‘Perfect’ Day for Mud

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

A driver raced his Jeep Cherokee up a hillside, catching just a little air and then shaking off pieces of the rig. He moved on to something else.

Not so with Brad Walker and Mat Villines of Sweet Home.

Walker jumped his Toyota over and over again to the delight of spectators. When a part was knocked off, Walker got out, picked it up and went again. Villines rode shotgun, jumping out and getting under the hood to restart the pickup.

That’s the “way we roll” in Sweet Home, Walker said.

Villines and his buddies joked about “Sweet Home style” later while watching the mayhem at the annual Mountain Mud Festival, held Saturday, March 3, off Berlin Road. The festival is run by the South Santiam Four Wheelers Association. About 3,200 persons attended.

Throughout the event, Sweet Home folks were fearlessly taking on every challenge, sometimes making it, sometimes not.

David Hutchins tipped over his rig, a buggy built from a Blazer, full of passengers Casey Aiello, Courtney Lake, Aaron Carlson and Noah Gray.

“You’ve got to try it,” Hutchins said. “You don’t know if you’re going to roll it if you don’t try it.”

Only problem: “We forgot JB Weld,” Aiello said.

This is the best year ever, Hutchins said. With rain all week, right up to Saturday morning, the mud was better than ever before. Then, when Saturday dawned bright and clear, it added up to a perfect day.

Kyle Keeney and a crew of passengers from Cascadia went over in the biggest bog on the 40-acre site owned by Norma Johnson.

After plowing through a miniature mud pond and attempting to climb out, driver Keeney’s tires caught the lip of the bank at an angle, flipping his rig on its side in the pool of mud.

Laughing and taking photos, Keeney, Grant Hale, Jerry Thompson and Nicholas Nibison climbed out the passenger side. Behind them was a relative graveyard of other vehicles stuck in the mud or broken down.

Nearby, flinging mud, a four-wheel drive zipped by along the edge near Josh Noble of Philomath and his wife, Sarah, and 2-year-old Jayden.

“I thought we would be safe here,” Noble said, amidst the flying mud at one of the best spots to watch the mayhem.

This was his fourth year attending the Mud Festival, Noble said. “I usually drive, but we had a family day today. It’s always better when other people are breaking stuff. It doesn’t come out of your pocket.

“I don’t really like to go hard, but I like to watch some of these guys, get different ideas for building trucks.”

Mike Leisinger, a club member from Lebanon, was running a rearranged obstacle course, although this year, the festival did not track times.

He said he thought the festival was going well, following the rain all week. The precipitation made the ground slick, and the festival did not have to bring as much water up to the site.

Nearby several drivers, most in Jeeps, found the mud challenging as they climbed over a pile of rocks.

Derrick Schoenburg of Springfield climbed his Jeep onto the pile, tilting hard to the driver’s side. He got out and took a look at how his vehicle was sitting. With a nudge from another driver in a full-size pickup he drove the Jeep down from its precarious perch.

Passenger Kory Pace of Springfield was a picture of cool. He said he was nervous “not at all. I see him do this all the time.”

“This is really good, great,” Schoenburg said. “The rig’s holding up, we’re having fun.”

Schoenburg said he is more into rock climbing than mudding. His Jeep is geared low with four cylinders, he said. Mud was making the rocks slippery and even more challenging.

Sweet Home paramedics reported no serious injuries during the event, just a couple of Band-Aids.

There was one injury, but it wasn’t one paramedics could fix. Chris Pinto, shooting photos for The New Era, finally got a taste of four-wheel driving.

Driving into the festival site in his four-wheel drive Nissan, he barely made his way into a parking space. He spent about 15 minutes trying to cajole his rig along the muddy road running alongside the parking area.

He determined that his four-wheel drive was inferior to everything else there and barely better than a rear-wheel drive car with racing slicks. Pinto said he knew better than to even think about trying the features at the festival.

Leaving wasn’t any better. He tried to stay on what remained of pasture along the roadway. Unfortunately, pedestrians crossing in front him forced him to give up his momentum and stop on a slight grade.

Traffic piled up behind him as he spun his tires and threw mud. A helpful event volunteer walked up and asked if he had the pickup in four-wheel drive. He told him he did.

That’s when the volunteer asked Pinto, who said later that his previous vehicles have been able to shift into four-wheel-drive from inside, if he had locked his front wheels. Uh, no.

The volunteer locked them for Pinto, and the truck moved smoothly down the road and away from the festival. Pinto said he had never actually driven it in four-wheel drive.

“I wish I knew that,” he said. “I could have been driving all over.

“That’s a good story. I hope you get to tell it, so I can be an embarrassment to the whole town.”