Story by Ellen S.
”Lord,” I prayed, ”Please don’t have them put me in an 8 speed Volvo.” I did all my training in a Freightliner, and that was the truck I wanted for my first delivery. “And Lord… please don’t let my first run be to the East Coast.”
I prayed so hard it became a litany that I prayed over and over on the 24-hour drive from my trainer’s truck in Atlanta to my truck in Cedar Rapids. My rental car sped along, and as soon as I got there, Brenda, my co-driver, ran out to meet me and to let me know all the details of our first run.
“First let’s get your things in the truck,” she said as she pointed to a truck parked a couple of spaces down the row. It was a Volvo 8 speed.
“It’ll just take a little practice; I’ll have plenty of time for that on the trip,” I thought to myself as I finished loading my things into the truck that I didn’t want to get.
“Do we have a trip yet?” I asked, fingers crossed that we’d be going west,
“Syracuse, New York, by 5AM Monday morning,” my co-driver replied. “Well”, I thought, “like they say, that’s truckin.”
“Let me get a shower and a nap, we’ll set the alarm for 3:00 am and be rolling by 4. Am I driving first or you?” It wasn’t the truck I wanted, and – thanks to all the trucker’s stories about how rude people in the East are and how difficult the roads are to make turns in a semi – I was flat out scared, but I was still looking forward to hitting the road.
Switch It Up
We were excited to start our new careers, so we were up and ready to roll by 3:45AM. My pre-trip inspection was done and the electronic log, the Qualcomm, would start my 11-hour drive clock as soon as the wheels were turning.
The trip started out great. We did our driver changes and learned together how to manage the hills and mountainous terrain of Pennsylvania, navigating our way to Philly without much trouble.
As soon as we got into the suburbs of Philly, the Qualcomm notified me that I had one hour left on my drive line.
I was afraid to get off the highway to switch drivers without knowing where a truck stop was, because if I couldn’t find a stop, I might not be able to get turned around and back on the big road. So I just kept driving.
I never thought thirty minutes could fly so quickly, but the Qualcomm was diligent in letting me know that I now only had thirty minutes before I would violate the Hours of Service.
I prayed that I would see a red and green sign to let me know there would be diesel fuel and hopefully a truck stop at the next exit. I knew the closer I got to Philly, the less likely I would be to find a truck stop. Brenda hopped in the jump seat from the sleeper and said, “So… are we going to switch or what?”
I let her know that I hadn’t been able to find a truck stop, but I knew we needed to switch. I had just gone over the whole company policy in orientation that the company would not hesitate to fire a driver for HOS violations, and there was absolutely no parking allowed on ramps.
The Clock Is Ticking…
Before I could ask her opinion as to what I should do, the Qualcomm alerted us that I had fifteen minutes of drive time remaining. I felt the panic begin to take over. I had left everything behind but my driving gear, and everything was riding on this whole truck driving thing working out for me. It was just my first trip, and I already managed to violate the HOS laws. Great start…
Brenda was on the phone with the fleet manager asking him what I should do when the HOS warning started sounding the alarm tone that I was in violation. The fleet manager told us to take the next exit ramp and do the drivers change on the ramp. I had to talk to safety, and they cleared up that no parking on ramps was unacceptable for a 10 hour rest break but we *could* make the driver switch. I also had to let them know I understood the Hours of Service rules.
After that change, we were once again on our way on the final leg of our first trip. With New York’s predawn plum-colored light washing across the receiving yard, I pulled the 8 speed Volvo up to the dock with its black plastic and rubber lining.
My heart was pounding so hard, I swear I could hear it above the noises of the busy receiving docks, diesel engines rumbling, and the scraping, grinding mechanical protests of the transmission as I frantically searched for the right gear.
Eventually, I felt the familiar relief that always flooded over me when the wheels stopped rolling and nothing was torn up or damaged. I exhaled my nervous breath and watched the other trucks as they lined up for their approach.
I turned off the blinker and allowed myself a moment to reflect.
Here I was, a newborn baby truck driver waiting for the signal to deliver my first load of freight. I spent a year of researching and planning my best course for success, followed by three weeks of tractor trailer training, and finally culminating with my Class A CDL. After that, I spent 28 days with my trainer, who actually taught me how to drive a semi.
The blaring of the air horn from the Kenworth waiting in line behind me jerked me back to the present.
Now it was up to me to get the truck in the dock. After no fewer than twenty-seven pull ups and ten trips to the rear of the truck to look, I felt the gentle bump of the rubber bumpers of the truck touching the rubber bumpers of the dock. Success.
I did it. I could do it. And I would do it for another 4 years. When I left that company I chose a solo position for the rest of my career. I like stopping every night for a shower and a hot meal. I’ve often wished I had become a truck driver earlier, when I was younger and stronger. I continued to drive from my first delivery until my mother had a fall and became too ill to be left alone. I miss the road and the sights of our beautiful country flashing by at 65mph.