Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Physics, Winches and Making an Impression--

This picture reminded me of a fairly recent predicament I found myself in a few years ago. Perhaps three years ago, to be more precise.

Give a dog a treat and you will light up their eyes. Teach a child an amazing bit of physics, and you will light up his lfe.

I had a house on a ridge with east and west views which I sold awhile back. It was situated on a quiet country road with one egress and a short cut out the back. The road ran past my driveway and then continued for about two thousand yards, where it dead-ended. At this dead-end, however, there was a 4WD track that turned into a creek in the winter months that led to another road which egressed from the far side of the ridge my house was on and led straight to the freeway and a gas station. Half the year you would never even consider this route. The creek souped up the clay so bad it was impassable. A few months were iffy months and about four months were doable for a narrow four wheeler. Well, I tried it once during the "iffy" months, trying to get to the gas station on empty with a thousand plus pounds of gravel loaded in the back, and I sank my Nissan 4WD mini-truck up past the rear "pumpkin" and I wasn't about to drive it out ever again.

Not a problem. I have a winch on the front of my truck. Not a big one, but big enough. I bought it one spring when I was doing the site preparation for the Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival once held on a picturesque vineyard in Occidental, California. A few redwood poles had collapsed in the mud and leaned way over. I was going to try and right them by digging myself in the mud with a rope attached to the top of them. Optimistic, to say the least.

The tow truck guy wanted 350 bucks to get me out (he needed two trucks). I said, never mind. For that money, I bought the winch and took my battery out of my truck and tied the winch to trees, rocks, anything I could anchor it to. I got the truck out and had something to show for my three hundred and fifty bucks.

Trouble was, the winch had a forty foot cable on it and I needed forty five. This was bad.

The walk home took an hour. The walk back with a chain on my shoulder, twenty minutes because it was down hill and my fireman neighbor's lunch hour.

"I can't help ya, but I can get you there."


New problem. The winch didn't have enough in it to pull the truck out. The differential was stuck on something that was not going to let go. Crap. Time to unload all the gravel. I dumped ten bucks worth of gravel into the muddy muck I'll call mud and it disappeared without a trace. Gone. I tried the winch again. Still hung up-- like it was hooked-- on something deep inside the mud. I was going to pull off my rear axil before I pulled my truck out. The other way? Sometimes you can draw the cable underneath your vehicle and pull it out backwards. No. I didnt have enough chain. I had to lift the vehicle and get it unhooked. But how?

Leverage is a wonderful thing. I reckon old man Lever has still got it over old man wheel in the invention department. With enough leverage...

I dragged out a sixteen foot log from the woods (about eight inches around) and found a big rock for a fulcrum and set the log end under my truck and got to the other end and lifted my truck five feet in the air from the back. Cool.

But now what? There was just me. When I put the truck down, it was back to being stuck. The problem was a buried tree trunk that was once a felled tree. It kept hooking my rear axil and that was that. I needed a second person. There were a few houses around, but I knew nobody. What the hell. I'd go ask for help.

I found a kid about nine or ten named Sean. Sean would soon start stopping by my house about once a week on his bicycle just to see what I was up to. He was one of those good kids with a busy mom and no dad. Nobody had ever asked him if he could lift a truck before.

That's what I said to him.

"Hey kid. Can you lift the back of my truck for me while I put stuff under the wheels?"


"Would you be willing to hold the back half of my truck in the air so I can put stuff under the wheels.... I'm stuck, and..."

(Something he could grasp.) "You're stuck?"

"Yeah. Right over there."

"My mom's not home right now."

"That' s alright," I said. "You look plenty strong enough."

"I do?"

"Sure! Come on. I really need your help. See. I'm right through there."

Sean knew the spot. Many people have been buried in the same spot. There was another neighbor with a big truck and a winch who usually pulled out those not smart enough to go around via the street, but he wasn't home.

"You need a shovel?" he asked. Everybody needed a shovel, I guess.

I showed Sean the log. I told him what I wanted him to do. He looked at me like I was crazy. I said, simply, "Try it." He did. He hung off the log at its topmost end. The log came down. The truck went up. Here was this kid, lifting the entire rear half of my truck by himself, and the look on his face was the look he'll carry on through college, I hope. Amazement and self-satisfaction. That was the look.

"I did it!"

"Yes, you did! Now just hold it up for me until I say let it down.

Sean did. His arms and hands were getting tired-- you could tell-- but he soldiered on. I placed as much wood and debris as I could find under my wheels and then told him to let the truck down. It came down in an easy crash. I tugged on my truck with the winch, and now, cleared of the hooking log, I was able to pull myself free.

"L e v e r a g e..." I told Sean. Here. I'll show you. We teetered over a fulcrum and got our weights balanced on a shorter log. "See how increasing that distance makes you go down?" There was a little lesson here. Sean lapped it up.

Sean rode his bicycle up my very long and very steep driveway about once a week, usually Saturday morning. He dutifully called his Mom when he got there, and then called her when he left. Every week he had questions. We did gears on a bicycle, the secrets of a "wedge" (you can lift a corner of a house with a hardwood wedge and a mallet) pulleys, the trucker's knot, how to pull two objects together by simply spinning two strands of rope together with a stick in between...

A light went on in Sean. The world became very interesting to him all of a sudden. He could now lift a truck by himself! This was good.

Sean is one of those kids that I'll check up with every now and then. To see how he is doing. If he's still enthusiastic or in need of another proverbial car to lift...


Nuri said...

Now you have to teach him how to do it like Superman. No log... :-)

kris, seattle said...

Just like McGuyver.

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