Tow truck drivers keep prepared to deal with unpredictable weather

Adam MacInnis
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The phone rings. It may be the middle of night and a look out the window will confirm that conditions are treacherous, but that doesn’t stop guys like Billy Mahar or Rusty Campbell and the other tow truck drivers in Pictou County from picking up the phone and getting out of bed.

An AAC Towing truck pulls out a vehicle that went off the road during a recent storm that hit Pictou County. Tow truck drivers are busy this time of year and are called upon at all times to help those who are stuck. ADAM MACINNIS – THE NEWS

While most people are trying to avoid icy roads this time of year, tow truck drivers are venturing out, to rescue those out who through their own fault or simply poor luck are stuck – and of course make a few bucks.

When the storm is starting, they’re out says Mahar, of Mahar’s Towing and when it’s at its height they’re still out. He’s been out in storms where he’s had only the tops of trees to tell him whether he was on the right track or not. It’s just part of the job.

 “You can’t tell people, I’ll come and get you in a couple days when the storm’s over,” says Mahar.

He has a plow on one of his trucks for the worst conditions and keeps an extra pair of gloves waiting in his truck to warm his hands after he’s finished hooking up a vehicle.

With all the unpredictability of winter, he’s learned the importance of being prepared.

While the worst of winter, has yet to hit, Mahar said this time of year can be hard for drivers because conditions can change so quickly in such a short distance. Some areas are icy while others are clear and if a driver isn’t paying attention, they can quickly run into trouble.

Already this month, Campbell, owner of Tri-County Towing, has seen things pick up with the first snows of the season sending some spinning out of control.

“We’re busy all the time anyway, but things are much busier when the roads are snow covered,” he said.

For the last two decades he has received the calls at all times of day and night from people in some sort of plight. Most times he’s more than happy to go and help, but there have been a few of the most stormy days where he’s said to himself that it’s too dangerous to go out. But even on those days, he’s received calls from the police about one of their cars or an ambulance off the road.

“There’s no choice,” he says. He puts on his boots and goes.

In the 19 years he’s been in the business, he was stuck only once. It was in February 2004 when White Juan shut down much of Atlantic Canada. He was out to rescue someone stranded when he too got hung up. For about four hours he was stuck waiting until a couple of good Samaritans with plows helped him out.

But White Juans are unusual, and more often than not, Campbell says, common sense can prevent most people from having to call for a tow truck.

About 75 per cent of the time he only has to look at the tires on the vehicle to see what caused the person to go off the road, he said. Some are worn, others are all season, which he puts little faith in.

“All seasons are good for no season,” he says.

The remainder of accidents often result from people driving too fast for conditions, he said.

“People drive way too fast with those 4 wheel trucks,” said Mahar.

Campbell has found that certain types of winter weather and certain locations are particularly problematic.

“The slush is what causes most problems for people. Snow is not bad. Real cold is not bad. But when you get the slush on the road, that’s what drives people over the banks.”

While the Trans Canada and urban roads are typically kept pretty clear, rural roads are often left until the rest is done and that’s where he’s often called to help pull someone out of a ditch.

He encourages people just to drive cautiously.

“Common sense goes a long way.”

On Twitter: NGNewsAdam

Organizations: Tri-County Towing, Trans Canada

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada

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