Learning the Ropes

© 2013 Steve Hathcock


It was the latter part of 1991 and Fred Carr was teaching me the locksmith and beach towing business. I answered my phone at 3:00 a.m. it was Fred.

“Wanna help me on a tow?” he asked. We stocked up on coffee and cigarettes at a 24 hr. convenience store in Port Isabel. I was a chain smoker back then so I bought two packs. The coffee spilled like acid on top of the good corn whisky I had been sipping earlier.  

When we arrived, we could see we had no time to waste. Grabbing a section of chain, Fred fastened it to a length of rope that lay coiled in a wooden rack sitting atop his old jeep.

 “Hook this up to the Bronco,” Fred said as he handed one of the men the hook end of the chain. I remember thinking this was going to be a delicate operation. Boy was I in for a surprise.

Fred had customized his 1976 Jeep Wagoneer by adding rear dual wheels for traction and stability and a large spotlight for night work. In addition, he carried two sizes of rope. The thinner one had been used as an anchor rope on a shrimp boat. Most of these boats carry at least 1200 feet of rope at a cost of several dollars a foot. Fred’s was over 300 feet. The other was shorter and thicker. It was about 60 feet long but would almost double in length when stretched out.

 “OK, it’s hooked up!” the men shouted.

Pulling a car from the sand is generally pretty easy. First you fasten the chain to a solid spot on the frame. Then you drive the tow vehicle ahead. The forward momentum slows as the rope stretches. At a certain point, when the rope is stretched to its maximum, a rubber band effect  is produced and the stuck vehicle is ‘snatched’ out of the sand. Well, it works in theory.

Fred pushed down on the gas to get his momentum built up. There was a loud cracking sound. A moment later, a shiny object flew over our heads. The men had hooked the chain to the bumper of the Bronco instead of the frame. What was worse, the tide was coming in fast, we had to hurry.

This time I waded out into the water and after several tries, I was able to fasten the chain to the frame. Now we were ready.

“Stand clear!’ Fred shouted.

His warning was wasted. The two men and I were already standing about 40 feet to the side. Fred hit the gas harder this time. Fred’s forward movement slowed considerably as the rope stretched. Water and sand flew off the quivering line, pelting us with a fine spray. I could hear the engine of the jeep straining. Then it died. A moment later I heard a steady stream of oaths. By the time I cleared my eyes, Fred had walked over to where the two trucks sat. Unbeknownst to him, both sinking vehicles were still hooked together. He had been trying to pull both trucks out at the same time. The forces involved had been so great, that both of Fred’s headlights popped out of their fixtures. Luckily, the bulbs had not broken. (A little duct tape and they were once again secured).


Muttering under his breath Fred fastened another section of rope to the line we were already using. Almost 400 feet of rope now lay at the rear of the Jeep.

“Stand way back!” Fred yelled.

We did.

Fred shifted into low gear. With engine roaring, the old Jeep shot forward and again the rope trailed behind. Fred was doing 40 miles an hour by the time the three lines uncoiled. The old Jeep slowed perceptibly. In the glow of the taillights I could see the rope snapping and spinning. A popping sound could be heard above the roar of the Jeep’s engine. A couple of seconds went by. Suddenly, the Bronco shot forward and up the steep incline created by the tide. Water spilled from the frame as the airborne Bronco came crashing to the sand about 40 feet from the water’s edge. Fred swung around in a full circle and we unfastened the rope.

In the meantime, the tide had advanced and the first truck was partially submerged. Again I ducked my head under the water and fastened the chain onto the truck’s frame. There was no finesse this time. Fred got behind the wheel and gunned the engine. A moment later and the two vehicles were parked side by side. They both would need to be pulled into town for major repairs.

Sunrise on South Padre Island Texas

Sunrise on South Padre Island Texas


The sun was rising as we drove along the beach. I reached into the glove box for a cigarette. I paused before lighting it. I had wanted to quit smoking for some time, but never seemed inspired at the right time. I remember I was impressed by the beauty of the sunrise; how the colors of the morning seemed so starkly beautiful.


We had just pitted ourselves against nature. Had we won? No, we had prevailed in the face of adversity but it was obvious to me and Fred that the two vehicles were totaled. The experience, combined with the dawn of a fresh new day, seemed to bring the joy of life back into me. I realized I was ready to quit. I threw away my cigarettes, went home and took a sleeping pill and slept for sixteen hours. I won’t lie about the difficulties of quitting smoking. I was and am an addict when it comes to tobacco. If I were to smoke a cigarette today, I would be hooked all over again. I know this to be true. But, like I said, Fred and I had prevailed that night and with that victory fresh in my mind, I found the inner strength necessary to make a major change in my life.

Email steve@southpadretv.tv For more stories about South Texas and the rest of the world visit http://southpadretv.tv/


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