Mark stopped overnight at the Flying J Travel Plaza in Shuniah – just outside of Thunder Bay – in preparation for his trip across Hwy. 17 into Manitoba. He had a heavy load of auto parts headed for a warehouse in Winnipeg, and experience told him that the last stretch of this highway was always the toughest, especially in January.Mark stopped overnight at the Flying J Travel Plaza in Shuniah – just outside of Thunder Bay – in preparation for his trip across Hwy. 17 into Manitoba. He had a heavy load of auto parts headed for a warehouse in Winnipeg, and experience told him that the last stretch of this highway was always the toughest, especially in January
.And so, after a meal in the truck stop restaurant, Mark took a few moments to check the weather forecast for the next couple of days. Even though the highway was well maintained, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky at the moment, it was always a good idea to see what sort of weather and road conditions he would be driving into, especially when there were hundreds of kilometers between gas stations along the way.
The forecast wasn’t good.
The temperature had been steady around -10 C for the past week, but it was set to drop another four degrees in the next few days and the possibility of precipitation was high at around 85%. The total accumulation of snow was approximately eight to 10 centimeters, all of which added up to terrible driving conditions.
If Mark had his way, he’d top up the tank on his auxiliary power unit and camp out in his truck for the next few days and binge-watch the set of Game of Thrones DVDs he’d received for Christmas. But there was a deadline attached to this load and he was mindful of it.
As he walked from the restaurant to his truck, Mark took a good long look at the sky. Still not a cloud to be seen. If he chained up Mother Load now, he’d be forced to drive at 50 km/h for a very long time. Not only would it be slow going, but he’d also be beating up his chains driving on highway that had as yet to see a single snowflake.
But…anyone who has ever installed snow chains during a blizzard will tell you it’s better to chain up in good weather than to be forced to do it in a storm. And so, Mark got out his chains.
He hadn’t used his chains yet this season, so the first thing he did was lay them out on the ground to check their condition. There was wear on them to be sure, but everything was solid and none of the links were twisted. He made sure the hooks were all pointing upward and outward and that the cams would end up on the outside of the tire.
Then he grabbed the chains by the center and laid them over the outside tire of the first set of drive tires. When the outside chain link was in the middle of the sidewall and everything was laying square, Mark swept the excess chain in front of the tire so when he moved forward the chain was up high on the tire in the back and the excess would end up on the ground behind the tire.
After moving forward a few feet, Mark fastened the hooks on the inside of the tire first, using the third link in the chain to make sure he was getting the chains tight. Then he moved to the outside, connecting the side chain fastener as tight as he could. There were four cam locks on Mark’s chains and he’d always had to do them all up to ensure a tight fit. After he’d tightened the first three cam locks, he struggled with the fourth a bit, but it eventually turned over and set in place.
Mark gave a couple of hard tugs on the chain, then drove forward a few feet. When he checked again, everything was still on tight. Satisfied, he set about installing chains on the on the other side of the truck.
There was still not a cloud in the sky when Mark set out onto the highway. After a half-kilometer’s drive he pulled over onto the highway’s shoulder and checked his chains again just to make sure they were still on tight and nothing had shifted. Perfect.
The rusted chains had even been ground bare, making the chains shine in the early morning sunshine.
Back in the truck, ready for the worst winter could dish out, Mark headed out onto Hwy. 17 traveling at 50 km/h and with long, noisy, boring hours of driving ahead.But as the early morning inched closer to noon and Mark still hadn’t seen any snow, he began to wonder if he’d made the right choice chaining up. If he hadn’t installed his chains, he would have been able to drive faster and be hours ahead of where he was now.
And how quickly would the snow come when it did? At the first sign of the storm, he could have stopped for 10 or so minutes to put on the chains. After all, how bad could the snow be?Up ahead, Mark saw the flashing lights of an OPP cruiser on the shoulder. As Mark slowed, he could see the officer on the roadside waving down traffic.
Mark was barely rolling when he reached the officer and rolled down his window.
“Just making sure any trucks going west have their chains on,” said the officer. “I see you have them. Good job. Good luck!”
Mark smiled and waved as he pulled away.‘That was different,’ he thought. ‘It’s not often the police are out warning people about the snow. I wonder how bad it’s going to…’All of a sudden Mark couldn’t see. His entire windshield was blanketed in white and the road seemed to have turned from black to white in an instant. “Yeah!” Mark shouted, elated at the whiteout conditions and the correct decision he’d made. “Right on!”
Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 2 of The Chain’s in Command.