Richard's Retirement Blog

Driving a Juggernaut

April 2011

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16th April

I'm at Mablethorpe. I got here two days ago. Yesterday I rode south down the coast, with excellent views of grey sky, grey sea, sandy sand and a wide horizon. I enjoyed it very much, but it wasn't photogenic.

Today was a much better day, and I did what I came here to do - drive an articulated lorry around an airfield.

So here I am - "all revved up and somewhere to go" (Sorry, meatloaf).

These things are big - that trailer is 45ft (15m) long, and the whole thing is around three-and-a-half times the length of my car-and-caravan outfit.

We began with a walk round the vehicle, noting the couplng system, and the lifting axles (which save tyre wear when the vehicle is not loaded).

How to get in and out safely - the cab floor is shoulder-high, and drivers have been known to injure themselves through carelessness - or bravado!

How the 16-speed gearbox works. It's a 4x4 splitter box. There are four gears in an H-shape to the left, and four more to the right; but every gear has a high and a low position, operated by a switch on the side of the gear lever. So it goes: into low first and move off; switch high and declutch (high 1st); switch low and change (2nd); switch high and declutch (high 2nd); switch low and change (low 3rd); switch high and declutch (high 3rd); and so on to high 8th. In practice, you don't need every gear (any more than you do in a car), especially with an unloaded vehicle: which was just as well, as previous experiencees (is there such a word?) had mangled 3rd and 7th!

It is just possible to get round this roundabout without either running up the kerb or allowing the trailer to destroy the (imaginary) flowers on the island. I managed it 3rd circuit.

Tanks are disconcerting - ank any Telford learner who's met one from CoD Donnington - but this one seems fairly immobilised.

The first chicane. I'm going to go right of the first cone, left of the second, and so on. What you can't see is that I'm starting with two cones either side of the front wheels and half a metre away. If I turn too soon, the trailer will have those; too late, and the tractor will have the cone ahead.

I didn't hit any of them, and it gets easier with practice.

There was also a "garage" to reverse into: it's critical to start with the vehicle lined up straight.

These pics show how, as soon as you start to turn, you lose rear visibility on the inside of the turn. The vehicle has its main mirror and a wide-angle mirror each side, and also a nearside mirror (which you can't see in the pic) to show you the idiot cyclist who has ignored your left-turn signal and come up alongside you. But in a tight turn, the trailer blocks all vision on the inside, whilst there's a huge blind spot on the outside too. If you can't see my mirrors, I can't see you!

Many thanks to my son, who gave me the experience as a birthday present, drove all the way from Stoke-on-Trent to watch and took the pictures.

Thanks also to Red Letter Days, and to Paul of my Manby Motoplex, my instructor for the day: he was pleasant, but professional, thorough and demanding, and made the whole experience great fun.

There are some more pictures here.

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