Truckin' along

Theresa Williams is hoping driving an 18-wheeler will allow her to travel around the country and see places she's never seen. For now though, she's just learning how to use a clutch.

Ms. Williams is enrolled in the Commercial Driving License Truck Driving course organized by Xtra Mile driving school in partnership with Aiken Technical College.

The four-week course is hands-on and intensive, preparing students for the CDL test.

"The students are tested on their knowledge of the truck, how to use the airbrake and trailer coupling systems as well as the rules of transporting hazmat materials," said Scott Davis, instructor for Xtra Mile truck driving school.

"They're always surprised by how much math is involved. When it comes to the weight of the truck and figuring out driving hours, since you're only allowed to drive 70 hours in an eight-day period," he said.

After the first 50 hours of classroom basics, the students spend 50 hours on pad skills, where they get hands-on experience driving a $250,000 semi-truck as well as backing up in a straight line and at 90 degrees.

"The first time I tried it, it wasn't good," Ms. Williams said. "I've had a hard time with the brake and clutch. It's fun, but I didn't know it would be so difficult."

In the coming weeks, as she gets more comfortable with her rig, Ms. Williams will spend time on public roads, both in the day and at night.

She is already applying to various trucking companies.

Mr. Davis says he's seen an increase in students in recent months.

"There's definitely more participants and it's getting tough on the trucking industry, but it's still a good place to go in these tough times," he said.