Fred Whitford, coordinator of Purdue University pesticide programs, has heard enough stories about near-misses and even tragedies surrounding stuck farm implements that he authored a publication: Purdue Extension PPP-98, Extracting Stuck Equipment Safely. It's a must for your office, even if you think there is nothing you don't already know. That's often when the danger begins.
"I've done this before; I know what I'm doing," is often where the undoing starts, Whitford notes. But if you apply that attitude, proceed and have a problem, it's too late to undo what's done.
"If someone gets hurt or equipment gets damaged, we have to live with that forever," Whitford says. "Before you extract any stuck tractor, truck or farm implement, step back and think about what you are about to do."
Whitford explains that unless you have matched up the size and strength of the vehicles correctly, and have them hooked up using proper, safe equipment, the result may not be what you want. It takes more force to pull out a farm implement that is stuck than to pull the same object down the road, he notes. Mud creates force that tends to hold its prey in place.
"Practice conscious awareness," Whitford says. "Operating safely is all about being consciously aware of what's happening and anticipating the unexpected.
"Extracting stuck equipment is never routine because every situation is different. It only takes a split second to turn the most benign activity into one that causes serious injury or even death."
The publication urges you to be aware of all the farm equipment you're using and the conditions around you. If a chain or tow rope with a metal end breaks, flying debris can be just as lethal as a bullet. The bigger problem is that you have absolutely no control over where it goes.
If force exerted on chains, straps or connections exceed rated capacities, parts can snap, Whitford says. The times you made do with the equipment you had on hand were 'lucky pulls.' One unlucky pull can do damage you can't reverse.
One place to start if you're pulling with a chain is to check the integrity of links before you hook up. Even if you've used it before, are the links stretched? Are links twisted when they're supposed to be straight?
If they're stretched or twisted, it's a sign they're close to the breaking point. There is no way to know what will send them over the edge.
Use tow recovery straps instead, Whitford suggests. Discard worn chains and carry the proper equipment with you.
Check back this week with Tom to follow step-by-step recommendations for future recovery missions.