TRUCK­ING

Re­spect for safety keeps trail­ers hitched

The Province - - TRUCKING - JOHN G. STIR­LING

Here we are, the last day of July, and you’ve again grown used to shar­ing the road with the sum­mer­time RV users.

If you don’t own one or never pulled one, let me draw your at­ten­tion to some­thing in­ter­est­ing. No­tice those two safety chains that are at­tached to the trailer and the pickup tow hitch?

In the­ory, if the trailer be­comes de­tached for what­ever rea­son, the safety chains will im­me­di­ately ap­ply the RV brakes and stop it from run­ning out of con­trol.

Now, ever no­tice those chains on a big rig? Me nei­ther.

I’ve pulled a fam­ily RV thou­sands of kilo­me­tres and never once had it come off the trailer hitch. Think that’s luck? I think luck is for losers. I at­tribute it to my pro­fes­sional ap­proach.

When the kids grew up and left home the RV was soon to fol­low. I breathed a big sigh of re­lief as I watched its tail lights dis­ap­pear around the cor­ner. The thought of the in­ef­fi­ciency of those two lit­tle chains still haunts me, ev­ery sum­mer. That’s why you’ll never ever find me lin­ger­ing any­where near a Mom & Pop RV, thank you very much.

In my pro­fes­sional driv­ing ca­reer, I’ve pulled (be­fore met­ric us­age was law), 20-foot­ers, 26-foot­ers, 40-, 45-, 48-, 53- and a com­bi­na­tion setup of one 40-footer and one 20-footer be­ing pulled at one time.

No safety chains any­where to be seen. No law say­ing it is re­quired in or­der to pro­ceed down the high­way, or even in town. Zip. Napa. Zilch.

But I am here to tell you, in writ­ing, that big rig trail­ers do come off at the weird­est of times, and no safety chain would make one whit of dif­fer­ence. True, when the rub­ber/plas­tic air lines rip off, the brakes do come on, but lots of time passes in the time pe­riod.

Check out the next rig you see go­ing down the road with no trailer at­tached. See that flat cres­cent shaped thing on the deck, just in front of the drive tires? The trailer slides into that tiny lit­tle hole, and that’s all there is that keep that trailer se­curely at­tacked to the power unit.

A pin-shaped gizmo sticks down from the bot­tom of the trailer and the driver of the power unit backs up and slides that pin into that hole on the cres­cent shaped fifth­wheel and the trailer is locked in place. In the­ory.

It doesn’t al­ways hap­pen on the driver’s first, or even sec­ond at­tempt. Some driv­ers are lazy, too. Think­ing the two are now one (at­tached), the driver at­taches his air and elec­tri­cal lines, rolls up the land­ing gear (the two legs that keep the nose of the trailer from hit­ting the ground), and pulls away. The trailer doesn’t move. The air­lines snap off, and there is hell to pay.

The trailer is now nose down in the dirt or pave­ment. A fork­lift or some lift­ing ap­pa­ra­tus is needed to lift the trailer so the legs can (hope­fully) be rolled down to hold up the trailer.

More of­ten than not, the legs need to be to­tally re­placed, mean­ing the trailer is out of ser­vice. The rig is fine to drive, but it can’t hook up to a trailer and make money. No air or elec­tri­cal lines any­more ei­ther. They were stretched and snapped off, putting that rig also out of ser­vice.

All that dam­age hap­pened in the mere blink of an eye. An ex­pe­ri­enced driver al­ways does what is called a “tug test.” He ap­plies only the trailer brakes and tries to pull ahead. If he hooked up suc­cess­fully, and is also pro­fes­sional, he’ll not be able to move the trailer. That means the pin did suc­cess­fully slide into the fifth wheel ap­pa­ra­tus and it’s now safe to head ’er down the high­way.

The bad news is when the driver does not do the tug test, but the weight of the trailer and its cargo is enough to make it feels as though the two units are at­tached. It all changes at the first turn that rig makes. He turns, and the trailer goes straight and crashes down and does a nose plant. Driver er­ror is the ver­dict. Big fines.

Hope­fully it doesn’t hap­pen on a pub­lic road — but it does hap­pen, and all too of­ten.

An­other ver­sion of the above is when the of­ten “new” or know-it-all driver wants to prove how safety con­scious he is. He uses his grease gun and lubes ev­ery­thing he was taught in driv­ing school to lu­bri­cate, and then some.

The only prob­lem is too much grease into the jaws of the fifth wheel can quickly add up to a solid lump of mat­ter that a trailer pin will not fully pen­e­trate. The driver backs up, for­gets to do a tug test, ev­ery­thing seems peachy keen, so off he goes. Some­where down the road, that lump of grease lets go, and leaves with the trailer, plus the air and elec­tri­cal lines. You can imag­ine the rest. I’ve seen too many ex­am­ples, and a safety chain would not have made any dif­fer­ence.

Re­mem­ber when Mom used to say, “Too much is as bad as not enough?” That most cer­tainly ap­plies to hook­ing up any trailer, be it a rig or the Mom & Pop RV.

They are a won­der­ful thing to have, but if not re­spected they can kill in the blink of an eye.

Chains or no safety chains.

I could fill a news­pa­per with sto­ries about life on the road, but why not share yours? Send them to Driv­ing edi­tor Andrew McCredie at am­c­credie@post­media.com

— GETTY IM­AGES FILES

You won’t catch John Stir­ling get­ting too close to an RV trailer on the high­way: he knows two lit­tle safety chains are not go­ing to stop a run­away trailer quickly.

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