Last summer I got the opportunity to participate in the Ultimate Adventure wheeling trip with the crew of 4-Wheel & Off-Road. It was a great time. On one of the days I hopped in with Editor Rick Péwé and let my copilot, Alex, drive my big ’75 Ford F-250, affectionately referred to as the Juggernaut.
While I was riding with Rick we saw someone grabbing the rollbar while driving, and Rick took the opportunity to point out this party foul. Should the 4x4 roll over, that person could get his hand caught between the cage and the ground. Was it foreshadowing, or is Rick a jinx? I still haven’t answered that question, but four hours later, even though I knew not to do this, I made the same mistake myself.
I am a logger by trade and am used to taking risks and even shedding a little blood here and there. I like driving fast off-road, I’ve hung from helicopters, and I’ve even been in a few fisticuffs over the years, and I’ve always come away pretty unscathed. Then on that fateful day on UA my truck fell over and mashed the ends of my fingers.
It was hot as Hades that day in Oklahoma, but I was excited about getting some rockcrawling under the Juggernaut’s tires and got back behind the wheel of my classic truck before one particular hill. The climb consisted of a obstacle that had a ledge across it and got progressively steeper toward the top. I was at the back of the group, and plenty of vehicles had struggled on this particular obstacle, including the Ultimate F-150. As I prepared for my attempt, Tech Editor Fred Williams hopped in with me and we decided to hit it straight on, with no success. Since that wasn’t working, I opted to approach the ledge at an angle to get one tire up at a time, as some of the Jeeps had done previously. Perhaps my F-250 has a higher center of gravity than a Jeep, or maybe Williams had a few too many Tasty-Kakes that morning, but before I knew what was happening we were slowly pitching onto the passenger side, then our lid, and finally coming to rest on the driver side of the truck.
In the few seconds of the roll from rubber to roof, a lot of things bounced around inside the cab, but unfortunately, Rick’s wise words weren’t some of them. I ended on the ground side, and Williams was already climbing out of his seatbelts (we were both appropriately securely buckled in) as the sh**-storm in the truck started to settle down. The crew on the Ultimate Adventure was quick to get us out and back on our tires, but the classic sheetmetal was not the only casualty.
In the roll I had put my hand above my head to keep a small 12V fan from striking me (I had installed the fan earlier in the week to combat the heat and humidity of Missouri and Oklahoma). The fan did not hit me, but as we pitched and tumbled in those rough seas my hand slipped and two fingertips got caught between the cage and the roof.
We quickly assessed the situation, wrapped my bloody nubs with bandages from the multiple first aid kits on hand, and rushed to a local hospital for evaluation and eventual surgery. I spent two and a half hours in surgery to have the ends of my fingers debrided and a skin graft from my arm.
In all of my years of working with saws while hanging in trees I never thought I would lose my fingers to my truck! Unfortunately, while the rest of the group proceeded to the next wheeling destination I had to get multiple checkups with local docs and then drive the now balled-up Juggernaut back home to Reno, over 2,000 miles! Luckily co-dog Alex took the wheel and didn’t laugh and point at me too much.
Did I learn anything? Sure, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. I’m certain there was a point when I could have backed off and bypassed the hill. I had given it a few gallant attempts, and I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone.
I wish that I had harnesses with loops where you could place your hands in a rollover; I think that would be helpful. There is something to be said for building a cage in such a way as to eliminate pinch points and maybe adding designated grab handles for driver and passenger, but again, that is hindsight. Also realize that everything in the cab of your 4x4 needs to be bolted down. When the world starts turning, everything from fire extinguishers to sunglass goes every which way, generally makes a big mess, and could be deadly projectiles. Fortunately, I had planned ahead in this regard and my gear was mostly secure except for some small items.
As much as I hate all the damage to my old Ford I know it could have been worse, and I’d rather lose the tips of two fingers than my arm or, worse, my life. Just remember, I know you don’t think it will happen to you, but do as I say, not as I do.
In With Phil
Just before Phil attempted this climb I figured I’d catch a ride and climbed in his ’75 Ford. The attempt was valiant, with the big engine growling and tall Goodyears digging for traction, but I knew something was wrong when the ground loomed closer and closer to my passenger window. My first reaction was to also grab the roof cage bars for support, but just as we started going upside-down I pulled in my hands to grab the shoulder harnesses and hang on tight. The roll was actually pretty slow and nonviolent, but when you pitch 6,000 pounds of steel down a hill it’s bound to make a mess. As the truck came to rest I asked Phil if he was OK and he showed me his hand. I knew we had a problem.