Jeep Club Rescues Snow-Stuck Drivers
Story and photos by Kelly Sprute
Everett, Wash., Dec. 7, 2011--Carl Niebuhr lives and breathes “jeeping.” He collects jeeps, works on them, sells them and built a barbeque grill out of a jeep nose. When he goes on vacation he rents jeeps. Nieburhr is the president of the Dirty 13 4x4 Club based out of Snohomish, Wash. It’s dirty because jeeps get dirty and 13 is the number of families who belong to the club. Membership is kept small to limit the impact out on the forest.
Everyone in the club loves jeeps. They formed the club in 1974 and have raised children who are enthusiasts. Member Mick Clapp had his son Brian in a jeep before he could talk and taught him to drive off-road by time he was 10. Now Brian’s 19-year-old son Brandon belongs to the club.
For the last 33 years, the 4x4 club meets the two weekends following Thanksgiving to pull hopeful Christmas tree harvesters out of the snow in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The Dirty 13 sets up a base of operations at the junction to the Tonga Ridge trailhead on the Skykomish Ranger District with a fire pit where visitors and stuck car occupants can get warm and enjoy hot chocolate. From there teams patrol the popular winter routes, staying connected by radio.
The 4x4 club helps about 50 vehicles each weekend: pushing or towing vehicles out of the snow, creating better routes up the roads and trampling down areas for parking.
Depending on the snow levels, the club patrols over 50 miles of forest roads a day. Jeeps are lighter than most vehicles and can go places and elevations others can’t. They encounter many types of vehicles, to include all wheel-drive passenger wagons, trucks, small and large SUVs and even rock crawlers. Some drivers are more prepared for winter driving than others.
The forest mountain roads aren’t maintained and can be full of snow, ice, deep ruts and fallen trees. “Deep snow is a world of its own, it’s a fine line between momentum and keeping your speed down,” said Clapp. He said that once people start to spin they panic, giving the vehicle gas. He emphasized drivers should do the exact opposite, the slower the better.
It’s not a simple task to pull a vehicle out of the snow. The tow straps club members use are a type of nylon that has a certain amount of stretch. “You keep pulling until the strap rebounds, giving you an extra force to pull the vehicles out,” said Clapp. They don’t use chains because a link could snap and going flying. They use straps or a cable tow because a cable won’t come to pieces.
They adjust their tire pressure to increase traction for driving on heavy snow. Low tire pressure gives the lighter jeeps a wider footprint, but if the pressure is too low a driver can blow a bead in the seam were the tire meets the wheel. Each club member heads out loaded with an air compressor, a CB radio, first aid kit, roll cage, tow straps, a winch, chains and a gallon of water for drinking or the radiator.
When the snow melts, the Dirty 13 4x4 Club goes back out on the forest to clean up campgrounds from winter storm damage. Over the years they have restored Money Creek, Beckler and Miller River campgrounds. In 2003 a winter flood completely washed away the picnic tables at Money Creek Campground, leaving behind a debris field of downed trees and litter. They came in with excavators, cut up the trees, shored up the nearby streambanks with rocks, cleaned up the litter and built new picnic tables. Next spring they will work on Troublesome Creek Campground.
“We do it cause it’s fun just getting out and enjoying the outdoors,” said Nieburhr. “Our tows are always free. We only charge to disconnect our straps.”
Contact Carl Niehurhr for more information about the Dirty 13 Club. Go to www.fs.usda.gov/mbs to learn more about the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.