The New FFE Driver Academey
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My name is Joe (yeah it is my real name). I had contacted FFE's academy on a thursday (March 22, 2012), and immediately was approved to come to the school, by friday afternoon my background and employment checks were done and I had a greyhound ticket waiting on me. I hate the skinny dog, so my wifey drove me the 3 hours from Austin, TS to the school in Ft Worth. FFE even reimbursed me the gas I spent up to the cost of the ticket. =-)
I went through the FFE Academy starting March 26th 2012, and enjoyed it alot. The school is only really 2 weeks +1 day, so not too long, but very intense. 10+ hour days in class and on the range, plus homework. The homework isnt soo bad once you get past the 5 written tests Texas makes you take, but those first 3 days I think I only slept maybe 3-4 hours a night. That being said, I didnt fail any of them. My class started out with 39 people, but we lost about 7 due to the physical or drug screen. We also lost 3 due to paperwork issues like Birth Certificates and in one case, his home state "Maine" wouldnt verify his driving history. So down to 29. On Thursday, the first day you get to get into one of the trucks, we had 8 more arrive who already had CDL's but needed a refresher course or had too little OTR experience.
The training instructors are very knowledgable, always answered your questions clearly and were not vague in the lease that I could tell. While this is me being a nOOb to trucking, my dad has been flatbedding since before I was born, and I am 32. He gave me a crash course in what not to do a few weeks before I went to the school so I was somewhat prepared. Connie, the main instructor for the first week is a ... "Super Hyperavtive" doesnt quite cover it. She couldnt sit still if her life depended on it. She is likely the best instructor I have ever seen. She is pretty forgiving, but that can only go so far. We lost a few students that couldnt learn how to back the truck up in a straight line in 3 days! We also had a couple drop outs that figured they werent cut out for OTR or driving 40 tons down the road. By the end of the school, we had about 6 of the CDL holders left, and only about 21 non-CDL students. On the 3rd monday, April 12th, we went to do the driving test at DPS to get the actual license. We were then immediately taken to the main hotel FFE uses in De Soto, TX.
We went to orientation for the 3 days, and the benifits are a joke, really, I laughed at some of the prices on the health insurance. Thank god I am covered through my wife's job. Most of the benifits are not worth the money. I did take the short and long term disability, and the Open Road Drivers plan (helps get rid of tickets so they dont count against you). The hotel gives free breakfast, nothing great, but FREE! Lunches were also provided, and only issue with that was that I have a food allergy that was ignored. Dinner is also provided for the 3 days of orientation. I almost needed another dufflebag to carry all the paperwork the school and the orientation gave us.
Due to the number of previous classes, we didnt have enough trainers available to take all of us in the first couple days. I ended up waiting from thursday till the next tuesday night for my trainer to get to Lancaster to pick me up. Since I was getting paid, and they dont make trainees check in on saturday or sunday usually, I went home for the weekend. My wife made it from Austin, TX to the hotel in De Soto in less than 2 hours.
When I got back and met my trainer, a guy named Alan, we got along pretty well. Some people have some pretty nasty horror stories about their trainers, or they get along like a cat and a full bath of water. My trainer and I got along pretty well. Pros to this trainer, he had a dedicated route, so I was guarenteed driving 2800 miles a week. He was home 3 nights a week and had a guest room in his house set up for students to use. YAY! Downside was we never left the state of Texas, and NO MOUNTAIN DRIVING! Oh... and his house was 100 years old and had no A/C. He made sure I was able to drive safely, and wouldnt let me do ANYTHING questionable. Bad part was he also never really went over ANY of the paperwork FFE requires, so I ended up getting a crash course on paperwork from my DM over the phone on my first solo run.
After the 6 weeks were up, my trainer dropped me off back in Lancaster on a friday afternoon, so stayed the weekend plus monday (holiday) at the hotel and relaxed. Wife even was able to come up and bring my daughter (2 years old) up for the day monday and visit. Tuesday I was supposed to take the driving test to upgrade to solo, but food poisoning from mondays dinner prevented it. Got yet another night in the hotel, and did the test wednesday. Waited 2 days for a truck as there were none available at the yard.
My "New" truck was issued to me, and I had to take the skinny dog to Ontario, California, to pick it up. They paid for the greyhound, and also I got paid for the miles I had to ride on it. When I got there, I had to get a Taxi from the station to the yard where the truck was. Evidently it had been sitting for a couple weeks since someone abandoned it in the LTL yard and was used a few times for deliveries locally. It was, however, immaculately clean inside. As in someone took it to be cleaned and detailed. No complaints there. I still have it and it is a '10 Century class. I let my DM know all was good, after spending 4-5 hours checking the truck over for damage and function. I was told to take a 10 hour break that night and rest since I had a load picking up the next morning to go from LA to San Antonio, tx.
Next morning, picked up a trailer, washed it out, then on my way to pick up first load. I went over a railroad track and the truck died. Not just the engine, but EVERYTHING, lights, guages, even the radio and most importantly, the power steering. I have driven manual transmissions before, so I floored the clutch and coasted off the tracks and onto the shoulder and barely made it off the road into a small dirt lot. I notified breakdown and they sent out a tow truck. In the 2 hours I waited for the tow to arrive, I figured out what caused it. The ignition switch where the key is was very loose. All I had to do was jiggle the key and everything would come back on or turn back off. Simple fix, right?
Freightliner LA sucks... I hate it... REALLY HATE! Once I was towed in, I told the service department what happened and then about the ignition switch being loose and causing it. They said it would be next day before they could even get to look at it as they were backed up. So hotel time. Next day they said they fixed it. I look at the paperwork they gave me and ... They changed the EGR valve. Okay, so I am not really mechanically inclined, but I will give them the benifit of the doubt that it was fixed. I started my pretrip and about 30 seconds after starting the engine, it died again... exact same issue. So I went back in and told them it wasnt fixed and called my breakdown again. They said they would look at it again. So Hotel time. Day 3... They say they cant find the problem. So I grab the shop forman, and take him to the truck. I start the truck and jiggle the key, everything shuts off. I do this several times. HE EVEN DOES IT 3 TIMES. Then he tells me it cant be that switch as (quoting him here) "It is a mechanical part and will never go bad". So I called breakdown and told them what happened, they called Freightliner LA, and was told they would fix it. Hotel time once again... see a pattern here? Day 4... Get back to the dealership and behold! It is "fixed"! Till i start it up that is. Dead again. Same exact issue. So I call breakdown once again, and tell them same problem, and now they have changed out about 4-5 more parts that arent under the warranty. Now I am on my own cell phone, and the guy in breakdown tries calling the delaership and keeps getting put on hold repeatedly and not able to get to talk to anyone. So he called me back on MY phone and asked me to hand the phone to the shop forman. Once the forman starts talking to my breakdown guy, the shouting begins. I didnt realize my phone could get that loud. Something about an EGR valve and inserting it into a lower body orifice... 1 hour later, the keys are handed back to me. They changed out the ignition switch, and for free to my company, they reset the door tumblers to match it. AND they gave me some free shirts and a hat.
Ok. Back to trying to pick up my first load. Left Freightliner and made it to Nestle north of LA in some suburb. Once I leave there, I have 5 days to get it to Ft Worth to a distro wherehouse. And it is then that I realize, due to my fuel route, that I am going to get my FIRST mountain, loaded with 43.5k in hotpockets, going up I-15 to Barstow, CA to get on I-40. I am not afraid to admit that it scared the #### out of me. But I got over it, and learned how to use a Jake Brake (wasnt allowed to use it in training or with a trainer). First night on trip stopped just inside Arizona border, I just wanted to get out of Cali. Smooth sailing to next night in Abq, NM. My wife's brothers and sisters live there, so stayed with them that night. Then made it to Ft Worth for third night. Just my luck, 48 hours early, and the place I deliver to is closed saturday and sunday.
So I go to the yard in Dallas to drop it and get a load home. Before they would get me another load, my DM gave me that crash course in paperwork after he clocked out for the day (really nice guy), and told me to get the permit book looked at as it was outdated on 3 states. Also I got my CB installed, new stereo as the old one ate one of my audio book CD's while driving through Arizona. Did laundry, got a shower, and nothing going to Austin that day. So Monday I get a load home, but remember that load from CA I was 48 hours early for? It was going to the building next door to where my load going home was. So I took the load, dropped it, picked it up, and took it to San Antonio. Then bobtailed home.
That is my experience from start of school to first "Home Time" of 6 days. I could have taken 12, but I wanted to not miss out on a decent paycheck. One week I could handle, 2 in a row with no money is pushing it.
If you have any questions, send me a PM on the board, or look for me at a truck stop. FFE truck 10267.
Thanks Zheuse. Joe I appreciate your no BS post. I am sure alot of us will be thankful that another noob gave use the low down on what is happening there. Please keep sharing all those experiences. I am leaving home (Baldwin, Michigan) on friday for FFE Fort Worth, TX.
Great post zheuse. Good to see another driver from Austin. Think. I prob graduated a few weeks earlier than you did. Anyway if they ever route you home through brenam wholesale grocery take lots to read or plan on getting a really long nap.
So far the people at FFE have been great. Most of the issues I have had have been resolved very quickly. Even when another FFE driver clipped my driver door mirror and make me put it back together with tape. The only real issue that hasnt been resolved is that I am about $600 short on my pay and reimbursements since I started driving solo. 3 days layover pay, a night at a hotel, a $50 cab ride from when I went to get my truck originally, a trailer wash out, and I am missing about a 400 mile trip.
I actually stopped by the school about a month ago and stayed the night there while waiting on a delivery the next morning in Ft Worth. I ended up using the BBQ pit there to cook a brisket I had in my truck. About 6-7 of the students and I had a great dinner. Just wish I had more charcoal. I am seriously thinking of getting a little hibachi grill and some charcoal and putting that in my truck for when I am stuck somewhere for a while.
were you issued a p.o. for your layovers(breakdown pay)?
if so they do take an extra week or so to process. if not get with your d/m and request he gets those p.o.'s issued to you. Also contact Brian Roberts should you have any difficulties getting those p.o's
got to ask, but are you paying cash for washouts and hotels? It is easier to track where the money goes when you handle everything through TCH codes. You should have been issued a p.o. for every hotel and every washout, so long as you received TCH express codes for those purchases.
I have waited almost 3 weeks for a PO for the layover pay for those 3 days. Still no luck. As for the washout, i did have PO and turned in my receipt. The cab ride they never issued a PO for either. The hotels were paid for by TCH check, Just only 2 of the 3 nights were reimbursed, they said they were missing a reciept. I have sent in ALL THREE nights receipts several times and still no luck.
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