Jane and John take Dick Reed's RV Driving School
Since this is our first RV I wanted to take formal driving lessons so I arranged with Dick Reed's RV Driving School for a two day school for myself and Jane.
The instructor was Warner Detrick who was very well qualified. Warner has driven tractor-trailers, worked as a Greyhound bus driver for a while and is an RVer himself currently owning a Travel Supreme 40' pusher and before that a large 5th wheel. Plus he had a very patient and calming demeanor - he not only knew his stuff, he knew how to effectively communicate it to others.
The very first thing we did for day one was a dialog about what exactly we wanted out of the class so he would know what to focus on; for example I was very leery making U-turns with the toad attached so I wanted to practice U-Turns so I could evaluate how much room we needed when a mistake is made and you need to do a 180.
Then we spent about 90 minutes with an inspection of everything important on the exterior of the coach. He explained many many important things of which many were completely unknown to me. Here is a good one - I never realized that an easy way to test a little "blade" fuse was not to pull it out and check it with an ohmmeter or look at the fuse link. Instead with a multimeter place the negative lead to ground and probe the two little exposed metal posts! I never ever realized that there were exposed posts on top of the fuse - next time you look at one try to spot these.
Part of the whole exercise was to familiarize Jane with all of the outside stuff so she could do anything I do if the need arises (hope she doesn't expect me to take cooking lessons now !
While Jane was in the driver's seat before we left, Warner had her do an air brake test. I won't tell you about this because you should already know! We then did a complete exterior light inspection; when Warner was satisfied the coach was road worthy, Jane was off!
We drove about five miles to a very large defunct housing development (with no houses) where we practiced right turns, left turns, 90 degree turns. It is more difficult than you think because Warner expected the driver to exactly position the wheels either at, but not off of the side of the road, or aligned exactly with the center of the road. Even me with 3,000 miles of coach driving experience had more trouble with exact positioning than I wanted to admit. We went around and around and around and.. well you get the idea!
Jane was driving and it was time for braking tests. Warner explained the braking tests then had Jane drive at 15 mph and told her to pull out the parking brake! We came to a fairly fast but not wild stop in a few coach lengths (I forgot how many.) Then it was time to get wild and crazy - Jane was supposed to hit the brakes hard at a speed of 20 mph. She was very reluctant the first time and didn't brake hard. So we do it again; this time she still doesn't hit them hard for the first couple of seconds, realizes it and then stands on the brakes - wow did we stop quickly (we were warned ahead of time, had agreed to the maneuver and had the coach well prepared for this.)
Then it was some practice backing into a pretend campsite. Warner spent quite a bit of time getting Jane and I used to hand signals when maneuvering - we would practice with each other at the wheel when backing into a space. Both of us found this easier said than done - it is really difficult to give precise steering directions that aren't misunderstood.
Enough of maneuvers - time to hit the road. We each got some wheel time out in traffic both rural and city. Up to this point Jane had primarily highway driving experience; this was her chance to drive on the small roads. She was a little tense the first day; by the second day she had really relaxed behind the wheel.
Back at the campground Warner made me back into our pull-through campsite - all good practice!
We were both very tired from our six hour plus session and slept well that night.
For day two we started out with Warner assembling his 12' 6" measuring pole for checking coach height. I had always wanted to measure how high we were but never did. To my delight I discovered that we are less than 12' 6" - probably 12' 2 or 4". Warner walked the pole out 13 paces (about 40') in front of the coach and had Jane and I sit in each front seat and place a mark on the windshield where we each saw the pole crossmember. This exercise was to be able to judge your clearance when you are encountering a low obstacle. If I'm driving I now know that if I see an object at the lower band of windshield tint a coach-length ahead the brakes need to come on! Then it is time to make the 180 turn I became good at.
Then we were back at the defunct housing development for more turning practice. We were much better this time - I suppose what Warner taught us the day before sunk in!
We then practiced more difficult backing situations - the space and maneuvering room got smaller and smaller. More hand signal practice!
Time to hit the road for Jane to do more mixed driving (rural and city.) This time Warner threw in a very small twisty road with lots of low hanging tree limbs; Jane did fine but did not like that road !
Back to the campground. We hooked up the toad and went on I-75 for a little toad driving practice; no problems and I did a pretty good job with Warner only occasionally offering a suggestion.
There is no doubt that I left out many important experiences of the two days; I wish I could assimilate everything Warner taught us! This was a wonderful experience that will be paying off every mile we drive and own the coach.
Update May, 2010: Best money we ever spent! Take the class - you will not be disappointed!