Local towing firms battle blizzard aftermath

Russ Automotive, a towing service located near Millersburg at the 137-mile marker on I-70, helped stranded motorists when I-70 was closed Tuesday during the blizzard that caused treacherous white-out conditions.

“On Tuesday night when I-70 was closed, we sent trucks out to check on people stuck in the snow,” said Julie Jones, a dispatcher for Russ Automotive.

Jones and her husband Russ operate the business that specializes in wrecker service for large trucks. She handles the paperwork and the dispatching for the firm.

“We have been so busy during this storm. I was up all night on Tuesday, and we are tired but still going Wednesday afternoon pulling people out of the snow,” Jones said.

“When Interstate 70 was closed on Tuesday afternoon and night, we were checking to see if people stranded along the road had enough fuel or heat and if they had a safe place to go last night. On our way to calls, we would check on any vehicle on the side of the road. We made a point of stopping to see if they were warm or if they needed a ride to somewhere. We don’t have any kind of a special arrangement with the Department of Transportation but we cooperate with them when they have a need for assistance,” Jones said.

“We are working whatever hours are needed in order to help the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri State Highway Patrol keep Interstate 70 open. We are dedicated to trying to keep the interstate highway open and keep people driving along the highway safe,” Jones said.

“We have medium-size wreckers that can take care of box trucks and other trucks. We also have state-of-the-art equipment to handle the biggest of the biggest trucks, the semis and tankers. We have a 60-ton rotator wrecker. The wrecker’s boom goes all the way around in a circle. It allows us to pull up on a wreckage and operate without shutting down a lot of lanes. We can rotate that boom around to the side instead of backing up to get the angles aligned that would be necessary for other wreckers.”

On Tuesday night the Callaway County firm also made good use of its airbag lift.

“We used airbags to lift a tractor-trailer back up on its wheels. On Wednesday morning we were out before daybreak during the blizzard on the interstate before it was reopened. We use our airbag lifts on the side of the trailer and tractor. We got our rotator wrecker in place and we were able to get the tractor-trailer upright. We drove it away without much damage before the interstate reopened at daybreak. We were able to save the load and it keeps the mess down,” Jones said.

“In Callaway County, there is a need for a wrecker service like ours specializing in large trucks. There is a big concentration of trucks in Kingdom City for service there. There are many miles of interstate highway through Callaway County and the Dollar General Distribution Center in Fulton also has a lot of big trucks,” she said.

Dave Vandelicht of Tom and Steve Auto Repair and Wrecker Service in Fulton said the towing firm is open 24 hours and was especially busy during the blizzard.

“It makes it so much more difficult to get around during this kind of weather. We have pulled out a lot of vehicles that slipped off the road. So far we have been able to get nearly all of them out. But we had to leave one Wednesday afternoon that was too far off the road and we could not get to it,” Vandelicht said.

James Wagner of Kingdom City Towing said his firm specializes in towing light vehicles.

“We have been really busy on Wednesday. We are open 24 hours, but business really picked up early this morning. Even late Wednesday afternoon we have 10 or 15 people on the waiting list,” Wagner said.

He added that his trucks have not been able to reach many country roads and have been busy working on roads like Route F and Route J in Callaway County along with access roads along U.S. 54 and I-70.

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