Saturday, January 22, 2011

My hat came off and a light bulb went on.....

One of the more difficult parts of learning to drive a tractor trailer is learning to shift the truck. It's not at all like shifting a car. When changing gears in a big rig, you need to match the speed of the truck with the speed of the motor and make sure your selecting the correct gear. If these elements do not match perfectly, you will only hear loud grinding sounds as you attempt to force the truck into gear. Some may even suggest that the transmissions in truck schools are filled with whole coffee beans. After a month or so of training the newbies, the fresh ground coffee is sold to truck stops and served to the same folks that ground it.

Some learn the coordination of shifting rather quickly while others take much longer and spend lots of time grinding coffee. One of my fellow classmates seemed destined to provide his skills to truck stop barista's. No matter what the instructor him, he just could not seem to master the art of getting the truck from one gear to the next. To protect his dignity, I'll just refer to him as Billy.

A dark knit cap always graced Billy's head and he spoke with a thick accent that paid homage to the African country he came from. I sometimes wondered if there was a language barrier that seemed to hinder the sharing of information. We would go out on the driving range 4 to a truck, 1 instructor and 3 students. 2 students would sit on a bench seat in the sleeper while another student drove the truck. I was out with Billy every day. The instructor would explain in complete detail to Billy what he needed to do to shift the truck. When Billy gave it try, he would start doing about 8 different things all at once, none of those 8 things were in any way related to the directions that he was just given by the instructor. He always seemed very tense and probably even scared of the truck. Whenever I had a chance, I would pull Billy aside and try to give him a pep talk. I would tell him to first off, just relax. Second, listen to the instructor and do what he tells you, not the 8 other things you were doing. After several pep talks and no progression in his skills, I was starting to think that Billy had chosen the wrong career.

On Thursday, I stayed in the yard to practice backing and Billy went out on the road with another group of students. When the tractor came back to the yard, I was surprised to see that Billy was driving. As the tractor came to a stop I could see Billy through the drivers side window and he was smiling from ear to ear. I also noticed that he was not wearing his signature dark knit cap. When he got out of the cab, the first thing he told me was; "My hat came off and a light bulb went on." He went on to tell me that he could now up shift and down shift with ease. He also let me know that my constant pep talks had paid off and were one of reasons he finally came through.

If there must be a moral to the story, I suppose that it would have to be something like this; Always believe in people and offer encouragement. If you think somebody is incapable of something, don't tell them that, tell them they CAN do it. And, most importantly, the next time you enjoy a cup of coffee at a truck stop, thank Billy!



  1. Red...that is a great post. What a nice guy you are...I like your philosphy. I think I drank some of Billy's coffee yesterday...just add lots of cream and it'll be okay.

  2. Red,

    Great story, I've always wondered how I would do driving a big rig. I used to be able to race a car from 1st to 3rd with no clutch, not nearly the same thing but none of my friends could do it!

    I have a feeling my first effort would more closley match Billy's than yours. :)