If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try Try Again

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try Try Again

On September 6th I headed to the Jiffy Trucking headquarters in Redding CA for my second attempt at obtaining my Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). In case you did not read the story I wrote back in July where I failed miserably on the skills section, this is the recap: I did well on the pre-check and airbrake test but failed the skills section. Basically, I could not drive backwards in a straight line for 100ft. To make matters worse, the clutch on the tractor I rented in July was so heavy it aggravated my left knee that had been surgically repaired a few years ago.

This time around, I rented a truck with an automatic transmission. It is the blue truck on the left in the above photo. Most drivers seeking a CDL will test at a commercial DMV in a manual transmission so that they are not restricted to a truck with an automatic. This was not a concern of mine as my Renegade RV has the Allison 12 speed automatic transmission. I also chose to increase my training from 2 ½ days to 4 ½ days. For fun I will mention that the temperature was 100-107 and the fires in Northern CA were making for terrible air quality. Fortunately, there is air conditioning in the cab but that did not stop me from sweating...

When I arrived on Tuesday morning, David met me at their shop and drove us to the practice lot where he quickly assessed what I was doing wrong with the straight line back up. His pro tip was ‘when looking at the driver's side mirror, focus on the outside of the rear wheel’ and that made a significant difference. Anytime I saw the wheel start to "open up" (become more visible) I would turn towards the problem to "close it". The same was done when I looked at the mirror on the passenger side. I was now able to consistently back straight between the two lines. Now that I was comfortable with the straight line back up, it was time to practice the off-set parking, the parallel parking (driver side and conventional), and the alley dock parking.

(As you can see in the illustration, the Alley Dock can be a tricky maneuver.)

(The parking lot where we practiced had a lot of room)

The offset parking test required that I pull forward from the lane I was in and reverse back into the lane adjacent to the original lane. The DMV examiner can request the left or right offset skills test. The instructor I had on my second day was Mark. At first, I had a tough time because I was over correcting and turning the wheel too much and too often. Over time, I learned to make smaller adjustments and stay ahead of the trailer. The technique that worked for me was to make a full turn before backing up and then unwind it as soon as I started to see the 27ft trailer start to angle. It was my 3rd instructor, Kenny, who helped me with fine tuning the technique. For some reason, I was more comfortable with the parallel parking and the alley dock parking section of the skills test.

The alley dock parking test required that I back into a 12 ft lane from a 90-degree angle. I think the reason I did well is because I could look out my window as the rear of the trailer approached the cones. Again, Kenny suggested I put a full turn into the wheel before backing up and unwind it as I started to see the trailer angle toward the alley. To make the test even more challenging, I had to put the rear of the trailer into a 3 ft box at the end of the lane. If I left it short or passed the box, it would mean I failed the test. Fortunately, I was able to nail that part too.

After 4 days of instruction, it was time. My test was scheduled for 12:30pm on Friday September 10th. Jiffy Trucking made the appointment for me and drove me to the DMV office. Kenny wished me good luck and told me to call the office when the test concluded. If all goes well; I would be allowed to move on the driving section of the test. If a person fails the skills test, there is no driving test.

(Photo taken prior to DMV test. Although I am smiling, I am nervous on the inside)

After waiting by myself next to the truck, my examiner arrived. She was very polite and professional. We reviewed the air brake test again before heading to the test yard. The first test is the straight line back up. I nailed that one on my first attempt, so the examiner asked me to do the offset parking to the passenger side. The test allows for several free pull ups and get out and look. You are also given 12 additional points. But if you touch a line or cone you can use up the pints quickly. Because I had to pull up a few times I burned up three points but was able to successfully complete the skills test. I was relieved to learn my last test was not a parallel parking test but the alley dock. I knew with my 9 available points I should be able to pass the test. Well... I backed it up perfectly into the alley dock on my first try and was able to get the trailer into the three ft box with only one get out and look. The examiner even commented on how well I did on the alley dock.

I tried not to look nervous, but I think she could tell.

When it came time to hit the road for the 30–40-minute drive, I told myself "I've got this". To be honest, even if I failed the driving test, I would have been happy just to have passed the skills section so coming back a third time for the driving test would have been fine with me. The good news it the cab and length of the trailer were not that dissimilar from my RV as they are both made by Freightliner. My RV is a little longer, so I was comfortable with the driving section of the test. They key was not to get caught speeding or going too slow, to stop well before the intersection, pay attention to road signs and be smooth.

When we returned to the DMV, I was informed that I had passed. I was thrilled. The diligent effort and preparation had paid off. It’s a wonderful feeling when you set a goal, do the work, and achieve it. Getting a CDL isn't easy. In fact, it is one of the hardest things I have ever done. There is a mental component to driving a trailer in reverse that I needed to master. I could memorize all the pre-check and air brake requirements but getting a 27 ft trailer to cooperate was challenging for me. But, I refused to give up. I will forever remember sending a text to my wife as I was waiting in line at the DMV to get my temporary CDL. It read "Passed!!!!!!!!".