Cousin Roy rescues reporter and high-centered pickup stuck in Montana gumbo


Stuck in the mud

A mudhole traps Billings Gazette outdoor editor Brett French’s truck on an Eastern Montana road. Called gumbo, the slick, sticky, heavy mud is a menace to many rural travelers.

Shame came in the form of wet clay.

The so-called gumbo that bogs down vehicles on rural Eastern Montana roads latched onto my pickup with its sticky grip last Saturday and refused to let go.

Just before getting stuck my turkey hunting buddy had uttered the dooming phrase of, “You got this.” It was like the mud heard and was hell bent on proving him wrong. We hadn’t even gotten to the worse part of the road yet, the area I truly feared, which a couple of years ago had bogged down a U.S. Air Force Humvee so badly they pulled it out with a helicopter.


Mud sticks to the writer’s boots and shovel with a vengeance. 

Muck boots

Sliding on some boots I stepped out into the 10-yard-long mud hole to assess the situation. With each step more mud collected on the boots until they felt as if they weighed 15 pounds apiece. Taking a step required an effort not just because of the additional heft, but because the mud preferred to hold onto my boots with a Crazy Glue-like tenacity. With a loud sucking sound the mud eventually relented and freed my feet so I could stagger and stumble around the truck.

An assessment of the situation assured us I had high-centered the rig, one back wheel spinning hopelessly. Jacking up the pickup to shove rocks, sticks or old fence posts under the wheel wasn’t an option since the pickup’s jacking point was the rear axle. Tunneling into that spot would be hard, slow work. Even if possible, the threat of the jack sinking into the mud rather than raising the truck was a distinct possibility.

My sidekick tried to give the rig a push as I rocked the accelerator, but he was having no luck breaking free the 4,000-pounds of metal.

Fat white clouds sailed overhead, separated by a deep blue sky. My fear was that the clouds would gather together and dump more rain on the road, worsening my already sticky situation.

Air Force struggles to remove Humvee left on muddy remote road in Montana

Call for help

We were stuck. It’s a situation no self-respecting four-wheel-drive owner likes. I’m all about self-reliance, being prepared and doing things on my own. So admitting I needed help was shameful.

Luckily, I had cellphone service. My cousins live about a half hour away from where I was stranded. Roy, also known as Rocking Roy! and Roy Boy! (always with an exclamation), agreed to drive over and attempt to pull us out.

Unable to sit still, I laid shingles down in the tire ruts. I carry them in my truck and car in winter to provide traction on snow and ice (Tap’s Tips) if needed. Then, walking across the hillside, we picked up rocks, sticks and old fence posts to pave a route out of the ruts the truck had created. It seemed futile, but kept us busy and my mind off the stupidity of attempting the rain-slickened road in the first place.

A neighboring rancher passed by in his UTV. My cousin had called him at first, to see if he could provide assistance with his tractor. The rancher noted the road in its current condition wasn’t tractor friendly and drove off when I told him my cousin was on his way.

Local rancher Russ Thomas pulled up shortly thereafter, assessed the situation and kindly stuck around to see if he could help out. When cousin Roy pulled up, Russ looked at me and said, “You didn’t say it was Roy that was coming,” and laughed.

Rocking Roy

Roy Seaholm drove to the rescue of his cousin last Saturday, using his chained up four-wheel drive to pull out a stuck rig.

Rocking Roy

My cousin Roy Seaholm is a local legend. At 6-foot-3 he was the starting center for the Grass Range Rangers basketball team during his high school years in the late 1970s. He also competed in calf roping and team roping, worked as a cowboy at a New York dude ranch, trained horses and in 1983 was one of six Grass Ranger riders to trek across the state on horses to invite Gov. Ted Schwinden to the town’s centennial celebration.

A rambler and raconteur, Roy is able to recall names, places and humorous stories with uncanny precision. That’s all the more impressive since a car crash when he was young and vital nearly killed him.

So each time I see Roy it’s like a celebration, maybe never more so than when he rolled up in his pickup to offer assistance to his stuck, shamed city-boy cousin.

Montana Army National Guard helicopter rescues Air Force Humvee stuck on muddy road

Russ graciously offered to chain up Roy’s truck, crawling around on the road’s greasy surface to connect the links. Stringing out a long chain we coupled the two truck hitches together and on cue Roy and I hit the gas and easily popped the stuck truck out of the mud.

Once we reached a drier spot I thought Roy would stop and we’d unhook the chains, but he kept the pedal to the metal even when I honked and hit the brakes. Manically I attempted to steer in reverse as the front end of my truck swung back and forth like a hooked fish fighting for freedom. Only when Russ waved Roy to a halt did my reverse joy ride end.

As thanks for their assistance I offered our rescuers a cold beer. We stood on the bright green hillside sipping the beers, admiring the variety of tiny colorful wildflowers poking up and attempting to scrape the worst of the gumbo off our boots.

“Smile,” I told Roy as I photographed him. “This one is going on the front page.”

He laughed with his whole body, throwing back his head and smiling.

Roy to the rescue. I’m a lucky guy to have such great cousins and for the kindness of strangers.