Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Getting a Stuck Truck out of the Mud

Today, I'm going to share some pro tips about getting a truck out of the mud, if you get stuck.  A few weeks ago, I got my F350 stuck while viewing forestry blocks in northern BC.  It was a Saturday, late afternoon, and I was south of Francois Lake.  I was several hours away from my home office, and away from anyone who could come pull me out.  I wanted to try to get my truck out without assistance, so I didn't have to inconvenience anyone else.  I knew that it would take a while, but I could probably do it by myself.  Since it was almost dark when I got stuck, I slept in the truck overnight, and got started as soon as it started to get light out.

The basic approach that I wanted to use was to jack the truck up, build a corduroy road underneath, and drive to safe ground across a bridge of logs.

To be clear, I didn't expect that I'd get stuck.  This is what the road looked like:

After a quick walk for about twenty feet, to make sure it was safe, I started to drive down it.  It was quite solid.  The temperature was slightly below freezing, so the road was actually frozen.  Or so I thought.  There was a slight downhill grade as I was driving down this spur.  After about 200 feet, I got a bad feeling, and decided to back up.  This is where things went badly.  As soon as I tried to reverse, the truck suddenly broke through the frozen upper layer, and into soft sandy muck underneath.  I immediately stopped moving, to assess the situation.  The very worst thing that you can do when you first get stuck is to spin your wheels, and dig your truck in a lot more deeply.

After a visual assessment, I decided that I'd only dig myself in if I kept trying to back out, up the shallow grade.  But I thought it looked like I could probably go forward, and get the truck wheels back "up" onto solid ground.  I gave it a shot, and was successful.  The truck was no longer "stuck" per se.  I just couldn't back out of that road.  I walked ahead to see if there was a turnaround point.  Unfortunately, when I went a few hundred meters further down the road, around a corner, it turned into soup.  There was no way that I'd be able to turn around anywhere on the road, because it was all too narrow.  And if I went further down to the soupy section, the truck would probably be stuck there until next spring.  I knew that my only option was to somehow back out of there, but that wasn't possible with the large ruts in the road.

Here's where I got stuck when I first started to back up:


Luckily, that's where I was able to move forward so my truck was at least sitting on the road.  The ruts that you see up ahead (at the top of the photo) came later, the following morning, after I did some strategic manoeuvring.

So let's take a look at what the truck looked like the next morning, before I started to lay down very much of my corduroy road:

I guess that I didn't take a good photo of the front left wheel, but after I had done some manoeuvring in the morning, it was in a bit of a dip, while the other three wheels were pretty good.

My first task was to get all four wheels up onto something solid, above the road surface.  Corduroy refers to a series of logs or sticks or planks which are more solid than the road surface below.  The pressure of the wheels puts pressure downward on the corduroy, but that pressure is then distributed and spread out throughout all of the piece of wood, instead of solely on the ground directly under the tire.  A corduroy road is a great solution for getting through some really muddy areas.  Heavy equipment often builds corduroy bridges in really swampy areas or ephemeral stream areas.

Most of the wood that I was going to use was about six inches in diameter, so I knew that it would be hard for the truck to climb up onto these slippery logs without tire chains.  I knew that I had to use very small pieces (about two inch diameter) at the start, to allow the wheels to "ramp up" to climbing onto the bigger wood.


As you can see, my goal was to move forward up onto the small pieces, and then climb onto larger logs, as the first step of getting the truck up high enough off the muddy road surface, before building the proper log corduroy road.  Oh wait, here's a photo of that front left wheel, the one that was the biggest problem.  As long as I could drive up onto the wood here, the wheel (and the rest of the truck) will climb up higher, and there will be a lot more clearance under the rest of the truck.

Let's give it a shot, and see if I can get onto the good logs:

Ok, that's a relief.  Things are looking a lot better now, and all four wheels are on solid wood.  At this point, I need to build a complete corduroy road under the truck, and extending behind the truck.

Great, I'm feeling optimistic.  Now at this point, I know that I need to go backwards about 80 feet to get onto solid ground.  With the logs being about six inch diameter on average, that's 160 logs required to make it to safe ground.  And actually, since I was cutting five foot logs to make it easier to bring them to the truck (I was pulling them off a block a few hundred meters away), I'd need twice as many, so 320 more logs.  It looked like this was going to take all day.

But wait!  I don't need 320 logs.  As long as I have about six feet of logs behind the truck, I can back up five feet, get out, and move the five feet of logs from the front of the truck, and carry them around to the back, and just keep doing this repeatedly, getting five feet closer to safety every ten minutes.  Eventually, I'd have the truck on solid ground again.

Sometimes, when you're working alone in the bush, you have to be especially resourceful.  But with a lot of patience and thinking, there's almost always a chance to solve the problem and drive away.