Don Stoeckly has pulled plenty of vehicles out of icy waters in his 37 years in the towing business, but never one quite as hard as the Ford pickup that went through the ice Tuesday on Lake Onalaska.
Normally, Stoeckly said, he would use one of his tow trucks, but the F150 was about a mile from shore in six to eight feet of water under ice that was only about two inches thick.
The 67-year-old president of Don’s Towing and Repair decided he would need a custom tool.
Stoeckly took a rusted-out Jeep Cherokee sitting in his lot and went to work with a torch. He cut off the doors, the roof, the tailgate, the hood; he ripped out everything but the engine and the driver’s seat, “anything we could get off that would lighten the vehicle.”
He figures he got the Jeep down to about 1,500 pounds.
He then welded a boom on the back and hooked up a 10,000-pound electric winch — the smallest he thought he could get away with — and drove the Mad Max-style tow as far out as he dared, about 400 feet from the sunken truck.
Amanda Manock, who co-owns the family business with her husband, said the team was against it, but there was no talking her father out of it.
“Four companies turned this job down,” she said. “He had it in his head — I’m doing this job.”
Stoeckly and his crew — a dozen people helped on the job, including divers from the La Crosse Dive Unit — spend most of Wednesday trying to pull the truck in.
“We had to regroup our thoughts and get some more timber,” he said.
They returned on Thursday and cut a runway in the ice so they could drag the truck across the bottom to thicker ice, where they could get it onto wood skids. The truck came out about 4:30 p.m.
Stoeckly said he hasn’t tallied the bill, but conceded, “it would be more than a $66.09 tow.”