Wayne Cragg was a driver for USA Truck during 2012-2013. Below are his thoughts and experiences driving for the company during that time. The views and opinions expressed below are his and not representative of those of Driver Solutions.
In April of 2015, Driver Solutions and USA Truck mutually agreed to dissolve their partnership. Driver Solutions remains committed to helping new drivers find the best truck driving job and CDL training opportunities available. Learn more about our company-sponsored CDL training program here.
Well, it's been one heck of a month! I finished Phase 1 of over-the-road (OTR) training with USA Truck about 2 weeks ago and moved on to the more intense Phase 2 team truck driver training part. In the next few paragraphs, I'll do my best to explain the differences in lifestyle between Solo OTR and Team OTR. In my humble opinion, there's quite a difference and choosing the right path for you may really help in your enjoyment of starting a truck driver job. There are pros and cons to both, but both get you around this beautiful country for sure!
When I started Phase 1, I was a rookie for sure. I'd never really backed up a trailer into a public dock. I'd never slept in the sleeper of a cab. And I'd never been paid to travel around the USA to deliver goods. I felt that I progressed pretty good, I passed and moved on to Phase 2.
Looking back, Phase 1 and Phase 2 had one thing in common - I had to learn to shift and downshift with ease. I'd get a good string going, especially down shifting, but sometimes distractions happen and shifting goes to crap! LOL.. In Phase 2, I've really imrpoved on this as my trainer worked with me a lot on how important it is to not just shove it in to gear. He gave me some great advice... "You need to match road speed with your gear you're downshifting to"
The lifestyle of the OTR truck driver is a lot of what I expected (being a Navy Veteran and a person who has moved around the USA a lot) yet quite a bit different when it comes to the team aspect. I will try to clarify:
When I was in Phase 1, my trainer had to mirror me. Meaning, he was sitting in the seat next to me "On Duty", helping me and training me to become a better truck driver. By law, I could only run 11 hours behind the wheel. I had a total of 14 hours to complete the 11 hours of driving. When you reached this limit, you must stop. Most of the time I was able to get my 11 hours of driving in-between 11 1/2 hours to 12 hours. Then you must take a 10 hour break. No exceptions. This meant a stop at a truck stop to rest. This also left a lot of time to get out of the truck, relax and go for a walk. This is very important to me. You get as much time out of the truck as you want. As long as you get a good nights sleep! And get your load to it's destination on time or before. I really did enjoy the Phase 1 part of training. We never missed a deadline and in some cases, we delivered early. I also got the chance to take some great photos along the way.
For those of you wondering about showers? During Phase 1, I could take as many showers as I wanted to when we stopped. As I mentioned in the previous blog, the showers in the larger truck stops are really great. They took me by surprise by how nice they were. I felt very comfortable showering every time. I took a shower every other day. One time going 3 day...a little long for my taste. But, this is for sure a personal choice and every trucker is different. Also, don't forget to get your "Pilot", "Loves" and "TA" rewards card. This is very important to anyone working a truck driver job. With every gas fill up, you get rewards like free showers! SWEET.
The food is actually pretty good as well. You can eat a lot of fast food if you choose, but with the coolers they have now, you can certainly eat much healthier if you choose. This is a common theme in truck driving. During Phase 1 (solo driving), you really did have a choice to eat right, exercise more and enjoy where you may be going, more. In fact, I took one of my favorite photos in Kentucky, while at a truck stop. All the time, being able to keep an eye out for the truck and trailer. 11 hours, is a long day, so why not get out a bit and enjoy the ride!?
Sleeping in the sleeper was tough at first, but I got used to it quickly. Being in the Navy, helped me get used to cramped spaces. I would be lying here if I didn't tell you, you are cramped for space in the truck. Especially with 2 people! But we made it work and getting outside sure did help with that aspect of it. Just a little advice here (I haven't tried to give much, just trying to blog about all the fun), the trainers have a very hard job. They see a lot of different students every 2 weeks from all walks of life. I believe, it's up to us students to change some of our ways of doing things to help our trainer out and make it easier for him/her to get us passed and tested out. As a newbie, I certainly don't know everything, and yes I questioned sometimes "Why in the heck do it that way!??" But both of my trainers had over 25 years experience in the trucking world. I just sucked it up and found out later why they where right. This isn't meant to say you can't speak up, but I have tried very hard to listen to all their advice.
Phase 2 (team training) is a whole different animal. The next info is neither good, nor bad - just my perspective on what I'm currently experiencing. There is a lot of money to be made with a team and it's quite a bit different than the Solo part. In Phase 2, the truck is basically moving all the time with very few breaks in between. You're a team, so when your 11 hours driving is up, this should give your partner the needed 10 hour break to keep the truck moving legally. I cannot express enough how important it is to get into that sleeper and try to sleep. When you are off of your driving duties you should try very hard to get some sleep. If you're running full steam and the jobs keep coming, it is imperative you get your rest. You need to stay safe on the road for your next time up. I'm only a newbie, but my trainer basically said the same thing! We are proffesionals and if you're not getting the right amount of rest, it will catch up to you in the end. Especially in the team truck driving job setup.
With the truck running all the time, your lifestyle is much more structured and taking something as simple as a shower will need to be something you schedule. I didn't want to be the trucker who went 7 days without a shower. So the first week, I took 3 showers in 7 days. All of them scheduled with the trainer. We always wanted to make sure they were scheduled so we didn't fall behind. In team driving, it's really hard to make up time lost. (also in Solo if you fall far enough behind). In the 2 weeks I've been doing the team thing, I haven't had must time to walk and exercise. For me personally, I miss that a lot. Yet with that being said, with teaming, I have been all the way up to New Jersey and back to Texas twice! Great driving and some really cool sunrises and sunsets... But once again, there wasn't time to stop to take any pics.. On the move..
Take Care and be safe out there!
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