Musings of An Old Man

by Brian K. Moore

Taken in Tow

During my lifetime and particularly during a period that extended from my early adolescence to mid-adulthood and tapered off during my middle age, I did a lot of towing in and of being towed in anything with wheels.

The reason for this was, most of the rolling stock that was produced in the early days of my life was not nearly as reliable as vehicles produced a few decades later and since we could not afford new vehicles most of our vehicles were of an even earlier, more primitive, vintage and had already served most of their useful life by the time we could afford them.

There were frequent breakdowns and the usual procedure was either get out the tools and patch it up on the spot, or walk to a place where there was a phone and call a relative or friend to come and tow it home. Towing was best done with a chain. There were special tow chains with hooks on the ends to make attachment easy, but many times a rope or a strap or even electric wire was used. Towing with a chain or rope etc presented some challenges. The chain should be kept tight because if it is allowed to go slack there will be quite a violent jerk when it again tightens. The pull of the towing vehicle holds the chain tight during acceleration or up hill travel, but the braking must be done by the towed vehicle. This takes lots of attention and coordination. Nowadays this method of towing is illegal. Towing must be done with a tow bar which is a solid connection between the towing vehicle and the towed vehicle, sort of like the tongue on a trailer.

One time in the early 80s Eileen Bloom, of Harry and Eileen, good friends of ours, called our home about 8:30 PM. Her car had broken down in Lucerne Valley, about 20 miles away. Harry was in Alaska working on the pipeline, and would I help her? Of course I would!

I grabbed the tow chain and headed for Lucerne Valley. We hooked the chain between the two cars, and I started briefing her on how we would do it. Before I finished she interrupted saying, “I know all that stuff.” I thought “yea, I bet.” The common conception was that Eileen was a sort of ding-a-ling. But I let it go at that, thinking we’ll start out and when she screws up we’ll stop and I’ll tell her how to do it.

So we started out. I got the surprise of my life! Because in the twenty miles to her place in Apple Valley, she never let the chain go slack one time! I believe that she was the best “towee” that I have ever had. Her husband, Harry Bloom, had run an auto repair shop in Apple Valley before he went to Alaska to work on the pipeline, and I suspect she had probably helped him bring in broken down cars.

A few years later, Phyllis was driving our old De Soto from Victorville to Apple Valley on Bear Valley Cutoff, a little two lane road. She had the kids with her. As she was approaching the Mojave River the engine stopped. She, with the kids in tow, walked to a place where she could find a phone and called me. I put the tow chain in the back of the old Jeep pick up and headed out to tow her home. We got hooked up and started out. Evidently I did not give her the talk that I was going to give Eileen Bloom about who makes it go and who makes it stop, because as we headed down the hill toward the river she started catching up with me and I had to put on more throttle to keep the chain tight. I rolled down the window and stuck my arm way out and waved my hand in a downward direction trying to tell her to slow down, but we didn’t slow down. We kept going faster and faster but the chain slacked anyway. Finally the road leveled out and I tried to pull ahead gently to take the slack out of the chain. But there was still a violent jerk when the chain tightened.

As soon as I could find a place to get off the road, I signaled Phyllis to brake. This time her braking was effective, and we pulled off and stopped. I walked back. Phyllis was irate! I was greeted by “WHY DID YOU HAVE TO GO SO FAST?” It was hard to explain that she was the one who was supposed to be doing the braking. In retrospect, she may have been braking on the hill but didn’t realize how hard you have to push that brake pedal, when there are no power brakes due to the inoperative engine. We decided that if we ever have to do this again, she would drive the “front” car and I would drive the “back” car.

In the mid 90s Phyllis and I got a tremendous Lincoln. We called it “big blue.” It was so long that one time my brother Joe said, “Phyllis and Brian will be here pretty soon. I see the front of their car coming.” One day this car decided to stop running somewhere near the south eastern edge of Victorville. After rescuing the occupants of the car, my friend and assistant, Kenny Be Dell and I went to tow the car home.

All we had to tow it with was my little Datsun pick up. But I said, “It’s OK. It will do it.” The little Datsun did pull the big Lincoln and we were headed east on Bear Valley Road coming up on Apple Valley Road. I was driving the Datsun and Kenny was struggling with the big Lincoln. I say struggling because without the engine running, the big blue monster had no power steering or power brakes! It was controlled by muscle power alone.

As we approached Apple Valley Road, we had a green light and so I proceeded at a moderate rate, thinking good, we don’t have to stop this caravan and then have to get it going again. But as we were getting pretty close to the intersection the light turned to amber. If I had been just driving a car I would have stopped but I knew that if I braked the Datsun to a stop, Kenny in no way could stop that big blue monster with muscle power only and big blue and Kenny would have been all over the back end of the little Datsun. So instead of brakes I put on throttle to get there before the light turned red. We made the turn at about 30 miles per hour with Kenny doing all of the steering without power steering, with muscle power only.

We made it. Neither Kenny nor I want to do it again. I told Kenny’s wife Linda this story and she said, “Why didn’t you just call triple A?”

I thought, “Well, I suppose I could have done that.”