Our ranch doesn’t own a single vehicle with a functional parking brake. In several cases, the pedal just sits there, flat against the floor, the cables detached. It’s not that we don’t like parking brakes. Or that they wouldn’t come in handy. But we’ve yet to find one that can hold up to the mud and the snow and the ice and beating over rocks and up and down coulees and slamming into badger holes and such.
Since all of the ranch vehicles have manual transmissions, the lack of a parking brake can be a real hassle when circumstances require the driver to get out. Which is generally every five minutes.
The safest course of action is to put the vehicle in a low gear and turn it off. This is the chosen method when the vehicle will remain parked for an extended period of time (and you’re sure it’s going to start again).
The real challenge is going through the gate.
There are dozens of gates. A gate across the driveway to keep the cattle out of the yard. A gate from the yard into the pasture around the calving barn and indoor arena. A gate from that pasture into the south lot, and another gate from the lot onto the hill field. Plus gates into and out of all of the larger pastures, the lane leading to the corrals, the corrals themselves…well, you get the picture.
Every time you set out to tackle a chore, you will have to go through a gate. That’s when you really wish you had a parking brake. Or a passenger to open and shut the gate while you stay in the pickup with your foot on the brake, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog.
On the steeper slopes, you have no choice. You have to pull up to the gate, put the pickup in gear, turn off the pickup. Get out, open the gate, get in, start the pickup, drive through the gate, turn off the pickup, get out, shut the gate, get in, start the pickup and go about your business.
Repeat as needed, thirty to forty times a day. It’s not just the price of cattle keeping us skinny, folks.
You can see why the temptation to apply alternative methods can be overpowering. If nothing else, to spare the starter on the pickup. Of course, if the gate is on level ground, you can just put the pickup in neutral. It’s not going anywhere. Off the top of my head, I can think of two gates on this place that are on the level. Both on the far north pasture, where we drive a half dozen times a year.
As for the others—the method used depends on the resources at hand. Large badger holes are an excellent alternative to a parking brake. Dump a tire in one of those puppies, your pickup is staying put. Stopping with the front tire against a big rock works, too. Oddly, given the plentitude of both rocks and badger holes around here, there is almost never one right where you need it.
Snow drifts come in handy at gates. Heck, most of the winter you’re lucky the pickup is moving when all four chained tires are spinning. No worries that it’s going to roll off on its own. In some spots, the mud can get deep enough to do the trick. And when it dries, there are ruts.
The rut trick is the riskiest of the alternative methods. It’s a simple concept. If there is a rut in front of the gate, and the slope isn’t too steep, you can crank the front tires so they’re angled in the rut. Voila! Instant tire block.
Assuming the rut is deep enough. And the tires are turned far enough. And they don’t sort of get pushed straight again by the weight of the pickup trying to roll downhill.
A few months back, my husband came upon my dad repairing a section of fence just down from the gate into the south lot. A result, my dad sheepishly explained, of a rut that wasn't quite deep enough.
But why was the hole ten yards down the fence? If the pickup was parked at the gate, shouldn’t it have just run through the gate itself?
Oh, it did, my dad explained. But he’d gotten the gate open and dragged out of the way just in the nick of time. His sigh of relief was short-lived. Because he had the front wheels on the pickup cranked to keep it in the rut. So it rolled through the open gate, did a graceful loop during which it managed to miss half a dozen huge badger holes, and rolled right back through the fence.
Good thing that big rock stopped it on the other side.