Adventures in snow plowing, when the snow wins and the Jeep CJ5 goes over the cliff
Adventures while plowing
"Jon, the snow became too heavy and the jeep went sideways off the road, only a tree kept it from rolling 500 feet down a hill" the breathless voice of my friend Rick exploded through the wires.
When mother nature dumps a foot and a half of snow in your area, the simplest activities may become "adventures". I was reminded of this when a long time friend asked if I remembered breaking my drive-shaft in the middle of the Blizzard of 1978, a storm which clobbered the East Coast on February 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th, from Washington to Maine
At the time I lived in New Jersey and we had a full day or so of notice that a major winter storm was coming our way. I distinctly remember NOAA stating "if this storm only reaches a portion of it's potential it will be one of the worst storms in New York weather history". So, like other guys with plows and plowing commitments at the time, I did what I could to make sure everything was up to snuff on my then six year old Dodge Powerwagon on which I had mounted a 7.5 foot Meyers plow.
We had been buffeted by a big storm the week prior to this, with somewhat wet snow, and I had discovered that the springs which kept the blade upright on the plow were not adequate to the task, and when the plow tripped, the entire blade would flop over to the ground. In heavy wet snow it would become sort of like a diving plane on a submarine, only it would take you up and over the mound of snow you were pushing, leaving you with your wheels off the ground. To try and slow this up I had a load of sand in the back and I had found a deal on some tire chains that would fit over my big sand friendly tires.
I got up about 4:00 am the Sunday the snow started and went to clear my businesses. It was coming down pretty hard and after clearing a lot it would start to look like it might want it again pretty soon. I soon learned that I was going to spend a good part of the next couple of days just trying to knock down drifts so that no one lot became blocked to me.
I occasionally called into home and got messages about people who wanted to to get their car unstuck or their drive cleared,(this was many years before cell phones and wireless PDA's) even though they knew it wouldn't last. After a while I realized I have been out for twenty four to thirty hours, and the allure of driving around in occasional white-outs was wearing thin. I stopped in at my house to take a nap. Oh, and I had a universal joint that was clearly getting ready to die.
I got a somewhat panicked call from a very good friend of mine who said he had almost slid off a road and down a hill, because the weight of snow had overpowered his Jeep CJ-5 and pushed him sideways instead of the other way around. A tree had stopped his jeep from rolling down a hill but it was a small tree and he didn't believe it would hold for too long. I had to come NOW. This guy was a good friend and so I was willing to run right out, but I said to him I have to get a U-joint first, so that I'll have it. There was one parts store that catered to local businesses enough that he had been open. That would not do I was told, NOW, come NOW. Why the urge to rush out and rescue sometimes overpowers the brain is a matter for another story, but with some regrets, I went out after him. He was a good 12 miles away, which is like a hundred miles in this type of storm.
On the way over, another friend who was out playing in the snow with his 2 wheel drive F-250 had contacted me on the CB radio (remember them?). He wanted to follow me over because he had a winch on his front bumper and was bored. I didn't really encourage him, because I didn't think he would be needed.
Eventually I found the long uphill driveway where my friend's Jeep was stuck. After surveying the situation I decided the best thing would be for me to plow past him and finish clearing the drive, the turn around and come back down, to hook a chain to him.
After getting about two truck lengths past him, my U-joint broke. I don't recall if I had even identified which U-joint was the problem when I started hearing it, but I knew when the truck stopped completely, which one it was. At that time, on the '72 Dodge Powerwagon, there was an eighteen inch drive shaft which came out of the transmission and into the 4wd transfer case, power was then sent to the front and rear axles via two additional shafts; with the middle one out of service, the truck became a very heavy planter.Upon inspection, I learned that not only had the U-joint disintegrated, but the loop into which the cap full of needle bearings fit was also broken away. Can you say up the creek without the proverbial paddle?
Fortunately my buddy with the 2 wheel drive had ignored me and when I tried him on the radio he was only about a mile away, He was able to make it up the plowed driveway, chain his truck to a tree and winch the CJ-5 back onto the driveway. It took three or four sets of chaining him to a tree with the help of the CJ-5 and a long chain to get me back down the hill and on the main road again.
I wish I had taken a picture of the caravan we made trying to get back from Locust, NJ to Eatontown, NJ. The Jeep was pushing me from behind with his plow, the F-250 was trying to tow, with just snow tires and a load of cinder blocks for traction assist.
Eventually we made it back and decided to stop in the municipal parking lot behind the firehouse, because it was being kept relatively clear of snow. At 3:00 am in the morning I was down at the town garage with my broken drive shaft, rooting around in a box full of discarded u-joints trying to find a cap and enough alike looking needle bearings to assemble another u-joint. Very much against the odds I found one that would fit, and talked the mechanic into welding the cap into the spot where the steel loop should have been. It wasn't beautiful, but it did hold long enough for me to finish plowing my jobs, and the shaking wasn't too bad, I drove the truck up to Massachusetts at the end of the week, because my Grandfather had lost a cottage on the beach. But I think it's only when you are in your early twenties, as I was, that playing with wrenches under a truck in the middle of a Blizzard is actually considered an adventure :)
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