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Recovery in Big Bend National Park

0 7dc53by Jim "Buck" Sorrenti

Gustavo Jimenez Jr. established Tavo's Automotive in Crystal City, Texas, in 1974 as a repair shop with towing services. Before his death, the business was passed on to his son Gustavo "Tavo" Jimenez III in 2007.

On Dec. 14, 2018, Tavo's was contacted by the owner of a Mercedes Unimog RV that had rolled over at Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas. The Unimog was on its side down on a trail with no access for heavy-duty wreckers.

On Dec. 16, Tavo and his wife, Irene, made the almost 18-hour round trip to "put his eyes on the scene." An agreement was made to plan recovery for Dec. 20, with the assistance of the Bruce King Co. from Fort Stockton, Texas. Owner Billy King would bring in equipment a day before, to crawl an excavator, skid-steer and Skytrac to the location approximately 10 miles from the paved road. This would be a four-hour ride for the excavator one way.

Tavo's Towing was led by scene supervisor and owner Tavo. Jesus Mata was operator and rigger, Gustavo Jimenez IV operated air cushion valves while Sebastian Mendoza assisted with the rigging and catch bag. Billy King and crew operated all machinery to include excavator, Skytrac and skid-steer.

The plan was to use Tavo's Towing's recovery air cushions for lifting and catching, then use Bruce King Co.'s equipment for clearing and rigging up for bringing over the unit.

The equipment was transferred from the utility equipment trailer into their 2018 Ford F-350 and Ram 5500. The bags would do most of the lifting, then the excavator would bring the Unimog over onto a landing bag for a soft landing and avoid any damage to the RV.

Both teams met up with Big Bend National Park rangers and headed down the trail.

"We arrived on scene at approximately 9:20 a.m.," Tavo said, "to get equipment started. The game plan would be to clear an area about eight-feet from the passenger side tires on the ground. This would allow the Unimog to land on a more even surface rather than back on the embankment that set it over."

Teams divided up while the King Co. crew excavated and cleared the embankment. Tavo's team set up a compressor, valve body and air cushion lift bags in place.

"We first started with the smaller starter bags to make enough space for the larger recovery bags," Tavo said. "We used two MatJack lifting bags and one catch bag."

When the bags were in place and the ground excavated, Team Tavo's rigged up the suspension with two Grade 70 axle chains to hold suspension in place, then they used rim slings to a shackle to a 6' round sling both in the front and rear axles that joined together with a shackle to another shackle on the excavator bucket.

"Once the Unimog was back on its wheels," Tavo said, "our challenge was to remove it off the road. All three batteries were dead and the Unimog was in gear. So our team removed both drivelines and made the best with the minimal steering."

A Skytrac telehandler and a 2013 Ram 5500/Century 12-ton wrecker, which was the largest wrecker that could make the almost 10-mile hike to the Unimog, were used to winch and push the unit uphill and through a 90-degree turn.

Once the team got through the turn, the 12-ton wrecker pulled the Unimog to a safe location off the road where it could be started and driven out once the batteries were replaced and no oil was in the engine head.

"The challenge of this recovery was the remote area, the limited access to recovery vehicles and the challenge of working with another team," Tavo said. "Overall everything went very well and the vehicle was recovered with no additional damage caused by recovery."

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Do you have a recovery to share with TIW readers? Send some pics and info to our Field Editor Jim "Buck" Sorrenti at ; your story may even be selected for print in American Towman magazine!
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