An education for the long haul

Under a full moon, student Zac Hyndman uses a flashlight to inspect the condition of a cab.

Under a full moon, student Zac Hyndman uses a flashlight to inspect the condition of a cab. Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.


In a 20-minute video available online, commercial truck-driving instructor Steve Harvey demonstrates the pretrip inspection that is part of the requirement to getting a commercial driver’s license in Washington state.

For each of those 20 minutes, Harvey takes the viewer through the meticulous work required of commercial truck drivers, from checking lights, tires, air pressure, brakes, clutch, valves, hoses and more than 100 other details required to pass. And that’s all before students test behind the wheel.

From the 5-acre training lot where Harvey teaches, trains and tests students, the instructor points out that there are actually 300 possible mistakes which can be made during the commercial driver’s license test — more for other endorsements, such as bus driving.

On a recent afternoon, big rigs moved slowly across the gravel ground, navigating orange cones from various angles as students took practice rides. Harvey said his students practice backing 100 feet straight, then offset into another lane, and finally, backing into a 90-degree turn.

Located east of the main college campus off Isaacs Avenue, the college’s commercial truck-driving program rests on land just past Klicker’s and on a road connecting U.S. Highway 12 with Isaacs. Over 10 weeks, Harvey prepares students with the training needed to pass the rigorous standards required of commercial truck drivers these days, as well as the behind-the-wheel training.

Paul Gumm’s first time behind the wheel of a big rig was in the college’s program.

“You’re a lot taller on the road,” said Gumm, 53. “There’s a lot larger blind spots there in a big truck. You’ve got a lot more concerns with traffic ahead of you because you’re so heavy. Even if you’re light, you need even more room to stop, because you’re sliding instead of stopping.”

The heavy focus on rules and regulation was almost too much for Gumm.

“If I’d known there was this much stuff to it, I don’t know that I would have come into this class,” he recalls telling Harvey early into the program. Gumm stuck with it, and this month will take the exam to earn his CDL. He is also testing for an endorsement to drive schools buses.

“I’ve already put in an application for a job here in town,” he said, saying he’d already had one interview and was optimistic about finding work soon.

“It’s an awesome feeling, that you know somebody wants you,” he said.


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