Truck Driving Lesson #1: There is No Transmission

by Jason Rhyno

A couple of weeks ago I probably wrecked about 13 grand in transmissions learning how to shift.

I was 21 years-old the last time I drove anything with a stick — a beat up Chevy we used for landscaping around the hospital in Blind River.

I learned how to drive on a standard — a couple of them — but if you don’t habitually drive a standard, it soon becomes apparent how much you suck at it.

Which is what I realized when Steve Rock was teaching me how to shift over at DriveWise in Barrie.

It was a good thing I was on a simulator and the transmissions I destroyed weren’t really there — like Neo in the Matrix, “There is no spoon.”

Or in this case, “there is no transmission.”

Literally. It was something that Steve and I chatted about towards the end of my lesson — something was missing and that something was the actual transmission, the engine. No soul. You couldn’t feel the vehicle, couldn’t get those subtle, tactile hints that tell you how the truck is doing, what it wants to do or not do. Often, I think, you feel the engine before you hear it.

Don’t get me wrong; the simulator does a fine job of getting close to the real thing — at least a lot closer than your generic video game (although simulators and video games have different purposes: one is to train for a real world scenario, the other to entertain and escape any real world scenarios).

Going into my first training session, I knew that shifting would be my biggest challenge. Looking ahead, keeping my distance, watching the corners — even backing up a trailer — I’m not all that concerned about. To steal a phrase usually saved for economic predictions, I feel “cautiously optimistic” about those things.

Shifting is the key, though, and during my first attempt I must’ve said sorry after every missed gear. “Whoops, sorry. Sorry. Dang, sorry, sorry. Shoot, sorry.” As if I was offending Steve with every missed gear.

I was happy to find somewhat of a groove when Steve moved me over to progressive shifting. Much more comfortable, and Steve’s passion for driving — and teaching — helps. Nothing worse than an apathetic instructor.

There’s a lot of talk about how new drivers are no good, that they aren’t being taught correctly, that standards need to be set. I’m pretty sure I won’t fall victim to that as I’m in the best position to learn how to drive truck. I edit and post the blogs and stories to this very website, and the advice I get about driving from Dan Dickey, David Henry, and Steve Rock — plus countless others — is just golden. With the exception of Steve, most of our contributors and bloggers probably don’t realize that they’re teaching me how to drive.

I also get advice from the more seasoned journalists during test drives put on by OEMs. Often, there is a racetrack or bonafide test track that we’re allowed to boot around on. There’s usually an on-highway portion, but obviously, for legal reasons, I can’t partake. Last spring, Kenworth gave a handful of journalists what seemed like their entire line-up to test on a course, complete with loaded trailers. In Vegas, I got to boot around in some sweet Western Star trucks, and back in September, I took a Mercedes Benz Antos and Daimler’s Unimog for a spin around an airfield (see short vid below for the Benz). And usually, they’ll stick an engineer or mechanic in the cab with you to answer any questions. They can also be a good source for driving advice, specifically about the more mechanical aspects of the vehicle.

Point is, I’m literally drinking from a fire hydrant when it comes to driving advice. Theoretically, by the time I’m done my training and put some hours behind the wheel, I should be the best truck driver in the whole country.

I’m going to chart my progress here on this blog. Feel feel to chime in with advice. Or make fun of me as I learn because I’ll be posting all of my stupid mistakes.

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