Know your tow rope etiquette (Part I)

Jeep

Growing up in western Kansas with parents who owned a farm implement dealership, I was given the job helping people get their stuck cars out of the snow.

At the time it was just a chore assigned by my mother, but now I see how much fun it really was. Here in Overland Park, on rare occasion I get the opportunity to relive those times. Not for money, just for fun–and I really enjoy it.

I have a four-wheel drive 1990 Ford F150 which I brought back from the dead years ago, after rebuilding the engine, transmission and both differentials, etc. It is our official New Concept Auto Service shop truck (complete with a little rust). After a big snowstorm, I like to help my neighbors out of the snow. Last Thursday, all the employees of our Overland Park auto service made it to work, but as the snow began to fiercely pile up, I sent everyone home. I hung around to monitor the phone. I did follow one of my ASE techs down 87th Street to make sure he got on I-35 toward Olathe. As he made in onto the on-ramp, I realized I could only see about 100 feet in any direction. I called my wife and told her not to leave home. I could see seven stranded motorists from where I was sitting.

Time for some fun!

This was just the first stage of the storm—the deep unplowed snow. This is where the low-to-ground sedans just get high centered as the undercarriage acts like a plow. Cars get stuck right in the middle of the street and there is not much anyone can do at this point. The police usually handle these to get traffic flowing again.

The second stage I call the side street snow wall stage. This is after the snowplows have been down the main streets, and they dump a large strip of semi-packed snow at the entrance to each side street. Thursday late afternoon, there was one almost every other block.

The third stage is what I call the driveway dilemma, which usually is found the following day. The plows have been down each side street to cut a clear path in the center, only to place that now hard packed snow wall at the entrance to your driveway.

When it’s time to help, I position my truck either in front of or behind the stranded motorist, whichever is safer for me. I approach the car with a smile and say, “Hi, would you like some help?” I say this because some people don’t. I encountered one man who yelled back, “No, I’ll get it out myself.” Apparently his daughter in the passenger seat quickly convinced Dad to give up. I just kept quiet and let them work it out. I asked him to shut off his engine and I hooked onto to his sub frame and pulled him a block home.

Here are some things you need to know if you are ever in this man’s position:

  1. Watch my truck and just follow me.
  2. Put your car in drive (or reverse when applicable) and when you feel a little tug, give it a little gas.
  3. If you feel your tires start to spin, let off the gas.
  4. No need to use your brake pedal; the snow acts like a brake.
  5. Don’t turn the wheel more than a quarter turn and remember to watch my truck.
  6. Let my truck do all the work. You are just along for the ride. I will pull you farther than you think, and when I wave my arm, you can let off the gas. (Also, roll your window down and wave your arm if you want me to stop.)

I added the last part when one woman just could not do it, as she was so distraught. She said she just needed five minutes of quiet prayer time and then we got right out. This did inspire me to ask the tow God to bless my truck (btw, it works).

Although, sadly, I will not be in Overland Park to help anyone after winter storm Rocky, I will post some of my more interesting tow stories later in the week. Stay safe and don’t hit the road without checking out my winter weather auto maintenance tips!

The Silver Steed after a long day of rescuing stranded travelers.

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