I have had many Dollie Adventure in my time behind the wheel of a tow truck.  On one Sunday, I was sent out to impound an old Datsun 510, and when I got there I found that it had no wheels.  Other than it being an annoyance, it wasn’t  a terribly big deal, because I had towed many vehicles without wheels with a wrecker and dollies by that point in my career. Usually I would strap or chain the vehicle to the dollie, but it was a Sunday afternoon, so the traffic was light, and I was being lazy, so I centered  the Datsun on the dollie and headed for the impound lot (securing the vehicle  to the dollie prevents the load from moving in the dollie, which can happen with steel wheels on steel dollie crossrails). 

At that time, we had fixed-length steel crossrails on our trucks, which turned out to be important, as you will see. I got onto I-84 about 5 miles east of downtown Portland, and the 58th Avenue onramp went under the freeway and made a hard left just outside of the short tunnel.  I was going slow, but not slow enough apparently, because when I made the turn, the Datsun slid on the crossrails all the way to the right and slammed against the dollie frame.  The two dollie tires on the left came up off the ground about 2” and then rested back
onto the pavement.  I swallowed hard to get my heart out of my throat, and waited for the crossrails to fall out of the rail pockets.  I knew that only the weight of the car keeps the crossrails in the rail pockets, and since one side was temporarily hovering, even pulling the dollie tires up into midair, we were now defying the laws of science.  I was on the freeway now, with no emergency lane to work with, so I kept
going cautiously.  The left dollie tires were now sticking out about three feet past the wrecker bed, but everything held together, so I kept

If the crossrails had been telescoping crossrails, I think the Datsun’s suspension would not have slid so far or so easily, because the fixed-length crossrails are perfectly smooth.   As I approached the split to I-5, I remembered that the Steel Bridge offramp had nice right-turn angle to it, so I could correct the positioning of the Datsun on the dollie by swinging hard into the turn. These are the kinds of ideas that come into you head when you’re 25 years old, as I was at the time.

I tried the maneuver, but the exact reverse of the first shift took place, with the Datsun sliding all the way to the left, slamming against the left dollie frame, and the right dollie tires lifting off the ground and then settling.  Now the dollies were tracking three feet to the right of the wrecker bed. I was off the freeway now, so I could have stopped to make adjustments and maybe splash some water in my face,
but I was also close to the impound lot, so I just kept going.

When I got to the lot, I pulled in, put the truck in park, stepped out of the truck, and the rear crossrail fell out of both dollie frames and went “clink” as it hit the pavement.  Both ends had apparently been sitting on the “ledge,” waiting to pop out and make the entire dollie fly apart, but for some reason, neither end decided to do that.  The rest of the dollie stayed intact, with the wheelless Datsun still sitting on the front

I think I used up a whole lot of good luck that day, probably way more than an abandoned Datsun 510 with no wheels warranted.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper


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