Women in Trucking - One Woman's Journey

When last we left the new driver, she was trying to get a really big truck backed into a really little space. Well, after many unsuccessful attempts and many opinions on what I was doing wrong - I was successful. Not every time, but enough times that I wanted to continue my classes. My husband breathed a sigh of relief.

After two full weekends of driving a short course and backing up, we started driving the trucks out of the yard. The first day, our instructors drove the trucks with the rest of us in the back seat watching every move they made. We noticed how smoothly they merged into traffic. How every shift was effortless. How easy this 80,000-pound monster was to weave through traffic. How close they could come to another truck in the parking lot without losing mirrors. It seemed to be a skill we all could master with little or no effort in a matter of moments.

We pulled into the truck stop and all piled into the restaurant to have breakfast. After breakfast, we went to our trucks to start our lesson in shifting, jake brakes, turning corners, other vehicles and rain slick roads. What fun we were going to have.

If you have been shifting your whole life, it does not prepare you for shifting a big truck. You have to forget everything you ever knew about when to shift, how fast to shift, how to shift up, how to shift down, even how hard to press on the clutch. Can you say double clutching? I felt like a 16-year-old who just got in a car for the first time. It was a humbling experience. But, after awhile I was getting into the rhythm required to shift.

Then I realized that I was still only shifting as high as 5th gear. I still had 5 more gears to go. I was only doing 25 miles per hour. Did I really have to go faster? What if I had to stop suddenly on these rain slicked roads? Would I jack knife? And what do I do on the hills? Controlled braking? Jake brakes? All this was running through my head in about 60 seconds. The instructor smiled and said, "Let's try 6th."

When I finally did speak, it was like someone opened up the floodgates of my brain. "How fast should I go on the hills? Should I use the jake brakes? What are jake brakes anyway? Should I downshift going up the hills? How do I down shift anyway? Do I really have to go faster than 25? I am really comfortable at 25. What if I push too hard on the brakes and jack knife?"

After he stopped laughing, he said "Turn on the jakes, get up to the 6th gear, let the jakes slow you down on the hills. You won't jack knife. I'm here to help." I felt better. Got it up to 6th, jack brakes on, going down the hill, very proud of myself. "Let's try 7th." This guy was pushing it. Found 7th gear, kept going. Found 8th gear. Found 9th gear. Before I knew it was going 50 and had gone through all 10 gears. I was a happy camper.

We drove on a little 2-lane road out through the desert. The usual route is to go the big tanks and drive around the tanks to get turned around to go back to the truck stop. However, it had been snowing and raining a lot and we could not turn around there. So, we drove about a mile down the road and had to back around a corner to go back. I SAID BACK UP!!! ARGHHHH!!! We spent 2 weekends in the desert. We ran the same route every time we went out. I backed up everytime, with the assistance of the instructor. I asked him several times if he could go with me on the road. It seemed that as long as I have verbal instructions, I could back up with the best of them. Doing it on my own was a different story.

After 2 weekends on the range, we had learned to upshift and downshift, use controlled braking, stop for a railroad crossing, back around a corner, shift going up a hill and down a hill, start on a hill without rolling backwards, stop, drive into a parking lot, fill the truck up with gas and what to order on the menu for breakfast. Our next lesson would be just as educational, just as scary, just as fun. LOOK OUT WORLD, HERE I COME!!!