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Pacific Northwest Four-Wheelers Get Down And Dirty At Mud Fest 2016

Posted in Events on June 3, 2016
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Finding mud to go wheelin’ in is easy in the Pacific Northwest. Take any dirt side road that’s west of the Cascade Mountains from October through June and the chances of having to drop into four-wheel drive are great. Finding a location where you and hundreds of like-minded four-wheelers can converge to fling mud with unbridled enthusiasm isn’t nearly as easy.

That’s why when 1,800 tickets go on sale at Ticketmaster for Mud Fest, an annual daylong play-day put on by Oregon’s Santiam Four Wheel Drive Association (SFWDA), they are sold out within the hour.

Mud Fest, which is typically held in early March on private property, draws four-wheel-drive enthusiasts and their families from northern California to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and all points in between. The attraction is mud. Lots of mud. Thick mud. Thin mud. Deep mud. Sloppy mud. Brown and gooey mud.

The other attraction of SFWDA’s event is that it’s a very organized, family friendly, fun-loving gathering with a list of rules designed to keep it that way, including no 2WDs, alcohol, drugs, weapons, littering, disorderly conduct, or reckless driving. Mud Fest’s end-game: Have fun, be safe. And everyone does!

Mud Fest 2016, held on a big cattle farm just south of Sweet Home, Oregon, saw 800 vehicles roll through the ranch gates before sunrise, many sleeping in their rigs along Highway 228 waiting for the official 7 a.m. opening. We were there at 6 a.m., rubber boots on and all.

By the time a passing rainstorm clears and the early morning sun bathes the countryside, some 1,800 ticket holders are already finding the best places to watch – or they are buckled in their rigs already pedal-to-the-metal slinging mud high in the air.

From all appearance, about half the vehicles that roll into Mud Fest converge on the 40- acre playground. Stock 4x4s, one-off mud machines, rockcrawlers, pickups, SUVs, Jeeps, car-bodied conversions, and even a M35A “Deuce and a Half” join in the fray.

The tire of choice for most serious mud lovers appears to be Swampers and Boggers, with a few tractor tires thrown in for good measure. Tires and suspension mods vary as widely as the vehicles themselves. It’s a “run what yah brung” gathering.

The Perfect Playground
This year’s annual 4x4-only event, the 47th of its kind for the SFWDA, turned 80 acres of Willamette Valley cattle grazing land into a mud-lover’s nirvana complete with some 40 acres devoted just to mud bogs, mud flats, mud holes, and mud pits. Each area is designed with varying lengths and depths by some 60 volunteers to test the mettle of bone-stock four-wheel-drive street trucks and SUVs to the biggest and baddest rockcrawlers, boggers, and custom 4x4s.

The 2016 Mud Fest layout had it all. Those who wanted to fling brown clods of goo with the pedal matted could roll up to the 100-yard mud drags and take on whatever vehicle happened to be in the other lane when the lights on the Christmas tree sequenced to green. No winners. No losers. No trophies. It was all for fun.

More tentative four-wheelers played on the cow pasture’s wide mud flats, hillclimbs, and smaller mudholes. Farther up a rolling slope of pasture is where the more serious Mud Fest participants took on one of a trio of deeply rutted 200-foot-long mud bogs, two of which had truck-length, 7-foot-deep pits at the ends filled with 3 feet of watery mud and a rock stair step for the exit point.

Only a handful of the dozens of rigs we watched made it through these challenging bogs on the very first attempt. When they did, the driver got a round of hearty hoots and applause from spectators who stand shoulder to shoulder along one side of the muddy exits, getting rained on with brown globs falling from the sky.

Most of the other challengers we watched made multiple tries until they either made it out, broke something, or just flat gave up with engines protesting in clouds of steam. Stuck and broken rigs were quickly and efficiently extricated with the help of towstraps attached to the buckets of several excavators moving around the site or hooked to the rear of two four-wheel-drive farm tractors, a log skidder, or a dozer—all there to lend a helping tug.

One seasoned track hoe operator used his machine’s bucket to gently nudge a lot of rigs through one particularly challenging section so there wasn’t much time wasted between 4x4s taking on the muddy water hole.

Charities Big Winners
Seven hours after the official gate opening, the last mud clods finally settled to the ground and the roar of revving engines and spinning tires grew quiet as the annual mud party participants loaded trailers and the spectators headed home. Mud Fest 2016 was in the books. But that’s not the end.

As soon as the clean-up was done, the pasture smoothed over and seeded, and the financials tallied, another group of people were smiling: the profits from Mud Fest 2016 were distributed to a number of local and regional charities and causes the 30-member club supports. It’s a tradition dating back to the late ’60s when the club’s first event was held. T hat’s another reason Mud Fest is one of those Pacific Northwest events one never forgets: it’s the ultimate mud party for those who thrive on getting down and dirty in a 4x4. But to attend you need to be quick on your feet because tickets are gone as fast as cow pasture mud clods sling from the tread of cut Boggers!

For more info about Mud Fest 2017, visit or call 541/367-7547

Spectators and participants roll in at the break of day to be part of Mud Fest 2016. By day’s end, every vehicle that goes into the play area leaves the same color: mud brown.

Justin Haft spent the majority of the day taking his Cummins 5.9L 12-valve diesel rockcrawler through the toughest sections.

The smile tells it all. Justin Haft and his codriver love taking part in the Santiam Four Wheel Drive Association’s annual mud bash. Rain suits are a must in his custom diesel-powered 4x4 buggy.

Mud Fest 2016 offered a multitude of mud bogs and pits to play in. Here, one of the many custom Toyotas on hand powers through one of the deeper sections.

Mud runs like this 200-footer presented a good challenge as they got deeper the farther in you drove. Spectator’s mobile phones were always at the ready, too.

Geoff Davis was a lot of fun to watch in the bogs as he only knew one throttle position when driving his 440ci big-block ’76 Dodge Power Wagon: hammer down.

“Nothing a new radiator hose and a little cool-down time can’t fix,” says Davis looking at his steaming ’76 Dodge Power Wagon at the end of one hard pass in a mud pit. He runs a 440 big-block, Detroit Lockers, and 39.5-inch TSL Boggers under his Mud Fest play toy.

A wide variety of 4x4s come out of the woodwork to participate in the SFWDA’s annual Mud Fest play day.

Casey McMillan shows off the custom quarter-elliptical suspension under his ’75 CJ-5 with its 410ci Ford and 44-inch ag-type tires. “I built it to keep up with everyone else I wheel with,” says Casey.

The “Pit” was a challenge for even the best 4x4s at Mud Fest. The stair-step rock wall at the end of the 200-foot-long mud bog required all but a very few rigs to make multiple attempts to climb out.

A high-horsepower big-block, 44-inch Boggers, and lockers at both ends weren’t enough to help this Chevy make it out of the infamous “Pit,” one of multiple locations on the 40-acre Mud Fest 2016 playground to challenge four-wheelers.

Several excavators roamed around the Mud Fest site to help extract stuck rigs and tow those that had mechanical issues back to the safety of solid ground.

Thirty minutes after this photo was taken, every inch of this high-steppin’ Chevy-powered Datsun was the same color as the mud.

PhotosView Slideshow

A half-dozen car-bodied 4x4s roamed the Mud Fest 2016 grounds, turning heads and creating a lot of appreciative smiles at their creativity.

Sometimes it takes more than one rig to help free another. Here, a couple participants double-team to get this Ford out of the deep stuff after it lost four-wheel drive.

When ground clearance and traction fail going over one of the hillclimb mounds, count on spectators to lend a helping hand.

The 40 acres of cow-pasture-turned-Mud-Fest-2016 playground allowed plenty of opportunity to sling mud. There was little green grass left at the end of the day.

Ron Pelz’ ’40 Chevy Business Coupe uses all of its 632ci Chevy and 44-inch Boggers to get through the deepest mud run. His four-link coilover 4x4 coupe was a huge hit at Mud Fest 2016.

PhotosView Slideshow

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