Trailers, backing, snow and DMV tests

First, I’m exhausted… to be completely honest. I’m pushing my brain to absorb as much information – permanently – as I possibly can. It caught up to me today. I felt so tired after class today that I wanted to cry a little bit. I was able to push through, get back to Richard and Meryl’s house where we’re staying, eat dinner, shower, exercise and study for some tests. I know I’m pushing myself pretty hard, but my hope is that I’ll get a lot of the reading material down and conquered so that while I’m at school I can use that time in an actual truck.

So besides feeling overall tired, I’m having fun, learning, driving, and taking what seems like big steps towards the goal of earning my Commercial Driver’s License. I have a ways to go yet, for sure, but here’s a totally random list of some things I noted from this week:

I learned about “alligators,” which are the big strips of truck tires you’ll see laying on the side of the highway. When truck tires are near or below the legal tread depth (4/32 for front tires and 2/32 for all others), they are sometimes retreaded, or recapped. They get grinded down and a new tread is sort of “glued” on to make an almost new tire. If the tire with this retread gets low on air, it essentially breaks that seal, causing the new tread to rip or fall off. So those “alligators” are retreaded truck tires.

Ever see a railroad crossing marked as “Exempt?” That doesn’t mean trains don’t use the tracks any more. It simply means buses and trucks hauling hazardous materials are exempt from having to stop at the tracks – they can roll right on through. That’s a pretty simple explanation, huh? I didn’t know that before this course. Learning is fun and useful.

Besides these couple of things that I learned and found to be generally interesting, I could go into detail on so many others… if you’re driving a 60-foot truck at 55 mph, how much following distance do you need? 7 seconds, of course! That’s one tiny morsel of example…

On another note, I bought a tire tread meter and a big honkin’ truck tire pressure gauge. Tools. Yay!

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Does it make me a nerd if I'm excited about my tire tread measuring tool?

On Monday I drove a tractor with a trailer attached for the first time. I did great and got a sign-off, meaning I can drive around the school’s practice range on my own or with my partner. Learning to take corners and curves is fun and kind of scary. Thankfully we won’t be on real roads for a bit yet.

Tuesday was a big deal. School was cancelled due to cold temps, so Adam and I drove to the DMV and I took the first of three written tests that I need to pass so I can get my learner’s permit (basically my truckin’ temps). Once I have that, then I can drive on real roads, as long as someone over 21 with a CDL rides with me. Scary, isn’t it!? Anyway, this first test is called the “general knowledge” test. I hear it’s the toughest of the three so I was antsy to get it out if the way. And I did! Out of 50 questions, I only got two wrong!

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Heck, yeah!

Wednesday we were LOADED with information, maneuvers, new things to know, lots of driving… and it was all hard-packed into a 12-hour day. We learned coupling and uncoupling, which means hooking up a trailer to the tractor, and then unhooking it. We learned all about the air brakes system (I’m getting to slowly know the anatomy of these beastly machines inside and out), and then… they started us on backing. This is the toughest thing to do in a truck with a trailer on it. First was straight-line backing, which is the easiest of backing maneuvers. I aced it from the gate with 4 perfect backs in a row. I was really freakin’ excited! Then I tried offset backing. You have to back into a lane next to you, but behind you. My instructor talked me through it, and I did it, but I honestly don’t have any idea how I didn’t run over 8 cones in the process! That one definitely needs work. I hope it clicks soon!

Today was tough. It was snowing like crazy and trucks were spinning on the uphills of our practice range, and I giggled when an instructor came up behind one of the tractor-trailers in a pickup truck with a plow on it… and gave the semi a little shove! It just looked funny! But guess what!? That was me a little while later. I took a curve a weee too tight and just rode my back trailer tires into some deeper snow. Along came plow-man to gimme a nudge! It was a challenging day, but it was fun.

When I left class I felt drained and grumpy, but I still managed to get in what I think is enough studying to maaaybe pass my other two written tests at the DMV tomorrow. I really don’t know, but I’m sure you’ll hear about how that goes, pass or fail!

Okay. I am going to sleep like a five-ton rock. G’night!


Tonight I love upshifting, but only because I’m starting to kind of get the hang of it. Downshifting, however, has not made my love list yet.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

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8 thoughts on “Trailers, backing, snow and DMV tests

  1. Thanks for your posts! I love a good road trip. I estimate I’ve driven somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000 miles, so I have a lot of experience with, and respect for, big rigs. I love hearing about the alligators and how trucks work and how to drive them.

    I can’t wait to hear more of your learning, and eventually your road trips fully loaded. You go girl!

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