Know Your Limits

I qualified for a learner’s permit when I was 14 years old and received my driver’s license when I turned 15.  My dad had purchased a brand new 1969 Ford Bronco and it was his pride and joy.  Moving beyond our family station wagon, we now officially had a SUV rather than trying to make the old trusty station wagon act like a SUV.  I had learned how to drive with our automatic transmission station wagon so the manual transmission Bronco posed a new, exciting challenge.  Four-wheel drive was a new thing for me and I just couldn’t get enough of testing the limits of what a 4X4 could do.

My younger brother and I were always coming up with new and bizarre adventures that would put our dad’s Bronco to the test.  The Bronco was powered by a 302 V8 with three on the tree.  For those who don’t recognize that terminology, if was a 3 speed manual transmission with the shifter mounted on the steering column.  It had both a high and low range four-wheel drive shifter on the floor that was often temperamental.  If everything wasn’t just right, it was almost impossible to shift into four-wheel drive or move from high to low.

One of our creative adventures was to drive out to the mesa where there were several old, abandoned cars.  We would hitch a tow chain between the Bronco and the old vehicles, put the Bronco into four wheel drive and pull the old car around the mesa, usually with my brother in the driver’s seat of the old car.  We all got a real kick out of this and the cloud of dust we would leave was always huge (seeing as these cars seldom had any tires or wheels).

On one of these adventures, we found an old car that was partially buried in the dirt and sand.  This didn’t worry us because we knew we had four-wheel drive.  We hitched the chain up to the vehicle and I jumped back into the Bronco while my brother climbed into the old car.  As I shifted into four-wheel drive I had a thought I should probably shift into four-wheel low since the old car was partially buried.

I pushed the buttons in on the shifter handle and was able to shift into four-wheel high but I could not get it to go into four-wheel low.  I tried and tried but no dice so I made the decision to try and make it work in high. I dropped the tranny shifter into first gear, revved up the motor and began to let out the clutch.  I was just barely able to move the old car before the motor stalled.  I started it up again and revved the motor even more and began to do something very stupid.  I began to slip the clutch trying to artificially create even a lower gear.

It worked.  I was able to pull the old car out from being partially buried but because there was still a lot of sand and dirt inside the car, I had to keep slipping the clutch to keep the Bronco going.  As I looked back to see how my brother was doing, I saw him climbing out the driver’s side window swinging his arms and yelling at me to stop.  I didn’t know what the problem was so I stopped and jumped out of the Bronco.  It was only then I could understand what my brother was yelling – I was on fire!

I had been slipping the clutch so much that it created enough heat to ignite the clutch plates.  Flames were coming up from underneath the Bronco so we started throwing dirt up underneath the Bronco until the flames were extinguished.  I jumped back in the Bronco and depressed the clutch pedal and there was nothing there.  I began to sweat thinking about what I would tell my dad.

I’m grateful to this day my dad was somewhat understanding.  I think in spite of it all, even though he wouldn’t openly admit it, he got a kick out of our creative adventures.  Not only did I learn the lesson of compassion, but I also began to understand how important it is to understand the limits of your equipment and make sure you have the right tools for the job.

Having the right tools and knowing the limits of your equipment are essential for you and your family’s safety sake.  I took my wife and two small kids snowmobiling one winter thinking we would have a great afternoon.  I had a special snowmobile trailer/sled where we set the kids and my wife and I rode on the snowmobile.  After driving for about an hour on a remote, snowy mountain road, we stopped to have a picnic lunch in the snow.  I spread out a tarp and we had a great time having lunch and playing in the snow.

When it was time to turn around and head back, I got the kids loaded up in the sled and my wife and I climbed on the snowmobile ready to go.  I grabbed the pull starter and gave it a good yank and POP, the pull started rope broke.  I couldn’t believe it – really?!  After unloading the kids, I spread a tarp beside the snowmobile, lifted the hood and went to work fixing the pull starter.  I guess I should rephrase that – I attempted to go to work fixing the pull starter.  I quickly realized the only tools I had with me was a small crescent wrench, a small Philips screwdriver and a rusty cheap pair of pliers.  Not the tools I needed!  I tried for about 30 minutes to take off the pull starter with the pitiful tools I had but no dice – it just wasn’t going to happen.

Now what?  We’re miles away from civilization, the kids are starting to get cold and we’re dead in the water (so to speak).  I ended up making a fire for the kids while we hoped and prayed another snowmobiler would come by.  I knew there was no way the kids would be able to hike out and I was not about to leave them and my wife alone while I hiked out.  In a few hours it would be getting dark and I really started to pray hard that someone would come by.

Fortunately, our prayers were answered.  About an hour later two guys came by on their snowmobiles and I flagged them down.  They were properly prepared with all the tools I needed to take the pull starter off, repair it and reinstall it.  After just a couple of pulls, the motor was purring and I knew we’d make it home safe and sound.  Had those two snowmobilers not taken the same trail that day, the end of our Saturday afternoon adventure could have been significantly different, possibly even tragic.

Please take the time now to ensure you know the limits of your equipment and make sure you always have the correct and necessary tools in the event things break down.  This type of preparation can literally be lifesaving.

More than 35 years experience in the Preparedness Industry