Iowa farmer Jeff Ryan ventures out into the cold with his tractor to rescue a delivery van in the ditch.
Timing is everything. My plan was to finish chores early, then hop in the shower and get cleaned up before joining my wife and some others at a restaurant in nearby Protivin for their weekly broasted chicken feed. They have meatballs, too, so I get to keep fowl meat out of my diet. One friend is about my folks' age and is legally blind, so he can't drive. Sherill would take a car to Decorah and pick him up and I'd take a separate vehicle and meet them in Protivin.
I had just turned on the water and was about to step in the shower when Sherill knocked on the door and said, "Ellen called. She said Speedy went in the ditch and wondered if you could pull him out, because they don't have any tractors plugged in."
The first part of that sentence would be my aunt. The second part would be, to my best estimation, what she perhaps calls her son. It's winter, so maybe he just slid a bit as he made his way out the driveway on his way home after doing chores at their place. That kind of stuff is easy enough to do with slick roads. Just the other day, I was putting a round bale in the hay cannon and started to slide with the skid loader after trying to stop. (Read "A ticking sound in the hay cannon") I was sliding right toward the cannon. It was a slow-motion maneuver, too. Pulling back on the levers as aggressively as I could, I hoped to stop my forward motion before the hay cannon did. I slid right up to it and kissed the front window of the skid loader at the rate of about three or feet per minute. Six more inches and I would have come to a stop. InertiaMobile that I was, I prepared myself for the inevitable. My front window met the hay cannon and then shattered into a million pieces right as I came to a stop.
So, yeah, I can see how a guy might cut someone some slack for a no-traction mishap in the depths of winter. I decided to put my clothes back on and head over to do a little log chain work with the tractor. Seeing as how this was probably a minor ditch maneuver, I figured I'd skip taking The Snake with me. (Read "Eden, a minister, and a serpent)
This should be no problem for a log chain.
Time is of the essence, so I opted not to unhook the tractor from the hay cannon. Zip over, do the job, zip home. A few minutes, tops. Why bother to unhook and then have to re-hook again later?
I headed down the road and decided to come at it from a different angle than the most direct route. Turning around wouldn't be a problem once I got there, so why not see some country on the short trip to the scene of the crime.
Lo and behold, once I got to the corner where my uncle lives, I saw no one in the ditch. This was probably a minor driveway miscue, so maybe a little bit more pedal was applied and my cousin got himself out. Then I looked to my right and saw what appeared to be a delivery van in the ditch about a quarter mile away. It was a white delivery van, just like the ones Spee-Dee Delivery Service uses.
Huh. Looks like my aunt was not using a nickname for her son to reflect his driving. This was actually a guy named Spee-Dee!
I pulled up to the crime scene and got out of the tractor. No one was trapped in the van and no one was in sight. A call was placed to my aunt and uncle's house. Busy signal. A call was placed to my cousin's cell phone. He was still at work, so he was not only not up to date on local traffic conditions and situations, he was not involved in them. Another call was placed to my uncle's house. This time, I got through. I told my aunt that I was at the scene. She said the driver would be down right away. That's when I decided to hop in the tractor and start backing up to their place. Beach your vehicle in cold weather and then have to sprint a quarter mile to and from the scene repeatedly? No thanks!
I barely got started down the road when the driver started running toward me. He wasn't looking for a ride and headed straight to the scene. I hopped out when I got there and we surveyed the situation. He had apparently driven down the road and encountered a combine that crowded him toward the shoulder. (That was driven by another cousin of mine, but we'll leave him out of this story.) This particular road is fairly narrow, so two vehicles meeting or passing need to pay attention if they're normal-sized. If they're wide, then it's a bit more of a challenge. Granted, this was a pretty tiny combine, but it's still wider than a vehicle.
The delivery outfit's name more or less implies what their rate of travel is, don't you think? Accordingly, the Spee-Dee guy veered a bit too wide and ended up eating some Road Ditch Surprise for his afternoon snack. He didn't just kind of slide off the road, either. Nope, he had that puppy pretty well marooned at a rather precarious angle. Had there not been snow to cushion his landing, I'd say he may have seen the road above him by the time he came to a stop.
My first suggestion was to hook my log chain up to his rear axle and see if we could pull him back out the way he went into the ditch. That was mainly because he didn't have any chain hooks anywhere on his van (when I looked the first time I was there) and I didn't want to be the one to have to dig a snow fort in the ditch to find his front axle! My suggestion to Captain Cruise Control was to hop in the van and put it in Neutral. No need to try backing out during the procedure. Let's just take the coefficient of drag and change it in our favor.
He entered through the sliding side door. When he was ready to come back out, I had to lean in and give him a hand. The angle of his beachment was so steep that he couldn't get himself out of the downhill side and climb back up while standing.
Then came the interesting story problem for me. I was still hooked on to my hay cannon. If I pulled Captain Cruise Control straight back at the same angle he entered the ditch, I'd probably drop the hay cannon in the opposite ditch. Granted, I could drive myself out of that one, but only if we successfully got Captain Cruise Control out of the ditch and ready to drive away. Get him partway out and get myself beached on the opposite side and then you'd have one heck of a story to tell the wrecker driver when he showed up. (Chances are, that could very well be yet another cousin of mine from the other side of the family!)
If I backed up and went at just a little bit of an angle steering to my left, I may be able to extract Captain Cruise Control and still keep myself from backing into the ditch on the other side of the road. This would all depend on the van maintaining its upright position and track as it became unstuck. Its current angle didn't give me any surplus of confidence. Captain Cruise Control needed to get his deliveries done. If we had to wait for a wrecker, he'd never finish at a decent hour and then he'd have to explain to his boss why the excessive charge was required.
I began my extraction slowly. Really, really slowly. If this thing was going to tip, I wanted to be able to stop and maybe keep it from happening. I also wanted to keep an eye on the van to make sure I wasn't tearing anything apart on it as we moved. This wasn't some stick-it-and-pick-it, hurry-up deal. I wanted to do quality work.
We got most of the way out when I decided to reposition and pull him the rest of the way at a different angle so that I didn't get crowded and he didn't tip over. Always ready to make time, Captain Cruise Control hopped into the driver's seat, threw it in Reverse and punched it.
DUDE! I'm still right behind you! Let's say you get traction. If that happens, you then have your engine revved up enough that you will climb partway over the edge of my loader bucket with your rear bumper and/or quarter panel. If your boss wasn't going to like a towing charge, wait until he sees major body damage from your encounter with one of the lovely products from the Deere & Co. line.
I got my chain hooked on again for the final pull and told the Captain to leave the van in Neutral. (Oh, and stay the ___ away from the gas!!!)
My new angle enabled me to get the Captain and his vessel pulled completely onto solid ground. He was more than excited to get it done without any damage to the van, seeing as how he still had deliveries to make. By my count, there were two boxes in the van when he beached it. Good thing, too, because any more may have shifted his center of gravity and rolled him onto his side instead of being at the angle he was. His plan, he told me, was to go down the road for his next delivery. After his beachment, he went there and found no one home, so he went the other direction and found my aunt and uncle. Oddly enough, he didn't take the package with him when he stopped at the other house to see if they could pull him out.
As Captain Cruise Control reached into his wallet, I reached into my shirt pocket and got out a card. A quick glance at his wallet left me with the impression that this guy wasn't flush with cash, so I made him a deal. No charge for the extraction, Captain. Then I handed him my card. Just remember, a farmer helped you out. We're not that bad. (Thanks, Jill!)
Captain Cruise Control seemed happy with the way things turned out, but he was still not done for the day, so we bid farewell and he hit the road once again. Sure enough, he pulled into the next driveway down the road and left them their package. Then he headed back toward my place. In that short distance, he made the delivery and still got in front of me before I made it to the corner! Start to finish from when I arrived until Captain Cruise Control left, it was 19 minutes.
After getting back home, I got the tractor and the hay cannon backed in the shed and was ready to head for the house to shower and maybe make a late appearance at FowlFest when my phone rang. It was Guy No. 1.
"Hey, is the skid loader plugged in? I think UPS is stuck in my driveway."
Yeeeeaaah, it is. I'll be right down. You know, I just got done pulling Spee-Dee out south of P's. Should I prepare myself for an adventure with FedEx, too??? It would be the perfect delivery service hat trick for the day!
Jeff Ryan is Guy No. 2 in the operation of Two Guys Farming, Inc., near Cresco, IA.