By Jim “Buck” Sorrenti
Kelvin and Janette Ramer established Auto Care Lifesaver Towing in Watsonville, California, in 1991. The business has been family owned and operated for the last 28 years and has expanded to include Kelvin’s brother Clinton, as well as the Ramers’ children Rosalee and Ben. They maintain a fleet of 16 trucks and have three locations in Watsonville, Santa Cruz and Felton.
On Thursday, June 20, 2019, Auto Care was called to perform the recovery of a vintage U.S. Navy T28B airplane. The plane had experienced engine failure shortly after takeoff from the Hollister Municipal Airport. The pilot safely performed a belly landing in a farmer’s field.
Kelvin and Rosalee responded to handle the recovery. They arrived at the scene in their 2012 Kenworth NRC 80-ton rotator and their 2016 Peterbilt 330 with a Century 15 Series flatbed loaded with extra supplies, including flotation plates to navigate the plowed fields and airbags to properly support the plane while rigging.
The vintage T28 had damage to both the engine compartment and landing gear compartments, as well as to the propeller blades.
Kelvin had to keep the unharmed remainder of the vintage plane intact on its 1.5-mile journey back to the airport hangar. After discussing the situation with the owner and his mechanic, Kelvin and Rosalee initiated their recovery plan.
With the NRC rotator in position and outriggers situated, the rigging began. The Auto Care team started by digging out the dirt underneath the cockpit and wings. They positioned flotation plates under each wing and hooked up the airbags. Once the plane was lifted off the ground by the airbags, the team carefully placed a recovery strap under the cockpit to evenly distribute the load across a structural pillar of the plane and used mud flaps to protect the body of the aircraft. They also situated another recovery strap under the landing gear on the rear of the plane.
Workers then placed rigging on the propeller of the plane to help stabilize the extra weight in the front of the aircraft because a motor mount had broken during the landing. Once the straps were properly connected to the wire rope of the rotator, Rosalee carefully began balancing the plane from side to side. Using the NRC soft-touch remote controls, she was able to have a clear view of all angles of rigging during the lift.
When the plane was a few feet off of the ground, Kelvin steadily drove down the farm’s narrow and uneven dirt roads to the paved street. Workers helped stabilize the aircraft as it was suspended during transport.
The plane was met by a police escort at the main road, which accompanied it for the remaining 1.6-mile drive back to the airport. Upon arriving, Auto Care ensured that the plane was safely stabilized until the landing gear could be deployed and locked into place for repairs.
“This recovery was fun because it was an antique,” Kelvin said. “It required precise rigging and operations to not cause any more damage to the plane.” Editor’s Note: Look for more on this recovery in an upcoming issue of
American Towman Magazine.
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