More than a backward glance
McCorkle says backing up sometimes isn’t as difficult as it might seem. Many times tire tracks or ruts provide a marker for backing into a dock. He also says not to be reluctant about asking the assistance of other drivers if backing conditions are especially difficult. McCorkle’s often called on to help other drivers maneuver into convention center or shopping mall receiving areas.
Stumborg notes that many warehouses and distribution centers have yellow lines painted on the ground to use as a guide for backing into a dock or door. The lines are usually wide enough to accommodate the width of the rig including mirrors. “If there are lines I will go between the lines and not look at the dock door until I’m squared in,” she says.
Don’t get in a hurry, Stumborg says, and miss your alignment at the dock. When she checks in at the loading facility, she makes sure to survey the space in front of the dock, and, when she walks back to chock her tires, she checks her alignment.
Albert says the biggest mistakes he sees in backing technique are when drivers overcorrect in turning and not getting out to survey where they’re going. “There are times when I’m backing into a dock and I’ve gotten out five times to take a look. If I’m not sure it is clear, I want to get out and take a look.”
When maneuvering in a place with limited space, Stumborg employs a driving trick she learned early on in her career. If you’re backed into a loading area where your tractor might be sticking out into a street or alley, she does a “4 by 4” if she can move her tractor 4 inches. Turn your wheel all the way to the left and pull forward 4 inches and stop. Follow that by turning the wheel all the way to the right and back up 4 inches. Continue alternating the left-right turns and forward-back moves. “You will eventually get your tractor to a right angle and out of the street and you will have never moved the back end of the trailer,” she says.
Owner-operator Gina Stumborg often delivers to downtown destinations that were never designed to accommodate 53-foot trailers. She ran into those often during five years of trucking in New York City. “Sometimes you’re backing down one-way streets the wrong way to get into a door,” she says. “It’s very tricky.”
One of Stumborg’s memorable current destinations is the post office in downtown Baltimore, where drivers have to drop off their trailer for unloading after backing in because space is so limited. “It takes a lot of drivers working together to back into that door,” she says. “If you work together you can go in at the same time so you’re not blocking the other driver, and you both can drop your trailers. There’s no give in between. Some drivers take 30 to 40 minutes to get into those docks.”