PORT ANGELES — Residents stuck in their homes and drivers marooned in ditches following this week’s snowstorms are being rescued by an off-road vehicle club.
When Top Shelf Wheelers ORC is not fulfilling its adopted task of maintaining the Sadie Creek trails system, or simply having fun off-roading, its drivers pick up prescriptions, deliver propane, make grocery store runs and pull drivers out of ditches.
Organizers and club founders Steve Menkal, the club president, and his wife, Valerie, its secretary, were coordinating Top Shelf’s efforts Wednesday after Port Angeles awoke to 15- 20 inches of snow, said to be perhaps the largest single accumulation in more than two decades.
Valerie Menkal said by late Tuesday morning the club’s off-roaders, driving their trademark vehicles with large tires, high clearance and 4-by-4 traction, had picked up a prescription, driven a woman home from Port Angeles to east of the city, and winched a food-delivery truck out of a ditch.
“It was kind of neat, because he paid us with pancake mix, so we made pancakes for breakfast,” Menkal said.
“They were very good.”
The club has 15 members, five of whom were providing a lifeline to the stranded Wednesday.
Top Shelf Wheelers ORC, so named because “we’re the best of the best, I guess,” Menkal said, began about five years ago as a group of off-roaders who plied the state Department of Natural Resources’ 6-mile Sadie Creek 4X4 Trail west of Joyce.
Eighteen months ago they got serious, registering the club as a nonprofit.
“One day, we just decided we would make it official so we could adopt the Sadie Creek Trail system, and we had to be organized to do that, and also so we could do other fundraising events and stuff we wanted to be doing,” Menkal said.
About six months later, in early February, Port Angeles’ last major snowstorm hit the area, dumping 6-8 inches in Port Angeles and 2-3 feet in higher elevations.
During the storm, a friend who messaged her for help getting unstuck from the snow was so appreciative she thanked her on the club’s Facebook page, Top Shelf Four Wheelers ORC.
That spread the word, resulting in more help sought and received.
A Feb. 13 posting: “Thank you so much for helping our daughter. We were feeling helpless not being able to get to her.”
A Feb. 14, 2019 posting: “My daughter lives off the grid and was running out of propane, these guys came through almost 3 feet of snow to get her to town for propane and then pulled her truck out to where she might be able to get out when things start to thaw. really appreciate you guys!!!”
March 5, 2019: “I am blown away by how eager these folks are to help people and how masterful they are in their skill set.
“My rig was stuck in approximately a foot of snow which seemed difficult to combat. Nope, you’re wrong winter.
“Top Shelf Wheelers said not today and yanked me right out.”
Valerie Menkal, 39, is a supervisor at United Parcel Service.
She’s the only female among Tom Shelf’s drivers, piloting a modified 1987 Jeep Wrangler with a 5.3-liter Chevy LS engine.
“The hubby has a ‘78 Jeep CJ7 that’s getting less and less Jeep,” she quipped.
“His is way cooler than mine, but they’re both pretty nice.”
They’ve made help from Top Shelf Wheelers ORC available to Olympic Medical Center, fire departments and search-and-rescue crews.
Steve Menkal, 35, is an electrician at Port Angeles Hardwood and a 2003 Port Angeles High School graduate.
They help out during times of need because others can’t, like emergency crews that need assistance.
The couple are matter-of-fact about themselves going out in conditions that could prove dangerous even for someone driving a souped up four-wheel-drive vehicle.
“We like helping people,” Steve Menkal said.
By mid-afternoon, the club had received at least a dozen calls for help, Menkal’s wife said.
“My husband is out on a call now,” she said.
“It’s stacking up to be a busy day.”
One included a man on portable oxygen who needs a ride today. It’s been scheduled.
“He was wondering if someone could get him down to Walmart so he cold get some groceries and his medications,” she said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].