My first week of training is in the books and it was filled with excitement, nervousness, frustration, and sore muscles. There are probably more adjectives I could toss in there as well, but those are the main ones.
My trainer wasn’t loaded Monday morning, so while we waited on a load assignment he went over the truck with me as well as the trailer, trailer box, and headache rack. Basically just a familiarization of where everything was at and how he kept his gear stored. Once we got our load assignment, I asked if he would drive to the shipper so I could watch his foot work and what RPMs he was shifting at. I told him that I am more of a visual learner, so he could explain something to me until he was blue in the face, but my brain wouldn’t totally get it unless I saw it.
These trucks are set up purely for one thing. Hauling heavy ass freight. The whole week we were never under 78,000 lbs. Keep in mind that the total gross weight can’t be over 80,000 lbs without permits. Anyway, these trucks are geared low. Where I was used to shifting at 1400 RPM both up and down, these are 1100 up on the low side and 1300-1400 up on the high side. Going down it’s at 1200 RPM unless you are doubling down, then it’s 1000 RPM. The other thing I am used to is when downshifting is to mash the gas real quick to bring the RPMs up. Well with the set-up in these trucks, you will over rev the engine if you do that. So, you basically just have to tap the throttle as you only want to bring it up 300 RPMs to make the shift. To give you an idea of how low these trucks are geared, when we are fully loaded and you put the truck in first gear, all you have to do is let off the clutch. You don’t touch the accelerator at all. The truck pulls it. At an intersection, when the light turns green, we are in 5th gear buy the time we get through the intersection, and are all the way through the gears by the time we hit 45 MPH. Sounds like a lot of work, but its a friggin blast.
On the way up I can float the gears without looking at the RPMs, but on the way down, I still clutch it and watch the RPMs. I also double down because that is more comfortable to me as it is like a 10 speed. However, next week my trainer said we are going to work on hitting every gear on the way down. I didn’t mean to get long winded on that tangent, but I love this shit. Driving a truck is so much damn fun.
Back to the first load assignment; We loaded at Weyerhaeuser Lumber in Philadelphia, MS. Which was pretty cool as I have loaded there before with Swift so I was familiar with all the procedures there. We took that load to Bison Lumber in Richmond, TX, which is SE of Houston for those playing along at home. From there we headed to Lufkin, TX to Texas Pipe where we sat 6 hours waiting to get loaded. That load was supposed to go to NC, but we got called and asked if we wanted to do a load swap with another driver. He was picking up in Philadelphia, MS and headed to Cresson, TX (SE of Ft Worth). My trainer jumped all over that deal as getting back to MS from NC is a pain in the ass apparently, so we planned to meet in Monroe, LA to swap loads and head to Cresson, TX. Once unloaded in Cresson, we headed to Irving, TX to Owens Corning for a load of shingles that went to Little Rock, AR. From there we headed down to Simsboro, LA for load of particle board that is going to Archbold, OH.
The load of particle board we currently have, was my first opportunity to learn the TMC way of tarping. The good thing is, we were able to use steel tarps on this load instead of lumber tarps. What’s the difference you ask? Well, the lumber tarps we have weigh about 160 lbs and have 8 ft drops. That means when the tarp is centered on top of the load, each side drops 8 ft. Lumber tarps also have a flap (we call it a door) on one side. Steel tarps are about half the weight and size. Because this load wasn’t that high or long though we could get away with using steel tarps. It was awesome for me though as now I know how to make a “door” on the front and back of the load using steel tarps. I also learned a few other tips and tricks to tighten up the tarps so they don’t flap in the wind going down the road.
My training coordinator called us yesterday while we were waiting to get loaded and wanted an update on how things were going. After he got done talking to me, I handed the phone to my trainer. Now, he told me that he wouldn’t say anything to my training coordinator that he wouldn’t say to my face so he stayed in the truck. His assessment is that I am doing great. The only things that need work are shifting and learning how TMC wants things secured. He did say though, that my shifting wasn’t bad at all, just need a little more practice so I am more comfortable with the 13 speed. He also went on to say, that depending on how next week goes, he plans on dropping me off in Des Moines next Friday. What does that mean exactly? Well, if you remember, they have me training for 4 weeks. My trainer is telling them that I don’t need 4 weeks and will be good-to-go by the end of next week. HELL YEAH!!!! That means I will have my own truck assigned the last week of May.
All-in-all it was an awesome week. I did tweak my back a bit lifting the lumber tarps that we took off that load we swapped for back into the headache rack, but it’s better now. I also have “Clutch Quad”. My left leg is killing me right now, but that will dissipate in time. I had the same issue when I first started driving. I definitely made the right choice though by going with TMC vs going back to Swift. The fleet managers at TMC actually call you and offer you loads. At Swift, you were forced dispatched as a company driver. All I need to do is get familiar with where TMC loads out of frequently and what I can expect once I get unloaded. Jimmie, my trainer, pretty much forecast where we would go get loaded once empty. So, once I get all of that down, I can stick to a certain area. That’s not saying I will never go to certain locations, but if I can help it, I won’t.
Next week I hope to be updating ya’ll from Des Moines while I await my truck assignment.