Tanker Training

As many of you may recall I was very interested since the beginning of my trucking career to drive a tanker trailer. There are many kinds of tankers, and they haul all sorts of different goods. Dry goods, wet goods, vapors, etc. I would suppose many think of gasoline tankers zipping around the country, some may even think of flour, grains…even others may think of hazardous materials (HAZMAT) like corrosives. In fact though there are actually special classes of hazardous materials. 9 total classes and within those 9 classes, there are sub identifiers. Class 1 for example is explosives. Class 9 is typically the “other” category… lol.

Drivers need a special endorsement not only to drive a tanker itself, but if they are going to haul hazmat, they need a second endorsement. Not all tanker drivers want, need, or can even qualify for the hazmat endorsement as it is an endorsement that must be vetted through an FBI background check. So you can have the Tanker endorsement, you can have a Hazmat endorsement without the tanker endorsement, or you can have the Tanker/Hazmat combination endorsement. I got the combination Tanker/Hazmat, because I just wanted everything covered. My employer does haul tankers, however, only about 30% are hazmat, and even that 30% are Packing group II or III, which signifies a lesser degree of hazard. Packing group I is the most hazardous. Here is Chart of information on Hazardous Material Classifications for those interested.

Well, an opportunity arose this year back in May to get onto a tanker route which also would have opened me up to the whole 48 states, so I requested the transfer and went for the training. Not the only female in the bulk division, but the only one in this training group. There were about 15-20 students all together, and we were separated into those who already had Class A driving experience, and those who had no driving experience yet. (their courses were an additional 2 weeks or so). They overlapped in different classes, and there were certain overlaps when we were in the yard doing exercises on the equipment. (meaning it wasn’t myself and my two classmates) they combined 7 of us on the yard day.

But anyhoo… I showed up to day 1, greeted myself to a mid-fifties guy in a work shirt, safety vest, jeans, and ball cap covering his grayish hair, sitting at a registration table not keen on eye contact, and gave my name. I had to be written in on the roster list. Haha. He said, “Not a lot of transfers show up”, so they didn’t have my name on the printout. Strange, but okay… We had a lot of classroom PowerPoints and had to take some tests. I have yet to take a class at Schneider though that is remotely entertaining — no diss, but every presentation I’ve had to partake in is so daggone dry. Even a recent class (the flatbed training) the instructor actually read the manual to me word for word, page by page, to which after chapter 5 or whatever he was hacking up a lung from so much dry talk. I did suggest if they make him do that to just record it and hit play. People coughing or sneezing in my presence has always given me the willies. Okay moving on….

I had two classmates. They were friendly, nice, and we all passed the tests, and went for our test drives (separately). I totally can’t stand driving under others’ scrutiny. This was no different. I was so excited though! I was actually driving a tanker trailer!!! I felt the liquid hitting (pounding) the back of my cab as I made my first stop. Oh my! They had told me the myth buster about how the sloshing propels the tank forward at a stop was merely a habit of a driver’s tendency to relax their foot on the brake after coming to a stop in a ‘regular’ vehicle, but that a tanker driver cannot afford to relax their foothold on the brake. Well, true to form, and completely affirming my confirmation bias on instructors, we were not even on the road five minutes, and he proceeded to criticize me for going fluctuating 5 & 10 miles under the 35 mph speed limit on the winding road through town, condescendingly stating that “Students in the inexperienced class had no trouble going 35 here” and “If others tried to pass me in haste and had an accident that I was culpable”. Where do these people come up with this absolute NON-SENSE? First of all, I’m driving a tanker for the first time ever, and not sure what the sloshing effect is like, and second we were going through a construction zone! Funny thing is, this guy evidently wasn’t a practitioner of Schneider’s “Take 5” technique that our company safety team teaches us, one part of which is take 5 mph off for every hazard so you are not driving too fast for conditions. Thank you but I will take care and not outdrive my comfort level, sir! Way to encourage your student…

Then came yard day 1. There were 7 of us out at three different stations, and although I didn’t pay much mind to it at the time, I was off by myself and the other two groups had 3 guys each. I actually brushed it off as they realized I was slower than the others and didn’t want me holding up class. I did end up questioning their reasoning for why I was separated off in the end, but at the time was more focused on trying to learn, and do, and pass everything. First part of the yard exercises were to see if we were comfortable climbing and walking around on the narrow catwalk on top of the tankers. Kneeling, bending, reaching latches, etc, and climbing up and down. Then the next two were actually performing 2 types of off-loading. Air & pump off loads. The curriculum procedure was we execute the process 3 times – first the instructor shows us and explains as we follow and do each step, then we execute it and can ask for help, then the third time is by ourselves with no help to see if we “pass”.

Here’s where it gets a bit sticky for me. Let’s set the stage by stating I’m not my ideal weight, nor am I in my 20’s anymore. I did pass all the pre-work screens, so we knew I could handle what would be asked of me. Thing is, I was so focused on the learning and passing that I didn’t see until later how the fact that I was alone in my own yard group impacted me.

The two off-load techniques required multiple climbs to the top of the tanker, and multiple ground connections / disconnections of 4-inch hoses. The hoses were not by any means light, either. I will state that I completed and passed all of the yard exercises. I about fell down though at the very end of my last test. I was so sore, so burnt out, so HOT from the 90’s & humid heat, that no one could tell the sweat that was dripping off me in pools was mixed more with tears of pushing myself to the limits. You see, being a group of one, I wasn’t afforded the downtime the other team/group members had as they took turns. I completed these exercises back to back 3 times each, with no breaks in between. I actually had to ask for a break on the second round of the second test. Sure, couch-coachers would say “You should have just taken breaks”. But they weren’t there, and they don’t all know my driven personality of Doing-what-it-takes-to-get-it-done. Technically, I outperformed the men since I did all these things back to back without any rest period, or so I was telling myself as I was wrestling in my own mind as to how this was simply not as joyful as I initially dreamed of. My heart was breaking and I couldn’t understand the why’s of it.

I showed up the next morning for the third phase of the training which was to go out with a training engineer to see what an actual delivery was like and drive more than those 15 test miles, and after having been wrestling with it the past two days and all night made the final decision to request that I be released from the program and return to my previous team. I couldn’t not see myself as able to perform anything of use, and actually even more a hazard on the road than anything.

I was completely heartbroken. I still am a little bit, which is why it took me 6 months to write this blog post. In the end I trusted God that it just wasn’t the right time, or the right team, or heck who knows, but I left training and returned to pulling orange boxes. I continued to grow and learn and take steps to try new strategies for keeping my head in the game. Trying and testing new skills on keeping my morale up. Continually analyzing things in my efforts to keep moving forward. I will tell you there were a few rough spots over the summer, but I was moved yet again to step outside of myself in an effort to grow. That is when my desire to visit our corporate offices in Green Bay was born. My thoughts were, I know everyone has pain points they deal with in their roles. What if I reached out to different teams to learn their pain points and see how can I adjust what I do on a daily basis to help them out. While I was at it, what else could I learn about the biz, to get more of a bigger picture than just my 8×8 house on wheels?

I approached my leadership team, and our driver relations team, and the idea was very well received. I blogged about it in My Visit to Orange Blog post. While at corporate I made a connection with the Eastern Regional VP over Van Truckload. He is (in slang terms) my boss’s, boss’s boss’s boss. LOL. That was in August. Two months later that connection set me up for where I currently am today in Flat-Bedding, which I also blogged about.

I feel like I finally found a great fit to my goals and aspirations/inspirations here at Schneider. I’m about a month and a half in on the Flat bedding account and just love it. Who’d’a thunk it. God is a good God. I learned a lot about myself in-between Tanker and Flat-bedding. Top three:

  1. I now summarize myself as “Inquisitive, Analytical, and prefer to draw my own conclusions based on facts.”
  2. I have stopped apologizing for being the me that I was created to be.
  3. I will not accept being spoken to with less respect than I give others.

Cheers – I hope you remember when you fall, be sure to explore it… but of all things, I know if you are reading this you have what it takes to get back up and sort out another approach to reach your dreams. You can do it. I guarantee it.

Love, Respect, & Blessings to you,

JJ

xx

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