When grappling is called for

Sep 30, 2012 By Randy Tucker

I would pick the 50-foot extension cord over the Bat-o-Rang every time.

It's become an iconic image in action/adventure films since the days of Erroll Flynn's swashbuckling classics.

In Ken Annakin's World War II epic "The Longest Day" you see them propelled by rockets high on the cliffs of Point Du Hoc by American Army rangers.

The Urak-hai toss them against the fortifications of Helms Deep in the "Lord of the Rings" saga and probably (to a Baby Boomer anyway) the most familiar scene is Batman and Robin throwing their Bat-o-Rangs on a rooftop and crawling up the side of a building.

I'm writing of the grappling hook.

It's a device many of us have watched being used but very few of us have actually found the need for in our own lives.

There are a few exceptions. Fishermen often keep a weighted treble-hook in their tackle boxes with some heavy 30- or 50-pound test line attached to attempt retrieval of valuable lures or the occasional fishing pole tossed over the side of the boat.

This technique doesn't have a very high success rate, but I can relate a time when it did bring back a lost pole. About 20 years ago, my son Brian and I were fishing in our small boat at Worthen Meadows Reservoir. At age 6, Brian had most of the casting techniques mastered except the one that tells you to hang onto the rod when you make a hard cast. Sure enough, we found a spot where the trout were hitting and in his excitement he tossed the lure, line and rod right off the side of the boat.

The water was crystal clear that day, and he quickly spotted the rod about 15 feet under the surface. I pulled the treble-hook out, attached it to my line, and in about 10 minutes he was back fishing again.

It's rarely that easy.

While a device designed to snag and retrieve works at odds that no one would bet on, the more mundane things of life seem to snag, grab, snarl or hook with amazing agility.

I've often thought that if I were falling off a roof, a cliff or some other height I'd like to grab a neatly coiled extension cord, not a grappling hook, in order to stop my fall.

Have you ever noticed how devious a simple 50-foot extension cord can become when you pull it across a workshop or try to take it from your house out to a car parked outside?

Its nothing short of miraculous to begin pulling a cord across a smooth, clean shop floor only to find it seek out the smallest jagged edge of concrete, the one knot in a 2x4, or just twist itself enough to wedge under a door.

It is rare that someone can pull out an extension cord and not have to walk back along its length to undo the claw hammer, table leg, plywood, metal shelf or even the dog that it has managed to entangle.

There was a foreman at Alder Construction who suffered from extension cord mania. He was a stickler for lost time, and one of his pet peeves was time wasted untangling extension cords.

We had a trailer full of 50- to 100-foot cords at the job site, and each afternoon one of our last duties was to pull in the cords and wrap them in a continuous figure-8 style before hanging them on the wall of the trailer.

This foreman was famous for firing laborers for the slightest infraction. My friend Frank and I worked for him for two summers and watched him terminate at least two dozen other workers for seemingly minor incidents. He fired one guy during his first week for simply wrapping an extension cord around his arm in the manner most of us do.

We wound the cords just like he told us to.

The problem with his method was that if you didn't pull the female connector in the coiled cord first, the cord became a knotted, tangled mess. The snarled lines were worthy of "Gordian Knot" status, and yes, he fired a couple of guys for pulling the cords out wrong.

We learned quickly to pull the right end of the cord.

Garden hoses seem to share the same inherent traits with their electricity-bearing cousins.

The secret is to buy the most expensive hose you can find. That's what the manufacturers claim anyway. The thicker the wall of the hose and the bigger diameter prevent it from twisting into a series of loops every 30 inches for the length of the hose.

Sometimes you get lucky, and the cheaper hose will unwrap itself when the water pressure hits each twist, but most of the time you just walk back and untwist the hose until the water begins to flow.

Hoses have the innate ability to find crevices to wedge in. How many times have you leisurely tried to move a garden hose to a dry spot on your lawn only to find it wedged under a truck tire, wrapped around a fence post, snaged on a tree, or hooked around a bunch of flowers? They are amazing.

If your life depends on it, don't trust a grappling hook. Reach for the nearest green, orange or red line in your garage and hope for the best.

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