
2. planters fasciitus - not bothering me at all, it bothered me a lot at Smith & Solomon.
3. Floaters (in eyes) don't seem to bother me.

Day 17:  John, oops, I wasn't supposed to use his real name... make that Bob, yes, Bob started by driving from the truck stop on I-77 to White Truck Stop (in Virginia) on I-81 (used to be a famous truck stop before being bought out by a big corporation), then I drove up I-81 in the nice sunny day – nice trucking.  Fuel in NJ I-78 exit 12.  Pulling away I forgot what gear I was in, do bad turn hitting the curb.   On tricky curves going from I-78 to I-287 take nice turns and gear shifting.  Bob does not seem to notice. Up 287, Thruway to Tappan Zee, across Westchester on 287 – exhilarating ride – any driver not familiar with these roads would be “baffled and overwhelmed” (original phrase “scared sh-i_tless” redacted), up the Conn. Pike* (now called I-95), starting to get dark and even busier.  "Exhilarating" is changing to "frightening."  Now we’re talking thrills and excitement equal to any roller coaster or carnival ride, then thru construction with narrower lanes and the speed limit lowered to 45, but cars don’t seem to notice, concrete wall 6” (seems like it anyway) from edge of the trailer, truck bucking up and down and jerking side to side with the bumps.  Now this exceeds the thrill and excitement of any carnival ride.  As we finish up I-91 north of New Haven, my knuckles start to regain their color.  But then we hit some dreadful exit turns near Hartford and it’s my turn to be “baffled and overwhelmed” (original phrase redacted),  Why the fc-uk didn’t they position the street lights to shine on the signs instead of behind and from the side making the signs dark and unreadable.  Finally finish up I-84 one mile into Mass after 9+ hours BTW (behind the wheel), tired but not drowsy. On fence about throwing in the towel, a feathers touch would tip me either way.  If I were to resign, now is the time as I can escape the truck on the return thru NJ.

* per Wikipedia, "by the 1990s the Connecticut Turnpike had started to become known as The Highway of Death"

Night of Day 19-20:
From St Albans VT cross to NY and drive route 11 down to I-81 at Watertown.  Bob mostly in the sleeper which I prefer as he makes me nervous. This is good night driving as there are few cars, few turns and few signs to read.  Thru Malone where 49 years ago the Clarkson Rangers were marching in a parade when, in front of the reviewing stand the cadet captain gave some commands that us newer cadets had never heard, resulting in confusion and marching into each other – right in front of the reviewing stand (lesson learned – thorough preparation always).  Thru Potsdam where (49 years ago) beer used to be $1 a pitcher, 3rd pitcher free, by Hamlin House where my career as a door-to-door salesman of Dilly burgers ended after 2 days due to inventory shrinkage, and 4 years worth of other fond memories.  Thru Canton where there was a detour and the GPS started squawking about not taking the authorized route which woke John (or is it Bob - even I'm getting confused).

Tales overheard on the road (Bob/John says about 1/3 are true):
1. A driver failed to put his lock on empty trailer, next day found dead Mexican in trailer.
2. Had fight with 2 blacks, stuck knife in rear end of one, 2.5 years later was acquitted in self defence.
3. Took up with Mexican woman for 4-5 days, who had sons, who did not like him. Sons beat up someone who owed them money and “took them to the desert.”  He decided to leave.
4. A driver at the Atlanta Cosco terminal was taking 45 minutes to back-up to the dock.  The guard called their safety department who asked if anything had been hit.  Driver had not hit anything so safety said "let him continue."
5. Trucker on bus said he quit his last job (seems to be a lot of cheating of drivers by small trucking companies and subsequent quitting) and the company stiffed him out of his last paycheck.  He planned to get a lawyer and file some kind of class action suit with all the other drivers who had been stiffed by the truck company. He seemed pretty confident in his case.
6. Another student driver thought his mentor driver was on crystal meth (some kind of speed).

Day 21 - In passing thru Nashville (at night) I’m about to change lanes and move to right when a 4 wheeler pulls ahead of me from the right.  I had checked the mirror a few times and was sure that nobody was there.  This is unnerving and I decide to resign.  Later when I tell Bob that I’m resigning, he assumes I’m resigning because of my night vision problems.  I go along with him and “night vision” problems become my official reason for resigning.  This is true although the 4 wheeler pulling out was the coup-de-grace.  I tell Bob that I’ll continue driving until the current load (dolls and clothes) is delivered since he is depending on my driving to make the delivery on time.  After that though, I want to resign as soon as convenient.  Bob agrees and is agreeable, having noted my night vision problems many times (“Paul, the sign said your lane is ending, move over, you gotta read them signs, they tell ya what’s goin on up ahead”  - repeat 20 or 30 times a day).

Note:  if ever in southern W Va and someone says
    flare, he means to say flower,
    purdy, he means to say pretty
    "aint" is always used
    and the double negative is mandatory.

Day 22 - Saw a trailer on fire, probably from hot brake linings setting grease on fire, which spreads to the tires, etc.

At the Swift Memphis Terminal, the Driver Service Coordinator suggested I “see eye doc b4 quitting.”  This I will do.  I have logged 82 hours behind the wheel (slightly more than 1/3 of the way through the program) and have driven 4700 miles.  Does this qualify me as a trucker? I dunno.  I also developed a hemorrhoid from the experience. 

Swift Transportation gets me a Greyhound bus ticket ($181) to return from Memphis back to Newark NJ.  The bus leaves at 1:40 PM.  The terminal, nice looking and modern, looks more like an airline terminal, is right near the Swift truck terminal.

Day 23 - With free WiFi, 120 VAC outlets on the bus and a smooth ride, the 28 hour trip back can actually be pleasant.  However my bag was too big for the small overhead compartments, there is almost no room underneath the seats and I didn’t check my bag.  If I put it on the floor sideways it would encroach ½ way onto the next seats space so the only options are upright on the floor and somehow squeeze your legs around, or upright on my lap.  For the 1st leg to Nashville, I sat next to another trucker who had the same bag problem.  We both used the upright on the floor technique and suffered as if in a torture chamber.  After Knoxville the passengers thinned out and I had an empty seat next to me for the rest of the way.  The seats seem to get harder as time went on.  WiFi worked the 1st day but not the 2nd.

I have sampled the OTR (over the road) trucker life-style and don’t care for it. Two weeks on the road followed by 2 days at home really sucks. Maybe I should try something else.  (I'm sitting squarely on the fence of indecision).

General Notes:
1. Swift Transportation, the biggest trucking company in the industry, drives 1.5 billion miles/yr out of the total industry's 99 billion miles/yr.
2.  If a driver is caught talking/texting on a cell phone while driving a truck, the fine is $3000 and the driver is immediately fired (cannot drive - someone else will come and get the truck).
3.  Student driver pay is min wage plus $1/hr if actually driving.
4.  An issue:  for steep hills, some say you should use the same gear going down as you would use going up.  Others say use one gear lower.
5. Swift drivers are required to drive the speed limit (even if others are passing you on the left and on the right), unless the speed limit is over 65 mph - then you must stay at or below 65 mph.  All trucks have governors that limit the speed to 64 mph on flat ground or going uphill.  Going downhill you gotta use the brakes as any speed 67 mph or higher is considered excessive and is a black mark on your record.  Everything is recorded.
6.  On a truck, if oil is low, add a gallon of oil, oil changes are at 30,000 miles, front tires last 100,000 to 125,000 miles, driving and trailer tires last much longer, a truck is generally good for a million miles

Mentor Driver
Mentor                   Student
Driver                     Driver
Laredo, Texas
My home for 3 weeks (upper bunk)
Home - East Wing (if truck is facing north)
              South Wing (if truck is facing east)
View from home
Typical Swift truck with 53' trailer
steering tire                             student driver
bus ticket back to NJ
Truck driver potential earnings