Friday, April 06, 2012

True Trucker Confession

I have a confession: I suck at backing up.

That's right, I'm a truck driver but I'm not very good at backing up the rig. Before you judge me, let me explain.

We hardly do any backing up. Really.

We pull a platform trailer - a 48' aluminum flatbed with a spread axle. At most of the shippers and receivers we go to, all that is required of us is to show up in the yard or facility and typically, they come to us. When we get to a shipper, we position ourselves where they request, and then a forklift or crane will load the freight. Then we strap, or chain, or tarp, and go on our way. The process is reversed at the other end.

In my defense, when I was practicing in trucking school way back in 2006, I did have to park a van trailer in a "hole" - an imaginary dock set up on the school grounds - as part of my training in order to pass my test. They taught us how to park the trailer from a 45 degree angle - the trick was making sure the tandem axles on the trailer pivoted at just the right point. After a while I got the hang of it and it felt kind of easy.

Then I got into our truck and tried to back up our trailer, which has a spread axle. First, there is no pivoting on a spread. When backing up, the spread axle actually pushes the back end of the trailer where you don't want it to go, making it difficult to swoop it right into the spot the way you want it to go. And it's difficult to start at a 45 degree angle. Ed has this little trick, where he pulls up at slight angle to the spot he wants to get into and then just gently guides the trailer in. Unless it's a tight or oddball spot, he doesn't even need any pullups. I've tried doing it his way, but just can't. And if I were to try to pivot on the tires, Ed would have my head on a platter. Damaging tires is not on the list of things he tolerates.

When I do park, I try to find a pull-thru or a big open parallel parking spot. That, I can handle. Even a slightly snug parallel spot in a rest area is easier for me to tackle than backing into a tight spot in a truckstop. In the truckstop, there's so much to look at - the trucks on either side (especially your blind side), the trucks parked in the row in front of you, and the assholes that insist on driving behind you when you're trying to back up. Oh, and cars. Sometimes there are cars. I'd rather drive to the next truckstop or rest area than deal with all of that.

Thing is, in addition to not backing regularly in the course of a normal work week, I also don't practice in our off time. I don't need any help finding things to do other than practicing my backing. I am always envious though, when I see other people doing it. Oh, there are lots of guys who will drive around looking for a spot to pull straight into, or try to back into a spot and just can't make it. I've seen people just give up and leave the truckstop altogether. In that case, I know we have a spot for the night if we need one, because if there's a spot that no one else has been able to utilize, Ed can get us into it. I'll even wake him up if I have to, as I've yet to see a spot he can't get squeezed into.

I feel being able to back up masterfully, and not just into the easy spots, will make me an even more awesome driver. Especially as a woman driver. In a car, I can get in anywhere, I've even parallel parked for boyfriends or other people I've been with when they couldn't get into a spot. I am the queen of the tight New York City parking spot. But in a big rig? I don't have it down yet. And when I hear about some of the jams my driver friends get themselves into, especially GiGi, I'm totally amazed. She pulls into a lot of docks and driveways that I wouldn't even attempt. I'm in awe.

If there's anything that would make me feel like a completely accomplished driver, backing up flawlessly would be it. I don't want to just be able to back into a spot when the parking lot is wide open, I want to do it when it's packed and there are only a few spots left. I want to know I can tackle those spots without a hitch.

What's funny about this is a story my mother always told about my grandfather. My mother has three sisters, and when they learned to drive my grandfather taught them how to drive in reverse first. He said if they could do that, they could do anything. And they did.

Not a bad idea now that I think about it!

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Rita said...

I am the same way. I can park in the rest area or pull through space . I would love to be able to back into a spot, but when we get to truck stop..I get up and my husband backs me We have an agreement ..I don't back and he doesn't cook.

Gary said...

Interesting post, and I LOVE the fact that you dont try to project the fact that your a super trucker..very refreshing ! I drive a 40 foot straight for FedEx custom critical. My first truck driving gig was T/T and my trainer was super impatient, pushing me to get in/out of shipper in 30 minutes, needless to say it was a disaster.I watched a TT recently pull up 32 times (no embellishment)@ a truckstop in Portland, OR, I felt sorry for Him, and glad I wasnt driving a T/T. If I ever do switch to a T/T Im going to definately spend alot of time to master backing skills. Great post.

ELH said...

Hey guys, nothing to be ashamed of,actually quite refreshing to read...there's quite a bit of drivers who get sweaty palms and white knuckels when backing..
the way i look at it is,better careful and cautious, than some cowboy who carelessly damages his or someone elses vehicle or even worse..
I think it shows maturity and a willingness to improve yourself,knowing and admitting you may have an area to work on cewrtain skills and get it right..
great post...

The Daily Rant said...

RITA: I think that's a great agreement - since I do most of the cooking, I'll have to run that by Ed!

GARY: Yeah, well not everyone can be a super-trucker. LOL I would love to be able to do a reverse serpentine around cones though, like Ed can. After I figure out how to back into a tight spot, that is.

ELH: I don't get the white knuckle thing...I just can't seem to get that damn trailer to go where I want it to. I do have a problem over-correcting though...I have a tendency to turn the wheel more than it's needed. I'll keep working on it though!