06 October 2006

How I did not do it

The Truck Driving school has an arrangement with the Illinois Department of Transportation which dictates that a State Examiner will come out and test students on and around the school grounds. This is nice because that means students are tested in the same setting and on the same course on which they practiced. However, if a student fails to pass, as I did, two things can happen. He could be retested that same day if time permits. [Time did not permit. The oral examination on the "pre-trip" takes a while and there were six students that day.] Otherwise, that student has to wait until the state processes and files the relevant paperwork and arranges another date for an examiner to go to the school. In my case, that took nearly four weeks.

I passed the pre-trip part handily, with no points against me. I won't have to be tested for that again (at least not this side of getting the CDL). Following the Pre-Trip part, is the basic skills test, and then driving out on the road about 8 miles near the school. I wasn't concerned about the road driving; I've got my double-clutching down pat. I am paranoid about allowing the truck to roll backwards when stopped at a stop sign or similar. If the truck rolls, I fail that part.

What tripped me up was the basic skills test. There are four basic parts to it. You need to pull forward to within 18" of a point on the ground. In my case the nose of the truck reaches that point roughly 7 seconds after I lose sight of it in front of the truck, when idling forward in low gear. Thats right: I have to stop within 18" of a point that I cannot even see when I am 18" away from it. The main trick to that is timing your stop from the moment it disappears from view.

Then I back up a distance of about 40 yards - while not drifting into any cones that mark the lane that I just drove forward in. That's harder than it looks, but the technique for steering a combination vehicle slightly when in reverse isn't difficult to learn. You must have your hazard lights on when in reverse. Also referred to as "four-ways", for the lamp at each corner of the combination vehicle. Next you move forward and turn right. During this turn, the wheels of your trailer must be near a specific cone (without touching it). Contacting any cone, or breaking the plane between any cones is an instant failure.

Now comes the tough part. After that turn you head back towards the entrance to this lane of cones, go past it, and bear left, stopping with the truck at least at a 45' angle to the "lane". Put it in reverse, and turn your "four-ways" on, you're backing the 45' trailer into the slot that is the "lane". And you won't be done until you stop within 18" of a spot that marks the back of the slot. The good news is that you can see this point... most of the time, the bad news is that you will never be closer to it than about 62' because you are in the part of the truck that is farthest away from it at all times. Not to mention that steering the trailer is doubly difficult because of the pivot point at the fifth wheel.

The first time I tested, I managed to get it into the slot, and within the 18" target. But it was "winning ugly". I basically forced the trailer in there at the last moment, leaving the tractor at a sharp angle to the trailer (not desireable) when I stopped. And the trailer wasn't straight in the slot either, factually breaking the plane (in real life this would be another trailer) of the cones with the driver's side rear corner of my trailer.

So, that was it for me for that day. I had to wait for the paperwork to be filed with the state of Illinois. Then I had to wait for the State to shedule a date for the examiner to come out to the school again for re-testing. That took nearly four weeks.