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Investigative Solutions

Macho Mamasita!
By Bill E. Branscum   ©2003
(Click the Pics to Enlarge)

One Sunday afternoon, we thought we would take the Pastor and his family for a ride in the Jeeps after Church. Pastor Fernando, his wife Merly and their children, David and Raquel, had never been "Jeepin" with us, but they'd heard us talk about it, and they wanted to come see what it was all about.

My wife, Luz, is a teacher at the Church, and being a bit old-fashioned, she doesn't do a lot of things most people consider pretty normal. Although many of the older women in my family see things her way, there aren't many young women these days who don't wear makeup, jewelery or slacks - she's something of an authority when it comes to things I shouldn't be doing.

I suppose there's something just a bit odd about a Sunday School teacher in an ankle length skirt out Jeepin' in the Everglades, but if it works for her, it works for us.
Pants would sure make it a lot easier to climb into these Jeeps, but we found that side "nerf" bars help a lot. I like the bars that fit next to the body, rather than hanging down in the way, but you have a tendency to kick the paint unless you have the sill plates like on the Rubicon.

Some nerf bars hang down well below the body, so you don't have the paint kicking problem, but it seems to me that nothing on a Jeep should hang down.. This is the Smittybuilt nerf bar I have on my Rubicon, and have ordered for the yellow Jeep. Ordinarily, it fits just below the body but, in this case, this Jeep has a body lift (see the spacers?) so it hangs down.

I shopped these the best I could, and found that my Jeep dealer sold them for $325, the same as the discount catalog price. If you do price comparisons, be aware that cheap chrome is no bargain - once you get it wet and dirty a few times, the rust will start taking over.

Before mounting the nerf bars, I ordered sill guards like the ones on the Rubicon. The factory sill guards are significantly more expensive than the aftermarket varieties, but they have to warranty their products, so I believe that they have a vested intrest in seeing that they don't promote rust. See the thick rubber backing - and our mechanic, Mike.

Ooops, I'm doing it again . . . I do the same thing in person. I start talking about something and then seque into the technical issues and mechanical stuff.

Back to our Jeep trip with Pastor Moya and his family. The photo of Fernando and Merly was taken during the surprise birthday party that we had for him at our place.

We all changed clothes after Church, swung by their place, and loaded everyone into the Jeeps. David and Raquel (who lost her front teeth when Megan did) were anxious to go.

We decided to see if we could get into the "Blocks" by way of the Miller Boulevard Extension, a dirt road access that leads to Picayune Forest from US 41 south of SR 92.

That's US 41 in the background; as you can see, just as soon as you start down the dirt road, you hit mud puddles. "Mud holes," you say? This is the Everglades we're talking about - that's not a mud hole. We have mud holes here they measure in acres.
Since I was taking pictures, Luz drove the Rubicon leaving Jeremy to "show her how it's done" in the four-wheel drive banana. He had the Pastor, his wife, and their family on board.

Luz, being a mere woman, knows her place, so she was content to follow Jeremy around. (I just know some folks smiled at that one) After a series of successively larger mud puddles, we came to a little mud hole. Stuck right in the middle, was a first rate illustration of why Jeepin' in the Everglades is best done in pairs - and not just because he couldn't extricate himself either.

Look close, this 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee is a total loss because somebody shot it all to pieces. When I realized that there was no glass in the Jeep, and noticed the shot gun shells scattered all over the place, my first thought was that someone might have gotten this new Grand Cherokee stuck trying to escape from someone.

The tracks leading into the water were not old, and the shot gun shells looked like new - with the weather we've had lately, it didn't seem likely that they'd been there more than a few hours.

I was a bit worried as to what we might find in that Jeep.

As it turned out, whomever had been in the Jeep walked away. When they got it stuck, and couldn't extricate it, they evidently had no choice but to abandon it. Out this far, cell phones don't work well, and there are no wreckers that I know of willing to swim thru the mud to get to you.

We called the Sheriff's Office, and they said they had no way to get out where we were. Since there was no sign of anyone having been hurt, there was nothing they could do until the weather cleared up, and there were serious storms projected to hit our area for the next few days.

The tags had been removed from the vehicle, but we were able to get the VIN number. I called Jim Parker, an investigator I work with in Tampa who can normally be expected to be sitting at his computer - he as able to identify the owner and give me his phone number.

"Yo Jeremy, did I mention the principal difference between mud puddles and mud holes . . . ain't no 'gators in mud puddles."

I called the owner in Miami and told him where his vehicle was. He indicated that it was stolen from Miami, and he was very grateful that we had found it because he had no insurance that would cover the loss. I hated to tell him about the vehicle's condition.

He asked us if the motor and drive train might be salvageable, and we reported that they seemed to be if he could hurry. With the weather we were expecting, everything would probably be completely underwater the following day. He asked if there was any way to pull the vehicle to dry land so we agreed to try.

Unfortunately, the stuck Jeep had neither tow hooks, nor a ball hitch, so we had nothing we could hook to. Jeremy tried to find some part of the chassis but the vehicle was too buried to be able to get to anything.

To make matters worse, the people who stole the jeep destroyed the console so we had no way to put the vehicle in neutral. Hoping that the vehicle might not be in gear (or Park), we hooked a strap to one of the rear posts to see if it would move.

It was a valiant, magnificent effort - but Banana Boy spun his tires and the Jeep didn't budge. I thought that would be a good time to show Luz and Jeremy how to operate the winch, but our Luz -y- luz had other ideas.

We wrapped the chain around the other rear pillar and let Luz see what she could do. Once the Cherokee started moving, it became obvious that the wheels were not turning.

That being the case, we had nothing to lose by putting the chain thru the spokes in one of the rear wheels

By pulling on the wheel itself, we were able to pull at an upward angle which made the job easier Notwithstanding our Luz' obvious panache behind the wheel, the Rubicon does have certain advantages over our yellow Jeep. Unlike the Banana, once you put the Rubicon in four-wheel drive low, there is a little button on the dash that positively locks up the axles. It is a pulling machine.

Personally, I'd have used the winch, as that would have been a lot easier on our Jeep, but Luz was all wrapped up in the challenge, and enjoying it.

The engine revved, wheels spun, water sprayed and mud and gravel flew everywhere, as the Cherokee slid toward dry ground

Luz to the Rescue

There are a couple of things worth mentioning as we got some rather bizarre e-mail once we put the video on the net. Evidently, the link to the video was circulated without the link to the details.

This took place in the evening, in the Everglades, during a lull in a series of storms. It was getting dark, with severe weather approaching, and I felt certain that this vehicle would be completely underwater before anyone else could get to it. The uninsured owner, hoping to salvage the motor and drive train, was desperate to avoid that.

We could help, or not, but there was no third choice.

Some people wrote to criticize our technique, but pulling the vehicle by the pillars made perfect sense - the car was destroyed anyway, and they way the vehicle was vandalized, we had no way to tell what gear the vehicle was in. If it had been in neutral, we might have been able to pull it without getting soaked and, quite frankly, I wasn't willing to spend a lot of time swimming around with aligators and water moccasins, looking for a better way.

Once it became obvious that the wheels were not turning, we had nothing to lose by hooking a chain thru the wheel - other than the damage to the wheel which, under the circumstances, was not a concern. This allowed us to pull upward, which helped make the vehicle easier to move.

To those who expressed concerns that either the strap, or the chain could have broken, a closer look at the chain would have revealed that it does not have the nice, shiny appearance of "proof coil" chain. Even using 3/8 inch links, that sort of chain costs about a dollar a foot and has a working load of less than a ton - some are rated at a lot less.

This chain was a 3/8 grade 80 alloy tow chain with matching hardware - a slip hook on one end and a grab hook on the other. It costs about five dollars a foot, and has a working load in excess of 7,000 pounds. This chain would support the weight of two free hanging Jeeps.

The tow strap was a heavy duty snatch strap rated at 20,000 pounds.

As far as the "tread lightly" issues, we are talking about an area of the swamp that washes out every year, and an emergency situation where expensive property damage was avoidable.


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