The snow stung my cheeks. Heads down, we pushed through the wind to the Edmonton Flying J, connected to the Super 8 motel.
Our first snow sighting last November was in Edmonton and now, hopefully, it’s our last for the season. MacGyver’s brother, who works north of here, drove down on business, booking a Super 8 room allowing us a trucker treat. A shower with no flipflops.
For two people who spend an enormous amount of money to avoid winter each year we’ve seen more than most drivers who stayed and earned. Each snow sighting, we were saved by our OnSpot automatic snow chains.
The automatic chains have been on MacGyver’s UE list — Ultimate Equipment, which also includes around-the-tractor-and-trailer-video-cameras — since before we attended Schneider School in March 2008. We must have walked ten miles, back and forth across the Mid-American Truck Show in Louisville, Kentucky in March last year so MacGyver could see the demo models, and see them again, ask questions, see them again and return with more questions, Colombo-style, until he selected his brand.
Expensive, yes, but after three incidents this winter, indispensable for a team that wants to run and especially a husband and wife team. To me they are an additional two hundred pounds of husband brawn, bonus, they don’t talk back. When I want them I flip the switch in the tractor cab and they go to work, when I’m done, I flip the switch again and they go back to their cave. To the husband, MacGyver, they are an assistant, one that allows him to sleep peacefully when the snow is flying.
The mechanics south of the Mason Dixon line ask if the sign — Automatic Tire Chains, which we must post — is a joke. Nope, definitely, no joke.
We used the chains the first time in Edmonton, it was one of the first snowstorms of the year last fall, north of Red Deer there was ice in the snow. Returning to Calgary from our delivery on the Bypass around Edmonton, we could see traffic stopped ahead. You know how people say a vehicle was wrapped around a light pole, this black, four by four was wrapped around a light pole in the median, literally. Traveling too fast, probably following too close, the ice became apparent and when he braked, he lost control.
The police and several motorists were already attending him, but all this was on the other side of the bypass, but everyone in our lanes, suddenly realized the ice, they wanted to see and they slowed down, forcing us to come to a stop on the upgrade. Empty of freight, the drive tires screamed while they spun. No traction. We were stuck. Normally, a BIG problem. But MacGyver hit the switch on the dash, spun the wheels a bit, the canister with the chains lowered, the tires grabbed and we slowly chugged up the hill.
The OnSpots are 12 inch lengths of chain attached to a disc, connected to an arm, which is attached to a canister, which is attached to the drive axles. Four of them, one on each side of each axle.
Lower the arm and the disc spins, throwing the chains under the tires, the tires drive over the chains, et voila (we’re in Canada) traction!
If the storm is bad, the snow heavy, wet, icy and deep, we stop. It’s only someone’s crap in the trailer, it can wait. If we have a crash, we will almost automatically be accessed some blame — speed unsuitable to conditions — which affects our driving record. A clean driving record keeps us in business.
We left every Schneider yard looking at a sign that says: “Nothing we do is worth hurting ourselves or others.” It’s my center point for making decisions.
And the most dangerous place to be during a snowstorm is on the side of the highway hanging irons. And there’s no way a husband is going to let his wife stand on the side of the highway, cars and trucks sliding, by herself — rules be damned — working on the chains. Before OnSpot the only time we, and it was MacGyver, chained a load was our first winter on the road on a load from Wisconsin to Washington state. In many cases, the chains are needed for less than 10 miles. If we can just get up and over the pass and we can keep going.
The price tag was a head spinning $5,095, of course, because we have a Volvo we needed new U-Bolts, which added to the cost and we had to pay freight!! We also had a switch installed for each axle, so if we only need a little traction, we can lower one axle of chains and if there’s a problem with one switch, we have a second independent axle.
In January we were demonstrating our chains to our driver friend Ohio Dave in Jacksonville, Florida where we attended Landstar’s BCO Days, its driver convention.
“Hey, the chains aren’t lowering,” Dave told me as MacGyver drove the tractor around the yard. Oops. What’s going on? Part of BCO days was a vendor trade show, OnSpot was there. We brought them our problem. The technician drove out to the tractor to inspect the chains. The arms had somehow become bent.
They told us to come to the plant in Mt. Vernon, Indiana and they would fix the problem. A week later we found a load and headed west. They put the tractor in the shop and inspected the underside.
Customer service has almost gone the way of the dodo bird. We spend huge money on parts and service and accessories and often get shrugs when something isn’t working. Or in the shop, the mechanics change parts based on codes from the engine, but don’t actually solve the problem or worse yet, Volvo’s system is that we can’t talk to the mechanic about the symptoms and problems we have noted we must go through a middle man — the service advisor — and details are forgotten.
OnSpot’s customer service was great. They told us they didn’t know why the arms should be bent. They didn’t blame us — which often happens, driver error — they had no explanation, the most likely one was when the installation happened, the independent installer wrenched them down with too much force.
It took them a day and we had operable chains. The secret with the chains is that they should be dropped weekly, year around, just to keep all the components greased and working well.
“Drive it through the truck stop and drop the chains for a couple of minutes,” we were told.
We dropped the chains again in Oregon, on I-5, our first load out from our Thai holiday. Rain in Medford became slick and slushy snow going up up the Siskiyous, a motorcycle stopped on the shoulder, two cars spun out and a truck lost traction, it was a mess for about five miles to the summit. MacGyver hit the switches for both axles and the chains dropped, first we heard them clang and then we felt the traction as the drive tires rolled over the 3/8 inch chain. Eight miles later, over the summit, still moving, he hit the switch again and the chains retracted.
We rolled into Edmonton Sunday morning, an end of season snowstorm left an inch or two of snow — no chains needed this time — which froze overnight. Monday morning dawned with a cloudless sky, the temperature should get close to 50, but it’s still winter here, dirt covers the grass in the highway medians, it’s mucky and there’s not one sign of pussy willows, the first show of Spring life in northern Canada.
We had lunch at Earl’s with MacGyver’s brother and he took me to Safeway for a few groceries and a few Canadian treats, Dad’s crunchy oatmeal cookies, cheddar cheese, and Astro yogurt.
Now we head south with hay.