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Training With A Stranger In A Semi

This video offers my answer to a question from the Vlog by JustHoofinIt (AKA Maggie).


I really had to think about how to answer Maggie’s question because…

My finishing was T-O-U-G-H

I mean really challenging.

That doesn’t mean it was bad – OR – that I think my trainers are bad people.

I don’t.

In fact, I started out with respect for them and their skills and abilities and still have that respect. I had it before I ever met either of them. They deserved it.

However, with thoughtful consideration of this question, I came to the realization there’s a difference between how a person acts in a given situation and the person themselves.

My training experience simply pushed me further than I ever expected – in ways I never expected.

My guess is, that getting in a truck with a stranger, to learn to drive a semi, is a stressful thing to start with. More people probably suffer from misunderstandings that come out of that stress – and then call it a nightmare – than anything truly diabolical; like drivers who get drunk while out training a student and other such ridiculousness.

For months after finishing, I wondered why Jai had gotten the “training angel” and I had such a hard time?

Jai’s trainer was J.W. Yates, a brilliant teacher who has a way of letting his students guide him on how to teach them. Like I said, brilliant. The bit of video I managed to grab while Jai was heading out can be found here.

There is no real answer to the question above, other than the obvious. Jai got the person he needed… and so did I.

I was the first Con-Way student for both of my trainers

That’s like being the first person to go to the moon. They don’t yet know if the ship will make it, or not. LOL

J.W. Yates

J.W. Yates  –  A good friend to this day!

Now, don’t get me wrong. Con-Way doesn’t allow people to train who don’t have many safe miles (read years) logged behind the wheel. No rookies are training at Con-Way. And I asked! That said…

…a truck driving *teacher* is a specialized individual. They have great driving skills and instincts yes, but they also know how to deal with the very nervous, often overwhelmed person sitting behind the wheel of the truck they’re training in.

A good *teacher* knows how to guide and direct, encourage, inspire and challenge each student to be their best.

J.W. Yates is just such a teacher.

I’m SO thankful that Jai got him.

As for me, I was so excited to get started that I rushed in, stuck out my hand and expected my best friend to be at the other end. That wasn’t the case.

For a long while, after my training experience, I was angry.

I couldn’t talk about it without triggering those feelings. Which I didn’t like. And… there was inner conflict.

I didn’t want to be dishonest and say it was great and I had a great time – because it wasn’t great and I didn’t get to make life-long friends with either of my trainers, like Jai did. However…

…I also didn’t want to say negative things about any other Con-Way driver. So, this meant I couldn’t say anything at all – and that’s what I did until…

Maggie asked her excellent question.

So, I spent several nights on our way across I-40, heading to California, to think about what it was I didn’t want to look at… and looked.

Fact Is…

My first trainer was abusive.

That’s a very difficult thing for me to say. As difficult as it was to go through.

She didn’t abuse me physically.

It was verbal.

I didn’t take 72 hours take for the abuses to start.

It was so unexpected… so completely out of left field that at first, I was just shocked.

I thought, “Geezus, I can get along with anyone. This will settle down as we get more comfortable with one another. It’s gonna be ok.”

Well, it didn’t settle down. It escalated. Everything I did to make it better… didn’t work.  I was dumbfounded.

Hey, I know I can be as cranky as the next guy or gal… and I don’t present a simple picture. I competed in Miss America Pageants (because it gave me an outlet to sing) and owned two motorcycles! One of them was a 1969 Harley Shovel Head. I know… kind of hard to get your head around a Harley ridin’ beauty queen.

I like fingernail polish and makeup. I like pretty dresses and beautiful shoes… but also have a totally tooled up wood shop, complete with all the trimmings. (no pun intended) I can run a table saw, a router, any power tool any day of the week… And I love trucks.

These things don’t often go together and perhaps it puts some folks off… but this training situation was just way out of control. Nothing I did made it better.

It came to a point where I was only allowed to speak when spoken to.

On one occasion – the 4th or 5th day – I was to move the tandems and put the trailer in the dock. It was around 5 o’clock in the morning.

By this point, I was cried out and totally focused on the job to the exclusion of all else. Had to be.

I jumped out of that truck, snatched up that handle, slid the tandems all the way back and put that trailer in the dock… while being yelled at (120 decibels), in front of the hostler driver, the shipper and every other driver there.

Everyone was watching with keen interest and occasionally shaking their heads. I’m not sure if that was at me or at the whole scene playing out in front of them.

I ran around the truck. Jumped up in the seat and down to the ground saying, “Yes ‘Mam” the whole time.

Now this sounds comical… but at the time, it wasn’t.

I had no preconceived ideas about what training would be like.

For that matter… I had no idea what it would be like to drive 400, 500, 600 miles or more a day.

My Grandfather drove a truck for over 40 years. As a little girl I sat in his truck and pulled the air-horn. Other than that, I had never been in a semi before.

I wasn’t afraid of the truck. I was never afraid of the truck.

I was afraid of where I had to go to get the loads! LOL

My biggest real fear was the customers… the loading docks… the people I had to deal with. I had never been on a loading dock in my life. What was that  going to be like?

Those were my biggest questions.

I’ve always had a natural ability with machines. Love machines. I love working with my hands. As an artist and furniture maker (two of my most beloved activities) I was comfortable with the truck and after a little practice took to it like a duck to water.

Backing was challenging. I needed to get a sense of the size – that’s how I learn. I needed to see it done from the outside. I got to do a little of that at CDL school… but I needed to get out in the real world and see it done.

That was something my first trainer wouldn’t allow… she wouldn’t let me get out and watch her back into a space, so I could get it in perspective.

I kept asking, “Please let me just get out and watch, so I can understand” and she would say “No”.

It was so frustrating!

My first trainer expected me to have everything mastered by day three. Of course that was impossible but what did I have to compare this situation to? Should I have mastered everything by now?

I thought maybe that’s what was supposed to happen and I was just failing miserably. This created massive levels of stress for me so that I eventually collapsed into tears.

Crying only made me feel ridiculous, weak and stupid. Angry with myself. I should have been able to do better… I kept telling myself. Well, not true!

By the end of the week, I think my trainer was hoping I would leap off the truck and say, “To hell with you and Con-Way, I quit!”

What she couldn’t have known was that was never going to happen.

If I had to cry every minute of every day to get through it, I would have. And nearly did through that first week.

If I were to go through that experience again now, it wouldn’t have gotten so ragged. But that’s the whole point of sharing this with others. If one point here helps someone else, it’s worth it to talk about my experience.

My second trainer started out much better. Very friendly. When I asked my first question, it upset her and I was told I should know better. I squeezed inside and shut down.

Who should I ask? I felt as though I had no one.

Being determined NOT to have three trainers, the two of us managed to bulldog our way through the next two weeks. It wasn’t fun… but I came out with 8,200 miles to my credit.

Took my tests and passed with nearly flying colors. A couple things were still unclear but those were taken care of by my tester. He was gentle and patient. Thank God!

I was told by my first trainer that she could keep me from driving for Con-Way, if I didn’t do what she said. This is absolutely NOT true. Conway has a lot invested in a new driver. They actually do want you to pass. They weigh a whole lot more into their decision regarding new drivers than what a single trainer has to say.

Your trainer’s job is to get you up to speed (literally and figuratively 🙂 toward being a good driver.  And it’s really only the beginning. It’s the beginning of your journey.

There’s a lot to get familiar with in this job. Here’s a short list:

  • road conditions (weather, traffic, construction zones)
  • timing, planning your fuel stops
  • trip planning
  • customer interaction (shippers, consignees)
  • using the Qualcomm (eLogs)
  • using the Qualcomm (Forms) which form to use, when, and for what. (I’m still learning about this after a year on the job!)
  • dealing with paperwork
  • doing transflow
  • moving tandems (forward or back, how many holes, bridge laws)
  • hooking/unhooking
  • relays
  • drop yards
  • weighing your load
  • strapping your load
  • backing into docks
  • parking at truck stops (where to and where not to)
  • backing between two trucks
  • dealing with trailer/truck issues
  • and more…

There’s a lot to this job. More than I would ever have guessed on the outside looking in.

Training is critical to help you get your feet on the ground. When someone (the trainer) purposely or not, makes it a stressful experience, it can seem like you’re going to spin helplessly out of control… You will or you won’t. It’s entirely up to you. Whatever you do … Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Do not take yourself off the truck. If you quit, that’s it. You’re done. It’s the end of the road for you, at Conway.

Take a deep breath.

Use the assets you have at your disposal. Primarily (with Con-Way at least) your advocate! Talk to someone who’s primary aim is to be there for “you”.

Know that you’re going to be given every chance to prove yourself.

Work hard.



Extract what you need and never give up.

If it’s hard for you… you’ll come out on the other end more determined and self-assured. I did.

I said earlier that I took to the truck and to shifting and handling the truck quickly… but other things weren’t so easy. I really had to work at it.

And it’s all worth it …and more.

Post your commentary in the COMMENTS section below and I’ll meet you here. 🙂 – Andrea

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Andrea Steward

Andrea Steward

Before driving professionally for Con-Way Truckload, Andrea was (and still is) a professional photographer/musician/singer/artist/writer and serial entrepreneur. She has written and produced 5 albums (available on CD Baby). Now... she's driving in a husband/wife truck driving team and LOVIN' IT with passion. "Life in America depends on truckers... my Grandaddy did it for 45 years, it might be in my blood!" - Andrea
Andrea Steward

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Andrea Steward
About Andrea Steward (145 Articles)
Before driving professionally for Con-Way Truckload, Andrea was (and still is) a professional photographer/musician/singer/artist/writer and serial entrepreneur. She has written and produced 5 albums (available on CD Baby). Now... she's driving in a husband/wife truck driving team and LOVIN' IT with passion. "Life in America depends on truckers... my Grandaddy did it for 45 years, it might be in my blood!" - Andrea
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9 Comments on Training With A Stranger In A Semi

  1. Thank you Andrea for the additional information. I really appreciate you opening up and revealing your painful experience, it’s healthy to talk about things that have been difficult and this sounds like one of those times for you. It will be very valuable to me in the near future. Like I told you, I will be going on the road with my boyfriend by the end of next week, that is if they keep him highlighted for home and don’t detour him again. This time around I am going to have him go through the process step by step with me so I’ll have even more insight to the procedure, it wont me so overwhelming. My biggest fear so far as been the finishing part. Of course, the only knowledge I had was what he went through and it ain’t pretty. LOL Another issue I will have is that I don’t smoke and I’m very healthy. I know alot of truckers do smoke so this will be difficult finding a finisher who doesn’t smoke and is female. Unfortunately, my boyfriend wont be able to train me because his first day out he had to call a tow truck to get him out of mud and its considered an accident in Con-way’s eyes. His trainer never showed him any tricks for situations like that. LIVE AND LEARN, I say. Again, thank you so much for all of the help and I’ll be sending you some of my recipe’s for the Instapot when I put them together. I am writing a cookbook of easy but healthy recipes for the road and for people with a busy life right now. 🙂

    Happy Trucking,

  2. Hi Maggie… so great to see your feedback and thoughts.

    I have never been interested in “hiding from myself”. With this training experience, I think it’s been such a busy year, so packed with change and activity – that I was content to let it lie. Coming to terms, honestly, with the lesson it held for me personally, is something I’ll credit to you, by asking the question. It was time to do a little house-cleaning.

    I think your idea of going through things with someone you trust and care for is sooooo great. Jai and I went into this together and both with limited information. It will give you a leg-up! So glad you have your helpmate.

    As to a non-smoking trainer, there are many. Now, I smoke – but am very particular in that I use all natural tobacco, no additives and windows must be open and other things… so it was a concern to me as well. There are trainers who do smoke – but not in the truck – and so have taken students who don’t smoke with no problems at all. I have since met other women trainers at Con-Way, so I know there are options and the Training Department will work with you to get you in the right situation, as far as that goes. They do try hard to make it happen. It may seem odd that I’m so interested in all things healthy and yet smoke… well, there’s more to that story for another time 🙂

    On your cookbook, I’m THRILLED you’re working on a cookbook with healthy recipes for busy people. Brilliant! You’re always welcome to Guest Post here – and we’ll help get the word out in whatever way we can, when your book is ready. It will be fun.

    Finally, trucking can be – like anything in life – a way to rise to the best in yourself. In one sense, it can happen faster because you’re dealing with so much on a daily basis that effects so many lives (traffic for example) …I no longer look at my training experience as a negative in life – or even painful. Thank you for the nudge to get that cleared up so the upshot of it all could be shared in a positive and constructive way.

    Keep your shiny side UP!

  3. My husband has been a driver for over 27 years and HE WILL BE MY TRAINER!!! Thank God because from so many of the stories I have read including yours, I’m thrilled that I won’t have to face that hurdle on top of just learning how to be a good driver. We will be starting orientation with Werner in March, and giving up our home, putting everything in storage….. We are ALL IN. I can not thank you enough for your vlogs n website because it has been an absolute wealth of information. I LOVE your attitude and approach to OTR…. It’s not just a job or career, but almost a life style in my opinion and I love that. I ordered the Bellicon and the Instapot two things I know I won’t be able to live without even before I’m on the road!! I hope our paths cross one day!!

    • It’s impossible to tell you how thrilled I am for you and your husband and your amazing, stupendous adventure that lies ahead!!! Thank you for ALL your kind words. It means a lot to me to know the videos and website are useful to you. Seriously. Can’t wait to hear how you like the Bellicon! …and of course the IP. Both have brought goodness into my life hehehe. Looking forward to that day we DO meet. I’ll be looking out for that Werner truck with two gorgeous people who eat well and have muscles! LOL. – Andrea (and Jai sends a HUGE hello and smile)

    • Hi Tanya,

      I’m really happy you have a “loved one” as your trainer LOL. A word of counsel – if you’re able – put aside everything and listen like you’ve never listened. Say “Yes!” to everything he teaches and realize it’s his job to turn you into a safe, reliable and conscientious driver. Do that… and you have EVERYTHING going for you (both of you). Training is difficult when it’s two strangers. Sometimes it can be hard when it’s a person we’re close to and know. But, in a training situation the student must listen/absorb more than they talk or communicate back. I hope this makes sense and doesn’t seem offensive. It isn’t meant to be. It’s just that through experience, I know that training pushes a person WAY out of their comfort zone (as it should) and demands more than one ever realized it would demand. Especially in a big truck with the stresses that brings all by itself (traffic, speed, possible violations, DOT, authorities etc., etc.) If you don’t find any of this helpful… well, just ignore it hehe… but it may come in handy to remember to breathe often, relax, listen and DO. 🙂 – Andrea

      P.S. Congratulations on getting the IP and the Bellicon! Use it everyday. It will change your life. And the IP is worth its weight in gold!

  4. I have to say that you are a very interesting person. I had seen a few of your YouTube videos and found them interesting. However, after watching your “back story” video, I find you to be immeasurably more I interesting. I can foresee a book in your future. And now finding your website, what you have to share is fascinating. Thank you for sharing your experiences. It is appreciated.

    • Hello Roberta,

      What a wonderful comment. Thank you for taking a moment to post it… it means a lot to me. I’m glad that you found this website and look forward to sharing more together! 🙂 – Andrea

  5. Wow, just wow! My wife has concerns; she wants to drive team with me in another year, but has valid concerns over being teamed up with a trainer in the beginning. She has read her share of nightmare trainer stories. I am a good driver, but probably the worst trainer for her as well. She wants me to help, but the help I offer makes her uncomfortable from a performance sort of way I suppose. Even though I try to exert patience, she feels that I am not. Nevertheless, even if she does go on to learn from me, I do believe that she would still have to face teaming with a trainer for what ever carrier we may decide to drive for. Since finding your YouTube channel and website only yesterday evening, we have found some of the best and most useful information from them. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. I’m sure my wife will be sending lots of questions.

  6. Hi Andrea and Jai,

    I’m a four-wheeler, but have been on the road many years out of necessity. my son went to college 6 hours away from “home” and I drove back and forth COUNTLESS times in those four years, ESPECIALLY when my daughter decided to ALSO attend the same college for two years (moving her into the dorm, I chalked my van windows to say “Both kids and ALL money are at Concord University!!”) It was that year I lost count at 13 round-trips, approximately 7,800 miles. Now, my son and his wife (whom he met in college and her family lives near there), with their daughter, live even further, about 7 hours away. But I’m almost ALWAYS with a CB radio, mostly for safety. You can’t always call people at 2:00 because you need to talk to just take the edge off the sleepies, and, regardless what the mobile companies tell you, there are LOTS of “dead spaces” out there! I have had sooooo many good experiences with drivers and only a couple bad ones. The best one was on returning from taking my son to college that first year, about 8 of us (Me being the only 4-wheeler!) were hop-scotching, leap-frogging, whatever 🙂 around each-other, back and forth, in and out and around for about 200 miles. WOW – We had a BLAST!

    One problem I find is, back in 2005, a LOT of drivers still used the CB, but now, it really seems to have fallen out of use. Why is that?

    Also, not a problem, but couple of questions; What are your handles? Do you drive on 64, 81, or 77 in Virginia & West Virginia? if so, are you out there on a certain schedule? Would LOVE to meet up with you!!

    Thanks, (another) Lisa (aka: Blue Jay Lady)

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