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Day Two: Beginner Backing

December 8, 1999

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Triple-0-7, seeking license to truck. Actually, NJ-0007 is my class ID. number.
Student triple-0-7 completed only two of last night's assignments. Fell asleep after doing my truckinginfo log. Received good marks, though, and I'll finish the rest this week.
Today, I worked with Richard Lohrling, my Bordentown Driver Training School instructor from yesterday, and a second instructor, Gary Houlis. Both guys are terrific teachers, not to mention experienced truck drivers.
Richard's agenda covered pretrip inspections, on paper as well as on the actual truck, plus driver inspection reports and recap exercises. He also instructed me in my first attempts at backing into a 45-degree alley dock.
The man has the patience of a saint.
He told me to listen to him. I did...and nailed the first attempt in only three tries (albeit with his help), but couldn't repeat the feat for the life of me.

Gary says classmate Alan is a "natural" driver, so much so that Alan is already training James, the third member of the class.
James is catching on fast. He drove trucks six years ago. He is delighted to discover he still has his chops.
Me? I'm a test of Gary's skill as a driving instructor, most definitely a challenge to his patience. Reality lowered the boom today as he oversaw my first attempts at double clutching, downshifting and backing up in a straight line.
The truck is a 1992 conventional Peterbilt. "This is a tough truck to master," he tells me, adding that if I master it, I can drive anything.
Double clutching? I made it to fifth gear, but couldn't downshift worth a damn.
However, I killed only one orange cone in a half hour of backing exercises. It's my first attempt and tomorrow is another day. Besides, the TranSim Truck Transmission Simulator arrives on Thursday and I'll be logged on for plenty of practice.
I learn my classmates are taking the exams for added endorsements: hazmat, doubles/triples, tankers. Friends of mine had advised me to skip the endorsements. "What do you need 'em for?"
Gary strongly encourages anyone going for a CDL to get all the endorsements. He convinces me to go for the whole package. (I agree to do it.)
His reasons: "The big companies usually prefer you have them. Multi-division companies (flatbeds, bulk, vans, specialized) have customers shipping hazmat freight. With all the endorsements, a driver is ready for any assignment and can advance through the company, into hauls that make more money. The application looks better, too."
In my case, it will add even more depth to my trucking education. The day's lessons conclude back in the classroom with Richard pulling out a toy tractor-trailer to help me "get" backing up. Jim Bennett, the school's director, watches, occasionally adding encouragement.
As I left class tonight, their words echoed in my ears, "Don't worry. It gets better. Really."
I want to believe them.

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