This article originally appeared in Farm Journal in 2013.
"It won’t budge." Three little words that farmers dread hearing.
There’s possibly nothing more frustrating than knowing that a key piece of equipment is buried up to its axles in mud. And with this year’s wet planting season, that frustration is probably still pretty fresh in farmers’ minds.
However, there’s more to equipment extraction than just hooking and pulling. That’s the key message from Fred Whitford of Purdue University.
Listen to Safety Tips from Fred Whitford:
Before you start pulling, first consider your environment. Make sure your actions won’t be upsetting nearby waterways, for instance. If there are spray tanks or other components that might leak if you move them, take preventive measures to keep everything contained.
"Getting chemicals in the water is not taken very kindly," Whitford said.
Next, consider these "four zones of extraction."
The Tow Zone
Consider the power of your towing unit versus the weight of the stuck equipment. Is the towing unit capable of pulling the equipment? "It takes bulk to move hulk," Whitford said. "It’s surprising how much force it takes to un-stick stuff."
Also, see if you can get your towing vehicle on higher ground than the item that is stuck, Whitford said.
The Stuck Zone
Give the stuck equipment a good once-over, Whitford advised. How heavy is the equipment? How deep is it buried? Mud can create its own suction, making it difficult to extract equipment. If the item is really entrenched, you might want to take the time to dig out around the tires to break the suction.
The Danger Zone
"The danger zone is the part we know little about," Whitford said, citing the common mistakes people make when extracting equipment, such as standing too close to the vehicles or using towing devices that aren’t strong enough.
Be sure to check the pulling grade of your chain. When you don’t know the ratings of your chains and hooks, you’re dealing with "an unknown in the laws of pressure," Whitford said. Also, inspect the chain to make sure it is in good condition. When chains get stretched, they become weaker.
For safety’s sake, never jerk chains or cables, Whitford said. Clevises, hooks, hitches and chains can become deadly during failed extraction attempts. When these devices snap under pressure, they can whip through a truck windshield or human flesh in the blink of an eye.
"Chunks of metal, folks. When they come flying loose, they’re like missiles," Whitford said.
Don’t use towing ropes or straps for pulling stuck equipment. While these tools might be strong enough to pull a piece of equipment down a road, they can’t handle the torque required to extract heavy equipment from muddy conditions, Whitford said.
"Towing is pulling," Whitford said. "You don’t have to be very strong to do that."
Instead, invest in recovery ropes or straps, also known as "jerk straps." These straps are meant specifically for extracting stuck equipment, and are designed to stretch, somewhat like a rubber band. These straps can handle being jerked around, Whitford said, but the best way to use them is to stretch them, and then let the strap contract and do the work.
Finally, "Be careful about how you hook things up," Whitford said. Consider your attachment points, as they have strength ratings as well. Also, inspect the strap itself for safety precautions. Are there sharp edges touching it? Did you place something heavy, such as a truck floor mat, over the strap to help knock it down if it breaks? Are you able to protect your windshields in the event of a breakage?
The Clear Zone
You’ve checked all of the towing straps and how you’ve hooked them to your vehicles. You’re ready to tow…or are you? There’s still one final check: Keep onlookers out of the line of fire. If they are close enough to get hit with a broken strap, don’t pull. Once you start pulling, remain calm. Go slow and let the towing equipment do the work. Don’t let stress get the best of you if the stuck item doesn’t pop out immediately. In short, use common sense and keep others safe.
Finish the Job
Once you’ve successfully extracted your stuck equipment, make sure you follow through. Inspect your towing devices for weaknesses or tears. Inspect the equipment that was stuck for leaks or other damage.
For more information on safely extracting equipment, check out the Purdue Extension guide, "Extracting Stuck Equipment Safely: How to Avoid Expensive and Painful Incidents."