Lisa's Big Orange Van has not run for more than three years and needs to be towed on a flatbed up to her mechanic in Portland. However, the place where it was sitting was not going to be easy for a flatbed tow vehicle to access, so we needed to tow it on its own wheels across the property over to the rear gate near her trailer. The original plan was to use the Small Orange Pickup, and Lisa had moved the little pickup over to in front of the new storage container a couple of days ago. This morning, she went out to start the pickup and found that it wouldn't start.
It turned out that the pickup was out of gas. That's okay, though, because we were only a few meters away from the "farm tank" of fuel on the property. Lisa got a tow strap and with a little backing and filing, I was able to use my minivan to tow the little pickup over to the fuel tank. But even after refueling, the pickup still wouldn't start. The carburetor float had sunk and flooded the engine, Lisa said, and we needed a new one. I backed my van around her pickup and we drove into town. A local auto parts store said they didn't have the part but could get it in a couple of days. A different store said the part was discontinued entirely. Since Lisa is going to her regular mechanic (who she is certain will have the part because he's a specialist in early-model Datsuns) next week, Lisa decided to skip further part-hunting and we did some grocery shopping instead.
After returning home, Lisa partially disassembled the carburetor, hoping she could repair the sunken float. To her dismay, the rubber gasket sprang out and grew bigger — so big that it wasn't possible to push it back into position at all. So now things are all tied up until she can find both the float and the gasket. Indeed, she might have to have the pickup towed up to Portland as well. If the Big Van were running, she could use it to tow the pickup, but now both her vehicles are disabled. And she now can't use the little pickup to drive up to collect the Big Van when it's finished; she'd planned to use the Big Van to tow the little pickup back with her, but that won't work now. We used my van to get her pickup back out of the lane where the fuel tank is, because we needed the area clear for the Big Orange Van.
This is a photo from December 2008 showing where the van was parked. The area where the picnic table is in this photo is now a kennel for Lisa's sister's four dogs. Lisa moved the van here under its own power (barely) three years ago and it hasn't turned a wheel since. This being Oregon, the ground rose and/or the van sunk. When we went to move it, the wheels were deeply embedded in the grass, perhaps 10 cm or so.
In order to get the van at the right angle to pull across the field, we actually had to pull it the opposite direction first. I backed my van into place and Lisa attached the tow strap. I put my van in low range and slowly pulled away. The strap went taut but nothing else happened except my wheels started to spin on the grass. It's not that I don't have enough power — my van is rated to tow 5,000 pounds — but I don't have the right tires for this job. I have hard-wearing road tires, not deep-lugged tires that could dig in on the slippery grass.
The Big Van's tires were low on air, too, so Lisa got the air compressor and I got the tire gauge and we got the tires back up to standard. Lisa then dug around the tires with a small shovel and I brought over small boards left over from the repair work we did on the utility trailer (shown in the background in the above photo) some months ago. Eventually, we got a sort of plank road built up under the tires.
Lisa advised me to not be particularly gentle on the pull, and if I got any traction at all to gun it and try to yank the van out of its three-year-old ruts. After all of the work she did digging and with her instilling confidence in me that it was okay to pull hard and fast, I gave it the gun and the van popped out of the holes.
Here's what the van site looked like after we pulled the van clear.
This photo of Lisa standing in one of the ruts may give you a better idea of how deeply dug in the van was. (Or try this one or this one.
We had originally planned to bring the camera over at this point to take some photos, and also to stop the tow partway across the field, but neither of these things happened, so the photos below were actually taken in the opposite sequence from how the events transpired.
Having freed the Big Van from the ruts, I moved my minivan around to the front of the Big Van and Lisa reattached the tow strap and got into her van to steer it. I slowly pulled the tow strap taut and then gunned the motor. My wheels spun, but we were moving! I headed out into the front field...
...leaving her father's back yard and the newly-built dog kennel behind.
I swung us wide around the site of the burn pile and we bounced onward toward the "coal seam," which is the site of a cut-off branch of Stout Creek that once ran across the property. I decided about now that unless Lisa put on the brakes, we weren't going to stop unless we really had to do so.
We headed down the gentle slope of the old stream bed, and for the first time since we started, the tow strap went slack as the Big Van started to roll faster than I was towing. Lisa frantically waved at me to keep going.
I revved up the engine (which was still locked in low range), the slack ran out, and we somehow managed to make it up the slope on the far side of the stream bed.
The outer field was only partially mown, but Lisa had previously told me to not worry about that and plow right through the half-meter-tall grass here. Lisa watched my wheels continue to spin as we fought our way forward and swung back around toward the gate at the back of the property.
Fortunately, Lisa had had a chance to do some mowing out here a few days ago when we actually had two sort of dry days in a row, and she'd used the "pole-axe" to trim the branches that were hanging down out of these trees that line the path by the wood shed approaching the back gate. We were almost home.
It was with great relief that I pulled to a stop just past the fuel tank, next to the new storage container, and just short of the back gate. Lisa lept out of the van and ran up and hugged me with delight. "We did it!"
Lisa said that she wasn't worried about me over-pulling, because the worst that would happen would have been that the tow strap broke and she would have maybe had to hit the brakes on the Big Van. That wasn't a problem. The real problem is that I needed a lot more weight in the back of my van and much heavier-lugged tires. But we made it happen, barely.
We did not accomplish as much as we might have hoped today, but we're now staged for the next step in the process: getting the trailer's tow vehicle on the road to repair.