Honey I Sunk the Truck!
The winter of 1994/95 was a wet one in the Nevada/California area. There was a succession of Pacific storms that played havoc with my searching. The cowboy’s “eyewitness” testimony was particularly tantalizing, and seemed a direct lead. We had checked out the southwestern slopes of the Mormon Range and turned up nada. But a close examination of the maps showed two likely suspects, roads that went into the mountains and just stopped. One started out in the vicinity of Carp, and went southeast into the canyons at the north end of the Mormon range. The other road went due east from the railroad at a point about 10 miles south of Carp. Curiously, this road ended less than 2 miles from where the first road ended. The terrain looked pretty rugged on the map, but it had promise.
On March 8th, during a window between storms, I headed back out on a solo trip. I chose to access the area from the east on this trip, taking the dirt road that runs north from I-15 at Exit 100 (Carp/Elgin exit), running along the east slopes of the Mormons and the west edge of the Tule Desert before turning west and dropping into Meadow Valley. (Meadow Valley is the name of the large valley that is the southerly extension of Rainbow Canyon, through which the railroad runs) I like this route a lot, as the road is good and it’s very scenic. But on this trip I was troubled by the number of serious mudholes on the road. It hadn’t been drying out very well and I knew more rain was only a few days away.
I still had enough time left in the day to make an attempt at exploring the northerly road. It was a difficult route to find, as all the washes looked sort of the same. This was the first time I had really used my new GPS, and it worked like a charm. The GPS pointed me right to a wash that my instincts told me was not the one I wanted, but indeed it was. The crawl up the road (and I use the term “road” very loosely) was a slow, rocky one. The route was almost not there, and several times passed through cholla cactus gardens, making me fear for my tires. After about a hour of this misery, I reached the end of the road, deep in the Mormons, and from the fence and scars on the hillside it was plain this was an old mining access. Still, I hiked around the area and climbed to a high peak that overlooked the entire north end of the Mormons. Scanning the landscape with binoculars showed no sign of human activity. More areas to scratch off the list. This was about the most isolated locale I had yet gotten myself into, and I was a little nervous about it, so I decided to beat it out to more friendly terrain before it got dark.
I ended up camping that night a few miles east of Carp. On the radio. I heard another big storm was expected in about 36 hours and thought it might be wise to head on out of there the next morning. I planned on traveling south along the Union Pacific railroad tracks, back down to I-15, checking out the other road that went east into the Mormons along the way. As I had traveled this same route only 3 weeks before, I was quite comfortable with it and expected no problems. It would probably be in better condition than the route in I had just used.
The next morning I was up early and managed to get moving by the ungodly hour of 6:00 AM. As I joined the road along the railroad at Carp, I noted that I had even beat the railroad workers, as they were just beginning their process of getting started out to their various projects along this very important rail line. I wanted to get the jump on them, as I didn’t want to get stuck behind any of their maintenance vehicles. Also, this was technically their road, and was posted for no trespassing, although it seemed to have the regular use of the locals. In spite of it being pretty cold out, I expected it to get warmer later in the day and was dressed in my usual shorts, and had the heater blasting. I was having a fine ol’ time.
As the canyon runs south, it gets quite narrow, at some points only a 100 yards wide. Pretty rugged. It generally has flowing surface water, but not a great amount. Most of the time, the road runs immediately adjacent to the rail bed. The railroad tracks often switch sides of the canyon wall by way of a bridge across the canyon, and when they do, the road dips under the bridge and thus crosses to the other side of the rail bed.
I had reached a point about 12 miles south of Carp where one of these “road dips” occurred. I could see the road ahead leave the rail bed, dip down into the canyon while going under the bridge, then climbing back up to the rail bed on the other side of the tracks. I was concerned to see a pond of water, covering the road where it dipped lowest. so I stopped at its edge and had a look. It was about 250′ long from where the road entered it to where the road left it again. This wasn’t part of the actual stream flowing in the canyon, but more like a side “puddle”. There were fresh vehicle tracks going into it (so it was obviously traversable), and as far as I could see the bottom was visible. I guessed it got maybe 18″ deep. In my trip though this same spot about 3 weeks earlier, I remembered a small ponding of water here, but other than the road being a little rocky, it was no concern. I also knew this was the main access route for the railroad maintenance workers, and they kept it in good condition. Still, taking no chances. I backed up and put the truck into 4wd high and charged into the water with a good amount of speed.
The first third of the puddle was pretty smooth, but I became alarmed as it got rapidly deeper. Too late, I was committed! Then, the bottom fell out. The truck started slamming into large, hidden “somethings” and was bucking about. The water was now over the tops of the tires, and I was quickly losing speed. A few more big bangs, and I was dead in the water. Literally.
I immediately put it into 4wd low, and engaged the starter in an attempt to use the starter motor to crawl out of there. But whatever was blocking me was too big for the truck to get over powered only by the starter motor. Starting the engine itself was fruitless, as it looked as most of the engine was now submerged.
I was screwed….
I sat there for only a few seconds, in a state of shock, before I noticed all the muddy, dark water starting to flow into the truck’s cab from under the doors. On the outside, the water was most of the way up the side of the door. It suddenly occurred to me that I had a few thousand dollars worth of various optical and electronic gear sitting right behind me in the rear of the cab, gear that was about get a refreshing submergence. Not wanting to open the door and immediately flood the cab, I rolled down the window and climbed out into the cold water, up to my waist. In shorts….In March in Nevada….7:00 in the morning. I took a step and almost fell on my ass There were huge boulders at the bottom of this “puddle”, basketball sized and bigger. That explained my wild ride. Regaining my balance, and a little composure, I quickly moved anything valuable out of the cab to the shore. I watched in dismay as my expensive, new ham radio, which I had taken what now seemed unfortunate pains to mount securely, disappeared beneath the brown waves. The water finally stopped as it reached the bottom of the dash.
This was not good.
I was sort of dazed by it all, trying to figure out what to do. Wading through the water and feeling the bottom, I found I had pretty much sailed over most of the really rough stuff, and was amazed that I had actually got over what I did. I guess the truck had floated a bit. What was left in front of the truck, maybe a hundred feet, had a few boulders but looked like it was the better of the two paths out. Not that I had any way of getting the truck out either direction.
I had a handheld 2 meter ham radio with me, and I thought I’d better see if I could make any contacts with it. The problem was that I was in a very deep canyon, and the signal wouldn’t make it out. I decided to try and climb partially out of it, that having the added benefit of also warming me up. After about 20 minutes of climbing, I found I could bring up a St. George, Utah repeater, but was unable to contact anyone. Perhaps my signal was just too weak or no one was monitoring. At the same time, I got to thinking what I would do if I did reach anyone? It wasn’t exactly a life threatening situation…I was OK. I had lots of food, water and camping gear. What I need was to get the damn truck out of there before the next storm hit and it got washed to Lake Mead.
As I was pondering all this, I spotted what looked like a white truck about 3/4 mile further south from me. Given that it was midweek, it was likely it was one of the railroad maintenance workers. If it was, perhaps I could get a pull out in the direction I needed to go. I started walking down the tracks to see what the vehicle was. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a white van, stuck in a dip crossing. No water, just a case of a too rough road for the vehicle. No sign of anyone around however and no clue as to how long it had been there.
I morosely slunk back to the sunk truck and thought about my options. I knew from my GPS that the town of Glendale, on I-15, was about 30 miles away. That seemed too far. But I also knew that there were railroad workers near Carp, maybe 12 miles to the north. So I pulled out my backpack, sleeping bag, and all the gear I needed to be gone for a couple days and started hiking back north, the way I had come.
After only about a mile, I came across a work crew and explained my problem. They said I needed to talk to their foreman, another 1/2 mile to the north. I found him as advertised, standing on a hill, trying to maintain a handheld radio contact with his railroad’s office. After explaining my predicament, he kindly offered to pull me out, and we rode back to my truck in his vehicle. He did a bit of fourwheeling, and thought I had a pretty good “stuck” going. I also found out that those tire fresh tracks I had seen going into the “puddle” were made about 3 days earlier. It seems a bunch of railroad vice-presidents were on a tour of the rail line in a brand new 4wd Suburban, when they got stuck in the same bottomless pit. It took two other 4wds to yank them free, after which the Suburban was placed on a flatbed railcar and shipped back to Salt Lake City.
Unfortunately, his truck was a 2wd dual wheel pickup. There was no way he could possibly get around to the south side of me and pull me out that way. I’d have to settle for being pulled back the way I came, which still sounded way better than the alternative of just staying put.
We hooked up every chain and rope he had, and connected them up to the rear of my truck, while his vehicle just barely remained on dry land. But yank though he would, my truck refused to budge much. After a lot of cold underwater feeling on my part, I found that on my way in, I had managed to sail over a particularly large boulder, which was now firmly blocking my truck from heading back that way. It looked as if the only way my truck was going to get out of there was in the forward direction.
The railroad guy saw it was pointless too, and he also had to get back to work. But he said they had a “big 4wd”, some sort of massive all-terrain vehicle, that was being used further north in the canyon. If he could get that later, it was capable of driving past where I was, and pulling me out southbound. It would be about two or three hours before it might be available however. Seeing as that was the best deal for a great many miles around, I thought that just a great idea, and he went off to work, and I went off to mope. I relocated a few hundred yards away, under a tree, as I just couldn’t bear to look at that pathetic sight anymore.
Sure enough, after a few hours the railroad guy did return. The trouble was, he was still in his same vehicle. It turned out the big 4wd wasn’t available. He did bring along more chain, a come-along (a sort of manual lever/winch), and a helper, who also enjoyed the sight of my sunk truck immensely. We scavenged additional lengths of cable and anchored it to a piling of an older, abandoned railroad bridge. Over the next hour, we manually winched the truck out, one foot at a time. But in the end, it was sitting out of the water on dry land at the southern end of the water. Or at least land that would be dry until the next storm hit.
While this was all going on, I was surprised to see another pickup arrive, heading southbound. The driver got out and came over to see what was happening. It turned out he was a local rancher (or what passes for local in this isolated region) and also the owner of the white van I had spotted earlier. He had been driving up 4 or 5 days earlier, and after he got stuck, abandoned the van and walked the rest of the way to his place! He was heading back to retrieve some items he still had in the van. He had been planning to drive through the puddle until he saw my truck and me standing waist deep in it. He pitched in and helped out with the effort.
Once the truck was out of the water, the consensus was it might start once it dried out. But try as I would, it refused to kick over. It seemed as if water had gotten well into the electronics. Had the vehicle been a 1975 carbureted Ford Bronco, once dried it would have started right up. Unfortunately it was a 1993 fuel injected Toyota, with all sort of electronic do-dads. Ain’t progress great?
The rancher still needed to get to his van, so was planning on driving back the way I came in, on the east side of the Mormons, then to Glendale, then back north in the canyon to his stuck van. He offered me a ride out and even offered to tow my truck out of there from the other side, a very generous offer. However, after getting a look at his 2wd pickup, and the questionable condition it was in, I had doubts it could make it out towing my truck/camper combo. Still, I accepted his offer of a ride as far as Glendale, where I could get a real tow truck to come in and snatch me out of there. I threw my backpack with all my traveling gear in his truck and we were off. Things were looking better…
I ended up having a most entertaining ride with Bobby and Gladys (and all their dogs), the owners and sole residents of Carp, Nevada. I heard lots of good stories, including some of Groom. Turns out he was a contractor and did some work there many years earlier. The stories were interesting, but out of respect for his privacy, I don’t think I’ll let them loose here. I quizzed him about any knowledge of the A-12 crash, but he hadn’t heard of it. He had only acquired his holdings in Carp in the last 10 years or so. He did warn me about getting a tow, as some tow operators could be real pirates. He said he knew of a 4wd that got stuck in the east slopes of the Mormons, and the owner was charged $1,500 to get it out. While that was a lot of money, at that point I would have taken the deal, but I was concerned about getting ripped off.
Finally, about 3:00 PM, Bobby and Gladys dropped me off at the Arrowhead gas station in Glendale, while they continued north up the canyon to their van. I took a deep breath and headed to the tow office, expecting the worst. The old gentleman behind the desk chuckled when I told him what happened, as he knew the area quite well. I asked for a quote and he did some figuring. It would be so much per mile until the pavement ends, then the rate switches to an hourly rate. Assuming an hour to get in and hook up, and another hour out, he estimated $129. I guess I blinked a few times and managed to gurgle “Let’s do it!” I couldn’t believe what a good deal it was. He did say it would be about 45 minutes or so until we could start, as they were “putting the tow truck back together” at the moment. I thought this was fine, as I needed to get a motel room nearby and call Jeri, since I needed her to assist in the arrangement to tow the turkey back home. As I walked over to the motel, I glanced at the tow truck, and saw its dash completely disemboweled. It looked in pretty bad shape.
I called Jeri and sheepishly explained the situation to her. Quality person that she is, I didn’t get my head chewed off and I told her what I needed her to do. I wanted her to go out and rent a towbar and then drive out to Glendale first thing next morning with the 4Runner. My plan was to then tow the camper back home and have it dealt with. I told her it should only take about 3 hours or so to retrieve the truck, and that I’d call her about 7:00 PM.
Shortly thereafter the old gentleman arrived with the pretty rickety tow truck. (Unfortunately, I have failed to remember the gentleman’s name, strange due to the amount of time we spent together, so I’ll just refer to him as O.G.). I was concerned it wasn’t a 4wd tow truck, but he assured me it wasn’t necessary where we were headed. I left all my camping gear in the motel room, and brought along a jacket and a few Powerbars, and off we headed around 4:00 PM (For a three hour cruise, a three hour cruise….)
Note: In early 2018 a reader of my 928 story recognized my description of O.G. and provided me with the actual name of the fine gentleman who eventually saved my butt. It was James Bishop. I was provided a link to Mr. Bishop’s obituary, as he passed away in July of 2016. His obituary validates what I recall of him as being a very interesting character. He was also a helluva nice guy. Oh, and as a tribute to his fitness, I had guessed he was in his early 60s. In fact he was about 70!
It turned out that O.G. was another interesting character. He wasn’t just some desert tow truck driver. He had a Master’s degree and had taught a number of agricultural classes. He also was a pilot, and since he had been in the area for 30 years, I asked about the A-12 crash. He said he hadn’t heard of it. He had purchased most of what passed for the Glendale commercial area 30 years ago, and just liked driving and towing. Along the way, he filled me in on all the failed mining and money making schemes along the route. As he drove in water to many of these remote sites, he was the only one who made any money from them. In another story, that should have set off warning bells with me had I been paying attention, he related how he got stuck in the Mormons one summer and walked 15 miles out with only a small jug of water. And this guy was in his early-60s!
We arrived back at my truck in the fading light shortly before 6:00 PM to find it still sitting high and dry. I was feeling pretty smug and complacent at this point, mostly thinking about how to get it the rest of the way home. Preparing for hookup, O.G. didn’t quite get his truck lined up with mine, so he was maneuvering around a bit. I was jolted out of my musings as the tow truck started to roll over! It felt as if the right side of the tow truck (the side I was sitting on!) was dropping, as I saw the left side heading for the sky. Then abruptly it halted, leaving the front left of the tow truck pointed at the clouds. We carefully climbed out of the left side of the bobbing truck to see what had happened. He had driven the right side of the tow truck into a deep, water filled scour hole, around the piling the railroad boys had attached the cable to earlier when we winched my truck out. The only thing that prevented us from going over on our side was the catching of the truck’s frame on some corrugated drainpipe sticking out of the ground.
This was getting to be like some sort of weird “Twilight Zone” episode. Try as hard as I could, I kept coming back to this same damned spot in Nevada and getting stranded. I sat down on a nearby rock and boggled over these events and let O.G. attempt to do his thing. He ran the winch cable off the rear of the tow truck, underneath it, and wrapped it around a few large boulders in front of it. He fired up the winch, the truck flexed a bit, but stayed put and simply dragged the boulders towards it. He then had me pull even more cable out (almost all of it) and wrapped it around some distant rocks the size of small cars. He activated the winch again, and this time the rocks held, and the truck moved out of the hole a little more, but the engine died. It wasn’t getting enough power to the winch.
O.G. climbed up into the cab and restarted the engine and while he was revving up the motor, he had me throw the winch lever. As the truck began to lurch out of the hole, there was a sudden loud bang, and the engine stopped. It took about 30 minutes to really figure out what had happened (this is the merciful short version of the story!) but in summary, as the truck tried to pull itself out, its frame twisted so much that the clutch linkage blew apart, killing the engine and leaving it stuck in gear. The frame warpage was such that the linkage could not be reassembled. As it was in gear, it would not start. No start, no winch and still in the damn hole.
12 hours later, screwed again….
I thought it just a matter of time until he was missed and someone would be sent looking for him. He said that was correct, but he often sleeps at the garage, so there was no reason for his wife to be concerned until tomorrow morning. He had a cellular phone in his truck, but there was no coverage this deep in the canyon, and it wasn’t a portable…it needed to be hooked up to a 12 volt supply.
I made some comments about the camper being a little damp, but we could spend the night in it. O.G. said that if I wanted to I could do that, but he was going to start walking out. “Huh?” I asked. He figured about 30 miles along the railroad tracks at 3 mph would take about 10 hours, so we’d still be more ahead of the game than if we waited until rescue arrived. I’m thinking, “This is just great, he’s some sort of a nut!”. You read in the newspapers about people who do stupid things like this and die of exposure. Still he was determined to do this, and I thought I’d better go along if only to keep an eye on him. Besides, at least it was doing something for a change.
As most of my camping gear was now sitting happily in my motel room in Glendale, I had to scrounge in the camper a bit for food and water. I asked him if he was OK with the food and water and he said he was fine, and had some of his own. So, around 7:00 PM, in the dark and rapidly cooling night, we started walking south along the railroad tracks.
It was one of the strangest experiences of my life, very surreal. There was no moon, only starlight. Every so often, huge freight trains would blast by in the dark, only a few feet from us. These massive black shapes, roaring by, had a very ominous feel to them. At one point, Amtrack’s Desert Wind passenger train passed us on its way to Salt Lake City. It was very eerie catching brief glimpses of the passengers thought the lit windows. They were warm, happy, laughing and eating…and just a few feet away we weren’t.
We passed the time talking in the dark. O.G. insisted on bringing the cell phone in case we came upon a vehicle whose cigarette lighter we could borrow. However all we found in the dark along our journey were diesel bulldozers and earthmoving equipment, which had only 24 volt batteries. After a while I quizzed him about his food and water, as I didn’t see any water bottle. He said we could just drink from the stream if we needed to…the same stream that had cattle standing in it! “No thanks”, I thought. His “food” was a candy bar. After finding out this, I subtly suggested he have some of my water and Powerbars. If anything, he was the weak link here, and I didn’t want him crapping out on me.
We had been walking about 3 hours at a good pace (it was now 10:00 PM) and had covered 9-10 miles and were both getting tired. In the distance I thought I saw a light, so we waited. Sure enough, a 4wd Suburban came into view with two guys from the garage, looking for O.G. Man, were we happy! They quickly decided it would be best to head back and try and get both vehicles out before the storm arrived, so we turned around and headed back from where we just came.
Back again at Twilight Zone Central, our two rescuers got to work and I rested on a rock. By now it seemed highly likely I would spend the rest of my life at this damnable spot, and end up buried here! O.G. was pretty beat, so he rested in the Suburban. After some effort, the Suburban successfully yanked the tow truck out of its hole and one of the two younger guys crawled under it to attempt repairs. He was pretty good mechanic, and was able to find all the clutch linkage pieces and get them reassembled and operational after the frame untwisted itself.
As O.G. was so tired, he had one of the other two do the tow of my camper. It was obvious they were also both tired as well, and we all wanted to get the Hell out of there. The guy tried to line up with my camper, but was off a bit. In his frustration, he gunned the tow truck forward, turned the wheel, then gunned it back in reverse. We all saw what was happening and shouted, but it was too late….he went right back into the hole the truck had just been pulled out of! Now to me, in the state I was in, it was all hysterically funny, but seeing as these guys had no sense of humor about it, I stifled myself in the dark.
The young guy put the tow truck in gear and gunned it again, trying to climb out. The angle was a little different and this time he was successful…sort of. The exhaust pipe caught on a piece corrugated pipe and was torn from the tow truck. Well, not actually “from” the truck…it was stuck in a tangled knot under the truck. This mess included the entire exhaust system, all the way to the engine manifold. After about 10 minutes of kicking at it and swearing, the tangle was finally freed from underneath (and sits at the spot to this day) and we got my truck hooked up and started moving south at last.
There were a few more misadventures along the way that night, but this story has already run on far too long. Suffice to say they dumped me and my truck back at the motel at 2:00 AM. I called Jeri, who had expected to hear from me around 7:00 PM and heard her own tribulations of trying to get a towbar. When the various rental outfits found out what she wanted it for, they said no way, it wasn’t strong enough. She finally got a towbar by lying through her teeth. Good girl! She planned on heading up early the next morning, and I’d see her about noon. As I finally went to sleep, I was beginning to become worried about the prospect of getting the camper back using only a towbar.
The next morning after drying out the truck a bit, I headed over to the garage with my credit card to take care of the bill. I wasn’t looking forward to this, because even though some of the problems were caused by their carelessness, they had still incurred a loss and put a lot of time into the ordeal.. I found O.G. looking only slightly groggy, and asked him for the damages, an appropriate choice of words. He looked at the bill and said, “Well, I gave you an estimate of $129, so that’s what I’ll charge you”. I was stunned! This was one honest guy. I told him that I understood, but that it wasn’t acceptable. I gave him a larger figure and told him he was to split the additional difference with the two guys who hauled our butts out of there, which made him happy.
Waiting for Jeri to arrive, I decided to have O.G.’s garage change all the lubricants in the truck on the outside chance I could get it started. Due to the relaxed pace of the place, this took most of the morning, in a most odd way. O.G. started the work, which was actually being done in the street in front of his garage. He would get called away to other things. and the truck would be left sitting there. There is what could best be described as a “community” of various characters living around the garage in a collection of trailers, sort of crazed “car guys”. I assume they pay rent to O.G. Anyway, while O.G. would get called off to do other things, they’d just wade in and help out with my truck. After a while, I felt it a little strange I was the only one getting who wasn’t getting dirty, and joined in the fun. In spite of all our efforts, we couldn’t get the engine to fire.
Late in the morning, Jeri finally arrive, much to the anticipation of the car guys. They knew of my situation and were all lined up like magpies waiting to see the little wife chew my butt off. They were visibly disappointed when that didn’t happen. I had a look at the towbar Jeri had managed to get and my concerns about that aspect of this ordeal were renewed.
I had spoken to O.G. about the towbar and he mentioned he was also the Uhaul concessionaire for the area. He said that he had a few auto trailers that needed to head back towards LA, so I might get a good deal from the company. I asked him to check on the rate and found it was only $85, including insurance. Of course, he had to lie when he said what was towing what, or I never would have got it! With the help of all the local car guys, we pushed the camper on the auto trailer and found it just barely fit on.
Finally, we were headed home! However, to my dismay, I found that if we exceeded 45 mph, the trailer started fish tailing wildly. So, we headed home at 45 mph (a grueling 8 hours!!) through a severe wind warning in Cajon Pass, just ahead of a nasty storm. The strain of towing something that heavy was quite a load on the 4Runner and likely used up a few of its lives. But we made it.
The next day I took the truck over to my mechanic. He said “Call your insurance company”, as he thought damages would run into the low thousands. The camper on the truck has a welded aluminum frame and is built with marine plywood, so it dried out just fine. But after an inspection of the truck by the insurance adjuster, my insurance company wanted to just total it. It seems they could get a high salvage value from the parts as it wasn’t crunched. Although I was pretty leery of what they might offer, it ended up we got $51 more that what we had paid for it, a year and a half (and 25,000 miles!) earlier. We turned around and bought essentially the same thing, a Toyota Tacoma , but with a bigger, better engine, and more bells and whistles. While it looks very similar to the old truck, it’s much better, so the whole affair turned out well, other than the newer, upgraded truck cost 6 grand more.
It was a terrible ordeal by the time it was over, but there were some good aspects to it. I discovered most of the locals out there are really fine folks, always willing to help a stranger. Had it not been for their help, I would have had much greater problems than those I did.
I also had a new, benchmark situation against which to measure other crap in my life (You know….”Yeah, this is bad, but it isn’t as bad as that time I sunk the truck.”). Oh yeah, and we got a new truck that was much better than the old one. I took great pains to carefully explain this all to Jeri, and I think she almost bought it.
Of course, I still had no idea where the damn plane was. I just knew more places that it wasn’t.