07 September 2015

Backing Up

You can always tell a new driver when he starts to back up. He'll often get the set up wrong. He'll not get the trailer angled enough to get it into the space. Or he won't pull forward enough to give himself room to jerk the trailer around. Then when he starts the back he'll not help himself out by making good pull-ups and cutting down his angle. Every time he pulls up and turns the wheel he finds himself back in the same problem with the trailer too far to one side or the other. Then he'll get frustrated and start turning the wheel the wrong way. That's about the time the new guy goes and hits something. But if he's smart he'll stop and get out and look at his situation and try to relax a little. Maybe walk around the truck once. Accidents happen when you get the truck moving without a plan. 

Nobody was born knowing how to back 53 foot trailers, but at the truck stops you'll sometimes see experienced drivers who gather to watch and snicker at the new guy. The spaces between trucks and trailers can be very tight, much tighter than anything they put you through in trucking school. Most guys at truck stops are just watching to make sure their truck doesn't get hit. My instructor at school told me he was once awakened in the night by a naked fat man running through the truck stop yelling. The naked fat man had been asleep in his cab and was awakened when the truck beside him pulled out, cut the turn too hard, and dragged off the front bumper of his tractor. 

At CDL school and the Schneider Training Academy they had you back up between lines of orange cones or between trailers set far apart. They taught you tricks to make the backs easy. Markings to look for on the trailer that would mean you were lined up or to follow the tire tracks in the dirt. None of these tricks work outside the practice yard. I have mostly learned to back on my own and by watching others.

I observed a very interesting back a few nights ago. I was in my cab waiting on the lumpers to finish unloading my trailer when a very clean white truck pulled past me and set up to back into one of the doors. The cab window rolled down and I saw an Arab wearing a white kufi. The Arab opened the cab door and stepped out onto the top step. The Arab wore white linen trousers and a white linen tunic and had on white slippers. He stood on the step and looked back behind him at the trailer and the space he was to back into. On a headset he wore over his kufi he was jabbering so loudly in Arabic that I heard him over the roar of the idling trucks. His entire outfit was a dazzling white and, impressively, without a spot of dirt.

The Arab held onto the opened cab door with one hand and with one foot on the step, the other foot on the clutch, his hand back behind him on the wheel, he stood in the opened cab doorway and began to back the trailer towards the spot, all while continuing to yell in Arabic. I had once seen a guy back with the driver's door open which I figured gave more of a sight line of the trailer than simply using the mirror or looking out the window, but I had never seen anyone back while hanging halfway out of the cab. 

The Arab didn't make the back on his first attempt. But he didn't get back inside the cab to shift into first and do his pullup either. He pulled forward while still standing halfway outside the cab. It took him a couple of pullups and then the Arab got it in. Though I didn't learn anything from this demonstration of backing, it was most entertaining to watch.


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