Truck Driving School

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Watkins and Shepard Trucking, Inc.

Whether you need to find a truck driving school or have already selected one and are headed off to truck driving school in the morning, take a few minutes to scan this page. It will be well worth your time.

I have no axe to grind. While I will be talking at length about the truck driving school hosted by Watkins and Shepard Trucking, Inc., I do not work for them or get any commission if they happen to end up being your truck driving school of choice. It’s simply that when it was my turn, that’s where I went–which made sense, as Watkins and Shepard is headquartered near Missoula, Montana, and I was living in Montana at the time.

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Update: The page is still worth reading, but the Watkins and Shepard school will not be your school of choice–because the company closed its school in 2009. They do still hire from outside schools, however.
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This story seemed worth putting out there after I began thinking back to 2001. Family finances were deteriorating. I needed work, and entering the world of OTR (over the road) hauling would provide greater income and security than anything else I could do. But I would need a truck driving school for sure. I’d driven for Halliburton at one time, but that was nineteen years earlier. Testing requirements to qualify for a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) had become stringent indeed, and I hadn’t kept up my old Chauffer’s License (as it was called before it was called a CDL).

My elderly mother, 88 years of age at the time, put up the $500 down I needed to pay in order to be accepted. Eighteen months later, Mom would pass from this world at the age of eighty-nine, but she was there when we needed her.

Nor was I exactly a spring chicken myself. At the age of fifty-seven, I left our car with my wife and had a friend drive me to the truck driving school. Dormitory accommodations came with tuition, though I’d need to scrape out my own food. It was scary and exciting all rolled into one, something like being a college freshman all over again. Like most of us, I’d been driving since high school, but the school for driving a big rig is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

Or not.

My Top 10 Memories From Truck Driving School

The entire truck driving school experience was as intense in its own way as basic training in the Army. To tell you everything that happened would require a couple of novels and a full time standup comedian…but here are a few samples (all true, I assure you).

1. Missing gears regularly. There are drivers out there who seldom miss a shift, but I don’t count myself among them. If you miss a few here and there, hey, join the club.

2. Putting in extra hours. Since I was missing all those gears, I spent many an evening and weekend hour (off duty) just driving a practice truck around and around the yard, shifting up and down through those lower gears again and again. I was in truck driving school, not on vacation. I couldn’t afford to fail the test.

3. Hearing a friend literally whimper. One tall young man who was the best natural gearjammer I’d ever seen (he hardly ever missed a shift or even scratched a gear) had the coordination but not the attitude. In the second week of truck driving school, we pulled loaded trailers for the first time. Walking out from the classroom to the trucks beside my friend, I heard him whimper under his breath, “I don’t want no loaded trailer!” When Test Day arrived, he passed with flying colors…but after hauling just one load over steep Lookout Pass on his own, he walked away from the truck, never to return. Truck driving school can’t teach you attitude.

4. Sticking a truck in the mud. I was following the instructor’s shouted orders to go the way I went–after messing up a turn off the highway and being unable to go the way I should have–but the ground right there (in an open field) was spring-thaw soft. I buried the big rig to the axles. It took two instructors, three trucks, and all ten students nearly three hours to extricate the machine. Just another day at truck driving school.

5. Using the Jake brake. We practiced using the Jacobs-designed engine brake on one overnight road trip from Missoula to the coast south of Seattle, but only on the return trip–while observing another student driver just plain naturally use it the way it was meant to be used–did I begin to grasp all of its many benefits.

6. Helping a lady gearjammer. The lone distaff member of our group was having a bit of a problem backing a rig correctly and a bit of a problem listening to idiots who thought it was cool to sneer. One weekend day (off duty), I offered to work with her in the truck yard, just us two. After a couple of hours, she had the concept down cold. Not only did she appreciate this, but so did her husband. Once she graduated, she joined him as the “better half” of an OTR team.

7. Stab braking. Not every truck driving school teaches this, but they all should. When you need to shift down one gear in a hurry, you stab your foot down hard on the brakes. Not so hard you jerk the load, but hard. This drops the RPMs quickly. Within a second or two, you’re able to make your downshift and go on from there.

8. Runaway truck driving. Our instructors would reach over from the passenger’s seat and really take you to truck driving school by popping the transmission out of gear. Unless you respond correctly and quickly, the headline will read, Instructor and Student Killed at Truck Driving School!!! Doing it right can save your life when, later on, you’re out there alone.

9. Scaring the daylight out of an instructor. Two days prior to testing, I made a bad turn right in front of traffic, missed a gear to add to the confusion, and scared the lead instructor half to death. He was absolutely certain I was not cut out to be a trucker and privately predicted I would fail the test. What he did not realize was that I was not cut out to have a teacher watching my every move at truck driving school. I went on to score second highest in the class on the test and then to drive for the compay for eighteen months (until retirement) without ever having an accident or even being late on delivery. He didn’t know what to make of that!

10. Learning the Watkins and Shepard shift pattern. This is a joke, folks. I’ve sketched it from memory, so this may not be exact, but you’ll get the idea (see below). We saw this on the classroom wall the moment we filed to our seats for the first day of instruction. Most of us quickly figured out that it had to be a spoof, but a few absolute newcomers to big rigs were poleaxed. You could just see them realizing they’d never master this beast!

    The “World Famous” Watkins and Shepard shift pattern

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In closing: Feel free to leave a comment, either to ask questions (if you’re considering going to truck driving school to get your CDL) or to detail your own experiences (if you’ve already gone to school). Who knows? Your input might help the next trucker (or future trucker) to read this material…or we might find a chuckle or two to share.

2 thoughts on “Truck Driving School

  1. ha ha just brought back tons of memories..i too did the truck driving school thing ..it was 2005 and at the time I was working in a mill running a card machine 2nd shift and going to the community college TDS in the a.m. it was a 30 day course. didn’t cost me anything because I got a grant…what a bunch of characters ..two instructors 35 students… around and around the pkng lot we went ..double clutching was mandatory…lol talk about grinding some gears..(funny thing is after I left there I never touched the clutch again except upon starting stopping)…most of the rigs were crap I seemed to always get stuck with the very old cab over …I got lucky I suppose had a company hire me straight from the school ..local.. home everynight hauling chemical tanker..cut my teeth with the highly corrosive ugly stuff..did that for a couple years then went to another company hauling granulated sugar ,that was sweet 🙂 it was local as well.. made two trips a day to Murfreesboro tn about 100 miles away ..no waiting all drop and hook…..never did the otr thing.. had a family at the time so wasn’t interested in that..made some good money anyway though…

  2. Hah! Well, I’m just as glad I didn’t have to do trucking school the way you did. Also, we’re pretty much dead opposites–in that I can get by without the clutch if absolutely necessary (as demonstrated during one weekend vacation with wife #2 when the linkage on our 1970 Ford Maverick broke and I wasn’t about to cancel our jaunt)…but I actually PREFER to double clutch.

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