Story by Ted G.
No Training for the Truck Driving Life
Upon graduating from a commercial truck driving school in Seattle, I got hired on to drive with Watkins-Shepard Trucking out of Missoula, Montana. I had read their ad for drivers in a magazine in the school’s driver lounge and was intrigued by their offer to put me immediately on the road after a one week orientation – without a driver/trainer. That’s unusual.
Then again, why would a hot-shot driver like me want to spend four to six weeks with some other driver/trainer who would reap the benefits of my work while I was getting reduced pay? My school test scores averaged 97.5 out of 100, and my driving ability was well above par. Just ask me, I would tell you.
But if you read my story, you’ll know that I had lessons to learn about the truck driving life…
Montana to Oregon
Watkins-Shepard had suggested I only bring a small suitcase to Missoula as they had a yard in Auburn, WA, near my house. They would send me back to Auburn to pick up my truck, and I would have a chance to load my equipment on it at that time. No need to cart it to Montana and back.
The last day of my orientation I was informed that there was no truck available in Auburn for me, but there was one in the company Portland yard. I was told to ride as a passenger in one of the company trucks taking a load from Missoula to Portland, pick up my truck, and drive a load to the Auburn yard where I could get my equipment and go from there. It sounded like a very workable plan.
The company driver I was to ride with informed me I was welcome to come along but, since it was his truck and I was a new driver, I would not be driving his truck. He was not comfortable trusting his life to someone he had never met before. I thought he was being overly dramatic, but I was anxious to get to Portland to get MY truck so I said nothing.
The passenger seat was not an air ride variety and was very uncomfortable, especially when we stopped for the night in Prosser, WA, and that seat became my bed. I was happy to arrive in Portland the next morning. When we got there, I finally got my own truck.
I cleaned the accumulated trash out of my assigned truck, did a thorough pre-trip inspection, hooked to the appropriate preloaded 53′ trailer and headed to Auburn and home.
Besides my small suitcase of clothes, my wife had given me her favorite lucky teddy bear to accompany me in my truck driving life journey. I placed the bear on the dashboard looking out the windshield, so it could help me drive and keep me safe. Everything went fine cruising up I-5 in a heavy rain until I decided to stop for lunch in Kelso.
And the Truck Driving Lessons Begin…
I exited the I-5 freeway in an area of fast food diners and discovered there was no place in their parking lots acceptable for my rig. Duh! (Lesson One learned: Finding parking is not always easy.) Luckily, there was a large shopping mall with a huge parking lot on the other side of the freeway. To get there, I had to follow the road leading around under the freeway to get to it.
I headed that way only to discover a low clearance of 12 feet. My 14 foot dry van definitely would not fit through there. I cursed my lucky bear for not having the foresight to think of this possibility. (Lesson Two learned. Don’t drive down small, minor roads without first checking your truckers’ atlas.)
Fortunately traffic was light so I was able to back up about 200 feet on this curving two-lane no-shoulder road until I got to the entrance of a city park along the river. My rear view mirrors were covered in raindrops making it hard to see behind the truck, causing a lot of stops to get out and look. I figured there had to be a parking lot in the park where I could turn around, rather than backing further with impaired vision, so I drove down the gravel entry road. No luck.
There was nowhere to turn around, so I had to back the truck out all the way down the entry road, backing out the same way I came in. Then I had to blind side back out onto that small road I had just left. (Lesson Three learned: Never take your truck anywhere you don’t know there is an exit.) I was really cussing out my lucky bear now for his shortsightedness.
Knowing there was no place to park heading back toward the freeway, I pulled into a large grocery store parking lot and parked crossways, taking up a bunch of slots. I then went into the store to buy fixings for lunch. When I returned to my truck, I found that some inconsiderate jerks had parked directly in front and in back of my truck. Trapped again.
There was no room for me to maneuver my way out. I was stuck there until the people returned to their cars and moved at least one of them. I was hopping mad at the etiquette of those two drivers. It was their fault I was stuck there. They should have known they were blocking me in.
I slowly ate my lunch and waited, and waited. Finally a little old lady came out and loaded her groceries into the trunk of the car directly in front of me. It was readily apparent she had no clue that she had blocked me in, and it was my rookie mistake to have parked like I had in the first place. (Lesson Four learned. Never park your truck where someone can block you in. They will.)
That lucky bear was very fortunate to escape flying out the passenger window after that brief stop. It was the first time this hot-shot driver had taken his own truck off the freeway, and a simple 15 minute lunch stop ended up taking two and a half hours!
Back on the Road
Driving back on I-5 again, I calmed down as I had time to reflect on my first trip:
- It was only a short 3.5 hour trip up a very familiar freeway, so I had not bothered to plan my trip.
- I took the truck down a small, narrow road in pouring rain, which limited visibility, without thinking in advance about an escape route should I get to an impassable spot.
- I had to blindside back around a curve to get to the park entrance. A slow process with a lot of “get out and looks.”
- I left the paved road and driving down a gravel city park road where my heavy truck could have sunk in a soft spot in the gravel.
- I parked in such a manner as to get myself stuck in a large parking lot.
I decided I was actually lucky that afternoon that I hadn’t hit something and been fired on my first delivery.
I learned that day to respect the truck and promised myself I would never put myself in those positions again. I kept that promise, for the most part, for years to follow. I had always enjoyed traveling and seeing the sights. I especially enjoyed driving east as the sun was rising to see a new day dawning. I enjoyed the freedom of controlling my own time between loading and unloading. I enjoyed cruising down the highways listening to my favorite tunes on my satellite radio – and getting paid to do it.
Even though I traveled mostly along the I-80 corridor east and west, the scenery was always changing with the seasons as the crops grew, storms came and went and new places to stop and explore appeared. I hit all 48 states and western Canada and enjoyed the opportunity to see it all.
Trucking can be just a job or an enjoyable experience that you get paid to participate in. The choice is yours. I came to trucking after taking an early retirement from a “regular” job. I would do it again in an instant. I wish I had discovered trucking at an earlier part of my life.