Thought I would try to document my training experience. I just started at the NC Truck Driver Training School at Johnston Community College in Smithfield, NC this past weekend. I'm doing the weekend class, so it's going to take a while. Class schedule is Friday from 6pm-10pm, Sat/Sun from 8am-7pm. It's a 16 week course, so this will take me through December 19th. Taking the weekend class so I can continue working my current job during the week. So yeah, I'm going to be tired for the next 4 months!
For reference, my previous post with my "story":
Finally Starting The Journey
Quick version, I'm 49 and changing careers from a 20+ year career in IT.
I'll try and do an update after each weekend. Maybe someone will care, maybe it will be just for myself. Either way, I'll post the first weekend later today.
CDL Training Diary - NC Truck Driver Training School
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Day 1 - Friday, September 3, 2021
First day of class, so it was the usual paperwork, orientation, introductions, etc. There are 11 people enrolled, but one was a no-show. There is a good mix of students in class. Different ages, sexes, races and nationalities. Of course, as I expected... I'm the oldest. There are 2 guys that already have some experience driving tractor trailors already. One lady has been driving city transport buses for over 10 years. And I think 1 guy has been driving a box truck for a while. The rest of us have no experience at all.
The instructor gave an overview of what the schools is all about. They want us to succeed and will do whatever they can to make that happen, but at the same time we will have to earn it and they aren't just going to give it to us. He made the comment that they are not a "CDL Mill" and that they don't train steering wheel holders. So if that's what we thought then we need to go somewhere else. Definitely seems like it's going to be very strict, but fair. Which is all you can ask for as far as I'm concerned. This is the oldest truck driver training school in the country and from all the research I did to choose a school, they have a reputation of being one of the best as well. I think this is going to be tough, but that's a good thing. Assuming I make it through successfully, I feel like I'm going to have accomplished something for sure!
The instructor is a graduate of this school and has been an instructor here since 2013 (I think?). He drove for quite a few years after graduating and has driven over a million miles. He left driving to come back and be an instructor as a way to give back.
We went over the grading process and what is expected of us. He told us some stories about being on the road, stories about former students, etc. That was about it for Day 1 that I can remember. The school is an hour drive from home for me, so I got home around 11pm. Long day after working my day job all day as well!
Day 2 - Saturday, September 4, 2021
Second day and the person that didn't show on up on the first day still didn't show so I guess he or she changed their mind. So we are down to 10 students now. We started the day finishing up some more orientation related stuff. Then we started going over pre-trip inspection. Went through a checklist and then watched a couple of videos on it.
This school is also a 3rd party testing site for the DMV, so our instructors will be the ones testing us for our CDL. Not sure if that's good or bad! But I'm happy that I won't have to go to the DMV to do the testing at least.
We went out to the yard and the instructor did a demo of the pre-trip inspection. We then split up into groups of two. Each group had a truck to practice with and look over everything. While each group was practicing, the instuctor rotated each group to another truck to go over the in cab inspection portion and the brake test.
Afterwards, we returned to the classroom for any questions (which there were a lot). We went through the textbook (JJ Keller) and watched another video.
I believe that was it for that day. It was all pre trip basically. It was a LOT though! I intentionally did not watch any videos or do any kind of studying on my own before class started this weekend. I didn't want to cloud things up, get wrong or bad information and wanted to make sure I was learning things the way the school wanted me to learn them. I figured this would be the best way to go about it personally.
Got home around 9pm and was brain dead. Lots to process! Back at it bright and early tomorrow!Numb Thanks this.
Day 3 - Sunday, September 5, 2021
Had another no show today. Hopefully he comes back, if not we are already down to 9. You can only miss 39 hours before you are dropped from the class. So we'll see I guess.
Started the day going over pre-trip some more. Since there were so many questions and the class in general seemed to be a little overwhelmed by it, we went back outside again and the instructor walked us through the process again. This time taking a little more time and more detailed. Feel like he may have rushed through it yesterday. But after this go around and after the practice yesterday, I think I have a better handle on it. It's a lot to remember, but not that bad when you break it down into groups of items. I think I'll be fine eventually.
We went back into class and started talking about straight backing. Some textbook stuff, some videos, some discussion, etc. Talked about a driving obstacle course that we would have to complete and be tested on. How it would be graded, etc. Then he catches us all of guard and says, "Ok, let's go outside and start." What?!? We are driving already!
First, he showed us the straight back process. There was an old, beat up International daycab with an even older and more beat up 40ft trailer connected. It was parked between 2 other trailers. The object was to pull forward until the trailer was clear from the other trailers (or all the way up to the boundry line if needed), then back in until you were less than 12 inches from the rear barrier and no less than 6 inches from each trailer on either side.
Then he drove on the obstacle course to show us how it needed to be driven correctly for the testing.
We split into 2 groups, one for the backing and one for the obstacle course. If you weren't in the truck, you were spotting for the person driving. So everyone had something they needed to be doing.
I was with the backing group first. There were 4 in my group and I went last. The first 3 struggled somewhat, but got it backed in successfully. Then it was my turn. This was literally the first time I had EVER been inside of a truck. Woah, this truck is old! Steering wheel was massive! Nervous as I have been in a long time!
I released the tractor break and pulled forward at idle speed (truck is an automatic, forgot to mention that). Hey, I'm driving! I pulled up to the boundry line and pushed the service break. Holy crap, talk about a stop! Felt like I hit a wall! Those brakes are rough! Instant stop with a jolt. Checked my mirrors, I guess I'm straight?? Popped in reverse and started back. ####, this is harder than I thought! I ended up pulling up 2 or 3 times and trying to start over. Nerves and frustration kicking in. Instructor saw I was struggling. He came over and walked me through it. I was definitely moving the steering wheel way too much. I learned it doesn't take much movement to kick that trailer around and get out of control. Once he coached me through, I was able to get it in. I get out feeling defeated. #### what have I gotten myself into!
The second go around for everyone and they all had issues this time as well. So I'm not feeling quite as bad now. My turn again. I'm feeling a little more confident this time. But, no easier this time either. I eventually got it though. I think the main problem I was having was not really know when I was actually straight when trying to set up. It was hard to tell when my steers were straight because the steering wheel was way off. But, learning experience and I'll get it eventually.
We are told to switch now to the obstacle course. Now for the REAL nerves to start. I have to drive this freaking thing through all this?
The first 3 in my group take there turns at it. As I'm spotting and walking around the course following the truck, I'm taking mental notes of all the cones, barrels, barricades, etc. Of course, getting more nervous the entire time. The first 3 hit a couple of cones here, a couple of barrels there, had to stop and backup to reposition a couple of times, etc. So now it's my turn.
Ok Derrick, you got this. I get rolling and went through the entire course without hitting a single thing. Didn't even have to stop one time. No backups, no repositioning. Freaking nailed it! Redemption! Beginners luck maybe? Nope, I nailed it all 3 times I drove it. Feeling a lot better now!
It was a long day. All the walking on that asphalt in the sun and heat beat me up! Sunburned and exhausted, we got to the end of the day. Long drive home and exhausted. Got home around 9pm.
All in all feeling really good about the first weekend. Proud of myself for bouncing back from the backing and doing awesome on the driving. Spent the rest of the night watching some backing videos on YouTube. Found some tips/tricks I think will help next time. I'm ready to give that another shot for sure.
Next class is getting into shifting on the 10 speed tractors. That should be fun! I'll update you all next week! Thanks for following along!
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