Driving with a Trailer: Learning to Roll with it

Amy Shackelford is one of the 2016 KIB Youth Tree Team leaders. TheYouth Tree Team (YTT) works to preserve and maintain the trees KIB plants through our Community Forestry program. YTT seeks to promote professionalism, respect, personal and environmental responsibility, and teamwork in today’s high school students.

I consider myself a smart and safe driver. I even enjoy parallel parking on Indianapolis’ downtown streets. When given opportunity to drive one of KIB’s 15-passenger vans with a trailer on the back, I was excited to master a new skill. I quickly understood the biggest challenge of driving this vehicle was letting go of my ingrained methods of parallel parking a regular vehicle, and embracing the new (and literally reversed) rules for backing up with the trailer. 


It is important to note that the trailer is essential to my job as a crew leader in the Youth Tree Team.  We use trailers every day during the summer to transport the water and mulch to young, vulnerable trees.  KIB plants 2,500 trees each year and to ensure survivability, the YTT waters and mulches each tree during the hottest months. Being a YTT Leader and getting to drive with a trailer is a coveted job, but it’s one that requires attention to safety and patience.  Safety is especially paramount because YTT is comprised of young people.  And patience—that is the final part of this equation. The trailer requires the ultimate level of patience:  when taking wider turns, when driving carefully and being completely aware of your surroundings, and especially when backing up. 

One of the tasks during KIB trailer training is called, "Egg Bump Chump." The goal is to get the trailer straight and as close to the orange cone as possible ... without breaking the egg.

The rules of backing up a trailer are literally the opposite of what you’re taught in driving school—to move the trailer to the right, you must turn the wheel left, and vice versa.  The first couple of times I backed up the trailer, I had to repeat to myself, “Trailer right, wheel left, trailer right, wheel left.” My brain did not want to accept these new, counterintuitive rules. However, practicing some patience (and trying not to fall victim to frustration) pay off:  the first time that I backed it into the space successfully, I felt like I had just won the Indy 500! Driving the trailer is now one of my favorite parts of the job, and as I gain confidence, I enjoy the backing up part even more. Each time I back up, I am learning patience and to roll with the new rules for driving with a trailer.