Driving Tips

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I know how to drive. I’ve been driving cars and trucks since 1968: motorcycles, small cars, pickup trucks and a long-nose Peterbilt 18-wheel semi-truck with 18 gears in the transmission. I have hauled freight and horses all over the eastern part of this country. I put 519,000 miles (835,000 km) on my last diesel pickup, and I now drive an all-electric Tesla with 260,000 miles (418,500 km) in 4 1/2 years and going strong.

I have been in only one accident, and he was drunk – and knew the cops.

In 1976 I was driving a horse van that could hold six horses. I graduated to a Mack truck hauling up to 15 full-size horses. I loved it. Today I drive from FL to the northeast and Louisiana and up to KY. When I’m not driving my car, I fly to WA and drive everywhere while there. I put on about 60,000 miles a year in this practice. I’m starting to get good at it.

So let me put here some driving tips for general driving and specifically driving horses.

Basic Tips –

  1. Get your sleep. Aim for 8 hours per night, starting when your circadian rhythm says to start and not when you need to leave. If you are an early bird, go to bed early and begin later in the morning if you are a night owl. Don’t fight this. The number one cause of traffic accidents is lack of sleep. The number one cause of road rage is chronic sleep deprivation (as well as high suicide in the military and the common thing amount mass shooters).
  2. Eat light before a long trip. High carb breakfasts make you drained. If you must eat, stick with fat and proteins plus or minus vegetables and avoid sugar to promote long-lasting focus.
  3. Do a check on your vehicle. I ALWAYS check all the tires every time I get in. Look for worn spots or damage, or low pressure. Check the pressure to make sure. Look at the moving parts of your engine, like belts. Has the oil been changed? Is the battery old? Look for leaking oil and check the level. Note historical issues like squeaks and rub sounds, then isolate and repair. Check the registration, your license, insurance, and any towing service to ensure all are up to date. Think of hiding a spare set of keys. Add all charging cords needed for phones etc. This advice is all basic so let me get on to driving.

Driving Truck and Trailer Tips –

Curves – Anticipate things. When a curve comes up, drive the truck like riding a horse on a jump course. Start the curve but have your eyes far ahead of where you want to be. For curves to the right, gently press the left hand upwards on the wheel and push the truck into the curve. You can use the right hand to assist in the turn but pulling down almost always causes you to turn too much. Use the right hand to push up into the curve for the left curve. If the curve forces your body into a leaning position, it also forces your horses into this position. The goal here is to remain upright. Let me give you a little-known secret about road construction. The curves are made for large trucks and engineered for easy in and out. The yellow caution signs with a curve and a suggested speed are there for TRUCKS, and guess what you are driving with a ton or more of horse flesh in the back.

Braking – Anticipate things. Look where you want to stop the truck, then apply the brakes by keeping your heel on the floor and rolling your foot into the pedal from small to big toe. With practice, this pivoting on the heel will prevent the sudden pressure on the pedal from sending your horses into the wall. Anticipate all stops this way, and apply brake pressure smoothly. Another secret – just before you get to a full stop, release the brake pedal slightly to coast; release the “tension” in the system and eliminate the jerk at the very end. If possible, do this as well in an emergency braking to cushion the impact on the horses.

Backing up trailers – Anticipate things (sounds familiar?). Know where you want the trailer to end up. Here are some rules: 

  1. The longer the trailer, the easier it is to back up. Short two-horse bumper pulls are the most difficult, longer gooseneck and 5th wheel trailers are a lot easier, and full-length semi-trailers are the easiest.
  2. Always scope out the area BEFORE you back up. Look for trees, parked cars, children, animals, water pumps and everything else you do NOT want to hit or run over. I once ran a woman over while backing up, but I’ll tell you about that later.
  3. If possible, always back up with the trailer bending towards the driver’s window. Lean out the driver-side window (even if it is raining). Look only at the back of the trailer and steer without looking forward or in the mirrors. With the window down, you will see where the trailer is currently and is going. GENTLY and SLOWLY turn the steering wheel and drive the trailer into the position. Remember, in step 2, you have cleared in your mind all obstacles in your blind spots, and you must assume it is still clear. I did count on a spotter once and moved a Volkswagen beetle several feet sideways because I relied on him. I rather trust myself to pre-visualize the area before backing.
  4. If you need to use the mirrors, remember this tip. Keep the trailer out of the mirrors if you want to back straight up. If you see the trailer in either mirror, turn the top of the steering wheel TOWARDS the mirror where you see the trailer, and it will immediately disappear. If you need to move the trailer in a direction, move the top of the steering wheel AWAY from the mirror you want the trailer to go. This principle is how you back a trailer to your blind side (away from the driver’s window).
  5. Always steer slowly and smoothly, but don’t be afraid to make small moves. Keep the reverse movement slow because only with experience can you park a truck fast.
  6. Remember this about backing. If in doubt, get out and walk around the back. Pulling forward and redirecting is not a cowardly thing to do. On the contrary, it is a simple and time-saving thing to do.

When purchasing a truck and trailer, spend a bit more on a powerful truck engine and large brakes. Under sizing your vehicle may save a few dollars, but oversizing will give you a better experience on hills, mountains and long drives. And you will get your money back when you sell it. I got $7000 cash for my 1-ton diesel pickup with 519,000 miles. Well worth the extra I spent when I purchased it ten years earlier.

Any other thoughts? Just comment below.

Now for my trucking stories.

I’m backing up to the drivers’ side in my Mack tractor and 15-horse trailer in a big, open field at a horse show. As a new driver, I had not scoped out the area, but it was big and green. A senior driver stood in front of me with no ability to see to my blind side but, with authority, waved me backward into a parking slot he had picked out for me. Suddenly he waved his arms above his head and yelled for me to stop, then disappeared to my right. He jumped up to the passenger window and said to pull forward slowly. I had just moved someone’s Volkswagen Beetle car sideways 10 feet with the blind side of my trailer. I repositioned the truck and parked it. He organized a group of strong young men, and they picked the car up and moved it back to where it was. They all pretended not to know a thing about the damage to the vehicle, but the owner found out, and I got a yelling from my boss. Then he laughed and said the car owner was a jerk and that I should have crushed it.

Then there is the lady I ran over. She had traveled with me in my cab to a farm to pick up her horse. She got out when I entered the farm to find the owner. I told her, very clearly, that I was going down the driveway, turning right to be straight with the barn door and then backing up to the door to load. I always back up before parking so that I clearly understand the surroundings and am ready to drive straight out when ready. This way, I don’t have to remember if there is a tree or obstacle an hour later. It’s just clear driving off of the farm. 

As I’m backing up, I hear pounding on my truck and muffled screams. My brain struggles to understand this. Finally, I stop and get out to figure things out. There was nothing, so I returned to the truck and finished backing, parked and dropped the loading ramp.

I entered the barn and found the lady sitting on a bench, attended to by the owner, washing off the blood and bandaging her. I just looked blankly. Finally, the barn owner said, “I don’t think he knows what happened.” The lady agreed and then apologized that she had come down to the truck before going to the barn and was behind the truck as I was backing up. I had knocked her down, and she was about to be run over by my tires when I had stopped. It was that close.

We had a great trip. The lady bought me lunch and gave me a $10 tip (a lot back then) and never discussed how I had almost killed her. Remember – always check the surroundings. Always.

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