A long time ago, my father showed me how he tied a "Dutchman," a specialized knot used by truckers in the 1940s and '50s to tie a load onto a truck. But he never really taught it to me, so I didn't really learn it. More recently, I decided that I ought to document that knot. I have seen many "trucker's knots," and most of them are pretty bad.
I looked in Clifford Ashley's big book1, but Ashley died shortly after his book was published in 1944, so it's not up to date. Even though it's a wonderful collection of thousands of knots, it fails to include many modern and useful knots, such as the Prusik.2
Several people pointed out that a good knot isn't just the strongest or most secure knot, but quite often, a knot that can be tied quickly and untied easily. My slip-half-hitch system that I showed in "Knots Part II" (Dec. 3, 2001, p. 88) is a good example of that, and I still say that the square knot with a couple of half-hitches meets the requirements of a good knot ("Knots Part I," March 5, 2001, p. 142). Plus, it's easy to see if you have tied it right—another important feature!
For example, one guy recommended the Double Fisherman's knot (#1415) as very strong and trustworthy. Yet when I went to the Web site, http://info.utas.edu.au/docs/climbing_club/TUCC/knots/fish.html, it looked quite confusing. The text there cautions that it's very easy to tie one the wrong way. That's not a good knot choice to ask a Boy Scout to tie! I'll risk my neck on a proven knot, where it's easy to see if it's tied right.
The "Dutchman." Okay, what's it good for? It's a good way to use a long rope to lash down a bulky or heavy load, like onto a truck bed. I asked my Uncle Roger, who was a truck driver in that era, as my father is no longer around. Roger sent me some examples and explanations.
How do you tie it? First, the end of the rope is anchored to a hook at the front corner of a truck's bed, using a bowline or similar type of knot. Then, after a loop of the rope is thrown over the top of the load, you walk around the truck and put in a couple of loops (A and B) and a half-hitch as shown in the figure. Add some twists to loop B. Next, make loop C in the running line and pull it down through loop B. You hook loop C around the hook or cleat at the side of the truck bed.
After you dress up the knot and take up the slack, you pull down to tighten the load down. By pulling down with a lot of your weight on various parts of the loop and the running rope, and taking up the slack, and taking proper mechanical advantage, you can get hundreds of pounds of down-force from the rope down onto the load. Then, you take the running rope and loop it around the next hook on the truck bed, employing a couple of half-hitches. The rope is already returned over the load. Walk back around the truck, and keep going back and forth.
Roger admits that this may not seem to be the most secure knot, but it has been proven secure enough. It's fast to tie and quick and easy to untie, even if the rope is cold or frozen. Most other "trucker's hitches" don't untie nearly so well. I used to like the single Butterfly knot (Ashley's #331) to form loop B. But when it gets tight, it's not easy to untie. If I loop its bight through the hole two or three times, instead of just once, it's much easier to untie. Would I use that instead of the Dutchman? Maybe, if it weren't snowing. If it were snowing, I might tie a modified Dutchman with two half-hitches around loop B.
Which of these knots can I tie in the dark? Which can I tie with one hand? Behind my back? Some, but not all! There are no easy answers!
Back in the '50s, I was paid for tying one knot around the stem of a tobacco plant, and another knot around an overhead wire. Piecework. Did I tie a million knots? No, barely half of that. I'm sure some of you can beat me.
All for now. / Comments invited!
RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer
Mail Stop D2597A
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090
1. The Ashley Book of Knots, Ashley, Clifford W., 1944, Doubleday. About $63.
2. There are dozens of comprehensive Web pages on knots, like www.realknots.com, which points to many other pages. Some are entirely too big to manage! Some are cute, and some are very clear, while others are confusing!