Mud Season

93% of Vermont Roads Look Like This…

Mud season has hit. Yesterday morning I pulled the town dump truck out of the ditch. I had gotten a call from one of our neighbors down in the hollow that the it was stuck opposite her house. He was putting inch and a half minus stone on the road to try to improve the mud. Fortunately when he got stuck he didn’t sit there spinning his wheels so he wasn’t really that deep in the mud, just immobilized. I was able to give him enough tension on the chain with our small tractor that he was then able to back out of the ditch and on to firmer ground.

Last winter, about this time in the spring, I pulled out someone, who will remain nameless to protect the guilty. He had spun his pickup truck wheels, all four, until the frame of the truck was firmly setting on the road surface and the wheels were buried up to the middle of the hubs in the mud. The first lesson there is not to sit and spin. The second is to stay off of soft shoulders which is really what got him to begin with. It was very difficult getting Mr. Nameless out because he was so stuck and that was just a pickup truck – not a big dump truck like today. I was glad this morning’s pull out went so smoothly.

Ours is a narrow one lane, maybe one and a half lane road. That means it is important to drive slowly and pass cautiously when you meet another car. I’ve pulled a fair number of people out of the ditches and snow banks. The only person I’ve ever refused to help was an idiot who was doing donuts in front of our house and ended up down the hill in a snow bank. People like that can walk down the mountain to call the tow truck. They endanger the lives of the rest of us and I have not sympathy for them.

How does one handle mud season?

The best thing is to avoid it. Many people go on vacation during mud season. Or stay home – same thing. Not everyone has that luxury but avoid the mud if you can.

If you must take a mud road, then drive slowly but keep going. If you stop you may sink. Sort of like the lizard skimming across the water. Too fast and you go thunk and maybe off the road. Too slow and you may be stuck there.

The best time of day to drive on the roads is early in the morning while they’re still hard from the night’s freeze. When ever possible stay off the back roads if you like your alignment, muffler and assorted other car pieces to stay in good condition. That short cut isn’t.

Avoid the grooves. Let me repeat that, stay out of the grooves. If you get in the groove, stay there because fighting your way out may be even worse, wracking your alignment, pulling a tire or sending you into the ditch. Of course, if you’ve got a car with a low belly then you’ll be asking yourself about this time why you took that muddy road to begin with. However, it can be done. We never got our mini-van stuck in the mud – mostly because we avoided the mud as much as possible! The new Econoline is much taller so it does better there.

Note that front wheel drive is far better than rear wheel drive in the mud. If you have a choice of vehicles, take the front wheel drive one into the mud road. The problem with rear wheel drive is the mud makes the front wheels lose traction and act like ball bearings. Then the rear wheels push forward trying to get ahead of the front wheels. Not pretty.

Which brings up: use a light fast touch on the steering wheel. This is much like driving on ice. Steer into the skid, er, mud.

Put the transmission in low gear and run the RPMs a bit faster. This makes it easier to handle the mud and not stall out in a tricky spot. You’re not actually trying to go fast which is why you want the lower gear.

Lastly, stay in the middle of the road so you don’t slip into the ditch. This means if you meet someone you pull slowly over and let them pass in a good spot. If you can find a spot to actually stop that’s best – let them have the road. But don’t pull over into a soft shoulder. Most dirt roads edges meander in their width so there are places to pass if you look ahead. Beware of corners because the other person is also probably in the middle of the one lane road. Fortunately during mud season you rarely meet logging trucks on the back roads since their closed to heavy loads to protect the road bed until it hardens up. BUT, sometimes big trucks are allowed on the roads early in the morning when the pack is hard from the night’s freeze so no guarantees.

Most of all, if you get stuck, don’t sit there spinning your wheels until you’re frame deep in the soup. The mud will probably harden up in the night, or maybe in a week or two and you can continue onward…

A word on paved roads – no thank you. They are too expensive, energy intensive and hard to maintain. Once a road is paved it must be repaved regularly. Fine for cities and interstate highways but I am glad we have almost none in our town. The initial installation of paving is horrendously expensive and the upkeep is a killer. Vermont winters destroy paving. A paved road is always full of bone jarring potholes except briefly after it is repaved. On a paved road idiots think they can go 75 mph – they can try that on a dirt road but it will fortunately destroy their car in short order. A dirt road is easy to keep up – it needs a little gravel added every year and grading and presto-magico, instant new surface. Inexpensive, maintainable and low upkeep. Yes, mud season is a bit inconvenient but it is over in a couple of weeks. With strategically placed culverts and ditches, also necessary for paved roads, mud is minimized. Our town road crew does an excellent job of keeping our dirt roads up to par. Give me a country (dirt) road any day!

Outdoors: 35°F/28°F Sunny
Farm House: 61°F/50°F Flop Farrowed
Tiny Cottage: 67°F/55°F

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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3 Responses to Mud Season

  1. Walter, I completely agrees with you about the advantages of dirt/gravel roads over asphalt roads in rural areas. Having just moved to Maine in the late winter, I much prefer the dirt roads!

  2. Yeah, this is the stuff that stops whole armies. But I agee too – keeps the flatlanders out for awhile at least!

  3. Jane Bardon says:

    Walter I love your writing. Your forthwright style. You have a skill. This is a great post about mud season and I will heed your advice to the hilt.

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