Elbe Rescue Feb 2007

The longest rescue mission in the history of me.
(A lesson Learned)

On Monday, the 19th of February, I woke up and checked the mass of online forums as I usually do. Being presidents day, I had the day off and was looking forward to relaxing as I had been wheeling at Reiter Trails the previous 3 days. Well, I checked the good old Northwest Wheelers board and saw that some folks needed a rescue out at the Elbe Hills ORV area on the Busy Wild of all trails. I don’t know the full details of what went on but I do know that a group of rigs went in on Sunday, and only one made it out. Several unfortunate souls had spent the night on the trail, in the snow and mud and in the dark. Not the best place to spend your Sunday night.

I loaded up the Jeep and made a few calls to some other folks that were heading down there. Thanks to the NAXJA (North American XJ Association) we got a crew assembled in less than an hour. They have a mighty fine spread sheet of the NW chapter, which I am a member of, and it lists the folks that are available for rescue missions, their rigs capabilities and so on. Well, two hours after the initial cry for help and they had a team of rescuers and worried wives at the campground in Elbe. Grant from the 4×4 Network arrived and set up a full service kitchen (very impressive) and I headed to the shelter to see if anyone knew what was going on. I guess a few guys from another club had rolled a Willys trying to get down to the folks that were stranded, and another guy was in a precarious situation, so I wandered off to help them out. While I was getting that taken care of, a crew that had been down in the busy assisting the stuck group, radioed back to camp that everyone was fixed and headed out except for the full size Chevy truck that was broken and tire less. We aired down and got ready to head into the busy while we listened to stories from the cold, wet, tired folks that had spent the night down in the trail. They spoke of broken axles and bent tie rods. One Jeep that had got stuck in a mud hole had three folks sleep in it because they couldn’t get a fire started. They talked about the night and how they said “it can’t get any worse than this” and shortly after, it started snowing. Not a fun time for those guys.

Well, assembled and surrounded by rigs that were way bigger than mine, I posed the question, “Okay who’s leading this expedition?” all eyes turned to me so I became the leader (scary huh?) and we headed down into the busy to get the full-size. On the way in, we got some info about how stuck it was from the rest of the crew that was attempting to get it out. It took about an hour to get down to it and we started a plan. The truck wouldn’t run and the key cylinder had been ripped out of the steering column. It only had two tires on it and only one had air. The steering wouldn’t work and the tie rod was bent. It was also mired in one of the deepest mud holes on the trail. We got the column torn down, and got it started and running. Got some air in one of the tires and we decided the best idea would be to winch it to “dry” flat ground to get a better place to work on it. That took two winces doubled up and snatched off a tree, all the rigging gear that was contained in three rigs and about 4 hours. After we got it to an area where it could be worked on, the owner of the rig showed up and said that he and his buddy were going to drive it out of there. We begged and pleaded with him to re try on another day, but he was going to do it then. As it was way after dark, my group decided to head out of the trail. On our way out, there was a HUGE – as in up to my headlights huge – mud hole that we had to navigate. I told one guy who had a stick shift not to press his clutch in when in the goo so his clutch wouldn’t pack full of mud. Well 2 minutes after I said that, I had done the very thing that I had warned him about. DOH!!!!! I got my rig back to camp and figured that I could drive it to the pay and spray in Eatonville to spray it out. I made it about halfway to Eatonville before my Jeep just wouldn’t go anymore. So, the self proclaimed mayor of Hardcoreville, has to phone a friend and get dragged home. I called Mark (Dirtball) and he was more than happy to come out at 10 o’clock at night and get me home. THANKS MARK!!!!

Anywho, fast-forward a week and I had the clutch fixed (Thanks Mark and XJ Mike!!!) and Tom Baker, Chad and I were headed out to Elbe to retrieve the Truck. Tom had a steering column that we thought we would need, and the owner of the truck (Adrian) was going to meet us there with some of his buddies from the4x4network so we could get his truck, which we learned was affectionately named “Crusty” home.

We all met at Elbe around 11am. There was about a foot of snow on the ground which made towing a feat. See folks, this is why you wheel your daily drivers.  I guess Tom and Chad had to chain up his big dually diesel because someone else had slid off the road and they couldn’t get the big truck and trailer moving again. Just outside of the camp, right by the sunrise trail, some other guys had slid a huge dodge pickup on 42 inch tires off the trail the previous evening. They blew up a rear ring and pinion trying to get it out and had no front driveshaft. They too spent the night next to their truck, but at least they were close to camp.

We drove over to the camp shelter to find a crew from the 4×4 network already there. Grant had his kitchen set up and hot coffee ready. I really can’t say enough for the guy. It is impressive to see what he can pack into his little TJ and bring out to the trail. I guess Grant is an ex-Army mess specialist and he really does an outstanding job running a full mobile kitchen. After we got our cups and thermoses filled with hot coffee, we headed down to find Crusty with prayers that he was intact. Tom and Chad headed down in his CJ-5, a few local guys were down there in their HUGE FJ-40 cruiser and I had my little TJ down in the trail. A contingent of folks also hiked in with sleds loaded with tools and gear that we used to get Crusty running.

Once we reached the truck, we found that someone had stolen the belts and tried to steal the power steering pump. The rest of the truck was intact though. Tom had a belt to run the water pump and we had to charge the battery every so often to get the truck started. Also something was wrong with the fuel delivery system so we just used a gas can as a spare tank and bypassed the stock fuel lines to the fuel pump. It took about two hours, but the collective masses got the truck running. One of the folks that had hiked in made hot soup for everyone and after lunch we tackled the extraction.

With a bit of luck and A LOT of finesse, we got the full-size beast of a truck turned around and headed the correct direction on the trail. We were in the harder part of the trail and we had to get through the last of the massive mud holes before we were in the clear. I took the lead Adrian took the reins of Crusty and Tom kept jockeying around to winch Crusty and also charge up his battery when he needed it. We had finally found a speed slower than the speed of moose. I would say we went about 100 yards an hour. Every time we would get some trail behind us and would go good, the trucks electronic ignition system would fail, or it would overheat. Not a big deal, just a lot of waiting. We had plenty of snow to pack into the radiator to cool it down so that helped a little. Toms winch also failed so that was kind of a damper on the situation. Progress was progress and we made little stabs at a time, and finally got the truck over the bridge and almost out of the trail. With one last big mud hole and the final hill climb in front of us, we were feeling pretty good. Well, at the final mud hole (which I had to winch through) I turned around to winch Crusty and his drivers front tire came off the bead. We tried and tried, but due to the 16.5 inch rims, couldn’t get the tire back on the bead. With darkness setting in and despair slowly taking hold, Tom asked Adrian what he had for a tow rig. “3/4 ton Chevy!” was Adrian’s response. Well, those were the same lug pattern as on Crusty so Tom and Adrian headed up to the trail head to grab a wheel off of Adrian’s tow rig.

We got the wheel put on and started up the last big hill. It did look kind of funny with 3 38 inch tires on it and one 29 inch but it worked.  About halfway up Crusty started overheating bad so Tom doubled up a 30 foot tow strap and started yanking Crusty up the hill with his CJ. I was pushing on his rear bumper with my front bumper and we made progress up the hill. (If anyone is thinking “crazy rednecks” you would be thinking correctly). Push pull or tow, we tackled the hill. Tom even stood his Jeep straight up and down on the rear bumper yanking on the poor truck. (That was quite a sight) We got up the hill right as darkness set in. My Jeep gave Crusty a good NWW tire humping just for good measure. Adrian backed his trailer up and we used my winch to pull Crusty on to it.  All loaded up, we headed back to camp.

About halfway back to camp on the 9 road, some inconsiderate person was stopped in the middle of the road loading up their rig on to their wheeler. That was more than frustrating as we were all cold, wet and tired and were hearing reports of hot fire and hot food back at camp. We finally arrived and the crew from the Network had quite a showing of folks. Grant had some FANTASTIC food cooked up and a party of sorts was just ramping up. Tom, Chad and I reluctantly declined as it was nearing 9:30 PM. Tom had his big trailer so I requested a tow home. (Hey, the Mayor can get a tow or two once in a while). I do say that you tow rig drivers have it made. Warm trucks with DVD players? It was rather nice to ride home in luxury.

I know we missed an official Tamers Run, but I really think that if the Tamers Hadn’t made a showing, the rescue mission would have taken a lot longer. I’m glad that we could assist a fellow wheeler in distress. And I don’t think that group will try to tackle the busy wild until they have a little more experience under their belts. Everyone made it home safe and most importantly new friendships were formed through this great activity we call “wheeling.” I’m glad I could do my part to help where I could.