Tuesday, June 25, 2013

FJ Cruiser: Pull-Pal Test...

If you're offroading and you get stuck somehow, there are two basic tools for “self recovery” (aka “getting yourself out of a mess”): the Hi-Lift jack and an electric winch.  We'll be carrying both with our FJ. 

The jack is easy to understand, and works anywhere.  Basically, you use the jack to lift whatever wheel is stuck, and fill in underneath it with dirt, gravel, or rocks – whatever is handy.  You can also use a hi-lift jack for other things, including (if properly rigged) as a short-throw winch.  But “lift and fill” under a free-spinning wheel is the most common use.

The winch probably looks about as easy at first blush (and of course, much less actual work, since it's powered by electricity).  And in truth, it is easy, with one very large caveat: that there is a tree or other good anchor point within reach of your winch (in our case, we have 100' of winch rope and 200' of extension rope).  In some areas, that's not a problem at all – if you're offroading in Maine, there's probably always a nice big tree within 25' of you.  Out west, though, things are often quite different – you may be in the desert (with no trees), in the high desert (with only small trees), or above timberline (with no trees).  What do you attach your winch rope to in areas like that?

The traditional approach is to dig a hole 4' to 6' deep, dismount your spare tire, attach your winch rope to the spare tire, and bury it.  That works, but it's a lot of work – especially in the hard-scrabble soils full of rocks that are very common in the West.  Our yard is a great example.  It's made of soil that is primarily decomposed granite.  In the summertime, it's hard as the proverbial rock – you quite literally have to use a jackhammer to get more than a foot or so deep.  I'd really hate to have to bury my spare tire in my yard in the summer!

I don't know the history of the Pull Pal, so I'm not sure who to thank for this clever invention.  I do know that it works, because yesterday I tested ours out, in our yard (which is hard as a rock right now).  With almost no work at all, I was able to winch our FJ up a 15% dirt slope with all four tires locked.  I can't measure the force required to move it like that, but I suspect it's around 4,000 pounds.  My winch's anchor point was the Pull Pal, which I just set on top of the soil and pulled it in.  Bottom line: it worked flawlessly, and with far less physical effort than I expected.

Here are a few photos I took during the test:

About halfway through the test, under tension.  You can see the small furrow at the top where the spade part of the Pull Pal dug itself in.  The spade is about a foot underground at this point.  The winch rope looks much thicker than it really is, because the last few feet of it are covered with a thick Dacron sleeve to protect the rope. 

Close-up of the spade section, still while under tension.  I was surprised how short the travel was while the Pull Pal was digging itself in – only about 3 feet.  I was even more surprised how shallow it was when it could take the full tension on the line.

After finishing, I pulled the Pull Pal out (just pulled backwards and it came right out).  The spade part comes right off so the whole thing can fold up flat for storage.  The soil I tested with here is entirely typical of what you'd find on many offroad tracks in our area.