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Firing Order, February 2017: Winches For The Win

Posted in Features on January 10, 2017
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Get 4x4 stuck, shrug shoulders, walk to barn, get tractor, extract 4x4, return tractor to barn, walk back to 4x4. Repeat as necessary.

That was a typical day on the farm for me prior to having a winch on my rig. I wish I could say that getting stuck was a rare occurrence, but it was not. In the farmland of rural Illinois loom far more 4x4-eating obstacles than one would think. I read the terrain in an effort to not get stuck. Was it an upslope or downslope? Was it wet or dry? Was it off-camber? Did the mud have a “bottom” or was it deep sediment? Was the ground frozen under the snow? Was the snow granular and grabby or soft and slippery? Was the snow deep enough to snag the frame of the truck? Were there holes under the snow? This situational awareness worked to a degree, but about the time I thought I had it figured out, the seemingly harmless Illinois farmland would win again and leave my rig’s wheels spinning with no forward progress. Then one day I got a winch and getting unstuck was a heckuva lot easier.

One thing I learned quick about winching is that many times my rig needed to be pulled backwards, not further into whatever obstacle was mocking my rig’s skills. To remedy that problem I installed front- and rear-facing winches on my truck. They added weight and expense, but it was worth it. It wasn’t long before I added another 4x4 to our household and equipped it with a winch. That taught me to have a recovery bag with gloves, tree saver, shackles, and snatch block in each vehicle. It’s incredibly annoying to need to winch but find that the winch recovery bag is in your other winch-equipped 4x4.

One night, it was raining heavily and I was in my 4x4 attempting to exit a muddy pasture after doing chores. The terrain was slightly uphill and off-camber prior to the narrow gate opening and the pasture was slick as ice. The truck just couldn’t stay straight long enough to clear the opening without smacking the posts. And smacking the posts wasn’t acceptable because it would’ve resulted in body damage and irritating, immediate fence repairs so the animals didn’t get out to frolic in the cornfield. The fix was easy: use the winch to slowly drag the truck through the gate opening. Sometimes a winch can be used for more than just getting unstuck.

Over the years I’ve come to love the sound of a winch. I’ve heard ’em echo off canyon walls in Texas, in the dense woods of Maine, in the California desert, in the mountains of Colorado, and many more places. I haven’t gotten to the point where I can name each make and model of winch by the sound it makes spooling cable, but I’m working on it. If there was a winch spooling sound I could put between each song on my iPod, I’d do it.

I’ve met a number of wheelers over the years and many have owned the same winch for a very long time. Their winch is like a part of the family, and they have no plans to part ways. I have listened as owners told stories of how the winch yanked their 4x4 out of this or that or how they had to rebuild or replace this part or that part. Some have intense winch brand loyalty just as they have loyalty to their brand of 4x4.

I want to know: Do you have a winch on your 4x4? How long have you had the winch? How often do you use it? What type and capacity is it? What’s your coolest winch story? Drop me a note at the email address below and tell me about it.

Ken Brubaker
ken.brubaker@fourwheeler.com

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