Recovery

Warn's 70th anniversary M8274-70 winch

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Warn’s venerable 8274 winch is one of two—the other being the Superwinch Husky—that could legitimately claim to be the best electric winch on the planet.

Each has its advantages. The Husky’s worm drive means it needs no external braking system; it is fully controlled whether powering in or out. The 8274’s spur drive gear train does require a brake but is significantly more efficient (about 75 percent versus 40 percent). It’s more a personal (or patriotic—British versus American) choice rather than a which-one-is-better decision.

Now, to celebrate the company’s 70th anniversary, Warn has announced a limited-edition, uprated version of the 8,000-pound-rated M8274-50. Only 999 will be available world-wide, at an eye-opening retail price of $3,100 (although $2,500 seems to be the going street price). The commemorative M8274-70 is rated to a full 10,000 pounds, and includes 150 feet of 3/8” synthetic line, a solid-state, waterproof Albright contactor rather than a solenoid, plus a few odds and ends such as uprated bearings, a stainless steel spool knob, and a billet aluminum hawse fairlead. (Warn’s site also notes that the winch’s box “features commemorative packaging.”)

I’ve had an 8274 on my FJ40 for about ten years now, and it has performed flawlessly both in the field and through many training sessions. So I delved into the new one to see what had changed besides the extra power (courtesy of a series-wound six-horsepower motor rather than the 4.6 hp version in mine).

And immediately this caught my eye:

“Up to 50% faster line speed at rated load vs. previous M8274-50.”

Fifty percent faster? One of my only complaints about the M8274-50 is that it is too fast already. Speeding it up even more is the last thing this winch needs.

Winching, more than any other recovery technique, is fraught with the potential for errors that could have disastrous consequences if the operator is not properly trained, paying one hundred percent attention, and ensuring that every step of the procedure is conducted in a controlled manner. The best way to guarantee a safe and successful winch recovery is to go slowly. The only exceptions I can think of to this rule are if you have stupidly bogged your vehicle below high tide line with an incoming tide, or have gotten stuck in the middle of a fast-flowing river that is scouring substrate out from under your tires and sinking the vehicle farther. Otherwise my opinion is that it is impossible to have a winch that is too slow. Indeed, on most recoveries or lessons with my 8274 I rig a double-line pull out of habit, just to ease the pace (since a double-line pull halves line speed while doubling power). I can’t imagine it 50 percent faster.

I wonder if the impetus behind this drive for faster line speed comes from a misdirected emulation of competition events such as King of the Hammers, where winches are commonly modified to achieve outrageous line speeds. Suffice to say that for overland travel, you do not want to use competition rock buggies as your build inspiration.

This in no way (well, barely) diminishes my respect for Warn’s 8274 series winches. The new one would be a fine choice for a heavier expedition vehicle in the 7,000-8,000-pound range. But I’d suggest employing a pulley for most recoveries—unless shark fins are circling offshore or trout are showing up in the footwells.

New MAXTRAX Xtreme

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It’s well-known that I’m a fan of the original MaxTrax, and have defended them against cut-price copies. I’ve also noted that I refuse to use the company’s all-caps MAXTRAX spelling, which as a grammarian I find wincingly annoying (I compromise with MaxTrax). Now . . . sigh . . . the company is torturing me again with their new product, named the Xtreme. Ugh.

I grit my teeth and continue, because the new product, a prototype of which I received recently, looks to be a significant leap in the technology of composite recovery mats. Why? Because the teeth, or studs, of the new mat are made from hard-coated aluminum rather than molded-in nylon. And . . . they are user-replaceable.

As anyone who has used them knows, the salient disadvantage of composite recovery mats is that, if you allow too much wheel spin while attempting to climb onto them, the studs can melt, significantly and permanently reducing the effectiveness of the product. Recent mats using harder plastic studs helped but did not cure the issue. The Xtreme might just do so.

The composite base of the new mat is the same reinforced nylon material as the original MaxTrax, which I and many other testers have found to be superior to the polyethylene used by some lower-priced competitors. There is also extra reinforcement in the bottom webbing. Combining that with the aluminum studs should provide vastly improved durability.

As you might expect, the Xtreme is a bit heavier than the standard MaxTrax—8.9 versus 7.4 pounds each. But at 18 pounds per pair that’s still lighter than even perforated aluminum sand mats.

They are not, however, cheaper. Retail on the Xtreme will be $449 a pair. I remember being scandalized at the idea of the original $300 MaxTrax—until I used them. I suspect our perspectives will continue to evolve as long as such price increases are backed up by such meaningful improvements.

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A better Hi-Lift base plate.

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Let’s be honest: You can make a perfectly functional base plate for a Hi-Lift jack by gluing together a couple of foot-square pieces of 3/4-inch plywood. If you want to get fancy you can add a third layer of 1/2-inch plywood with a cutout for the jack’s foot, to help stabilize it. This is exactly what I used for years. 

However, the plywood got chewed up pretty quickly, and once I used it in mud it started delaminating. So I switched to one of the ubiquitous red plastic bases. It was (and is) an excellent product, and mine has held up through not only personal use but numerous training classes as well.

My only real issue with the red base is its bulk, which is significant if you’re storing it in the back of an FJ40. It takes up an inordinate amount of volume for a single-function implement.

While shopping for some items we needed for Expo East this November at one of the Tractor Supply Company (TSC) stores, I chanced upon a solution in the form of the Reese Farm Jack Foot Plate. Constructed of thick polypropylene, it’s far more compact than the red base, yet boasts a 7,000-pound capacity. I put it to an unusual but effective trial at the show: Our 20-foot cargo trailer, which hauls all the Expo equipment and grosses about 10,000 pounds, had to be parked where the tongue jack would be in very soft mud. So I placed the Reese plate under the tongue’s foot, lowered probably 2,500-pounds plus onto it—and left it there for the duration of the show. It emerged unscathed and unwarped.

The Reese plate is one-third the height of the red base but seemes even thinner, it’s so easy to stash. And I like the low-profile black color, too. This is my new standard-equipment Hi-Lift base plate. About $25 from TSC or Amazon.

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Classic Kit: The capstan winch

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If you’ve ever crewed (or skippered) a sailboat longer than 20 feet or so, you’ve probably used a capstan winch to control lines such as the jib and spinnaker sheets. A basic capstan winch comprises a vertical drum geared so it will only turn one way (always clockwise on a sailboat). When you wrap the line around the drum (again, clockwise) two or three times, you can more easily control the forceful pull of the sail. The friction of the wraps helps prevent the line being pulled away from you. If you need more power to sheet in a sail in a breeze, a a fitting on top of the drum allows you to insert a crank for extra leverage. There are more elaborate capstan winches with two speeds, self-tailing mechanisms—and electrically powered winches that eliminate the need for manual cranking.

For many years, a capstan winch could also be ordered as a factory option on Land Rovers and a few other vehicles. Visually the vehicle-mounted capstan winch was very similar to our sailboat winch; however, it was powered through a gearset from a driveshaft usually connected directly to the vehicle’s crankshaft via a sliding coupler. The worm-drive gearset reduced the 600 or 700 rpm of an idling engine crankshaft to just a dozen or so turns per minute of the drum (which, curiously, rotates counterclockwise on every one I’ve seen).

A capstan winch at LR-Winches. Engagement lever is at upper right. The rope is led under the roller from the anchor or object to be moved.

A capstan winch at LR-Winches. Engagement lever is at upper right. The rope is led under the roller from the anchor or object to be moved.

A capstan winch has an entirely different method of operation from the common, horizontal-drum electric, hydraulic, or even PTO winch with which we’re familiar. You don’t store line on the capstan, and it cannot use steel cable. Instead you carry a separate, low stretch rope—traditionally 3/4-inch manila or an equivalent natural fiber—of whatever length you chose, with a hook on one end.

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Let’s say you’re driving your Series II 88 along a forest track and you come across a downed tree blocking the way. Pulling it out of the path would go like this:

Position the vehicle so the winch has a clear route to drag the tree off the path. Leave the engine idling, transmission in neutral (obviously), parking brake on and, if possible, the wheels chocked as well. (If you have a hand throttle you can bump up the engine rpm a bit.) Wrap a strap around the tree and connect your winch rope to it with its hook. Take the free end of the rope back to the vehicle, run it under the roller guide and around the drum three or four times counterclockwise in an ascending spiral, then lay the free end of the rope off to the left of the vehicle as you’re facing the front. With the coils of the rope around the drum still loose, engage the lever to connect the drum to the gearset and the drum will begin turning slowly—but the loose rope will simply slip around it. Now stand back from the vehicle a few feet and pull on the free and of the rope to tighten the wraps around the drum. The drum will grab the rope and begin pulling on the downed tree, as you take in the rope fed you by the winch. You now control the speed and engagement of the winch simply by pulling or slacking off on the rope to tighten or loosen it around the drum. Once the tree is off the path, let the rope go slack, disengage the gearset with the lever, and de-rig. It’s that simple.

Of course you can also connect the rope to a standing tree or another vehicle to free yours if it is bogged; however, since the capstan winch requires someone standing outside the vehicle to operate the winch, it’s nearly mandatory to have a second person in the driver’s seat to steer the vehicle and stop it once it’s free. Solo vehicle recovery with a capstan winch can be a very dicey operation indeed.

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Consider the situation pictured below. Tom Sheppard was in Mali in 1978, en route to Timbuktu, driving his Land Rover Velar—that’s right, the original prototype of the Range Rover—and towing a trailer full of fuel and water, when a section of mud proved a bit deeper and stickier than was apparent from the driver’s seat.

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Tom’s Range Rover was equipped with a Fairey capstan winch cleverly hidden behind the grille—note the horizontal roller on the bumper. To deploy it one simply unscrewed the center grille section, a matter of a couple of minutes. However, Tom was, as is common with him, traveling solo. Therefore he first unloaded all 21 (!) jerry cans from the trailer, decoupled it from the Range Rover, and recovered the Range Rover with aluminum sand (i.e. mud) ladders. Then he positioned the Range Rover in a spot where he could use the capstan winch to recover the trailer, re-connect it to the Range Rover, reload all 21 jerry cans, and continue on his way.

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(Tom’s story made me remember the tour Roseann and I got of the Gaydon Museum, courtesy Land Rover historian extraordinaire, Roger Crathorne. I looked up one of the photos, which shows, in addition to Roger and me, one of the Range Rovers used on the 1971/72 Trans-Americas Expedition—and there was a capstan winch peeking out from behind the grille.)

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The capstan winch’s labor-intensive method of operation, combined with its modest power—most were rated for around 3,000 pounds, as was the rope used on them—saw them fade from popularity with the increasing availability of horizontal-drum electric winches of considerably higher rating. Yet the capstan had its advantages. It could work all day without overheating or stressing the vehicle’s electric system, and its line capacity was essentially unlimited—if you needed to rig a 200-foot pull, all you needed was a 220-foot rope. And that labor-intensive method of operation gave the operator instant control over the procedure—let off on the rope tension and the pull stops instantly. The capstan winch, with its leisurely speed, hands-on attitude, and natural-fiber rope, always struck me as, well, the friendly winch compared to the whining, straining, ozone-smelling electric winches of today (hugely capable though they certainly are). Go ahead, laugh.

This is the driveshaft and engagement mechanism that allows the capstan to be powered off the front of the vehicle’s engine.

This is the driveshaft and engagement mechanism that allows the capstan to be powered off the front of the vehicle’s engine.

You can still, very occasionally, spot a vehicle equipped with a capstan winch—virtually always a Series Land Rover. If you own a Series Land Rover and have a hankering for a curious and historical piece of very useful equipment, you can still buy one (or parts for one) through sources such as the experts at LR-Winches (where most of these images originated). You can even buy a synthetic rope suitable for a capstan winch, from LR-Bits.co.

But I’d recommend sticking with the manila rope. It’s just . . . friendlier.

For a . . . curious . . . installation of a capstan winch, see here.

A bad, a really bad, winch mount

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As I’m sure many of you do, I like to look at how others have set up their vehicles. I’m always impressed by clean and functional work. 

Sometimes I’m impressed by the opposite.

This truck was parked at a hotel in Eagar, Arizona, last winter when I was there hunting. It sported one of the dodgiest looking winch mounts I’ve seen in years. If this thing doesn’t wind up starring in a YouTube video someday featuring large bits of metal taking murderous trajectories across the landscape, I’ll be stunned.

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I couldn’t even actually tell how all the bits of the “mount” had been welded together to gain a tennuous foothold on the chassis, but one weld at the back appeared to have pulled free. The winch itself was bolted to a plate welded to a male receiver hitch insert. I’m not sure if the droop was the result of forces incurred while (wince) actually using this thing, or if it just wound up at that angle after all the welding was finished. The steel cable was pulled under the winch and hooked on the back of the plate. Lettering on it read, “HI-TEST.”  Yeah, I’ll bet.

Since it was mounted in front, I don’t think I can hope this thing is only used for pulling ATVs up on trailers. I just hope the owner’s survival instincts are better than his fabrication skills.

I don’t make fun of the owner/fabricator whose only sin is being an overenthusiastic beginner. But potentially life-threatening jobs such as this need to be called out.

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Bespoke sand ladders

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I didn't get a chance to inspect closely—or try—these compact aluminum sand ladders that my friend and 7P/Overland Expo trainer Nick Taylor had welded up and brought to the show, but I like the concept. It's no secret that I'm a fan of Maxtrax (on the left), but in certain situations a rigid aluminum (sorry Nick, aluminium) ladder has advantages, especially for bridging. 

This pair is amazingly compact, and Nick had them made slightly different in size so they nest.

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Given their abbreviated length, getting out of anything but a short bogging would require repeated deployment, but most boggings (except those in mud) can be overcome with a very short extra bit of traction or flotation. And these would be excellent for bridging a small ditch or climbing a ledge. 

I'm thinking about finding an alumin(i)um welder in Tucson and having a pair of my own made.

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Old school and new school . . .

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Here's something you don't see every day: a PTO winch spooled with synthetic line.

PTO (Power Take Off) winches were common decades ago on Land Rovers and Land Cruisers. Rather than being powered by electricity, they ran off a driveshaft attached to an auxiliary gearbox on the transfer case. The advantage to them was that as long as the engine was running, the winch would run as well, with zero danger of overheating as is quite possible with the electric version. The disadvantage, of course, was that if the engine was not running, neither was the winch. These days very few vehicles are equipped with the take-off point on the transfer case that accepts the PTO driveshaft.

I had a PTO winch on my FJ40 for some time, but after I swapped transmissions I kept putting off cutting the hole in the new tunnel for the operating linkage, so the winch became nothing but a fashion item. When a Warn 8274 electric winch presented itself as the perk from a review, I swapped that in and sold the PTO for four times what I'd paid for it.

Probably a mistake—one Maggie McDermut did not make with her BJ74 Land Cruiser. At the 2018 Overland Expo West, the lads from 7P Overland spooled 80 feet of 3/8ths-inch Dyneema onto the drum, and spliced in a Factor 55 thimble. She now has the best of old and new. 

The drive mechanisms on PTO winches varied from year to year and maker to maker. Maggie's is perhaps ideal, in that the winch can be run in any gear, depending on the speed and power needed. Choose first gear for low speed and high power, or run it in second or even third with more throttle if you're just pulling a small log off the road. The single disadvantage of her setup as it is now is the hawse fairlead, which is inset into the chrome front bumper, and could very well let the line contact the edges of the opening on either a right or left-side off-center pull. She'll need to use caution to arrange a straight pull.

I hope she gets a chance to use it on her journey to Alaska as a Change Your World Fund grantee.

 

 

Revolutionary . . .

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It's not often I use that word. It certainly applied to the introduction of the MaxTrax, and it absolutely applies to this product (displayed by Kelsey Huber) being debuted at the Overland Expo. More about it soon, but it's going to have a massive impact on the practice of vehicle recovery. 

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The 7P Recovery Ring is actually a winch pulley (or snatch block) with zero moving parts. The soft shackle simply slides slowly around inside the opening as the winch line is pulled across the pulley. Surprisingly, there is minimal heat buildup—in testing the Recovery Ring successfully extracted seriously stuck military trucks with no issues. Note the MBS (minimum breaking strength), an astounding 40,465 pounds.

Video to follow . . .