Friday, March 7, 2008

On Mud and Getting Stuck

Mud can create a sticky situation. It helps to be paying attention to the condition of the road when driving through Nevada during any month of the year, even in the summer when mud is not prevalent and the springs are often dry—but they are not always dry.

While I was working for Northern Exploration Company back in the late 1970's, we had a large claim staking crew out in central Nevada. A couple of the claim stakers—in their zeal to drive as close to the claim-post site as possible, a thing that all good claim stakers excel at—failed the spring test by not getting out to see if they could walk through the green, grassy area ahead of them. “Don’t walk when you can drive,” is a good policy when doing exploration—but please don’t drive through things that look like springs without checking them out. The claim posters drove full speed ahead into the grassy area around the Northumberland spring and sank their truck up to the sideboards in mud. The truck stayed stuck in the mud for several days before a bulldozer arrived to pull them out.

I prefer to be in four-wheel drive rather than two-wheel drive when driving over any questionable terrain—especially mud, sand, and snow. It's true, however, that if you get stuck when already in four-wheel drive, you are really stuck. In four-wheel drive you might drive farther into a muddy area before getting stuck than you would in two-wheel drive, and you will have a longer distance to dry or passable land. You will also have to work harder to get unstuck. If, however, you were in two-wheel drive when you drove into the muddy area, you might get stuck in a relatively small mud hole that wouldn't have caused any problem had you already been in 4WD. And now that you are stuck in 2WD, switching to 4WD might not help out at all.

Once upon a time, I got stuck in mud near a now-former gold mine in northern Nevada. But hey, what am I saying, that I got stuck—I wasn't driving. We were up there taking soil samples along claim lines in the early spring, when the ground was still muddy. There was one especially bad mud hole, and R. decided we could make it through. He drove the truck into the mud hole fast, thinking that the speed would carry the truck to the other side. It didn’t. We were stuck, right in the middle. Because his truck didn't have a handyman jack (always be prepared?), we walked back to my truck (fortunate to have two trucks, eh?) and got my handyman jack. BTW, the little jack that comes with your truck, which is often located somewhere under the hood, is usually of little help in getting unstuck.

Being stuck in mud requires either building a road underneath the truck, being pulled out with a bulldozer, or waiting until the mud dries out. We didn't have a dozer, and weren't about to sit around waiting until mid-summer. So, we looked around until we found a flat rock to set the jack on, and then we jacked up the truck — all four tires, one at a time — to place sagebrush under and in back of each tire. We would have to build a road behind the truck to get out — if we went forward, we would simply have a truck on the wrong side of an impassable mud hole.

It was a long, tedious procedure: after we got all four tires of the truck set back down onto semi-solid muddy sagebrush, R. got in, put the truck in gear, and spun out all the brush we had collected, putting the truck right back down in the mud. So we again jacked the truck up, four times, once for each tire, and put even more sagebrush under the tires. [Rocks or boards work better for building road, but sagebrush was what we had on hand.] R. got in again, put the truck in gear, and spun it back into the mud. On the third try, we got enough sagebrush underneath and in back of each tire that we had enough traction to back out of the mud hole. By that time we were thoroughly tired of both mud and sagebrush—and, we were left with a much longer distance to carry our soil samples.


Mathias said...

Some years ago I worked for 2 months in a german lignite mine, open pit. The last week it was raining every day and everything changing into one huge mud battle. Even the big excavetors got stuck once. Can you imagine trying to get a 10.000 ton heavy excavetor out of the mud? :D Half a dozen bulldozers and 3 dozen men needed almost 4 days for it.

Silver Fox said...

Wow. There's a lot of mud on the Carlin Trend here in Nevada, but I think they usually move the haul trucks and such out of the pits when it gets bad, so I haven't heard of anything like that. Four whole days! wow.