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Long Distance Tows

Sep 28th, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

My work in a tow truck was largely confined to urban areas, and I had relatively few long trips in a tow truck. The longest trip I ever made was from Portland, Ore., to Spokane, Wash., and back to pick up a repossesed truck. I went with my brother-in-law and we split the driving. This was back in the days before GPS, before cell phones, and evidently before maps because we didn’t have one, and we got lost in eastern Oregon, temporarily. We knew we had to get off I-84 somewhere and head north, somewhere around Pendleton, but we weren’t sure where and didn’t read the signs properly. We headed off in the general direction of the Oregon/Washington border and came to a big barricade where the road ended. Priceless. It was symbolic of most of the endeavors my brother-in-law involved himself in.

That doesn’t even compare, however, to the time we were driving from Nampa, Idaho, to a deer hunting camp in eastern Oregon. We missed our turnoff in Vale, Ore., so we stopped at an exit and took a look at an information center map. We ended up on a gravel creek bed for about 60 miles before rejoining pavement. There was a flat tire mixed in with that one.

My first towing job (not counting working for my dad when I was 15) was for my brother-in-law at a four-truck operation called Estby Towing, which had a roving office and some of the first car phones ever used. (The phones “rang” by activating the truck horn if the truck was off.) There were five of us, so someone always had a day off, and most of us didn’t have a personal vehicle so there was a lot of picking up and dropping off during shift changes. If you were on the wrong side of town, it could really ruin your day off. One morning that happened to me when I was with my brother-in-law and he got a call for a tow in Eugene, Ore., about 100 miles south of Portland, coming back to Portland. I should have just had him drop me off on the freeway so I could take the bus because by the time we got back to town, my day was shot.

One of the longest drives I ever made (empty, not in-tow) was to take home an older gentleman who had imbibed freely and somehow drove his Taurus onto a track changer in the middle of the railroad yard off Naito Parkway in northwest Portland. He had no cash and no credit cards. He lived in Albany, Ore., about 60 miles south of Portland. I had no choice but to take his car to our storage lot to be delivered to a dealership in the morning. He wanted me to drive him to a rental car agency at the airport, but there was no way anyone was going to let him drive in his condition. He had no way of paying for a motel room. Finally, I just decided to drive him home, and I added a taxi service to his bill. It was either that or let him sleep it off in the truck. It was not a sweet deal for me — believe me.

A lot of drivers like those long tows but I never understood the attraction. It’s simple math. A one-mile impound = $150 = 20 minutes = $40.50 commission = $121.50/hour. A 20-mile impound = $225 = 1 hour = $60.75 commission = $60.75/hour. Yes, multiple tows are more work, but if more work translates to more money, where’s the downside? I can think of many times that one of my cohorts got a nice, long tow, grinned wickedly at me, then returned to the lot later to find that I’d done two tows in the time they did one. I worked with a lot of drivers who ran long-haul salvage, and they usually claimed they were making more money than me, but the paychecks didn’t bear it out, and I know they worked a lot more hours than I did.

But I suppose there are other rewards to the long tow than monetary. Like truck stops, for instance.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper