Rescue of the Muckin Mercedes

The Muckin Mercedes is a swamp buggy that's been carrying me through the swamps for over twenty years. If you read the story Christmas Breakdown, you will know the long version of the Muckin Mercedes needing rescue. The short version is it has a broken axle and is stuck in the middle of a prairie. Unable to move on its own power its been sitting on the prairie for over three weeks.

Unfortunately in this day and age, some people think if they find something sitting unattended, they can take things from it. The sportsmen that have camps in the Big Cypress Swamp have respect for peoples property and would never do such a thing. The swamps are drying up and soon people that can't normally visit the Big Cypress Swamp, will soon be 4 x 4ing in it. Some of these people do not respect private property and like vultures will start picking something clean to the bone. I need to get the Muckin Mercedes out of the swamp and fix it.

My buddy, Hoss has agreed to help me rescue the Muckin Mercedes. The problem is his swamp buggy, "Old Smokie" is also broken. Old Smokie is based on a 1940's vintage CJ 2 jeep and the rear differential needs to be replaced. That is why 3 weeks have gone by. It takes a while to obtain old jeep parts, but we have everything now, so Saturday morning, early, we head down to the Everglades Conservation and Sportsmen's Club. It takes us all day to pull out and replace the rear ring and pinion on Old Smokie. Too late to start our rescue, we eat a little dinner and sleep at the club.

In the morning, after a quick cup of coffee at dawn, Hoss and I head out on Old Smokie. A couple of club members, "Whiskers" and "Burns", have told us they will come out a little latter to help us, if we need it. Our plan is to replace the axle if we can get the old one out. If we can't get it out, I learned a trick from the local 4 x 4 shop when I was buying the axle. They told me you can take a front jeep (CJ-2) spindle and bolt it on the rear axle housing, the bolts all match up. This allows you to mount the rim and tire back on the differential. You still don't have 4 wheel drive, but on 4 tires the buggy rolls much easier. Maybe the prairie has dried up enough for front wheel drive to pull the buggy along. If not, Old Smokie will give it a yank, in the soft spots. Its a cool and pleasant morning and after a drive of 1 1/2 hours through the swamps, we reach the Muckin Mercedes. We noticed at the bottom of the prairie it was still muddy and sloppy as Old Smokie struggled to get through it. This won't be a problem on the way out if we get the new axle in and 4 wheel drive again in the Muckin Mercedes.

I'm happy to see that the wheel and tire are still sitting on the buggy and nothing has been removed from it. The front bumper and exhaust system that was broken off was still there also. We got back to the Muckin Mercedes before any vultures found it.

Time to get to work. Our 1st, 2nd and 3rd attempt to remove the old axle failed. Its broken off too short for anything to get a hold of it. Its been in there for years and years. Age and a little rust just won't release its grip. The only way to get it out will be to weld something on it to get a grip and yank it out. We don't have a welder with us in the swamp, so we set to hack sawing off the stub so we can mount the front spindle. A new hacksaw blade and taking turns, it takes us about twenty minutes to cut through the end of that tough old axle. Another twenty minutes and the spindle, hub and tire are mounted and we are ready to go. About this time Whiskers and Burns arrives to check on us. Their buggy struggling in the soft mud. A quick chat and we are off.

I'm leading the way in the Muckin Mercedes with just front wheel drive. Hoss is following in Old Smokie to give me a bump and a push if I need it to keep going. Whiskers and Burns are off to the side, struggling to keep their buggy from getting stuck. The first half mile is OK, until we hit the bottom of the prairie. I'm soon not moving, the front tires spinning in the mud. Hoss, with Old Smokie gives me a push and I move a little, but then Old Smokie is slipping it's tires, we are not moving. We talk and Hoss decides to get in front and pull with a strap. I physically push him backwards with tires spinning and he breaks free. The mud is soft and sticky, but not too wet. My boots sink in about 3 or 4 inches, as I try to walk and hook up the strap. Its a sticky kind of mud, when you lift your foot the boot wants to stay behind. The kind of mud that fills the cleats in the tires, turning them into slicks. I hook us together with the strap and climb on my buggy. With a running start, Hoss gives me a yank and we start moving slowly. Out about two hundred feet, we can see firm ground. Once there the trip will be easy to the hard road. Just two hundred feet to freedom. Old Smokie is starting to slip and so is the Muckin Mercedes, freedom is close so I take a chance. Leaving the buggy in 1st gear and the throttle running a little fast, its still trying to pull. I jump off.

Struggling to the back of the buggy through the mud, I get behind it and give a big push. The buggy moves, giving slack to Hoss and his buggy moves. Another big push and both buggies move. Another big push and now both buggies are slowly moving. Hoss is unaware of what I have done, he is concentrating on getting the most pull he can out of his tires and I have to move as quick as I can to move in the mud and catch up. If Hoss stops, we will be stuck again, so I don't yell to tell him I'm not driving my buggy, but I need to be before we hit firm ground.

Now I do something really stupid. The buggies are moving real slow, so I am gaining on them in the mud. If I can get in front and step on the bumper support, I can climb up and get back in the drivers seat without us stopping and getting stuck. Struggling in the mud I am now just in front and to the side of the buggy. Only another one hundred feet and my buggy will be on firm ground and driverless. I step in front of the buggy, timing it so I can step up on the bumper support and boost my self up on top. I time it right, foot on the bumper support and push. My foot comes free and I fall back to the mud. The front tire grips my boot as I fall directly in the path of the tire. I give a yell "HOSS" as loud as I can as the tire is now half way up on my boot. I can't pull free, the tire is getting the best grip it has had all day. Hoss must have heard me, his buggy engine goes to idle. I can see the tow strap getting slack. My buggy is still slowly moving, now at the knee of my right leg. My left leg is free and I twist toward the middle of the buggy, a reaction to keep the tire off my chest. The tire is now on my right thigh, my chest and head going under the buggy. The front differential is starting to go over me. Just brushing my clothes. My only though is now, as the tire goes off my leg, will it start to slip and the differential will slowly get lower and crush me as the tire digs into the mud. The buggy keeps slowly moving and I lay my head back in the mud as the differential passes over it, brushing my nose. Just as the differential passes my head, I feel two hands grab my boots, and Hoss drags me out from under the buggy, between the front and rear tire.

I lay in the mud waiting for pain to tell me where I am injured. I hear Whiskers and Burns yelling and running in the mud to help me. Hoss reaches on the buggy and turns the key off. Now everything is quiet except for people asking me where I hurt. But I don't. I'm not hurt, I was squashed into the mud, but it cushioned the buggies weight on me. Covered in mud, I get to my feet, thinking how many things went right after everything went wrong. No hard rock was under me as the buggy ran over me, the buggy kept slowly moving instead of stopping on me and Hoss pulled me out before the rear tire and rear differential got to me. If I was a cat, I had just used up two or more of my nine lives and I think about that to this day. In my younger years, I remember incidents where I used up some of my nine lives and I'm not sure how many I have left, but I'm a lot more careful now then I used to be.

After cleaning as much mud off of me as I could, we continued. Hoss was able to pull my buggy the rest of the way to firm ground and the trip from there to the hard road was uneventful. At a later date, I trailer the Muckin Mercedes home to refurbish it and it is still running the swamps of the Big Cypress Preserve today. Hoss likes to tell other sportsmen he meets in the Big Cypress Swamp, about the time I ran over myself with my swamp buggy. Something, I would like to forget and he won't.

this story written by Steve on November 27, 2001
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