This week I’ve once again joined the exciting industry of truck driving with Weastern Express. I would like to write out the journey and reflect on my experience this 1st week of orientation.
For those who don’t know I should probably begin with a brief bio about myself so that you know who I am and where my background/perspective is coming from. I’m from Buffalo, Ny – Ive driven truck for a total of 1.5 years. First with Werner then a regional company called Northeast Transport. Before truck driving I have been a bartender at various places including Germany at a beer garden in Munich. Also I have a 7 year long career as a finacial advisor for a local firm that manged retirement plans for New York state teachers. I have been pretty much everywhere already prior to truck driving. As a seasoned traveler, I am pretty well aquainted to a nomadic lifestyle (It’s almost the story of my entire life of a truth). In my travel experience, I’ve learned many skills that I’ve found actually useful in truck driving, which i felt helped me transition into the industry. I am not a white collar snot as some may think – but make no mistake I am a sharp in my own own investments. On the side I have my investments in several small game developers and local buisnesses around Buffalo, as well as my rental property. I built my empire from the ground up, and I refuse to live “pay check to paycheck”… Financial management is ingraved into my very soul – right next to Jesus Christ – and over the years I worked hard ro get where I am 😎. For the past 8 months or so I have been out of the trucking game, living on my investment income for personal reasons, and hating every wakeing moment of it. Its actually kind of weird for me to stay home – Without adventure, and exploration what is a life worth?
I absolutely love this industry and I’ve grown so much in it already – I hope to grow even further. I signed up for western express because they tend to have more routes in the south, also I would like to transfer to flatbed after winter. It was a company I was seriously considering in truck school though I went with Werner- I figured why not see what I missed out on. So there is a lot of reasons I came here… That all said let us begin with my journey here at Western Express.
Day 1; ‘The Bus Ride’:
I spoke to a recuiter on the phone and while Western express has a closer terminal to home in Allentown, PA – I requested to go to their Nashville, TN terminal instead. He told me thats not a problem at all, sent me a bus ticket and this is where I suppose I should begin my journey. (Feel free to scroll down to day 2)
At 7pm in Buffalo the Greyhound bus was loaded and headed to Cleveland. I was set to arrive in Nashvile by 9 am next morning… Knowing I wouldn’t get much sleep with transfers and bumpy buses I adjusted my sleep cycle to “night owl” before the bus ride. It was going to be a smooth ride of audio books and music. I figured I would stay up all day when I got to Nashville at the hotel to reset my sleep cycle. This isnt my first rodeo and that kinda planning is a skill not many possess. Over many of my travels I’ve learned how to be highly flexible about sleep, but always be prepared in advanced about it.
When I arrived in cleaveland my troubles began. The next bus was delayed 2 hours AND that ment I would miss the bus to Nashville!!! At that moment I knew this was going to be a whole can of things i dont wanna deal with… SO I ate a cheeseburger, sucked it up, and just prepared to trudge through the worse.
I got to cleaveland at 4 am and they gave me a new bus to Nashville… leaving at 11:30 arriving at 4pm… Thus a total delay by 7 hours 😡 I got to know some people on the bus in the terminal. None of us could sleep under the fluorescent lighting, also the floor was too dirty to even consider for a bum, and we couldn’t leave as the bus station was in the only section of town surrounded by highways. In this prison I tried to lift spirits of these mixed people with sorded stories… Though myself was entering a ghostly state of mind running only on muscle memory.
When the next bus came I managed a short nap enroute to Nashville, which perked me up just enough to make it through the day. I can not in anyway say greyhounds customer service through this ordeal was admirable. They were pretty much consistently rude throughout the entire experience from Buffalo to Nashville…. AND Im pretty much just going to stick with airplanes or trains or boats from now on.
I get to the hotel at 5 pm and sure enough I have a room mate. He seemed like an ok guy, he was an older guy from Georgia – training for flatbedding. However, I cut our formalities short and told him I need to sleep… 6 pm I was out and done with for the day.
Any company you train with BTW, you are going to have a room mate in these hotels. If you are a new to trucking know this now and accept the fact – its not so bad tbh. Just be sure to bring headphones incase they snore 😉
DAY 2 ‘Orientation Begins’
I began my day with breakfast at the hotel. It was a cramped room of mix matched people, and cheap food but pretty good coffee. The bus came for the terminal and we huddled into a mass like passengers to Ellis Island….
When I got there it was a crowded unorganized chaos in a tight room. I felt they expected me to automatically know what I am supposed to do and how to do it… Come to find out we were not there to smoke, drink coffee, and chat with people. But thats what I did until lunch time was announced… (Who Knew right).
Apparently I was supposed to fill out forms and take a drug test. Which I ran through quickly during the ‘wonderful’ chicken sandwhich lunch they gave me… Day 2 was a day I was basically fighting with the crowd constantly. I fought with them to get on the bus, I fought to get off the bus, I fought to get coffee at the nearby pilot (truck stop), I fought to get a seat or even move in the room, I fought to get the lunch that I hated, I fought to get on a computer to fill out paperwork (which im gonna talk about in a moment)… This wasnt like werner’s orientation at all – it was a complete mess of people and nobody knew what they were doing packed like rats.
After lunch it was backing test and road test and a short class until 5 pm.
The road test is what I’d like to highlight. I was first to drive in our group of 3. The first thing I asked the lady was; “Shall I start with a pretrip”… professionally this is said what we should always do, but in my experience most testers dont really want to bother after you have your license. So I’ve found its just best to ask before you start so you dont upset your tester…. She of course insisted I didnt bother, she already did it earlier and everything was fine, according to her. She just wanted to get this over with and thats all very well. “Cool with me” I thought…. I thought wrong.
The minute the truck pulled out of the yard she got a call that the trailer lights are out… I stoped the truck, she went back to jiggle the wire and told me were set to go along with this whole speach about how unsafe it would have been to leave without marker lights during the day time…. [Detect subtle sarcasm].
We get down the road maybe just minutes in and sure enough the marker lights went out again. I pulled over we switched seats and she took over heading us back to the terminal… For a minute there I thought she set this up deliberately and I failed because I didnt pre trip… We came to a random lot, she turned the truck around a little too sharply and the airlines snapped right off… Thus our trailer breaks locked and we were on the side of the road waiting to be picked up…. (I was now especially worried she sat all this up because I didn’t pre trip). 😂
Lucky for me this wasnt a set up. A new truck came, while she stayed with the old. I took my test from there and passed without incident. We passed her 3 times, and on the third she had a western express mechanic on site. I just took it as they respond pretty slow to incidents considering shes right down the street, but maybe 30 mins isnt too bad…
IDK and id hate for this to sound like I am complaining, because I am not. I am just documenting my experience and these kinds of things could be telling about how this company operates. Welcome to Truck Life, the key in this game is always atleast try to stay positive and friendly or it will eat your soul…. BUT adventure and $$$ is why I signed up, with all that it entails 🤠
For those actually interested in the road test, all Im going to say is its nothing to stress about. I am more experienced, and perhaps its easy for me to say so. 1 of the guys was fresh out of school and though hes not really up to snuff as a driver yet, he did ok on it. Just dont hit anything or do something stupid and you will pass. Its an automatic truck even, so you dont even have to worry about grinding gears. I dont think any of the driving tests during orientation are going to disqualify you with this company. They’re just pretending to scale where you’re at as a driver. Several instructors there told me it really doesnt matter if you even do the tests. Which is cool I guess… pardon me if I sat out of the backing test and they didnt have time to take me anyway. I just watched all the eager rookie drivers compete for their turn to prove they have backing game and sipped coffee conversating.
(I’m too old to even pretend to care about things I’m not getting paid for, and otherwise have no other incentive to deal with)
The class was a standard lecture on the company. Im so and so, i worked here for 100 years and im the best “enter job description here”, Its a great company for xyz reason, theres this option and that, here is a list of the rules, heres a photo of our ceos… We took a short multiple choice test on common sense things…. And left.
I got back to the hotel, walked over to Jack in the Box. Hung out with my room mate untill we were tired. Called it a day.
The Fine Print
If you are a new truck driver honestly this company might be good for you, there is quite a bit of discipline to be found here. Further there is a lot of options and oppertunities available. However if your new, I know you want the ugly face truth too from someone who knows a thing or two. My own reserves began with something I signed in the paperwork…
$1 per mile fee for off the route travel.
No alcholic beverages whatsoever.
These are gonna be an issue for me haha. I am not an alcoholic, infact I only drink maybe once a month or more – but I am also a grown man. If I want to drink now and then I will, though certainly not while driving. My own time is my own time and none of the companies buisness… I am curious to see how they go about policing this policy, and yet being told I can never drink at all makes me want to even more then I normally would… I am a cowboy and rebel after all 😎.
The $1/mile off route charge policy is the big ticket red flag. If youre a rookie I will tell you right now that in itself is tempting for me to leave… They have a crappy GPS that i know already will put me through a lot of bs. Talking with some guys who are at the hotel thats been with a trainer, only confirmed what I already knew. Not to mention assigning me fuel stops means, I no longer have options between subway or chesters for dinner… Im stuck with whatever is at that assigned truck stop, in their quest to nickle and dime me on gas…. And frankly, thats just not cool… Though I will end up cooking my own food anyway.
Of course however Im thinking more about my paycheck then food… They have this policy, yet they themseleves do not “assign routes”. They just tell drivers to go by the qualcomm GPS, and that gps will change its route constantly while you are in route – or route you onto nonexistent roads – or it will put you on roads you actually shouldnt ever in no way shape or form drive a truck in… With that, you may understand why this policy is pretty ambigious to someone who knows better… I can only speculate whether I should use my Rand Mcnally or not. They go by practicle miles… which, leads me to thinking there is an invisible range of miles im allowed to go between point A to point B untill they start taking $$ from my check. I am not driving through cities I have no stops in. Im taking the beltway around every time. Im also not going through neighborhoods and back alleys… [I’ve already been traumatized by Qualcomm GPS, not about to repeat some things ive already been through with the thing again today]… If that becomes an issue with my paycheck I’m going back to Werner plain and simple. I actually like werner but i signed up just to try something different and maybe switch to flatbed later after winter. At the end of the day, my patience with my money and peoples bullshit is very thin.
DAY 3 – Coporate Indoctrination
The second day of orientation was everything I hate. Classes about things I already know about, followed by an obstacle course… Well, actually I was looking forward to the obstical course, untill I found out it was actually colder outside that day in Nashville then home in Buffalo….
The first class was all about the qualcomm… Honestly I wish werner had this class during orientation when I first started driving. I thought it was good for a rookie, but I know my way around it now – and I was completely bored for 2 hours. I dont want my experience with Qualcomm’s here to ruin it for a noobie… LEARN everything you can in this class, because really I wish I had it when I first started. Its not complicated but it will take some confussion out of your equation.
The second class was all about driver safety. The guy teaching this class boasts his status of “The Resident Asshole”, and really hes not from what I can tell – and infact I enjoyed his lecture. He shed a completely philosophical and almost poetic light on safe truck driving. (This is where the title of this article actually came from). Now here too, was a slew of things I already knew, but I did enjoy the fresh deliverance of the material.
Lunch time I skipped… Keep in mind this is a trucking company not a restraunt… I wasnt desperate enough for it. Soon enough the bus came to take us to the main terminal for the obstical course.
The obsticle course consisted of a huge crowd of people standing around waiting their turn to prove their stuff in 90 deg (c-side) backing, as well as a crazy course of turns driving forward… As I said it was cold, and I packed to be in the south with a light coat and light jeans… the frigid air cut straight through my clothes for 5 hours, as once again rookie drivers fought over their turn to get on the truck and show their amazing skills. There wasnt enough time for everyone and I conceded myself from it just as with yesterdays backing test. Being from buffalo i know the key to getting through the cold is to to keep moving. So i took a stroll through the crowd to get my blood going… Maybe that looked weird to these southern boys but they froze as they stood still like statues.. I coaxed a few to walk and talk with me so i wouldnt look weird but they didnt seem to get the concept even as I explained it. to be fair it only takes the edge off, it doesnt cure or make it much better. Nevertheless its just another tip from my bag of survival skills.
After manuvers was a pretrip lecture dragging yard time out a further 30 more pain staking minutes… However Im glad I endured it, infact I learned some new things about pretrip inspections and how people in Tennesse do it… As a driver for awhile myself, Ive just noticed different states teach different things with pre-trip. As one who actually values pre trip inspections, the somewhat different methods break up the motony and add to my world veiw in some way. I learned new things to check for that I otherwise would never have considered… But I hardly think theyre relevant of a truth.
The bus came and we dipped out as fast as our legs could run to the bus.
DAY 4 Hotel DAY!!
Today is day 4. Currently I am waiting for a driver code (employee Id) and to be assigned a trainer, hopefully on Monday… Otherwise im just sitting in my room with my room mate writing the experience on my blog…. And I feel like at this point, someone is asking about how great the hotel is… haha.
Its not a fun hotel… it looks like they had a pool once but its filled in with dirt. The carpets are stained, and the blankets are just sheets. Theres a tv and a shower, and the wifi sucks. Its still too cold for me to want to go anywhere, but jack in the box and other places are a short walk away. I have unlimited 4g with mobil hotspot and a laptop with a busted screen… otherwise I would be on GW2 instead of writing this article…
And maybe that is why my laptop screen broke the day before I left to get here 🤔 [Im not one to believe in coincidences]
If you are a rookie looking for a company and what you have to go through here at Western Express, I hope you found this article useful in someway. A lot of people here that I’ve spoken to have felonies or other reasons for not being able to go to other companies. I cant say myself I think this is the best company out there, infact Im tempted to go back to Werner already or maybe check out Schneider. Unlike many here, I have plenty of options to pick from. I am told because of my experience I dont need a trainer, but I insisted on getting one anyway to help shake the rust off my absence from trucking and maybe learn a new thing or 2 from someone more experienced then me. The recuriter told me he will put me in for one, but he thinks just a week with one will do fine for me. For a rookie training here its only a month long process. (At Werner my training was 3.5 months). Short training honestly is the better route in my opinion. If I were just entering the industry. From what I can see of this company I would actually reccomend Western Express to a noob.
The selling point with western express, from my perspective, is on the road they limit your options and tell you where to get gas, what to think, where to stop, and where to park your truck at hometime… At werner I had nobody holding my hand at all and a lot of things in the beginning was very stressful because of it. Taking thinking for yourself out of the equation, is where its worth getting an initial 6 months experience into the game here. The short training period is another perk – because really you should forget the word “training”… in most cases its team driving but the ‘trainer’ gets paid a lot guap off of your miles plus his/hers. You’ll just get a few dollars to appease you and keep you interested in the game. It can also get fatigueing to be out too long with a trainer – that was pretty much my sentiment when I trained with werner… Its not so much about “learning” parsè, it’s about getting what little you already learned in truck school – honed and matured. In my case I want a trainer only because i want to learn about the company from a driver whos been here a long while… And with any luck he has some tips and tricks to show me along the way… though I expect we will be team driving all the same as any rookie would, and im not so strapped for cash to be too worried about earning more then $500 next week….
As for myself and already going through the wringger and learning the game a bit, this complete ‘dont think just do’ policy could become an irritating feature – I am a highly free spirited person – and I dont want to work for JB Hunt either for this reason. (JB Hunt does the same thing, but much more extreme). If youre a rookie, your not gonna think for yourself with a trainer at any company on the road anyway. and really you should sit whatever attitude you may have about it aside and absorb every ounce of wisdom you can get. Be studious and you will actually go far in this industry, your dispatcher will hansomly reward you if he sees that trait in you – NOBODY likes a jerk, but especcially if hes a know nothing jerk. However, as for myself I’m here now and otherwise I think ill go ahead and give them a chance. I’m just going to stay positive, pick my battles, be friendly and (yes even me) learn, Learn, LEARN!
That is my experience at Western Express orientation thus far. If you have any questions, drop it in the comments or shot me an email by Clicking Here