Students Learn How to Come Through in the Clutch

Unlike students from a couple of generations ago, today’s truck-driving wannabes usually only have driven vehicles with automatic transmissions. That makes teaching them how to use a truck’s clutch more of a challenge than it was back in the day.

So Truck America Training instructor Ann Wooldridge spent some time on Day 2 discussing this critical part of a truck’s operation.

“Let the [in-cab] trainer help you,” Wooldridge told the seven students, who range in age from 25 to 50. “Leave your hand on the shifter even if the trainer puts his hand on top of yours because he wants you to feel the gears shift.

PHOTO GALLERY: Photos of students, classroom and training property. 

“You’ll get better and better every day you drive a truck, but I don’t care how many years you’ve been driving, you’re just going to lose [the clutch] sometimes,” Wooldridge while explaining that a truck’s clutch is different than a car’s and that upshifting is easier than downshifting because of the tendency to do the latter too fast. “After a while, you’ll be able to listen and hear that motor. If you don’t know what RPM you’re at, you don’t know how [much] to pump it to get it back in gear so always be glancing at it when you pull it out. RPM has to meet the road speed or it won’t open the door [to the next gear] and let you in.”

Speaking of trying to correct things, truck parts are like anything else, Wooldridge said: “Duct tape’s good.”

As for the driving test on Sept. 14 or 15, Wooldridge had some suggestions for "coming through in the clutch" in that key situation. She encouraged the students to imagine that the testing officer, who’s an active or retired Kentucky state trooper, is their child or their mother.

“Think that you’re taking ’em for a safe ride,” she said. “It will help calm your nerves. And if you’re real nervous, put in a piece of gum. It will help you stay calm.” 

- By David Elfin, Transport Topics staff reporter. Photo by John Sommers II for Transport Topics