Call a tow truck

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Our first roadside "breakdown."

Did you know there are tow trucks big enough to tow a fully-loaded semi?  I was able to witness this, unfortunately it was our truck being towed.

We ran a gamut of emotions throughout this whole ordeal. First was, “Oh crap. The truck stopped working.” We were climbing a hill in Wyoming and the truck just stopped pulling. As we slowed to pull over, it just shut itself off, but thankfully we were able to get safely onto the shoulder. We stayed calm, got pulled over to the side of the road and set up our three emergency triangles first thing, watching in the mirrors as they glowed back at us in sync with our flashers.

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(Truckin’ smarticles for the day: Did you know that setting up the three triangles within ten minutes of breakdown – and spaced properly according to your position and the type of road – is a DOT requirement? If you fail to get them set up within ten minutes and there is an accident involving your truck (you get rear-ended, for example), the trucker can be, and most likely will be, held responsible. It’s a big deal to get them babies out there asap.)

So now what? It was 2am. Who do we call? We called our truck dealer first, where we just had a tune-up and oil change done. A dude answered the phone and asked a few questions. He had us try to start the truck, but it would only turn over for five seconds and just give up. The first thing we thought was, “Are we out of fuel? I hope not – that would be embarrassing.”

We were planning a truck wash, driver-switch and fill-up just 21 miles up the road in Laramie, so our tanks were running a little low. But we still had 1/8 of a tank, and our trip odometer read 1400 miles since our last fill-up. We usually get well over that. The guy on the phone had us check the tanks with a flashlight. There was still fuel in them and he described the draw bars where the fuel is pulled from. It appeared they were still covered. He also had us pump a small pump thingy by the fuel filter. He confirmed it was not a fuel issue.

“Whew. Thank goodness. So… what is it?” The guy did the best he could to help diagnose the issue over the phone and concluded it was an electrical issue. There was nothing we could do but call a tow truck and get us to a shop to have it looked at.

After a bunch of phone calls to night dispatch and truck stops, we finally got set up with a tow. At this point we were sort of numb because we weren’t sure how this was going to work. We’d already set ourselves back by a few hours and we had Friday deliveries to businesses that weren’t open on weekends. Were we going to be stuck somewhere until Monday? Or later? Would we get in and out of the shop quickly?

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That's some heavy equipment!

I watched as our tow truck driver carefully backed a lift under the front of our truck. Then he crawled underneath the lifted tractor and chained us up around our drive axles. I just kept thinking, “I would not want that job!” It took at least an hour to get us all hooked up. It was only 27 degrees as we waited outside under a cold Wyoming sky full of stars and watched the hook-up process. When our tow guy was done, we hopped our shivering bodies into the warmed-up tow truck. It was a big ol’ long-nose Peterbilt with a loud, rumbly Jake brake. It was kinda’ fun going for a ride in that monster.

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I thought our truck had a lot of buttons and gauges! This is the dash of the tow truck.

The first service station concluded it was our turbo because we heard a squeal just before the truck shut down. They couldn’t help us, but a shop across the street could. But they didn’t open for three more hours. The tow truck driver dropped our trailer nearby, then towed our tractor in back of the shop.

Nothing else can go wrong now… right? Wrong. As the tow truck driver unhooked our truck, he forgot to set the tractor brakes. Our truck slowly inched off the tow bar, jerked back and rolled off with a bounce and a slow-motion “CRACK!” Sigh… there goes our bumper. Again. We couldn’t be upset. We just both stood there in disbelief. It was turning out to be a bad day for everyone.

The shop finally opened, we spoke with the mechanic/owner guy, and he smiled. “It’s your lucky day. We’ll take a look in a little bit.” Adam and I thanked him, sat on the couch in the driver’s lounge and watched cartoons as we waited. We were tired. So, so tired. We fell asleep. Waited. We used the bathroom. Waited. We drank hot decaf coffee to help rid the chill in our bones. Waited. And waited. Huh… lucky day? Right. Four hours after they opened they finally hooked us up to their computer.

No codes. Nothing. What followed was the question, “Did you know you’re out of fuel?”

I’m sure my and Adam’s stomachs dropped simultaneously. You’ve GOT to be #&*!$@ kidding us. These mechanics were pretty certain low fuel was our issue. Well, okay. Off to the Pilot across the street to fill up a temporary tank and see if that’ll get ‘er started up.

90 gallons later and a few adjustments and we heard the truck rumble and come to life inside the garage. We were glad it was running, but aww, man… we hung our heads. We were now pretty low-spirited. Bummed. Embarrassed. And confused. We still don’t know how we used up an entire set of fuel tanks in just 1400 miles. 1400 ÷ 250 = 5.6 The significance in this equation? 5.6 mpg. We usually get close to 8. Still confused. And really? Okay, I know it’s not a car we’re driving, but you can bury a car’s fuel needle below “E” and roll into the pumps on fumes.

Lesson learned: don’t let this truck ever go below 1/4 tank, cuz the darn thing dies dead at 1/8 tank.

Onward. Sometimes it’s all you can do. This whole fiasco took a full 12 hours and we still had deliveries to make. In California. We were in Wyoming. This was going to be darn-near impossible. But we had to try. If anything, maybe we could redeem ourselves just a wee bit.

From there, Adam and I pretty much hauled ass to California. We had three deliveries that all had to be made before 11:30am local time. We arrived at our first delivery at 9:30. A little under an hour and we were off to navigate Oakland area traffic for two more stops. We honestly didn’t feel confident that we’d be able to pull it off. There were just too many variables. Construction. Traffic. Hills. Speed limits.

On the way to the second stop, Adam called and let them know we were on the way. That had to be the quickest delivery on the face of this planet, I swear. Adam checked in while I got the doors open and the load bar out of the trailer. We backed in and were unloaded in just minutes. We raced to our third and last delivery as the clock ticked away. Traffic was busy but moving. This was gonna’ be tight. We arrived at 11:30am – on the button! I literally RAN into the office, bills flailing, and checked in at their window. The lady took our bills like it was no big thing, and casually handed back a sheet with our door assignment on it. I smiled, thanked her, and calmly sauntered toward the door. Once outside, I sprint-skipped toward the truck in celebration while waving the paper in the air to let Adam know we made it. We did it.

What another crazy experience. This job is never dull, that’s for sure.


Tonight I love bungee cords. Without them we would currently be bumper-less!

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Check that out! He's underneath hooking up chains! Eek!

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9 thoughts on “Call a tow truck

  1. My experience with going up hill with low fuel is that the fuel runs to the back part of the tanks and you end up sucking air from the bottom of the pipe in the tank. Shouldn’t run low in the winter too. If you got time refuel at a half a tank. Always carry a couple bottles tranny fluid and a couple rubbing alcohol. Hugs, Andrea

    • That’s what the mechanic said probably happened. Had we not been climbing, we’d have probably made it that last 20 miles. Yup, won’t do that again! ;)

      What’s the rubbing alcohol for?

  2. Wow. That was a rough one.
    I still remember my experience being towed in our rig. Those tow truck drivers amaze me.
    Glad you guys made your deliveries and everything is ‘normal’ again :-D

  3. Well, at least you made the best of a bad situation that could have been much worse. Now you won’t be blessed with a fuel outage on a minus twenty or more on a windy night on a climb with no pull offs situation. Team driving has some real benefits and being a team is the best. Really impressed you still made your deliveries. Hope you celebrated your lemonade from lemons situation.

  4. Holy mackerel! What a story! So glad to hear everything turned out OK.

    Driving home from the PCT this summer, my friend’s car conked out in the middle of nowhere with a dead alternator (100 miles from Alturas, California and 50 miles from Gerlach, Nevada). We ended up hitching a ride with a nice couple from Canada going to Burning Man. I’d never hitched a ride before (geez, I’m 40, 40-year-olds don’t hitch rides!). It made me feel like a real PCT hiker! It ended up being an enormous ordeal because AAA quoted us a price to tow the car of between $1500 and $1800!! A friend of mine ended up driving out to Gerlach to pick us up and then I had to drive back the next day from Fallon with my pickup and a tow dolly to retrieve the car. I was really looking forward to some serious couch time after my hike but instead spent 2 days dealing with a broken down car 2 hours from home. Eesh.

  5. Coming right on the heels of a post about fueling up the truck ( which was really fascinating reading to me ) the timing on this one is … perfect? Sure!

    Glad you had a good outcome, inspiring how you guys just keep on trucking.

  6. My husband has been a truck driver for the past four years and I am amazed and the stories he comes home with. I am so glad that they are trained so well and know what to do in tight situations. He has had to call the truck towing services a few times and they took such great care of him. I’m grateful for amazing people that are so will to help all the truckers out there.

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