Using a PTO Winch

by Greg Boren

CautionDisclaimer: Winching can be dangerous. Improper use can injure or kill you, or damage property. The exact procedure for safely using any winch is dependent on many variables. What model winch you have, what PTO, what vehicle, what situation, condition of equipment, etc. Mismatched components must also be taken into consideration. Always use common sense, and err on the side of caution. Operating procedures will vary based upon components involved and intended use of those components. Always refer to manufacturer's literature for your particular model to learn proper practices and precautions for safe use.

The procedures outlined here are based on having a model 150J winch coupled to a model 51 PTO on a CJ-3A, which represents a typical setup on early Jeeps.

The 100 series "King" winch is designed to use 5/16" cable or rope. Drum capacity is 150 feet. Koenig claims a pulling capacity of 8,000 pounds with a single line (16,000 on a double line with a snatch block). Hoisting capacity is 1,500 pounds on a single line. Remember, these figures are based upon ideal conditions and a new winch, not real world situations and a 60-year-old winch.

The winch is designed so that the drum main shaft turns constantly while the PTO is running. The drum is either engaged, or disengaged, to the rotating main shaft of the winch. The engagement lever is locked in the fully engaged or fully disengaged position by a spring-loaded lock pin. With the drum disengaged, the drum brake is applied and the drum stays stationary, even with the drum shaft turning. When the drum is engaged, the brake is released and the drum turns with the shaft.

Before using the winch, be sure the drum is disengaged, then pull out the amount of line required. This is done with the drum's friction brake still engaged. Its braking force is so weak that it is possible to spool out cable with it employed. The drum brake's only function is to keep the line's own weight from causing it to free-spool off the drum when the drum is disengaged from the main shaft. The brake can not be used with the winch in operation and the cable or rope under load.

With the vehicle engine off, engage the winch by pulling the lock pin forward until it releases the engagement lever in the A-frame. Move the engagement lever to engage the drum to the shaft. It may be necessary to rotate the drum slightly by hand to achieve proper engagement. Make sure the lock pin locks the engagement lever in the engaged position.

Safest use of the winch takes place from inside the vehicle. Start the engine. Depress the clutch, put the transfer case in neutral, and the transmission in gear (use 1st gear whenever possible). Engage the PTO, then let out the clutch. The winch speed is controlled by engine speed. Winch direction can be reversed by shifting the transmission into reverse. To stop the winch, depress the clutch and put the transmission in neutral.

The winch operates with the transfer case in neutral, which leaves your axles free to rotate. Good if you are trying to get yourself out of trouble, bad if you're trying to get someone else out. Trying to pull something heavier than your vehicle will simply pull you towards what your line is hooked to. Your parking brake might help hold you in place, but it is likely you will have to anchor your vehicle to something if using the winch to extricate another vehicle from a situation (or pull a stump).

Also, it is very important to be aware that if you are using the winch to hoist, the moment you put the clutch in, any load on the cable will drop. This means you cannot raise a load in first gear, then shift into reverse to lower it, without supporting the load somehow during the gear change.

When not in use, make sure the drum is disengaged from the shaft and the drum brake is on. Also make sure the PTO is disengaged, and the cable (or rope) is fully wound and secured. Driving the Jeep with the winch engaged can damage the winch, the Jeep, or both, and a free-spooling line can end up wrapped around axles.

See the King Model 100J Operating and Installation Instructions (140K GIF) for CJ-2A, 3A and 3B Jeeps.

Cable or Rope?

Plasma ropeMost winches you see have steel cable wound on them. I personally don't like cable. I prefer AmSteel rope (plasma rope) on my modified Koenig winch (right). Here is why:

Keep on Pullin'

In 2008 Don Norris described his experience winching trees, on the CJ-3B Bulletin Board.

Don: Playing with my winch, I used 150 feet of 5/16-inch 19-stranded steel cable. Last week I got the tub back on my '53 CJ-3B. After a few spins around the block, no tags yet, I decided to tackle that pine tree of mine that fell onto the neighbor's property. The tree was 18 inches at the base and was about 40 feet tall. Heavy... Awww, I thought, this is a winch job. I parked about 75 feet away from the rotted stump and pulled the cable to the trunk. I wrapped a chain around the tree and attached the cable from my Koenig Model 100 winch. I engaged the Koenig J51 PTO, dropped the transmission into 1st gear and let out on the clutch. As the winch pulled me forward I applied the brakes. Hmmm, I was still moving. No problem. I had brought two 4x4 blocks to use at chocks. I put them at the front wheels. As I started pulling again, the blocks dug into the dirt and the tree started moving, but as the trunk dug into the dirt I was pulled over the top of the chocks. I finally let myself be pulled to a tree where the front bumper rested and I then pulled the tree with ease, fast idle in first gear. I love that PTO toy! (I mean tool, tool, not toy.)

Winch damage Jyotin: A PTO winch in the hands of the untrained is a recipe for disaster. Just as owning a Jeep does not make one an expert off-road driver, having a PTO winch on a Jeep does not make one an expert on how to use one safely. But, the very fact that the winch tried to drag the Jeep forwards shows just how powerful those 75 horses can be. It can take your arm right out of its socket and off your shoulder in a heartbeat. You may have heard the expression "wrapped around the axle", well those PTO's will be merciless if they get 'hold of a shirt sleeve, foot, finger, pant leg, ring, keychain... I always sell the PTO winch if I get a Jeep with one. If I need a winch I'll use electric -- a whole lot safer, but still a winch. The words 'play' and 'PTO' simply don't go together.

Don: Thanks for the words of warning reference the PTO. Yes, I agree, they are a very dangerous tool. It is always good to be reminded when we play with danger. As far as I can tell, the PTO does not have a conscience, so I doubt if it cares if it hurts me. I will be careful.

I remember a chock rig I saw on a wrecker on time ago. The chocks were placed under the rear wheels and chained to the bumper. As the rig pulled, the rear end of the rig hunched down, pushing down on the chocks, and that winch pulled like a son-of-a-gun. I did some looking and found several references to a Scotch block: "Commonly, wreckers employ a boom with a winch and cable arrangement for hooking up to a broken down automobile. For towing purposes, it is necessary to hook the cable to the automobile and winch the automobile into elevated inclined towing position immediately behind the wrecker, generally with the front or rear wheels of the automnobile remaining in ground engagement. The forces involved during winching tend to draw the wrecker and automobile toward one another and accordingly the wrecker itself is generally immobilized to prevent its rearward movement during winching. One commonly employed means for preventing rearward movement of a wrecker during winching consists in placing ramp-like elements, known as scotch blocks, under the rear wheels of the wrecker, the scotch blocks being secured by chains to the rear bumper structure of the wrecker. However, with this arrangement, tension is developed in the chains during winching tending to distort or buckle the bumper structure. To overcome this problem, it is known to add reinforcement to the rear structure of the wrecker, but the additional weight of such reinforcement reduces the towing capacity of the wrecker.

In The Ditch products "The present invention provides an alternative solution to the problem of rear bumper damage to wreckers, which does not involve any significant increase in weight and consequent loss in towing capacity."

"In the Ditch" towing products -- anybody got any experience with this set up? Any wrecker drivers out there? I can see that the light Jeep is gonna have a hard time pulling some folks out without being anchored better.

Larry: Yep, as a matter of fact, I did drive a wrecker once (part-time while in the suppression division of the fire dept., as my partner on the ambulance owned the wrecker business for local Chevy dealer A.J. Foyt. Yep, Anthony Joseph, the Indy and other race car driver). Anyway, the "hooks" as we called them had two such chocks which were sections of thick walled, large diameter pipe (I'm talking 18" to 20" pipe, 1/2" thick and wide enough to protrude several inches beyond either side of a set of duals on a one ton chassis, with approx. 1-1/2" (saw type) teeth cut in the rear side of each. These chocks (by the way, the section of pipe cut was such that the arch, when placed flat on the ground, was about 5" high as I recall -- remember, this was back in the 70's) would be placed directly behind the duals and as you stated, were attached to the rear apron of the harness (stiff-arm plate) assy. by means of 3/8" chain lengths (our hooks had slotted holes cut in the rear apron).

Once the teeth of those chocks bit into the surface upon which the hook was sitting, they did their job very well. In fact, the chocks we had (made by guys in the body shop) worked so well that we'd sometimes have to back one hook in front of the "pulling hook" just to hold the front end down to the ground.Yep, those certainly were the "good 'ol days" (nights weren't too bad either, ha!) AJ Foyt by the way is a super nice guy that would do most anything for his fellow man and if memory serves me right, he too had several old jeeps.

Jeff H.: Great to have another PTO back up and working. I just chain the back of my jeep to a rock or ? to keep it from being dragged around. On a past trail ride several Jeeps had to be winched up a steep hill, so the only other Jeep with a winch (electric) stepped forward. After the second vehicle the battery and alternator were worn out. I stepped up to the plate and what a home run. I pulled everyone else (4 Jeeps) to the top with my Koenig 100. Keep in mind the extra safety measures when winching with a PTO!

Oldtime: I can't add much specifics about superior scotch blocks. But if you were to chain the scotch blocks to the front bumper surely the bumper will bend on a hard pull. I would just simply use larger blocks. Wood is good. As you know the Jeep winch is typically positioned in a front mount application to be utilized as a self-recovery system. This mounting is kept low to offset the detrimental center of gravity influences. These are good concepts for self-recovery usage but the low angle pull of a low profile winch is not ideal for extraction usage.

Rear PTO winchRear mounted winches will easily excel when put into extraction service. Generally the cable of a rear mounted winch will be routed over an arch or boom structure to add lift to the pull. Skidding or towing of the extracted object is made much easier because of the lift created by the arch or boom.

Front winchPerhaps one could fashion a quick detach arch that clamps onto the front bumper for extraction usage on Jeeps with a front mounted winch. Best of both worlds! In forested country trees are often the best winch anchors available; just be sure to rest your bumper against a good solid tree such as a hickory with its long tap root. A shallow rooted red cedar or pine tree could be a problem. In hard open pan areas a stake anchor is the best anchor point. Use an old axle shaft or 2" x 2" x 1/4" angle iron. Drive it about three foot deep.Now you can finally justify using your big hammer! In soft soil the best anchor point is a "deadman". This could simply be an old spare tire or boat anchor buried deep.

I was also wondering about the ability of the front bumper to withstand the force of a good pull. I had built (in my mind) several bumper reinforcing methods but haven't tried any yet. I just dropped some 4X6 pieces off a few timber posts; I now plan to save some of them to try for chocks. I don't think I'll get into the front bumper arch at this point in time, however, it put an idea in my head. A stiff arm, mounted on the front bumper, like a tow bar, but that goes to the ground and digs in. That way the pulling force of the winch and the resistance force to the winch would all be at the front bumper. Hmmmm, I'll keep you posted.

Vehicle anchor stabilization system for winching operations is a 2001 U.S. patent by Ernest P. Luker including some drawings and a nice write up of the scotch chocks and even has the math calculated on the force applied to the wheels.

Ernest Luker patent

Thanks to Don Norris, Greg Boren and the other contributors. -- Derek Redmond

See also Koenig Winch Installation Tips.

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Last updated 3 December 2011 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond