I paid a terrible price to get home this week. I had to get my load at a place in Pennsylvania that I had never been to before and which features a trucker's nightmare -- a blindside dock. Was I paying penance for something I did wrong? I'm sorry, God! I'll never do it again -- I promise (whatever it was I did)!! But I HAD to get that load, so my fate was sealed.
For those of you out there who are scratching their heads at the terminology I'm using, I will explain. The right (passenger) side of a truck is commonly referred to as the "blind side." This is for rather obvious reasons, namely that the driver has many blind spots on that side, where he can't see at all. The worst place is right smack beside the passenger door and front fender area. A car hiding there is twice as likely to get smacked by a truck which might wander slightly off-course on an uneven road surface than they otherwise might. So, there's a hint for all of you -- stay away from that area of a truck, as much as you can!! You have been warned!!
If you ever chance to watch a truck back into a dock, you'll see that drivers commonly do whatever they can to get the driver's side of the truck facing the dock. This includes making U-turns, or even going around the block and changing directions, if necessary. That's because it's easy for the driver to see on their own side of the truck. You can see everything in that position, while you're backing in.
However, because of the location of some docks, it's impossible to get that side next to the dock and that makes things MUCH more difficult! This is the type of dock arrangement I encountered Friday, in a little burg south of Allentown, PA. Backing into a blindsider, once you start turning the trailer, all the driver can see out the passenger window is the side of the caboose.This involves trying to get positioned just so, when you begin backing, cutting at the precise time, getting back under the trailer at the proper time, so as not to oversteer it, and making lots of GOALs (Get Out And Look).
Well, I don't always climb out, really. I learned early-on that you can just roll down the passenger window, stop, set the brakes, then lean over there and look back at the ass-end of the trailer, in order to see where you're going. But it's necessary to stop and do this any number of times, depending on how difficult the situation is. And this one was quite a challenge.
First, I had to make a U-turn in front of the dock, in order to get my rear end facing it. Barely room, but do-able, dodging parked 4-wheelers on the lot. Then pull out, almost straight, but leaving my trailer angled slightly toward the dock. This set me up for the attempt and that part went well. Then take a deep breath, put 'er in reverse and slowly start creeping backward. At this point, I can see clearly in my right mirror.
What made things interesting here was the fact that I had to first back up past two huge dumpsters, then cut it around a steel support beam and concrete pillar, jack it into the dock's "driveway," cut it enough to miss slamming into the pillar and support beam on the other side, dodge a concrete buttress back there somewhere and also not slam into several 55-gallon drums lying around, or run over a stack of steel pipes on my left side. I also couldn't open my trailer doors until I was back beyond the support beams. One misjudgment and you could kiss a trailer door goodbye. Don't take much to snap those aluminum hinges off. I wanted to get loaded and head home, not spend several hours in the nearest trailer repair shop, thank you!! I had already figured all that out beforehand, because I'm smart, see? I had gotten out and surveyed the situation well before I put the tranny in reverse.
Ahead on points, at that point, I rolled on backward until I cleared the dumpsters and could see the support and pillar. Then I began to cut the trailer to the right, slowly. The side of my box filled the mirror and I used the power button to "pan" it out as much as I could, so I could see the back end for as long as possible. Soon enough, the mirror was panned out and I stopped, rolled down the window on the other side, set the brakes and crawled over there for a look-see. Looked good, so far. I seemed to be missing the pillar handily. Pull up a little bit and start cutting the opposite way, I thought.
I did so, rolled back and BANG! Looked again and I had hit the concrete pillar. Crap!! So, pull up, shift my position a bit, then start back again. BANG!! I'd hit the damned thing again!! Third try and another BANG!! Hell, was that pillar from hell jumping out in front of me??!!! No, but it sure seemed like it. This time, I climbed out and did another survey -- a complete GOAL, if you will. Hmmmmmm.
I only had about four feet of "pull-up" space in front of me, before I would hit a ditch and a chain-link fence that had been trashed by several trucks in the past, by the look of it. I used every inch of it and then some. Even went into the grass a little. Knocked a 55-gallon drum into the fence. I didn't care at that point. I just wanted to get the thing in the dock and be done with this ordeal. Slowly, inch-by-inch, I crept backward, stopping three more times to GOAL. Finally, I was between the supports, headed into the dock. I opened the doors, then backed it and jacked it a little more, to get the rear of the trailer square to the dock, so they could get the dock plate down and load me. Tractor was cockeyed to the trailer. Who the hell cares?? Not me. I had worked my butt off just getting it in there and I wasn't worried about it being crooked. I wasn't seeking perfection, just functionality, in that case. I rested while they loaded me. Didn't really care if they got in a hurry or not. I wasn't.
Glad that one's over, I'll tell you. I always dread the thought of ever going back to places like that again, but I might be back there in two weeks, for all I know. However, having done it once, it'll be a little easier next time, because now I know what I did wrong and how to avoid mistakes in the future. In trucking you never stop learning, no matter how experienced you are!