Acknowledging Tow Operators Who Know Their Business

Not too long ago we published a post detailing the adventures of two people who didn’t know how to use their truck loading ramps correctly. We have also published other posts which discussed tow truck fails brought on by inadequate understanding of standard operating procedures. Those kinds of stories are always a reminder of how much we appreciate tow operators who really understand their profession and work hard to be good at it.

Towing isn’t as simple as attaching a hook to a car and driving away. There is so much more to it than that. Tow operators have to consider everything from the vehicle being recovered to the kind of recovery being undertaken. They must decide whether to use webbing straps or towing chains; whether to make use of a hook truck or a flatbed; and whether it is really safe to secure a recovery vehicle using just tire nets.

None of what we just described even touches the most complex recovery jobs. As an example, consider a recovery this past summer (2018) out of Phillipsburg, New Jersey. It required not only savvy tow operators with knowledge and experience, it also required the right tools and equipment.

Sinking Heavy Equipment

June 22 was the day a local Phillipsburg towing company was called to Heckman and Marshall streets around early in the morning. Apparently, a Case digger was preparing the site for future utility work. While the operator was busy digging a trench for utility workers, the pavement under the left side of the machine gave way. The digger fell into the resulting hole. Half of it ended up in the hole while the other half remained outside, perched at roughly a 30° angle.

Making matters worse was the fact that the digger was resting right on top of a gas line. Tow operators called to the scene had to figure out how to get the machine out of the hole without allowing it to slip. One slip could have severed the gas line and caused a major problem.

An Hour of Touch-and-Go

As you can imagine, it was impossible for the tow truck operators to just hook up a chain and drag the digger to safety. First of all, the machine was too heavy for that sort of thing. Second, it had to be lifted straight up in order to protect the gas line underneath. Trying to drag the digger would have probably ruptured the line and further weakened the surrounding pavement.

It took a team of two tow operators about an hour to come up with a plan and then successfully execute it. It was an hour of touch-and-go. In the end, they used a combination of two boom trucks equipped with heavy towing chains to slowly lift the digger out of the hole.

The two trucks were positioned on the opposite side of the street, front to back. Their booms were extended out over the digger so as to transfer all its weight to the stronger pavement. Then the two operators used remote control devices to slowly pick the machine up. They had to synchronize their movements to keep everything steady.

It is fortunate that the operators were very experienced, had good judgement and also had the right tools at their disposal to handle what was a very dangerous job. We are guessing they weren’t using cheap towing chains and hooks on something so heavy. Incidents of this kind are a reminder of how important is it be a good tow operator.


Can Autonomous Trucks Understand Cargo Control

It seems as though the heavy trucking industry is working harder than ever to enter the realm of autonomous trucking. Every time an equipment manufacturer announces even the slightest bit of progress in the arena of automotive autonomy, dozens of news articles and blog posts begin speculating a future where trucks rumble down the highway without drivers sitting in their seats. We would like to suggest a bit of cautious skepticism.

Set aside heavy trucking for one minute and just consider all the hurdles that have to be overcome to make passenger vehicles autonomous. There is a reason we have been working on this for more than a decade and are might still have while towards achieving driverless driving. Autonomous technology must overcome the imperfections of humanity in order to succeed, and that is no easy task. Things are even more complicated when attempting to apply automotive autonomy to heavy trucking.

One of the biggest problems of autonomous trucking is based in cargo control. Both federal and state laws require truck drivers to properly secure their cargo prior to transit, then ensure it remains properly secured until delivery. Such mandates pose a big problem for autonomy. If you are going to truly automate trucking, you must also find a way to automate cargo control.

Loading and Securing Cargo

The first hurdle to overcome is automating cargo loading and securing. This is easier to do with dry vans, refrigerated vans, and other enclosed trailers. It is not so easy with open-deck trailers. In fact, it’s a lot harder in the open-deck environment.

A dry van is really just a box on wheels. It would be fairly simple to automate loading by utilizing a robotic conveyor system and stacking mechanism. Just create uniform pallets and the robots to handle them and you’re all set. We already have the technology to do it. As for flatbeds, it is an entirely different ballgame.

A flatbed, or open-deck trailer, is used primarily to transport cargo that cannot be moved safely or efficiently in an enclosed trailer. That automatically means non-standard loads that cannot be loaded and stacked by robots. It also means manual cargo control that requires the use of chains, straps, blocks, bungees, and truck tarps. Everything you would normally get in a box trailer scenario has to be implemented manually on an open deck.

We may someday have robots capable of inserting blocks and tying down concrete tubes. We might have drones that can deploy truck tarps much more quickly and efficiently than human beings. We may eventually reach a point at which loading lumber is an entirely automated process. However, we are not there yet.

Maintaining Cargo Control

It is a Herculean task just to automate loading and securing cargo. But for trucking to be completely autonomous, there has to be a way to maintain cargo control throughout an entire journey. Now you are talking about computer and robotic systems capable of monitoring chains, straps, etc. while a truck is in transit. And if anything is amiss, the system has to be able to self-correct.

Given the ever-changing environment of cargo control, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to automate the process at any point in the relatively near future. If true trucking autonomy is ever realized, we are likely looking at decades before workable prototypes are even available.

As wonderful as the idea is, autonomous trucking is more fantasy than reality. Cargo control is just one of the many hurdles that science is not close to overcoming at this point.


Auto Towing and Winches: How to Use a Winch Safely

Operating a tow truck or wrecker does require a good understanding of safety procedures. Between working in traffic and having to deal with hazardous conditions related to weather and topography, things can go wrong even on the easiest of jobs. The tow operator doesn’t need to make things even less safe by not knowing how to properly use his or her equipment. This includes the electric winches found on tow trucks and wreckers.

By itself, an electric winch is a harmless and inanimate piece of machinery. But hook it to a car and you have an entirely different matter. Once in action, winches are inherently risky tools that need to be treated with a safety-first mindset. Improper use of a winch could lead to property damage, serious injury, or even death.

Do not Neglect the Owner’s Manual

Using a winch safely starts with reading and understanding the owner’s manual. We know, it is so easy to discard the manual along with packaging. But it’s included for a reason. Not only should it not be ignored, but it should be fully understood before installation and use.

Along with all that is the basic principle of installing an electric winch according to manufacturer specifications. Those specifications are found in the owner’s manual. Safe operation requires doing exactly what the manufacturer recommends, right down to little details like not welding mounting bolts and using only approved power cords and wire rope.

Operational Inspections

Manufacturers will always recommend a tow operator inspect his/her winch before using it. This means before every use. Even if a tow operator doesn’t think an inspection is necessary on every job, the winch should still be inspected on a regular basis. The operator should be checking winch rope, hooks, slings, and all visible moving parts of the winch.

Frayed, kinked, or damaged winch rope should never be used. Any moving parts that appear to be worn should also be considered for replacement. You can never be too careful when you are connecting an electric motor to a 12,000-pound vehicle using a piece of winch rope.

Safety During Use

The nature of towing and vehicle recovery is such that problems with an operator’s equipment are usually not apparent until he or she is in the middle of a job. In other words, a visual inspection may not reveal a potential weak point in a winch rope. The operator might never know the rope is weak until it snaps during a recovery.

As such, the tow operator should always assume that danger is present whenever using a winch. Basic safety rules always apply no matter the circumstances. For example, the operator should stay out of the direct line of the wire rope during recovery. A winch dampener should be used just in case the rope snaps.

Operators should use spotters when possible. The spotter should also be out of the direct line of the rope. Neither the operator nor the spotter should attempt to manually assist the winch by pulling on the rope.

Finally, tow operators should never use electric winches to recover loads that are too heavy. They should never be used for overhead lifting either. Winches come with weight ratings that should always be adhered to. Exceeding the stated limits of an electric winch will almost always end badly.

Mytee Products sells a range electric winches for tow operators. We also carry a complete line of towing supplies including auto hauling straps, hooks, chains, and safety lights. Feel free to use our inventory to stock your tow truck or wrecker.


Animal Fencing: To Replace or Repair?

This is the time of year when farmers start planning winter maintenance projects. Among those projects is the dreaded task of addressing fences. If you have more than a mile or two of fencing on your property, chances are you are looking at having to repair or replace some of it within the next year. So which do you choose?

To replace or repair is a question that has plagued landowners for generations. In a perfect world, repairing animal fencing would be the most cost-effective way of keeping things going without endangering animals or interrupting grazing. But sometimes repairs just don’t make sense. Sometimes it is better to replace broken fencing altogether.

The Cost Factor

We get that farmers have to look long and hard at the cost of replacement versus repair. We also understand that tearing down all your old barbed wire fences and replacing them with modern, electric fences will require quite a substantial financial investment. But you must weigh the upfront costs of replacement with the ongoing costs of maintenance and repairs.

We have heard stories of landowners repairing the same barbed wire fences for decades. At some point they realize they do not have a solid piece of fencing remaining on their properties. They have been repairing the fences for so long that they are left with miles and miles of patchwork. How much time and money have they put into those fences?

The Labor Factor

Farmers also have to consider how much labor they invest in fence maintenance and installation. One thing we know for sure is that installing a new barbed wire fence is considerably more labor-intensive than erecting an electric fence. So if you are going to replace anyway, you’ll put a lot less effort into electrified fencing.

A decision to repair your fence is sufficient motivation to step back and consider how much labor will go into the project. If you are still using barbed wire, could you affect the same repairs on an electric fence in less time and with less labor? In the long run, will you invest less labor in maintaining a new electric fence as opposed to sticking with barbed wire?

We understand that none of these decisions can be made by anyone other than you. We don’t know your situation or circumstances. We don’t know your budget. We don’t know how much time you have to invest in fence maintenance and replacement. What we do know is that modern, electrified fencing has a lot to offer. We think it’s a better long-term solution than barbed wire.

Getting Some Help

In closing this post, we want our customers to know that there is financial help available to landowners looking to install new fencing. As just one example, we ran across an interesting article in Beef Magazine talking about a Canadian organization that offers a cost-sharing program for landowners. They pay to have new electric fencing installed while the landowners agree to pay for all future upkeep and maintenance.

Closer to home, there are occasional grant programs available at both the federal and state levels. For farmers who rent their land, there is always the option of working with the landlord to see if a cost-sharing deal can be worked out. Landlords are often willing to contribute to new fencing once they understand how important it is to keeping property value stable.

Regardless of your choice to repair or replace animal fences, know that Mytee Products carries a full inventory of electrified fencing products. We invite you to take a look at our inventory here online.

 


Roadside Cargo Inspections: What Do They Actually Check?

What would you say if we told you that the 2019 CVSA Roadcheck is now a mere seven months away? We know, it seems like this year’s Roadcheck was just conducted. Time flies when you’re having fun, right? Anyway, contemplating the 2019 event got us thinking about what inspectors actually check during roadside inspections.

Being that we supply the trucking industry with all sorts of cargo control supplies, we thought it might be helpful to better understand roadside inspections. So we dug around and found an interesting video created by the Indiana State police.

The video was quite enlightening to say the least. While we understand that what the trooper demonstrated in this video is open to some interpretation by police officers and DOT inspectors, the general principles described here are pretty standard. Let’s talk about those general principles.

Trailer and Cargo

The trooper in the video used an open-deck trailer carrying a piece of heavy construction equipment for demonstration purposes. One of the first cargo control things he talked about is securing all four corners of any load that exceeds a certain weight limit. He rattled off that weight limit like it’s second nature. That’s because it is. Inspectors know exactly what federal law says about tie-downs and load weight.

Next, the discussion moved to working load limits. The trooper used the binders holding the load to the trailer at all four corners as an example. He explained how those binders are legal because they cover all four corners and because their working load limits are applicable to the load.

He also discussed working load limits in relation to the chains used to tie down the load. Interestingly enough, the trooper had a handy gauge he could place on one of the chain links to quickly determine its size and grade. And he also found a marking on the chain that told him the actual working load limit. He calculated the math and decided that the chains were appropriate.

One last thing we found extremely fascinating is that the trooper’s chain gauge had two sides to it. The first side has gauges for all standard chain sizes. The second side had gauges that were 20% smaller than standard. If an inspector can fit a smaller gauge over a section of chain, that indicates the chain is at least 20% worn. The chain can no longer be used. It must be taken out of service.

Other Things They Check

Roadside inspections place a lot of emphasis on cargo control. But inspectors check other things as well. For example, tire pressure and wear are both big things. If an inspector doubts the integrity of truck’s tires at all, he/she will measure depth tread and take a pressure reading.

Oversize loads have to be marked with flags on each corner and the appropriate signage on the back of the trailer. Inspectors are looking for both of those things. When a load exceeds the length of the trailer by a certain amount, the inspector will be looking for some sort of flag attached to the back of the load as a warning to drivers.

These are the basic things inspectors are looking for during roadside cargo control inspections. Obviously, inspectors do a complete check of a truck from front to rear, looking at everything from lights to safety reflectors. We hope you will take this information and combine it with everything else you know about roadside inspections in order to improve your own cargo control efforts. Do not be the next driver taken out of service.