Old Truck Pulled From Rainy River at Wheeler’s Point Access
Story courtesy of the Northern Light Region and author Doris Knutson.
Back in April of this year, Lake of the Woods County Investigator Joe Morisch, while using the county’s new side scan sonar equipment, discovered what looked like a submerged pickup just off the dock at Wheelers Point landing north of Baudette. Apparently, other anglers visiting Lake of the Woods also discovered the outline of the truck on their fish finders, and several reported their find to the sheriff’s office.
After local resident John Rioux posted a photo of the truck on Facebook on July 4th, speculation ran rampant as to just what kind of truck it was, how long it had been there and why it was there, at the bottom of the river. Rioux works as an Aquatic Invasive Species inspector, and just happened to be at Wheelers Point that day when an angler docked his boat there and excitedly told John of his find. John’s subsequent post on Facebook had folks wondering just how the truck got to the where it now sat, with some even positing that perhaps foul play had put the vehicle in the drink.
Last week, a dive team from Pennington County, made up of personnel from the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and the Thief River Falls Police Department, arrived to solve the mystery of just what was under the water. The dive team arrived at the landing just after 11:00 a.m. and the two divers were in the water by 11:30 or so. The location of the truck had been marked by buoys and it appeared to be about twenty feet or so just off the dock at the landing, resting under about 17 feet of water. After surfacing from the initial dive, one diver returned to the truck to search for a discernible license plate. When he next surfaced, it was what he quietly said to the officers in a boat nearby that sent officials at the scene into action. Sheriff Gary Fish instructed all bystanders, including the press, to vacate the area, leaving those present to speculate on the new development. When bystanders were allowed back on the scene, they were informed that the diver had initially thought there may be a body within the cab of the truck, but soon discovered he had been mistaken. Once that excitement was over, the business of retrieving the truck began in earnest. The dive team was not equipped to raise a full-sized truck from the water. That left officials with a couple options: leave the truck where it was, or call in an expert.
A call was made to Gary’s Auto out of Baudette, who brought his wrecker to the scene to remove the truck from the river. What followed was a couple harrowing hours, full of suspense, as the wrecker strained and groaned from the effort of moving the embedded truck from the lake floor. After inching the pickup several feet closer to shore, the chains fastened to the truck came off on two occasions, necessitating a dive to refasten them each time. Finally, the wrecker cable itself snapped altogether, ending Gary’s attempt to retrieve the vehicle. An observer to the rescue effort, Kathy Krantz, quickly put in a call to son Christian, who, along with his brother George, owns Olson Construction in Baudette. Christian was soon at the scene, hauling a large backhoe. Once again, divers hooked the chains onto the truck, which had now made its way onto the cement landing, but was still submerged in about ten feet of water.
In quick order, the pickup was pulled from the water, ending the suspense from what had now become quite a good-sized crowd of spectators watching from the banks of the Rainy River. The truck, a three-quarter ton Chevrolet estimated to be a 1977 model, was a bit worse for the wear after spending an undetermined amount of time on the bottom of the river. The hood and fender panels on the truck were missing and the windshield smashed in. The interior of the truck was full of mud, weeds and other slime and the truck was missing the front license plate. Unfortunately, the back license plate had been destroyed in the retrieval process, impeding identification of the owner. According to Lake of the Woods County Sheriff Gary Fish, the Jaws of Life will be used to remove the door of the pickup in order to determine the VIN number and possibly identify the owner of the vehicle.
Even with the discovery of the owner’s identity, the mystery of just how the pickup got in the water or how long it’s been there may never be solved. If the owner can be found, they can probably expect to receive a pretty hefty bill in the mail. Sheriff Fish said they will be responsible for the retrieval costs. While the dive team provided its services free of charge, the wrecker and backhoe costs could be considerable. As of press time, the VIN number had not yet been retrieved. The Northern Light Region will provide updates on the story as they develop.