Towing Know-How

Towing Know-How

  • By: Greg Thomas
Avoid the Wreck

I recently added up the mileage: During the past 20 years I’ve driven more than 500,000 miles in the West, many on dirt roads, which I prefer over payment, and often through bottomless mud gumbo, ice or snow. During that time, I’d never left the road, although I did whack five registered black Angus cows on a memorable August evening and I’ve taken out two mule deer.

But I’d never left the road. Until this May when I pulled out of Notch Bottom access on Montana’s lower Big Hole River and started along the infamous Burma Road. It rained and snowed all day and the road was absolute gumbo, although I didn’t realize that until a particularly slippery turn, located about a mile from the access. That’s when I started around the corner and my tires abandoned purpose.

And why wouldn’t they? First, they are low on tread and, second, a 300-pound driftboat and trailer was assisting that slide, spinning the back end of the truck toward an irrigation ditch. I remember thinking, So this is the time that I really go over a bank. And then, I’m sure glad I’m wearing a seatbelt and the doors are locked because, boy, this truck and the boat are rolling.

Fortunately, they didn’t roll, thanks to a couple big boulders that cut loose from the adjacent hill, sometime in history, and lodged on the low bank. When my right front tire slammed into those boulders the truck shook to a stop and I said, “Whew, goddamn it. I’m alive!”

But can you say jackknifed? We tried pulling the rig out with a friend’s truck and it didn’t budge. Fortunately, my mother—who is the best mother in the world, you know—buys me a gift membership to AAA each year. I quickly phoned the number on my member card and, despite our remote location, and despite a tow-truck driver’s hesitancy to travel the Burma Road in such poor conditions, a truck arrived about two hours later. And two hours after that, I was extricated from the ditch and headed east, super cautiously and at snail pace, to the Blue Anchor in Twin Bridges to celebrate being alive.

What I learned from that wreck, and subsequently from speaking with Robert Eddins, owner of RO Drift Boats in Bozeman, Mont., may save you from a similar departure from the road. Here are Eddins’ tips, along with my personal recommendation—sign up for AAA or make sure that your auto insurance policy provides towing services.

Avoid the Wreck:
The Robert Eddins Education

  1. One of the most important elements to safely towing a trailer is tongue weight. If you have negative tongue weight, your trailer will sway. You have to have five- to 10-percent of the combined trailer and boat weight for tongue weight. If the trailer and boat weigh 800 pounds, you need 40- to 80-pounds of tongue weight. A quality trailer will have an adjustable winch stand on the tongue and you can move it forward or back to adjust the weight. To gauge tongue weight, place the tongue on a bathroom scale or visit a boat or RV dealer.
  2. If you see the trailer swaying, for whatever reason, don’t hit the breaks. Just take your foot off the gas and let the trailer correct itself.
  3. Make sure your license plate is visible and that your trailer lights are in working condition. If they aren’t, check the fuses first and then work with the wiring.
  4. Drive with solid tires and a spare tire for your vehicle and your trailer.
  5. Run safety chains from the trailer to the vehicle.
  6. Run a safety chain from the winch stand to the boat.
  7. Clip a strap on one side of the boat and the other, and cinch it tight to keep the boat in place.
  8. Drive close to the speed limit.