Until recently, I had but one experience involving heavy-equipment. It was thoroughly horrifying and nearly fatal.As a teenager I decided I wanted to learn how to rake hay, so my father took me to one...
Until recently, I had but one experience involving heavy-equipment. It was thoroughly horrifying and nearly fatal.
As a teenager I decided I wanted to learn how to rake hay, so my father took me to one of our hayfields to teach me how to drive a tractor. It was an old Ford dating back to the ’30s and its brakes were all but worn out.
“If you want to stop, just press in the clutch,” my father told me. He neglected to mention this wasn’t advisable on a hill and, not being familiar with the mechanical functions of a clutch, I didn’t think to ask.
So you can imagine my surprise when I applied the clutch to slow myself down as I began descending a steep hill.
The tractor began freewheeling down the hill towards an old stone fence with a stand of hardwoods just beyond it.
It became quite clear to me that I was staring death in the face and my only chance of survival was to jump. My father was yelling at me to “let off the clutch,” but his voice was drowned out by the roar of the tractor.
I looked over my shoulder and realized jumping to safety wasn’t an option either.
The rake churned out windrows of hay in my wake and even if I could clear the rear tires there was no escaping the rake’s sharp tongs.
But with the stone fence fast approaching I made a twisted decision that would save my life. I decided death by mutilation was preferable to death upon impact and I prepared to jump.
As I stood up to leap overboard, my foot slipped off the clutch and the tractor slowed to its original speed, plunging the steering wheel into my ribs and knocking me back into the seat.
I steered the tractor to safety, and developed a fear of clutches that haunted me ever since.
So, you can imagine my reluctance to get behind the wheel of a transport truck – not even having driven a manual transmission car since then!
However, when the opportunity arose to be trained behind the wheel of a truck by some of the most seasoned instructors in Calgary, I couldn’t refuse.
If I’m going to make my living writing about the trucking industry, I owe it to our readers to walk a mile in your shoes and at the very least, know how to drive a truck.
So, with a little trepidation I confronted my fears and decided to take up WT Safety’s offer to take part in their driver-training course.
A couple of months later, I’m proud to say I’m a Class 1 licence holder.
It wasn’t easy, however. In fact, it was one of the greatest challenges I’ve taken on in recent memory.
But it served as an incredible learning experience and a real eye-opener about the demands truck drivers face on a daily basis.
I never told my instructors about my near-death experience on the tractor, but before my first lesson I warned them I was about to pose the greatest challenge of their teaching careers.
“If you can help me get me a Class 1 licence, there’s hope for anybody,” I told them.
They weren’t fazed by the challenge, however, not even after my first lesson.
And not even after my first experience with air brakes resulted in a subsequent test of the integrity of the truck’s seat belts.
I must give credit to my instructor Harvey, however, who didn’t spill a single drop of coffee.
He just grinned and said “Air brakes are sensitive, aren’t they?”
Yes, they certainly are.
They were less surprised than I was the first time I was able to double-clutch, successfully catching my first gear. My first downshift was even more rewarding. And before I knew it my instructors had me doing blind-side 90-degree backups and maneuvering an assortment of trucks through city traffic.
It must be said they refused to cut any corners providing me with the same level of training that all WT Safety’s students receive, and as the name implies, the company doesn’t shirk its responsibilities when it comes to safety.
I would like to thank my instructors, Shane and Harvey for their patience and professionalism – your calmness kept me level-headed in the face of some decent-sized moments.
Thanks Renee, for accommodating my hectic schedule and walking me through the process.
And of course, Kevin, for making it all happen and for being a great ambassador for the trucking industry.
Now, if only I could find someone offering farm tractor driving lessons.
– James Menzies heads our western news bureau and he can be reached at 403-275-3160.