The View from Faraway Farm: The rescuer

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One of the joys of living in northern New England is our proximity to nature. Except for the occasional hamlet, much of the region is forested. Some say that it is too forested, that we need more open spaces and quiet meadows. I'm all for that.

From the time I was born up until the present, more and more of Vermont has become a forest. In the 1840s the state looked like Marin County in California: Rolling hills with very few trees. Pretty, but more prone to erosion. Today when you explore Vermont's wooded areas, the signs of those denuded days are abundant. Stone walls that run off to who knows where were the farm boundaries and farms were everywhere. The old apple orchards are still out there, albeit in many cases reduced to just a couple of trees here and there. Stone foundations mark the barns and homesteads, and most of those farms were abandoned for the arable, essentially rock free lands of the Midwest. I love to explore these remnants of another time, imagining how the farms may have looked 170 years ago. The fastest way to get out there is to use an off-road vehicle.

I've enjoyed the Vermont and New Hampshire woods on dirt bikes; probably the most nimble, go anywhere conveyances you can think of. As I've gotten older the falls and mishaps on a dirt bike really take their toll. I tried a four wheeler but it just wasn't for me. I've found that I appreciate the comfort of an enclosed vehicle. Yes, they are more limited in their abilities off-road, but a "built" off-roader can do amazing things; all it takes is the right equipment. You start with a four-wheel-drive vehicle that has good approach and departure angles, ie: not much body or metal in front of the front wheels or behind the rear wheels. You need a lot of ground clearance, hence the ubiquitous "lift" that you see so often. Locking front and rear axles make a big difference, and when all else fails, an electric winch and a high lift jack can get you out of all sorts of trouble. It was during the process of building my Jeep Cherokee that I encountered the rescuer.

In my case, the rescuer is a 9,500-pound capacity electric winch. I had mine mounted to a custom front bumper that was designed especially for off-road adventures with places to mount auxiliary lighting, shackles to hook onto should you need to be towed, and the mounting space for a winch. Not only does this set-up work marvelously, it looks mean and tough. This helps when you are up against some roundabout newbie who thinks you can enter it regardless of who is in the rotary at the time. A tractor trailer truck or an off-road rig with a massive front bumper bearing down on an offender will often foil any attempts to enter the rotary illegally. So you have this equipment and it really only comes in handy when you are driving around a rotary or out in the woods? Not quite.

I call my winch the rescuer because it has so many practical applications. The very first time I used it had nothing to do with going off-road. We were preparing an area on our lawn for a stone wall, and one of the largest stones there was immovable without a piece of heavy equipment. After some thought, I realized that wrapping the winch cable around the rock would be a perfect use for the tool, and it worked. Without further aggravating my umbilical hernia (the one I got from moving rocks in the first place) I was able to move the immovable all by myself without breaking a sweat. While mowing a steep bank with my riding mower I got too close to a ditch on the wooded edge and the mower became stuck. No problem for the rescuer. I simply played out enough cable to wrap around the mowers front axle and eased it out of the ditch without needing another set of hands.

I've used the rescuer to help pull over trees that I have cut, and it has come in very handy when I needed to get a heavy, non-running vehicle out of a garage. It can be used to straighten bent metal, move a small building, even lift heavy objects with a pulley and a tripod. In the time that I've had a winch equipped vehicle, I've used the rescuer many times. Interestingly, I haven't used it once to pull the vehicle that it is affixed to out of trouble. That's fine because I know it is there, ready in any kind of weather to come to the rescue.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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