Tractor pulls are fun, as long as you watch them in an arena with a bag of hot buttered popcorn, and not so much when you’re out in the field pulling some stuck equipment out of the mud.

Jaynes lynn
Emeritus Editor
Lynn Jaynes retired as an editor in 2023.

But we love seeing those videos and pictures on YouTube or elsewhere, where some dingbat has his equipment buried to the gills, don’t we? Oh, wait … is that a picture of you? You don’t say.

So what is there to say about pulling equipment out of the mud? It’s just hook, jerk and pull – right? Done it a thousand times.

Well, not so much. And that’s part of the problem – we assume we know how to do it because we tried something in the past that happened to work. But we’ve all made poor decisions when trying to pull something from the mud – tying knots around the clevis of a strap, trying a pull with whatever you can find in the back of the pickup, using a ball hitch, knotting a rope to a chain, replacing a cotter pin with a bolt, trying to pull something beyond the tow rating, using a sun-rotted strap and relying on luck (and I have to say, luck seems to take days off spontaneously and without warning lately – what’s up with that?).

Even good intentions, like trying to help a neighbor pull the sprayer out of the mud, can turn deadly when you hook up a machine with lots of power (unstoppable force) to something stuck in the mud (immovable object). Cotter pins can snap, chains can pop and even well intentioned people can make poor decisions. So don’t try to be the hero; common sense should always trump valor.


Before you try to pull some stuck equipment from the mud, here are a few things to consider.

Practice conscious awareness

Anticipate the unexpected. Flying debris can be just as lethal as a bullet from a gun. Even the body of the pickup is no match for flying metal, let alone your head.

Do all you can to protect bystanders and operators from a chain that may break or a clevis that may snap. Consider hydraulic hoses and whether they will be ripped as the equipment is forced forward. Consider power lines that may be in the area. Step back and look at the whole situation.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

If the thought crossed your mind, “I should probably call a professional towing service or wrecker,” then pay attention and call the wrecker. You probably should have called them a half hour ago, before you made matters worse.

Always call a professional when:

  • The towing vehicle’s engine stalls out in the lowest gear while trying to pull.
  • The towing vehicle’s tires do nothing but spin and smoke.
  • Your attachments, chains, straps, etc., break (and don’t go through five chains before you decide it’s not the chain’s fault).
  • You need to attach multiple chains, ropes or straps to reach the stuck vehicle.
  • The only apparent option is to hook multiple trucks or tractors together to attempt to pull.
  • You don’t know or understand what you are doing.
  • You will cause more damage if you do it yourself.
  • You will do more damage to the stuck unit by jerking on it.
  • You don’t know the rated capacities for the towing equipment – straps, clevises, chains, etc.
  • The towing equipment has not been inspected.
  • Extracting the vehicle will require a running start from the towing vehicle.
  • Tempers are flaring – when that happens, poor judgment frequently prevails.

Know what you’re dealing with

Don’t assume the only hazard is pulling the machine itself out. Equipment may be loaded with hazardous materials, such as pesticide spray, liquid fertilizer, liquid manure or fuel. These pose additional risks. Remember, you’re likely to get stuck where there’s water, and the potential for water contamination (surface water or groundwater) must be considered.

There are additional considerations if the stuck equipment is carrying potentially hazardous materials:

  • Make certain the tank holding the material is secured.
  • Account for any materials on the equipment.
  • Inspect the tie-downs to see if they are still intact.
  • Consider unloading material from the stuck equipment before attempting to extract it; removing the product could be safer and make the load lighter.
  • Inspect the hoses and fittings to ensure they are intact and have not been damaged.
  • Make sure hoses will not be ripped off if you pull the equipment forward or backward.
  • Take precautions to prevent the product from getting into water.
  • Have personal protective equipment on hand in case of a spill.

Make sure you have the right equipment

The same tow strap that worked well pulling equipment down the road may perform differently when pulling “dead weight,” or equipment that is stuck. The dead weight places incredible stress on straps, cables, chains and other devices. That stress can equal many times the weight of the stuck object, and the strength and integrity of the strap or chain will be put to the ultimate test.

When the stress or force of the pull exceeds rated capacities of the chain or strap, then connections can snap, break or tear. Don’t chance it. Know the rated capacities of pull devices and inspect them to ensure their integrity. Just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it is strong enough for any pull.

Even if the pull is successful, the chains may elongate or stretch, straps can tear or fray and the integrity is compromised for the next pull.

(Now are you up for a little $1 bet? Go look at your towing equipment. Odds are probably better than 10 to 1 that you’ve got a problem in your straps or chains, hitches, cables, hooks or clevis. You know I’m right. I’ll take that dollar now.)

Serious and dangerous

Each extraction presents a unique set of challenges. Just because something you tried in the past worked, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to try again. Extraction is serious and dangerous, so know what you’re doing and follow safety procedures. PD

Purdue Extension has a great publication treating this topic, and from which much of this information was taken: “Extracting Stuck Equipment Safely” (PDF, 24 MB).