“Slip Slidin’ Away.”

Driving In Snow
Car Driving In Snow | Photo by popularmechanics.com

That is the title of a Paul Simon song that suits out winter weather in Oregon. It is something that we hope does not happen to us.

Paul Simon “Slip Slidin’ Away” | Video from youtube

We have had some cold overnight lows, but so far at least no winter storms. A recent temperature drop produced fog and freezing fog. Most often fog that freezes to the surface of the road isn’t visible until you start sliding. I have seen vehicles with studded snow tires on them this season, but for the most part you don’t need the studs very often unless you travel through the mountain passes or live high up in our hills. I remember as a kid growing up in Rochester, New York and previously for a short time in Uniontown, Pennsylvania watching my father and other adults putting chains on their car tires to drive the winter snow covered streets without slipping and sliding. The advantage of snow chains is that when the snow is gone you can just take them off and you’re back to just regular rubber tires hitting the road.

Ad For Weed Tires | Image by jalopyjournal.com
Ad For Weed Tires | Image by jalopyjournal.com

Here is a look back to a column I wrote 5 years ago about the origin of snow chains. Who came up with the idea and when? It didn’t take much digging to find that out. According to Wikipedia “snow chains, or tire chains, are devices fitted to tires of vehicles, to provide maximum traction while driving through snow and ice.” It was back in 1904 that Harry D.Weed invented snow chains in Canastota, New York. “Weed’s great-grandson, James Weed, said that Harry got the idea of creating chains for tires when he saw drivers wrap rope, or even vines, around their tires to increase traction on muddy or snowy roads, which were the norm at the turn of the 20th century.”  Way back then it was relatively easy to put the chains on the rear tires of a car. The picture below shows how simple it was with the skinny tires of “the day.”

Early Days Of Automobile Snow Chains | Photo by
Early Days Of Automobile Snow Chains | Photo by mtfca.com

Back to when I was a kid. I remember how much trouble it was to put the chains on our car. My father had to lay the chains out on the driveway spaced just right for the distance between the wheels. He then had to drive the car onto the chains and hook them together around the tires. The cars were all rear-axel drive so the chains were put on the back tires that pushed the car along. You have to remember that a lot of people didn’t have a garage so they had to do this outside.

Tire Chains Laid Out On The Ground | Image by kijiji.ca
Tire Chains Laid Out On The Ground | Image by kijiji.ca

They started out by laying out the chains, drive the car over them so the tires lined up exactly with the center of the chains, and then strap the chains down tight enough so they didn’t fly off once the car started moving and the wheels spun around. All of this was done out in the open usually in cold temperatures and while it was snowing. If I remember correctly, watching my father put the chains on our car is when I learned more than a few words that, if I would ever use them, my mother threatened to wash my mouth out with soap.

Quick Fit Chains | Image by ebay.com
Quick Fit Chains Like Mine| Image by ebay.com

Putting on those old chains was a back-breaking time consuming job. Things have really changed. Now we have specialized chains made for specific size tires. Not only that, but the chains come color-coded with easy to follow directions explaining how to properly attach them to your tires. Les Schwab sells what they call “Quick Fit” chains. Here is the video showing how to install tire chains that they have on their website. The Quick Fit chains I bought some years ago came with a vinyl sheet with the step-by-step installation instructions shown with pictures. The sheet is tough enough and big enough to kneel down on it while installing the chains even if there is snow and/or ice on the ground. This is not a deliberate commercial for Les Schwab, but I have been dealing with them over the years that we have lived in Eugene. I swear by my “quick fit” chains that have lasted many years now. Even with my back and leg issues I can put the chains on when I need them to get around town in the ice and snow. If you do a web search you can find other brands of chains of all kinds

I found a video showing an amazing kind of mechanical snow chain device that is used on trucks and busses while they are still in motion. This one is called the Rotogrip Automatic Snow Chain System. Take a look at the video below.

Now that I have shown you who invented them, when, and how they have been improved it would be a good idea for you to decide if investing in snow chains is something that you should do before the Winter weather gets here. I think they are better than studded tires in our area, unless you consistently travel through the mountains, because you are using them only when they are necessary. The studded tires damage the roadway and the studs can get kicked out of the tire or worn down enough to be rendered less useful. If you do travel over the mountains you should always have your chains with you. If a sudden snow storm hits and the passes are restricted to “chains required” you are going to be prevented from summiting the pass and forced to turn back if you don’t “chain-up.” Winter’s here so follow that tried-and-true Boy Scouts of America (Scouts BSA) motto “Be Prepared.”

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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