As field-work finally resumes following an extended record-breaking wet spring, odds are pretty good you’ll find that one “wet spot” in a field that results in a stuck tractor, sprayer or fertilizer spreader.
If so, taking time to follow a few basic procedures, with the proper tools, before just hooking and pulling can save more than just time – it could save equipment damage, serious injuries or a life.
Purdue University Extension has produced an extensive bulletin on the subject of Extracting Stuck Equipment Safely. It examines the safety ratings and difference between “Tow Straps” versus “Recovery Straps” and factors to consider before you attempt to pull out stuck farm equipment or vehicles, and when calling a professional wrecker service is warranted.
There is increased potential for danger anywhere around an extraction site, so always take precautions within the danger zone. You can have a towing vehicle of sufficient size and properly positioned to free a vehicle trapped in mud, loose sand, wet grass, or slippery ice. But you also need to pay attention to the connectors that link the two together.
Make certain any connectors can withstand the pressures exerted on them when they are being pulled in opposite directions.
The devices used to pull out stuck equipment take the full brunt of the forces of resistance exerted on them. If the forces of resistance surpass the ratings of any of the attachment points (clevises, hooks, straps, cables, and chains) something will inevitably fail.
When connections fail, bad things happen: broken windshields, damaged vehicles, injured bystanders, and even casualties. There are plenty of examples of broken windshields, dented tailgates, bloodied seats, and bent steering wheels. All of these show what can happen when the full force of flying metal hits something — or worse — someone, when things go wrong.
If you’ve never personally experienced an extraction gone wrong, consider the following true story from one producer shared in the Purdue University Extension bulletin of Extracting Stuck Equipment Safely.
An ‘Angel from Heaven’ was listening
An agricultural retailer was top dressing wheat with a sprayer when he hit a wet spot in the field and got stuck. He called the shop and was told it was no big deal (that section of the field had a history of being wet). The person at the shop promised to send a Rogator (which was spreading fertilizer less than two miles away) to pull him out.
Within half an hour the Rogator arrived, backed up to the stuck sprayer, attached a tow strap, and attempted to pull out the sprayer. But the Rogator had no luck — it was just spinning its wheels. So, they tied a second strap to the sprayer using a shackle. (Never side-load a shackle — they lose much of their strength this way.)
This allowed the towing vehicle to get on more stable ground. When the Rogator pulled forward, it had better traction. But the strap had been looped over the Rogator’s axle. An alignment pin on the axle and bolt on the airbrake canister were rubbing on the strap.
The strap broke, and the Rogator shot forward. When it did, the strap and shackle flew back toward the stuck sprayer and through the windshield. The shackle hit the operator, and the impact shattered his shoulder blade and cut an artery.
The Rogator operator jumped out and ran back to the stuck sprayer. When he climbed in the cab, the Rogator driver saw blood all over the seat and noticed the severity of the injury. He took off his shirt and told the injured driver to hold it on the wound and to put as much pressure on it as he could.
The Rogator driver tried call for help with his cell phone, but he couldn’t get a signal in that part of the field. He told the injured operator that he was going out by the road to see if he could get a phone signal and call for help. He called the shop, and then both he and the shop called 911.
Luckily, an off-duty EMT paramedic lived just down the road and heard the 911 call on her scanner. When she heard the address, she thought that it was right out her back door. She called the 911 center to verify the address, then jumped in her car and drove to the scene.
She got within 400 feet of the stuck vehicle before her own car got stuck in the muck, so she ran the rest of the way to the injured driver. The injured driver, who was only 22, had severe trauma. To save his life, the EMT pinched the artery with her fingers to stop the bleeding.
At the time of the incident, the company’s safety coordinator was working at another branch. Medical helicopters had already arrived by the time he got to the scene, and emergency personnel were getting the injured operator out of the cab. The helicopter flew the injured driver to a trauma center and he was given 13 units of blood.
The injured driver knows he was lucky, and credits his survival to “an angel from heaven” down the road who happened to be listening.