Monday, January 25, 2016


One night I got sent to a vehicle stuck on some railroad tracks. The caller had told dispatch she had no idea where she was, but a train was coming. Pretty much the whole shift was driving around like maniacs, trying to figure out where this car might be. It was about 2AM, and pouring rain.

As I was passing a dead end side street, which didn't go over any railroad tracks, I happened to spot a woman standing back in the dark, waving at me. When I got turned around and back to where she was, I realized a) she was drunk as a skunk, and b) her car was hung up on an old unused railroad spur. It was adjacent to an active track, but was in no danger of being hit by a train. In her alcohol-induced haze, the driver had thought it was through street.

This person had actually driven her car over both tracks, and it was hung up on them. we couldn't move it, so we called a tow truck to assist. The truck showed up, and the driver affixed a cable to the rear of the stuck vehicle. He cranked up the winch and started pulling.

I was standing right there during this process. When I realized the winch was continuing to turn, but the car wasn't budging, I decided it might be a good idea for me to move.

Sure enough, the was a sudden, loud twang! as the cable snapped. The cable end that was still attached to the car whistled past me, recoiling so fast and so hard that it actually punctured the sheet metal on the side of the car. Had I not moved, that cable would've hit me.

Lesson: tow truck guys are awesome, but they don't always really know what they're doing.


Heidi said...

Holy Crap! Thanks for passing that lesson along. What a moment that must have been for you...

CatCube said...

The tow truck driver ought to have known to maintain clearance for a possible snap back.

A breaking cable is more than capable of killing somebody. There's a lot of strain energy stored in a cable under tension.

ZerCool said...

I had one snap when a wrecker was trying to remove a Dodge Dakota from it's embrace of a maple a ways up an embankment. Lots of creaking and groaning and then a very sharp PTWANG followed by sudden silence... broken by the tow driver saying, "Holy shit. I've never had one of those break before." (One of the most experienced tow drivers in the county; he'd been hooking cars before I was born and still hard at it.)

If you do any off-roading, smart winchers will do as many of the following as practical:
- raise the hood of the winch vehicle
- run the winch as remotely as possible, at 90-degree angles to the pull
- drape a heavy blanket or tarp over the line to retard a break
- run synthetic cables which retain less momentum in a catastrophic failure
- not need a winch to begin with :-)