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Don’t throw the dice when you’re throwing iron

Don & Debbe Morrow
OOIDA Member Columnists

With autumn in full force, there is no doubt what comes next, and the time to prepare for Old Man Winter is now while he’s still dozing, not when he’s breathing down your neck at the side of the road.

One of the most basic winter road routines is one many truckers hope they never have to get too familiar with — throwing iron, known to four-wheelers as installing chains.

There are several different types of chains, or approved traction devices as they are often referred to in state regulations and advisories. The two that dominate in actual usage are link chains and cables. Most of the big carriers use cables for two very good reasons: cables are cheaper; cables are lighter weight. The drawback to using cables is they are not approved traction devices in all states.

For the purposes of this column, we will refer to both cables and chains as chains unless we specify we are discussing cables. Here are a few general suggestions that will help in dealing with chains and adverse conditions.

Practice installing your chains when it’s warm and dry. When the wind is blowing like crazy and the temperature is below zero is not the time to find out you have the wrong size or do not have the correct tools.

Lay the chains out on the ground so you can drive your truck on top of them.

Make sure any sharp links are to the outside away from the tire. The final locking or adjusting device should end up on the outside of the tire so you can reach it easily.

Drive your truck one-third of the way onto the chains. You can drape the remaining two-thirds over the tire and gravity will hold it in place while you lock it securely.

It is important to install the chains as tight as you can.

Use several bungee straps on the outside ring formed by the chain to help keep the chain tight.

Stop after the first quarter-mile to retighten the chains.

Your maximum speed with chains should be 25 mph. Chains will loosen up as you drive, and as they do, you need to further reduce your speed.

If chains are too loose, they slap up against your mud flap and trailer, eventually breaking themselves or something else.

Some states want drivers to chain-up trailer tires. These are referred to as drag chains and are intended to provide traction for braking. Some of these states require one drag chain only, but be aware that you should not do anything that will affect only one side of your trailer. If the state is asking you for one drag chain, give them two, one on each side of the trailer.

Many western states use gates across roadways and ramps to close the roads down when conditions are really bad. Do not bypass these gates.

The chain-up policy of individual carriers speaks volumes about a company’s attitude toward its drivers.

A policy requiring drivers to chain up long enough to get to the first safe place to stop is as good as it gets. Policies that require drivers to chain up and keep moving tell us there is a higher priority placed on the freight than on the well-being of the driver or equipment.

We have chains, we know how to install them and we know how to operate with them installed. With all that said, it might sound a little ironic, but our goal, and hopefully yours, is to never throw iron.

By taking full advantage of the information and technology available, you can usually plan your routes and timing to avoid chaining up. We are not suggesting that you shouldn’t chain up if conditions warrant it. What we are suggesting is to work around chain-up conditions. This may mean waiting for conditions to improve or bypassing the casino or video games so you can keep moving ahead of a storm — assuming you have the hours available to do so.