Help me understand the 90 degree alley dock

Discussion in 'Experienced Truckers' Advice' started by DedicatedDriver, Sep 13, 2012.

  1. DedicatedDriver

    DedicatedDriver Light Load Member

    Aug 11, 2012
    Hi everyone, I am currently going through trucking school in Louisiana since the beginning of August. For the past couple weeks I have been learning driving/shifting as well as backing. We drive one day, then back the next, etc.

    The CDL test is approaching next week and today was my last full day to practice backing. Monday we will practice backing for half the day and driving the other half. At my school we are required to do 3 backing maneuvers:

    • straight line
    • offset
    • 90 degree alley dock

    The only maneuver I am not comfortable with yet is the 90 degree alley dock, sight side. I have read tons of backing advice on this forum and watched a lot of YouTube vids, but I am still having trouble.

    We were taught to setup at a 90 degree angle to the alley, then cut the steering wheel hard to the right, then to the left... But there is a lot of "gray area" about how much to turn it to the right when you first start, and at which angle the truck should be before turning left. I learned that shorter trailers may have to straight line back before cutting it hard to the right, to compensate for the length, where longer trailers you have to pull all the way up and cut it immediately.

    What I don't understand is what you are doing when you first cut it right, then left. Does anyone have a diagram of this?

    And some folks will tell you to cut it hard to the right at first, others say only a little bit. I know there's no magic formula, but which one is it?

    One reason I am having trouble is that I can't properly SEE what the heck my trailer is doing. When I first start out and I'm cutting it to the right, then left, I can't see what the trailer is doing or where it is in relation to the hole. When I look in the small convex mirror, it is very difficult for me to make out that tiny little picture about the cones and where my trailer is and the angle it's projecting. If I get out and look, it's obvious what I need to do, but I have issues not being able to correctly understand what the trailer is doing and where it's going.

    Against the advice of the instructors, I have re-positioned the big flat driver's side mirror during backing to focus on what I need to see. Granted, you won't be able to tell if your truck and trailer are straight unless you go by the passenger mirror.
    Is it just me or are those convex mirrors really hard to use?

    It seems I have most trouble just getting to the box. Once I am positioned to get into it, I can figure that out. It's just navigating the dang thing back to the cones that I am unsure about.

    Any advice about this is much appreciated. I am really determined to pass my CDL test and this is the only thing that is mentally holding me back from feeling confident about it.

  2. strawberryrhubarbpie

    strawberryrhubarbpie Light Load Member

    Jun 16, 2011
    Ft Myers, FL
    Not sure if this will help but, the way I do it is I stick my whole head out the window... and after that first major cranking of the wheel, once I see the back of the trailer react I turn my steering wheel back to adjust, and from there I make small adjustments with the steering wheel... keep in mind that when you make an adjustment with the steering wheel it takes about 8 feet for the trailer to react... and then of course once my truck and trailer are straightening out I switch to using the mirrors... this is how I do it and it just takes practice, practice, practice...
    DedicatedDriver and 91B20H8 Thank this.
  3. ac120

    ac120 Road Train Member

    Aug 27, 2010
    1. By turning the wheel to the right, you're steering the rear of the trailer to the left--you're starting to angle the trailer into the alley.


    3. Find a place where drivers are backing trailers and watch how they do it.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2012
  4. Elroythekid

    Elroythekid Road Train Member

    Sep 9, 2010
    Halifax Nova Scotia
    To me it's a feel thing, something you get use to. I do see some guys open the door and lean out and have a look, or if you have a wide body tractor you can actually see the back of the trailer right out of the drivers window, tho narrow cabs and stacks make that impossible. It takes a while to get use to it and still 15+ yrs in and once and a while you will get one that will spank you and make you look like a noob!!! Good luck!!!
    DedicatedDriver, Starboyjim and hal380 Thank this.
  5. smokestack

    smokestack Bobtail Member

    Jul 3, 2006
    Those convex mirrors are blindside mirrors. To see whats beside you changing lanes and so forth. As you stated there is no formula to it. I would think its harder to do at school with just tape or paint on the ground and no walls..... to help judge. Just take your time and stop over thinking it :rolleyes:
    hal380 and DedicatedDriver Thank this.
  6. cherylsbears

    cherylsbears Bobtail Member

    Aug 23, 2012
    Mid, Michigan
    When backing into an alley dock just remember dont oversteer you have a 20" steering wheel and the king pin is about 4" so watch when you turn the steering wheel to the right three inches the hind end of the trailer is going to turn alot more than that the 53' trailers move slowly and really are easy to back compared to shorter ones that move quicker. But that depends on where the tandems are set, that makes a long trailer short in a way as far as steering goes. Set out some cones in a 90 degree angle and back around them, time after time after time. You will get it, no one can really tell you how, you have to figure it out yourself, how the truck and trailer react to your steering. Just stay calm, take your time, breathe deep, and say I can do this. WE WERE ALL WHERE YOU ARE AT ONE TIME. I remember my first time backing to a dock by myself, I was so nervous it took me 30 minutes to finally get it where I thought it was perfect. At a place called Walker Muffler in Ashville, NC. I dont know if it even exists any more, that was so long ago, but I learned to back my way that day, and it was easy from then on. Good luck to you, you will get it.
    Rogerthat, DedicatedDriver and hal380 Thank this.
  7. Quietbreeze

    Quietbreeze Bobtail Member

    Jul 29, 2012
    Backing was definately NOT my forte when I began. I agree with an above poster it is practice, practice practice. I will tell you a little secret :) When I took my driving test I was most afraid of the parallel parking back well the day I took my test was waiting in line and one of the DMV testors made a very loud comment about female drivers shouldn't be driving and shattered my confidence so I messed up the straight line back first thing but my testor made me go thru the whole test anyways and I would have passed the serpentine and parallel and he told me NOT to let anyone else shatter my confidence just go practice and come back and take the test knowing I KNEW how to back the truck, so that is what I did and passed. I could not begin to tell you the mechanics of a back, but I too can look out my window and back in and steer by does make a LOT of difference I think the longer you drive a particular truck as you then know how that truck reacts, plus if you pull similiar trailers every time. I just two nights ago was asked to cover a load in a company truck (KW) my freightliner was in the would think I was a newbie how many times I had to pull up etc because I couldn't hit the dock right on and these are docks I go to regularly and can back right into :) So don't be too hard on yourself, you will do just fine :)
    hal380 and DedicatedDriver Thank this.
  8. chalupa

    chalupa Road Train Member

    Jul 22, 2010
    ( Smirk ) I've been yanking a tank forever it seems, all accident free...... real proud of myself....til I applied to Walmart and almost flunked the road test!

    Had a 53' slid all the way back hooked to an Eagle binder for the test...... took it for a ride, long but no biggie til the last test, at the D.C.....have to pull 45deg and hit the hole between two Schneider vans....get 3 pulls or I fail, hit the pumpkins and I fail.......... pft cake walk, or so i thought....

    That 53 would not do what i wanted it to do to save my life. I got it in there on the 3 pull up and called myself a rookie more than once.

    I admire the guys that yank those things. I passed but it was no picnic. It's definatly an art.

    Practice driver, lots of practice........

    Good luck
    hal380 Thanks this.
  9. hellbilly

    hellbilly Bobtail Member

    May 17, 2011
    canton oh
    the 90 degree alley dock still gives me problems from time to time. i run alot downtown chicago so the 90 degree is something you would THINK i have mastered by now.... WRONG.... ive only been driving a little over 2 years i got a long way to go but when i have a hard time getting into a tight hole at 90 degrees i think back to when a older driver who has been out here since before they used trucks and still used horse and wagon :biggrin_1square11: told me to " keep my truck and trailer in a banana shape just a slight curve in it, have faith in what your doing, and GET OUT AND LOOK if your unsure". not sure how many times louisana will let you get out and look but if need be do it as many times as your allowed on the test. once you get into the real world you can get out and look as many times as you want. i have had plenty of times that i think i got more miles on foot getting in and out of the truck to check whats back behind me in a really tight spot then i did driving down the road that day. the more you practice the better you will get. the 90 degree is mostly a feeling. every spot you back into out here is going to be different. you will have to adjust to that spot. a big part of backing up is all in the setup. if you dont set your truck up to that particular hole you will spend half the night trying to get in there. best of luck to you!
    DedicatedDriver and hal380 Thank this.
  10. DedicatedDriver

    DedicatedDriver Light Load Member

    Aug 11, 2012
    Thanks. I read about the "banana" shape thing, that is good to remember for me because sometimes I will have such a sharp angle between the truck and trailer that it just looks like it's got to be wrong. So the "banana" angle is what the tractor trailer should look like pretty much, until you're wrapping it up in the box?

    I am getting the whole "feel" of the truck, like when I am turning back the wheel to straighten up the tractor with the trailer, it's feeling more natural to me.

    Keep the advice comin'. :biggrin_25519: This is helpful.
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