At the Farm GateFarms Need Licensed Truckers
That three-letter acronym for Commercial Driver’s License also stands for one of my biggest life achievements. Until two years ago, I had no idea how to drive a stick shift. Not even in a car. But our family farm needed more truck drivers, and I wanted to contribute. I stood determined to drive a 10-speed-transmission semi and learn to double clutch while mindful of a 42-foot-long trailer behind me.
Semis arrived on our farm about 30 years ago, a need driven by greater crop productivity, bigger farm equipment and the desire for efficiency. Today, we require people with this licensed skill in the spring to deliver seed and fertilizer to planters in the field, in the summer to get product to the sprayer, in the fall to move grain from field to storage, and another nine months of the year to haul grain to market.
Given my serious lack of experience, I must credit the patience of six men with licenses on the farm who encouraged and helped me earn a full-fledged CDL about 14 months ago. Poor Kent on the first day I attempted to learn straight-line backing, and poor Dale, who witnessed me crawl a hill in first gear from a standstill while fully loaded.
With the help of YouTube and excessive amounts of practice with members of our farm team riding shotgun, I passed all the required tests: the three written exams, the detailed under-hood inspection, the skills course, and the drive. Per test requirements, I parallel-parked the semi and grain trailer, successfully putting all 18 wheels inside the lines from the driver’s side. (Just in case I ever need to parallel park on a one-way street.) I aced offset backing with no pull-ups on my second skills course attempt, and afterward drove the city streets and interstate without missing a gear. Whew.
Most importantly, I gained empathy and respect for our team and other men and women who have mastered the skill. I now drive my minivan differently, understanding the risks that drivers of passenger vehicles can create in their sudden stops, haphazard lane changes and merges without consideration. All drivers should take a written CDL exam, if nothing more than to learn the length a semi needs to stop. To that, I would expect a loud and clear 10-4.
About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in West-Central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, hay and cover crops and raise beef cattle, backyard chickens and farmkids.