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Day Eight: First Drive On A Real Road

December 16, 1999

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I have now logged 32 driven miles under the on-duty portion of my class log book.
When I was told I would be driving on an honest-to-goodness public thoroughfare today, I thought the instructor was kidding.
This would be a first.
The instructor drove the truck 21 miles south, to the area of New Jersey known as the Pine Barrens, and Chadsworth, a small community of cranberry growers. The two-lane roads are lightly traveled during the day.
My classmate James and I were to take turns driving. On my turn at the wheel, I discovered that my training and practice on the TranSimT Truck Transmission Simulator had me shifting in the right groove. I had no trouble at all shifting up and experienced only a few down-shift misses when slowing for stop signs and left turns.
It was, as the I-Sim Corporation marketing manager promised me last week, a "totally seamless" move from classroom to truck cab. If I hadn't experienced it myself, this transformation from Gear Grinding Gerty to Smooth Shifting Mama would be hard to believe.
Later, in the afternoon, I went back to the simulator for a little downshifting practice.
My classmate Dennis worked today on several different, more complicated, transmissions. Watching him concentrate, gearing through the patterns, he offered yet another example of how much more there is to master in this industry: the simulator is capable of replicating 280 engines and 140-plus transmissions available to today's drivers.
In the afternoon we repeatedly practiced straight backing, the 45-degree alley dock, and measured turn. My biggest bump in the road is balancing the right and left wheel reverse steering with the so-called neutral wheel. Since I can't see the steering tires, I asked my always-patient instructor: how I can know when the steering is "neutral?"
"You have to feel it," he told me, giving me the now-familiar Bordentown Drivers Training School mantra, "It will come."
I made a respectable showing in the back-up alley exercises and had little difficulty with straight backing. Even worked in a run through the air brake test.
When I got home tonight, the day's list of message held another bright spot: My updated permit with endorsements had come in.
Tomorrow I am supposed to drive the truck back from Chadsworth to the school in Bordentown. Four-lane highway, traffic signals, cars and trucks together, even a New Jersey traffic circle. In the afternoon I hope to take the endorsement tests (tanker, hazmat, doubles/triples).

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