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Getting Stuck — A Breakdown in My Relationship with the Almighty.

Apr 13th, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

One of the more humbling experiences you can experience as a tow truck operator is to have to call a tow truck to tow you in or pull you out. Police officers are similar in this. Whenever I towed a police car, I would hear shouts and see gestures of approval from motorists and pedestrians. If the officer was with me in the cab, he or she would smile and utter profanity through gritted teeth. I’ve had some close calls over the years, but I’ve never had to have my tow truck towed or winched out. I’ve crawled under trucks to bang on temperamental starters, I’ve unlocked my truck with a slim-jim, I’ve jacked up my truck to place a timber under the rear duals when high-centered, I’ve screwed a screw into a hole in a tire to stop the leak, and I’ve searched for just the right crown in the road to unload a car from a self-loader with a malfunctioning lift cylinder. Many of my coworkers have endured the embarrassment of calling for help, however.

I’ve written before about the carrier driver I managed who got his truck stuck out on a dirt road next to a river while trying to load a dually pickup with no keys. As night fell, an evil layer of moisture descended upon the river silt and turned it into an unholy surface of grease. I barely got out with a 4WD, and we ended up leaving the carrier there all night, as well as the pickup, which I nestled nose-first into a swamp to make sure it wouldn’t get away.

One of my cohorts got stuck in some kind of off-road site right in the middle of a suburban residential area trying to pull out a four-wheeler and a few of his friends who had gotten stuck trying to pull him out. The boss had to come to the scene and pull him out. I stopped by on my way home to see if they needed help, took one look at the Chinese fire drill and snuck away quietly. I don’t know if they ever got the four-wheelers out.

Probably the worst case I knew of was when two veteran drivers I managed got stuck in a farmer’s field trying to pull out some piece of equipment. Rather than call for help, they talked a local into pulling them out with his Cat, which he then billed us for at a rather exorbitant rate. Why the guy with the Cat didn’t just pull out the piece of equipment in his neighbor’s field in the first place is a mystery to me. Or maybe it was a set up.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been in some touch-and-go situations. I remember responding to a police impound out by the Columbia Slough, where I was directed to tow a Suburban that was left out on a mud path about 500 feet from the road. It was flat, but I had to back down the road in highway tires, pick up the Suburban from the rear with a Chevy 3500 with a 350, which is like putting a 5th-wheel on the back of a motorcycle. Once I got going, I didn’t stop, slow down, or open my eyes till I touched pavement. Scariest minute of my life.

The aforementioned episode with the jack was a recovery of a stolen vehicle in a railroad tunnel that I’ve written about before. After backing down the tracks into the tunnel, winching the wrecked car up to the wheel-lift, and getting it hooked up somehow, I started bouncing my way back to the road. The rail spacing required one set of duals between the rails, and one set to the outside of one rail, which worked great till the rear axle differential bounced up and over the rail to the outside, and my duals sunk in the loose gravel. It was about 175 degrees out, the truck had no air conditioning and I was covering a day shift for another driver. I got out of the mess, but not without a breakdown in my relationship with the Almighty.

In addition to the episode with the carrier and the dually pickup, I did once leave a vehicle behind on a police impound. It was some kind of dirt path on a very steep slope where years later they built a very high-end housing project. I think it was in the early forest-clearing phase. About a mile or so down the hill, there was a huge pile of logs and someone had rolled a stolen Toyota pickup down onto the logs. Winching it up wasn’t too difficult, but they had removed the steering wheel, which greatly hampered my recovery effort. I finally talked the county sheriff into walking alongside the truck, arm through the open window, holding a pair of vise grips that were attached to the steering column hub. He managed to avoid being crushed by logs, I got the pickup all hooked up, and … I couldn’t make the hill. The old F350 diesel automatic wouldn’t climb the incline even with a small pickup on the back. It was greatly disappointing. The sheriff shrugged his shoulders and took off. I left the pickup there, and the next day they sent someone up there with a stronger truck.

Towing: where every day is an adventure.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper