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Reader Jeff sent us a question about those big road-going tractor trailer trains that they drive down under. He asks, quite rightly we think, how the hell they back up. This is a great question I had never pondered before.

The short answer is, we have no clue. If I had to guess I’d say either very carefully, or they have some sort of steering control on the trailers as well as the cab — though if this is the case I would be very surprised. If you pushed me to make a call, I’d say the guys driving them are just that good.

What say you, Toolmonger hive mind? Are these guys just the Barons of Backwards or are there steering assists involved? Let us know in comments.

Triple Roadtrain Reversing [YouTube]

 

12 Responses to Reader Question: Backing Up

  1. sean says:

    just takes time to develop that skill.basically u turn the wheel in the opposite direction you would like to go when going in reverse.very difficult for someone who has never done it…

  2. They don’t. When they get to their stop, the trailer is unhitched and moved by another truck or tractor. At least, that is what I saw on a show once (Discovery or something).

  3. Jason says:

    My father drove a semi for UPS for 20+ years and I remember him mention that he only knew two people in his 20+ years that could reliably backup a set of doubles (two 52ft trailers). With that said, three or more trailers would be an exceedingly difficult task to perform! I’m sure they do what Vincent said manually back them up one at a time.

  4. bemis says:

    @ sean: just takes time to develop that skill.basically u turn the wheel in the opposite direction you would like to go when going in reverse.very difficult for someone who has never done it…

    Yeah, that works for your first trailer… but for your second trailer you’re trying to turn your tractor such that it will turn the end of your first trailer in a way that will nudge your second trailer properly… and then so on for the third trailer… at that point you’re moving in a serpentine pattern if you’re lucky.

    I don’t see them being able to execute any real turns in reverse–unless maybe they have some individual control over the brakes of each trailer and can force them pivot around one side of the axle or another?

    But for that matter why would you be backing it up very far anyway? If that all needed to end up at loading docks you could just unhitch them all and back them up one at a time into position.

  5. Jim K. says:

    My Dad used to drive big rigs when I was a kid and hs experience was just like Jason’s dad’s. Backing up a double trailer is more art than skill.

    Regarding road trains, Vincent is right, they’re not driven in reverse. They’re set up for long hauling in a (more or less) straight line. Once they arrive at their destination the tractor is unhitched and a “yard goat” (utility tractor) will hook up and move the individual trailers to the proper dock for unloading.

  6. Shopmonger says:

    OK to answer the question about the large trailer rigs that are used as trains, Like in Australia they use them a lot. they do not reverse, they run it like a train, when they want to reverse direction, the take tractor off the trailers and move it to the other end, or turn around if they have a large enough place.

    ShopMonger

  7. Davo says:

    I used to drive truck with double trailers…the trailers are made to be pulled, not pushed. It’s pretty much impossible to back them up more than a few feet, without having the trailers kink, so the solution is to not drive them into any situation that would require you to back them up, in the first place.

  8. Dave P says:

    In Oz, we don’t reverse. We just politely ask the world to spin back a bit.

    Cheers

  9. Chaon says:

    “Basically u turn the wheel in the opposite direction you would like to go when going in reverse.”

    Yeah, but this is in Australia where everything is backwards. So I guess down there you turn the wheel in the *same* direction you want the trailer to go.

  10. Gordon DeWitte says:

    Doesn’t the Coriolis Effect in the Southern Hemisphere mean that everything goes backwards anyway (or is it counterclockwise)?

    In a more serious vein, my Dad was a trucker and said backing up doubles or triples was something you never, ever wanted to attempt.

  11. dan says:

    use makes master.

  12. ambush says:

    I would back up a road train by connecting a tractor to the other end and going forward.

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