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Mar 9th, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

I was thinking today about mishaps. Back in the 80s, the company I worked for had three Vulcan Super Cradles and one of the new Vulcan Scoop Wheel-lifts. It was a joy to drive that Scoop truck, especially after hooking up cars on a Super Cradle. One of the novelties at the time was the idea of the “strapless” wheel-lift, which is how the Scoops worked. There was a lot of skepticism from the crew, and especially rival companies. My good friend Len, who was usually assigned to that truck, was fond of claiming that you could not lose a car out of that wheel-lift, even with no straps. This was in the days before safety chains were fashionable. Of course, if you go around making claims like that, the gods are going to make you the butt of a joke. One evening Len took an exit off I-5 south of Portland, pulled up to the light at the top of the exit, saw no traffic, and made a quick right turn. When he did, the car jumped out of the scoops and rolled down into the bushes between the exit ramp and the freeway. Fortunately, no harm occurred other than tracks through the landscaping. The car stopped before rolling into the freeway. Len pulled over, composed himself, cleaned up any mess that had taken place in the cab, and winched the car back up to the exit ramp. After that, he didn’t talk as much smack about the strapless wheel-lift.

Another driver I worked with at the same company pulled into one of our service stations one afternoon with a customer vehicle on the hook. He took a rather circuitous route through the parking lot and began to unhook the car in a remote corner of the station property. This guy was normally a very jovial and talkative guy. Usually he would arrive at a destination and, if he hadn’t talked to someone in 10 minutes or so, he’d get out and gab for a half-hour before someone told him to get back to work. That day he immediately began hurriedly unhooking the car. The station manager thought something may be up, so we wandered over and casually inspected the vehicle. On the passenger-side of the tow truck and the towed vehicle was dirt and vegetation, even some berry vines hanging. There was also a huge dent in the trunk lid of the towed vehicle. When questioned, the driver nervously blurted out the “It was like that when I got there!” excuse. After about eight seconds of intense interrogation, he caved and admitted the truth. He had been in-tow, paying little attention to the traffic ahead, which was stopped. When he noticed this, it was too late to stop so he veered into a ditch where the push bumper of the tow truck struck a traffic sign, which flew into the air and came down on the trunk lid of the towed vehicle. He managed to get back onto the road, having cleared some of the brush out of the ditch.

In the “one that almost got away” category, my brother-in-law was asked to train a new driver on how to run a sling truck. This was back in the 70s. The trainee was adamant that he already knew how, and had been running a sling for years. After some discussion, my brother-in-law gave up and headed out on his first call. The new driver was given his own call soon afterward. He completed the tow, a full-size van, and was sent on another. After he was on this call for a while, he radioed my brother-in-law and asked for some help. When my brother-in-law arrived, the new driver said, “When I put the sling under the car and lift up, it just slides off.” My brother-in-law gave him a funny look and asked him if he’d tried using the j-hooks and chains with the sling. He hadn’t. So the training that was supposed to have happened earlier that morning began at that point. After the new driver had properly hooked up the vehicle, my brother-in-law remembered that the new driver had already towed a vehicle. He asked the new driver how the other vehicle had stayed on the sling. The full-size van had a trailer hitch, which caught on the lower bar of the sling and stayed on there for the duration of the tow. Yikes!

Another tow sling disaster happened to a coworker of mine who was driving a light-duty wheel-lift with a tow sling. On the first call of the day, he was dispatched to tow a brand-new BMW. When he got to the car, he lowered the wheel-lift and slickly backed up to the front of the vehicle, coming to a quick stop as the wheel-lift closed to within inches of the BMW’s tires. Problem was, he had forgotten to secure the tow sling properly, which was flopped up to stay out of the way, and with the quick stop it flopped down — right on the hood of the BMW. We named the maneuver the McCain Technique, after the driver who inadvertently introduced it.

Unfortunately for insurance companies everywhere, I could go on with these stories for days, so I’ll save some for next time.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper