OTR Training and Delivery – Backing Up to the Future

Semi-truck with driver standing in front

Story by Franklin T.

What I remember most about my first trucking delivery was not the trip itself. What I remember most is what the experience taught me about the value of good OTR training. But let’s start from the beginning.

I was at the main terminal of USA Trucks, my first trucking company, in Van Buren, Arkansas. I had just completed my final road test to prove that I could drive a truck. After the test, I was issued my first load which had to be delivered somewhere in Oklahoma.

Arkansas to Oklahoma was just under a 300-mile trip, but it was too late for me to make the delivery that day. I could head out that day and spend the night in a truck stop somewhere around my destination. That way, I wouldn’t have to make the jump early in the morning.

Piece of Junk?

I remember when I got my truck, I thought it was a piece of junk. It sure didn’t look like the brochure trucks they showed me in school when I signed the contract to go to work for them. So I went to my dispatcher, and I cried about the truck like any self-respecting person would do.

Mark was a cool operator, and he made sense. He told me that all the rookies got the crappy trucks because the rookies usually wreck them within the first week, if not within the first month. He told me if I had no incidents, I would get a newer, nicer truck within two to three months.

I took a second look and realized the truck wasn’t that bad, especially after I gave it a good bath. I didn’t get to do that for several weeks until I got to go home, but in the meanwhile, at least the truck was livable. The company also issued me a new mattress for the sleeper. All new drivers got a brand-new mattress. You didn’t have to sleep on someone else’s bad habits.

A Beautiful First Drive

Since this was my first load, I didn’t want anything to mess that up. I would rather be early and sit there a little bit than take the chance of being late. I didn’t want to miss the delivery altogether because of some accident or whatever the reason that could hinder the delivery from happening. I remember leaving about 2 – 3 in the afternoon which would give me plenty of time to get there before nightfall. I would get a good night’s rest, before making my early morning delivery.

This was my first delivery. It was a beautiful afternoon, with blue skies, and not a cloud in them. The view from the road was breathtaking as I put my sunglasses on, turned on the radio, and headed northwest. I don’t remember exactly what I hauled, but it wasn’t perishable or anything dangerous like a hazmat load. It was in a 48-foot van that I would get to back up and bump the dock on my first load with. Nothing like the 53-footer’s today.

Staying the Night

After I got there, I did find out one thing: There were no truck stops anywhere in the area! I ended up staying the night, parked in an old shopping center, but luckily it was next to a 24-hour McDonalds. I had plenty to eat and, most importantly, a bathroom. For my first night in the truck, I was glad my doors locked. I slept good, thinking that my locks would keep me safe, and they did. The next morning after an early McSomething for breakfast, I was on my way to the destination, which was a warehouse out in the middle of nowhere.

The Dangers of Backing Up at the Warehouse

When I got to the warehouse, I saw what would be a huge challenge: backing up to the dock.

There was a creek on the right side of the building, and the stream ran around to the front of the parking lot.  There was also a row of steel posts that protected the drivers from driving off into the creek. On the left side, there was a telephone pole, which made backing up into the dock pretty tricky. In fact, the telephone pole looked new, probably because it had been replaced multiple times.

Because the creek stretched around the front, the truck couldn’t pull out straight and then back up to the dock. The driver had to angle the truck between the steel posts and the telephone pole and then straighten the trailer out to back into the dock. It was a difficult move.

As I looked over the layout of the warehouse, the guys at the dock laughed. They warned me that the steel post and the telephone pole had claimed many rookies. They told me they would back it in for me for a small fee of 75.00 dollars. I graciously declined and said that I would like to watch and see how hard it was before I gave in.

It wasn’t long before another driver was going to give it a shot. This driver was a veteran of about 10 years. He tried to back into the dock several times, coming close to hitting the steel post or the telephone pole. Fortunately, he didn’t drive into the creek. But after a while, he finally gave in and paid the dock hands to back in his truck.

I watched very closely as the “experts” put the truck right into its place. It reminded me of driving school when we had to parallel park the truck up against the dock. I started to think back to my experience at school and OTR training.

Back Up to My School…

My worst fear during school and during training was that I would wreck the truck. At my trucking school, their first concern was safety. If you weren’t safe enough to be on the road, you wouldn’t be on the road. They weren’t afraid to fail students.

The instructors at truck driving school had one phrase they always repeated: If in doubt, get out and look. There was no shame in how many times you had to get out and look to see the whole picture of what you are trying to do. You can’t see everything from the drivers’ seat.

And Back Up to My OTR Training…

After school, I spent three weeks with Nick, my on-the-road trainer. Nick could make or break my career in the blink of an eye. He was a nice guy, but our first few days together made me wonder otherwise. When driving, he gave me nothing but compliments on how well I handled the truck, but backing up was a different story.

My first backing experience came when we arrived at out receiver about 10:00PM at night, and it just got through raining. It was pitch-black dark with no lights. The road was wet, shiny, and reflective. To put it bluntly, I couldn’t see a thing. So I fell back onto the basics. I got out and looked.

I went back and set the truck up, got out, and looked again. I was off a little so I set the truck up again, and then got out to check my progress. It was after about the third or fourth time, Nick lost his patience.  When I got out to look once more, he jumped into the driver’s seat and backed the truck into the hole. Since trailers don’t have back up lights, you must use the flashers to light the way, and it takes training and practice to get good at that.

To say the least, I was very upset. I just walked off to the edge of the parking lot and sat there. After Nick turned in the paperwork, as the truck was being unloaded, he came out and found me. I told him I couldn’t see what I was trying to do and he should have let me work it out on my own.

Nick, however, was a true professional and apologized for losing his patience and taking over. He also stated that he wouldn’t do it again, and he didn’t. Like all trainers, he had seen all types of people trying to become driver, including those who had no business on the road. I had to earn his trust.

At first I couldn’t understand why the trust aspect was so important, but later it dawned on me. A truck driver trainer literally takes their life and puts it into the hands of a rookie driver. Ever try to sleep in a vehicle when you know nothing about the person driving?

Several Weeks Into OTR Training…

New drivers stay with their trainers 4 to 6 weeks before they are brought back to the main terminal and given a final road test. I had been with Nick for three weeks when we went into West Memphis, Arkansas, at one of our company terminals. Nick suggested that I go talk with the manager.

The manager offered me a chair and asked me to sit down to talk. Nick was there too. The manager told me that Nick had requested that I leave his truck. I was shocked. I thought we were getting along great, and even considered Nick my friend.

The terminal manager further explained that it wasn’t a bad thing. Nick had stated that he couldn’t teach me anymore. He said that I was wasting his and the company’s time. I needed my own truck. Nick said I was too good of a driver to waste any more time riding around with him.

I was very proud, and somewhat sad to have to leave my friend that day. After that moment, we had always stayed in touch until the day he passed away. And I went on to pass my driving test thanks to Nick.

Back Up to the Future

So that was the memory I had as I was staring at a very difficult parking job at the warehouse. I looked at this dock, between a creek and a telephone pole, and remembered all my training. I didn’t even think of paying the dock guys to back up the truck for me. I was determined I was going to try it myself.

When it was my turn, I set the truck up just like I observed the first driver do it. But other than pulling up only once and getting out to look at the overall picture, I backed the truck right into the dock. It only took less than a couple of minutes, and I couldn’t have felt prouder.

The dock guys even offered me a job backing in the other trucks after they found out I had only been driving less than a week on my own. Matter of fact, I had only been driving for one day! I didn’t want to sound that new, so I told them that it was about a week. They gave me the greatest compliment when they told me I was a natural at backing up a truck.

In closing, I offer one piece of advice. Take your time. Haste makes waste as they say. Most drivers get into trouble when they try to hurry to get out of another driver’s way. All drivers have been in the rookie’s shoes, so just be grateful for the trainers and instructors that showed you patience and gave you confidence.  It doesn’t matter how many times you must pull up, get out and look, or how slow you go. What matters is that you get it done safely and without a fender bender. When you accomplish that, you had a perfect day.

For more tips on backing up safely, check out this article.


About The Author
Contributor: Franklin Thompson (10+ experience in OTR truck driving, training, and technical writing).