Bill Walker came to Extreme Professional Driver Training in late-August 2014. He was a big, affable guy that people like instantly. He worked at an auto parts store in Vernon. Bill told us that he would be retiring in a few years; his goal, he said, was to have “a better brand of tequila” while relaxing on the sandy beaches of Mexico. Bill’s wife originated from Latin America, and his plan was to retire there.
28-Hour Class 1 Training Course
Bill signed up for our 28-hour Class 1 (tractor-trailer) course, which began on a Wednesday and finished with a road test the following Thursday.
Extreme Professional Driver Training’s 28-hour course is “bare-bones”, intense, and at times overwhelming:
Number of Hours
|11||Driving - (shifting & turning)|
|4||Government Road Test|
As can be seen from the breakdown, students only get about 11-hours of driving time. To put that in perspective, a driver doing a round-trip from Calgary, AB to Vancouver, BC will sit “behind the wheel” for twice that length of time (approximately 25 hours driving).
Most students that take this course are self-funding, which allows them to get a Class 1 licence for less than $4,000. Yet, the “return-on-investment” is realized within a few weeks of working as a commercial driver; few other tuition costs can say they pay for themselves within a few weeks of graduation.
Learning the Facets of a Class 1 Licence
When I work with Class 1 students, the first day or two is introduction to shifting and turning. During these initial lessons, I also assess the student’s ability to process, assimilate and retain the skills, abilities and information required for the ICBC road test. In those first hours in and around the big rig, Bill showed an aptitude; therefore, I ramped up his learning.
On the first Thursday, I informed Bill that we were heading to Kelowna the next day – an hour’s drive south from Vernon, BC. From experience, I also knew that he wouldn’t give it much thought beyond driving along Highway #97 – the main highway through the Okanagan Valley in BC’s interior.
On Friday, Bill confirmed with me that we were still going to Kelowna. We got in the truck and headed out. We turned north on 27th St. in Vernon and I innocently asked Bill:
“Have you ever been to Kelowna this way?”
Bill replied that he had.
Later though he informed me he had assumed we were going to Kelowna via Kamloops and Merritt – the long, circular route. He never thought for a moment that I would be radical enough to take him along Westside Rd—a windy, twisty, mountainous, skinny, 2-lane road running along the west shore of Lake Okanagan.
Turning northwest along Highway #97 towards Kamloops, we came down the hill and past the historic O’Keefe Ranch. As we passed the entrance to the posh Spallumcheen Golf & Country Club, I innocuously said, “at the next intersection, turn left.”
Bill blurted: “Are you #$*&^$ kidding me – I hate going down here in my car!”
I laughed uproariously and Bill soon joined in. We had a good relationship, and Bill trusted me. He knew that I would take him out of his comfort zone, but at the same time, I would also act as his safety net if things went south.
At the halfway point of Westside Rd. when heading south, there’s a switchback to the left that proceeds up a hill and then curves to the right. As we came down the start of the hill at a moderate speed, I told Bill to “gear up and throttle up,” which is completely counterintuitive to any driving manoeuvre most drivers know. Yet Bill followed instruction and pulled the trailer through the curve and up the hill without downshifting.
Mountain Trip Lessons for Class 1 Licence
Bill rose to the challenges presented by this implausible drive and learned valuable lessons that this road imparts:
- Shifting up and down hills.
- Slowing before a curve, braking on the straight and then powering through the corner to pull the trailer, thus maintaining control of the unit, especially in slippery conditions.
- Downhill braking and engine retarders.
- Maximizing space on narrow roads.
Finding Employment as a Commercial Driver
At the outset of his course, Bill networked, and networked well. As a result of his sales job at the Auto Parts store, he knew tons of people. On his way to a job in trucking Bill talked to people and informed them of his goal to get his Class 1 licence and potentially work as a commercial driver in the oil patch. On the second Thursday, Bill successfully passed his Class 1 Driver’s exam. On Tuesday following, he began working at a trucking job in Grand Prairie, AB. In the next instalment of Bill’s story, it proved true that the “real learning in trucking comes after drivers gets their licence!”