Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a line of new driver questions on various trucking social media sites. These new drivers are asking for information on “what to bring” and “how to’s,” from what they believe will be experienced truckers. And for the most part, the responses have been pretty solid.
Because the trucking world has grown so quickly, there has been a noticeable loss of skills being passed down to the newer generations of drivers. Mentors are fewer and further between, and our industry has suffered what may be irreparable skill losses.
So I thought it might be a good time to compile a list of points to assist in hard copy. The following information is both a combination of my personal repertoire and some of the good ideas I’ve read online.
Keep in mind, every aspect of trucking has its own application, as do the tricks of the trade corresponding to those conditions. What may work for one aspect or driver may not work for the next. This also covers beyond the act of driving itself to load security, route decisions, the use of tire chains, tools, sleep patterns, meals, etc.
Use that and whatever you glean from this article to help guide you through a successful career.
Mindset is probably the single most important thing that keeps a trucker focused behind the wheel. That begins with doing your best to manage your diet and sleep schedules. Both are very difficult because, as you know, freight has to move, and it doesn’t go anywhere while you’re sawing logs in the sleeper. The meal part can cover a number of possible solutions.
Bring food and water with you in the truck. This sounds simple, but you’d be surprised at how many drivers were caught away from their terminals without food, for even a single day, during the summer of 2020. Invest in an electric cooler and one of the various cooking devices that use a vehicle power source.
Not only does eating right assist with alertness, but rumour has it that it keeps you from dying of starvation too. Good meals also keep your internal health in better shape - cholesterol, heart health, etc.
The next point is having the tools to do your job with the least amount of effort possible. My personal toolbox in the jockey box of my trucks would be considered extreme for the average highway driver. But that was because my run took me 6 hours off-highway to a remote copper mine in one of the heaviest snowfall areas of BC. A toolbox with two pairs of vice grips, a pair of channel lock pliers, wire cutters, a roll of steel wire, a pry bar, two caging bolts, screwdrivers, assorted brass fittings, electrical tape, and spare glad-hands, to name some of the contents. I also carried a chainsaw. Now, remember, I drove 6 hours off-highway. One tree across the road meant costly downtime. I also carried a good quality come-along for stubborn items of freight that needed adjustments.
Tricks of the trade are also diverse. A simple trick I picked up with bundles of lumber that weren’t packed tightly and some of the boards would rattle their way out was to shake a 2-litre bottle of pop and spray it all over the lumber and push it back into the stack. It was just enough to make the boards stick together and stay in place. Simple but effective.
In the winter, carry a bag of kitty litter or strips of carpet. Use these if you’re parked at an icy loading dock to get yourself rolling. Much easier than dragging a set of chains out.
A much better plan is to roll in slowly, allowing your tires time to cool so they don’t create ice pockets. The same thing goes for pulling into a cafe parking lot or a layover for the night. Try and find a spot that faces a slight downhill grade in the direction you’re going to pull away from. When you’re in your spot, don’t stop immediately. Roll backwards and forwards a few times - again to cool your tires down. This prevents even the slightest cups in the ice that will prevent you from easily driving away. True Story.
Make sure you check your route. You’re responsible for the lives of everyone you meet on our roads. A poor decision of routing can be extremely dangerous, costly, and at the very least embarrassing. Just ask anyone who’s momentarily “hauled” a low overpass. Other things you’re responsible for knowing - ignorance is not a defence - are federal, provincial, and municipal bylaws regarding commercial vehicles.
Canada’s terrain varies considerably from one coast to the other. One variable that remains constant, regardless of season, is the grade of a hill. Rule number one is you can go down a hill a million times, too slow. You’ll only go down it once, too fast. Choose the appropriate gear before breaking over the top.
Although the use of tire chains is prohibited in some areas, they are mandatory in many provinces. Take the time before winter hits to learn how to throw chains on. When you roll up to the chain-up area and slap a set on in 6 minutes, you’ll be the happy one back in your cab where it’s warm and dry long before those who didn’t take the time to familiarize themselves.
When it comes to making trucking easier, listening to senior drivers can definitely improve your life. The only stupid question is the one you didn’t ask. Don’t leave home ill-prepared.
An adage I brought with me from my time in the Canadian infantry and apply to almost everything I do in life is this:
“It’s better to have and not need than need and not have.”