By Josh Erdman, IT Pro
I’m sitting behind the wheel of a big rig. The odometer reads an incredible 608,000 miles. Normally when I visit CFL it is an IT Consultant checking in on their network, but not today. Today I am learning about what it takes to be a truck driver with my big rig mentor, Mike, who has been in the freight industry for over 20 years. Mike frequently talks about his boys – he has two sons and has informally adopted several more. During our time together you can quickly tell that his heart is as big as his truck!
My first task is to switch trailers. Having already disconnected the electrical and airlines, I hop in the cab and pull out and away from the old trailer and back into an empty 53′ trailer so we can fetch a load of cauliflower. I’m pretty excited, I gotta admit. I’ve driven tractor and diesel trucks before, but nothing has prepared me for sitting up high in this mountaintop of a vehicle with enough torque to drive through a football stadium – even if it is just around the large lot.
“Can you drive a stick?” Mike asks.
“Well, you already know how a clutch and gearshift work. That yellow button over there is your parking brake. Push that in and then pull the truck out and back in to hook up the trailer at dock #5.”
And that is the extent of my lesson.
The 8-speed transmission with the high-low switch and the 14 temperature and pressure gauges on the dashboard would overwhelm most – but I got this. My day at CFL has already been full of new experiences, including washing out a trailer, driving a forklift, learning about chillers and hitching up one load of cauliflower that will eventually go up to Tracey, CA.
I push in the clutch and my left leg begins to burn as I shift into reverse working the pedals to slowly maneuver the rig backward. The mirrors are huge, like vertical flat screen TVs, giving me a perfect view from my cab of the rig’s alignment with the trailer. The rig by itself without the trailer is a beast – making 4×4 trucks look like Tonka toys. It becomes evident that the trailer is just as heavy duty as I mate the two together. Fully loaded down with 80,000 pounds of cargo, these rigs can’t exactly stop on a dime.
Mike takes the wheel and drives us out to fetch our first load. “When you’re on the road,” Mike says, “only one out of 5 people is driving.” From my elevated vantage point, I can easily pick out the soccer mom hollering at her kids in the backseat, the businessman talking into his cell phone, and the teenager bobbing her head to music on the road adjacent as he drives us to our first stop.
We end the day preparing six empty trailers in the never-ending flow of freight logistics: fuel, pallets, cargo, travel, destinations, and parking. The shipping industry is fast-paced, planning is everything, and these drivers work hard to keep tight schedules and maintain safety standards all in the name of keeping our economy flowing.
I say goodbye to Mike, pose for a quick pic, and leave CFL with a newfound respect for my fellow truckers.