The combination of wet weather and the need to get this year’s crop in the ground is producing a predictable result this spring: pictures of stuck tractors, trucks, and sprayers, even some combines, shared on Twitter, Facebook, and in the coffee shop.

While photos of these situations can provide some level of humour for others, there are serious risks when it comes to getting equipment unstuck safely. The forces involved in extracting a heavy machine can be fatal. And there are so many variables that no two ‘I’m stuck’ situations are the same, creating an element of uncertainty in each one.

Purdue University Extension has published an in-depth 96-page guide on “Extracting Stuck Equipment Safely – How to avoid expensive and painful incidents.” We’ve narrowed it down and added some of our own suggestions to come up with these 17 tips for getting your tractor/sprayer/truck unstuck:

  • Never assume a strap, rope, chain, or cable is strong enough. Read the tag that comes with a strap and the ratings for chains and hooks. (That pile of old chains in the shop that you don’t know the history of, leave them there.) The pulling equipment may need to be rated 1 or 1.5 times the weight of the stuck equipment, depending on resistance factors. Always inspect the strap for fraying, and chains for stretched/broken links.
  • There are 3 resistant factors to consider:
    1. Rolling resistance – the force it takes to put a vehicle in motion. On a hard, flat surface, it might only be 5% of the weight of the vehicle. On grass or gravel, the rolling resistance is 15 percent of the towed vehicle’s weight.
    2. Mire resistance – accounts for how deeply the tires are buried. According to Purdue’s guide, when stuck in mud up to the bottom of the wheel rims, the amount of additional force that needs to be applied is approximately 100% the vehicle’s weight.
    3. Gradient resistance – the steeper the slope to get out, the greater the stress exerted on the towing vehicle and equipment.

  • Never jerk a cable, chain, or tow strap.
  • There’s a difference between tow and “recovery” straps and ropes. Tow straps do not stretch and are only meant for towing. Unlike tow ropes and straps, recovery straps and ropes don’t have any hardware attached to them and their material allows for stretching under tension. A recovery strap or rope is designed for a running start or jerking and continues to stretch until it builds up enough tension that it actually helps pull out a stuck vehicle.
  • Recovery straps/ropes should be used without chains, hooks or clevises, if possible. Think of the strap as a very long slingshot.
  • If using a clevis, should it be rated for more weight than the rope or the strap? A torn rope is better than a chain, cable, hook, or clevis flying through the air. You want the weakest link to be the rope or strap. If using chains, the hooks should, at a minimum, have a rating equal to the chain.

  • Make sure the attachment points will hold — it’s always best to attach to a tow hook or the frame. Always attach to the lower drawbar on the pulling tractor (not the three-point hitch, for example)
  • Try to make only two attachment points and do not make knots. A rope or strap is at full strength when it is flat and the fiber is not pinched. Connection points are often the weakest link.
  • Place something on the strap, chain, cable or rope to force it toward the ground. You can purchase cable blankets as dead weight. Floor mats, chains, rope can also be placed over the cable or strap.

  • If using a clevis, place the pulling rope or strap on the pin, not the side of the clevis.
  • Insert hooks from the bottom with the tip up. If it breaks or comes off while pulling, it will fall toward the ground instead of flying through the air.
  • If using cables, remember the phrase “never saddle a dead horse,” referring to the clips or clamps holding the looped ends together. Tighten the bolts down toward the “live” or pulling cable. The U-bolt can squeeze and compromise the strands, and it’s better to have this happen on the “dead” section than on the wires that are part of the pulling section.
  • Stay away from sharp edges. It’s best to have a straight line with nothing touching the cable or strap, but edge protectors, such as a piece of canvas, can help if a straight line isn’t an option.
  • Protect windows, if possible. If you have a toolbox in the back of a pulling truck box, open the lid. A piece of plywood over the back window of the towing vehicle can provide some protection, but there’s always the possibility of debris striking someone if something breaks.
  • Unload to reduce weight, if possible. Lightening the load can also help with preventing the stuck vehicle from getting top heavy.
  • Keep the tailpipe uncovered. Make sure the exhaust fumes are vented and not stuck in the mud or obstructed in any way.
  • Clean and store straps, ropes, cables and chains properly.  It’s common to just throw them in the truck box or on the shop floor when you’re done, but sunlight, moisture, mud, oil, fuel, and grease can all reduce how well they work. Always inspect and clean before storing properly.

Did we miss anything? Please tweet us your tips and lessons learned @RealAgriculture or in the comments below. Here’s to planning for a safe (hopefully unstuck) growing season!

Related: Tough Harvest Summed Up in Saskatchewan Farm Brothers’ “Combine Got Stuck” Parody

7 thoughts on “17 tips for getting equipment unstuck

  1. Nice opening picture Shaun. Brings to mind three points.
    1 – Once something enters the interweb thingy, it’s there forever.
    2 – Auto-steer is not always your friend, as it enables operators to do much more important things such as texting, dream about girls, etc.
    3 – Stay calm, hopefully in a few years your only regret is #1.

  2. All good advice. Now if the
    equipment manufacturers would think ahead and build in tow hooks, we would have proper locations to tug from.

    1. Nice pictures Shaun ,good info we always carry our tow strap along on the tractor got stuck a few times during seeding.

  3. I really like your advice to read the tag that comes with the strap or rope before using it. I think that there could be serious bodily harm if you don’t know the specific limits listen on the tags of the towing material that you’re using. We have a tow rope in our car so I’ll be sure to have my husband know how strong it is so nobody gets hurt when we have to use it.

  4. Last year we buried a sprayer by the highway (of course). We tried a bit to get it out and even had an excavator there but it wouldn’t come up. We waited a week since it was hot and hired a local semi tow truck to come and pull it out. He had 4 winches and a tall boom. Well worth the $1000 to not wreck anything or hurt anyone. Patience and planning are very important. Bad stuff happens when people are rushed, panicking and angry at themselves, others, equipment or a slough. Step back and take an objective look at the situation.

    Sometimes the cheapest option is to spend money!

  5. These are all fantastic tips for getting your farm equipment out of the mud. I’ve witnessed a few attempts to unstick equipment go catastrophically wrong. If you stick to all these points you’ll be fine most of the time.

  6. I like how you mentioned that we shouldn’t assume that a strap is strong enough. I’ll look into my tractor later, I think that I need to order some new parts.

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