Archive for September, 2011

My Luck

Posted: September 21, 2011 in Jeeping Adventures
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I think everybody has heard the saying, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all!”  I’m pretty sure this phrase was invented to describe my life, especially in regards to me and my Jeeps.  There seems to be some type of unnatural curse looming over my CJ, maybe I somehow got on the wrong side of a voodoo priestess and she placed a hex upon my poor Jeep, cursing her to never be drivable for more than one month at a time.  At least that is sure what it seems like!

Hydro assist ram attached to my Dana 60 front axle

Let me give you an example, a little over a month ago I competed in the Old School Rock Crawl; while there, except for my two obvious breakages, my Jeep ran and drove virtually flawlessly.  Since that time I have driven the Jeep a literal total of less than a few hundred yards, and yet I have had two separate issues arise causing my Jeep to be undrivable.  As I mentioned before, after the OSRC I needed a new transmission mount and to have my transmission pan resealed.  All of this was done and completed while my Jeep still sat on the trailer after the Rock Crawl.  When those repairs were finished we pulled my Jeep off the trailer, and low and behold it won’t steer, at least not at all like it should.

My CJ is equipped with hydro assist steering, which means I have a hydraulic actuated ram mounted to my front axle which makes turning my wheels much, much simpler.  Typically when a Jeep is in lo range four-wheel drive, with a locker in the front axle, it is almost impossible to turn the front tires.  But with a hydro assist, the added power of the ram makes turning virtually effortless: I can turn my 40″ tires with 5 psi in them, in 4-lo on asphalt, and I can turn my wheels from lock to lock with one finger!  Hydro assist is a lifesaver for anyone running big tires at low pressure with a front locker, and especially for someone like me with minimal arm strength.  Anyway, back to the point, my Jeep should turn smoothly and easily, but it wasn’t!  And yet my hydro boost brakes, which run on the same system, were working fine.  To diagnose the problem I had to have Steve Nantz, the owner of the Moab 4×4 Outpost, come over.  He determined that my power steering pump was going out, and what little pressure was left was being used by my brakes, so my steering was getting nothing.

So a $50 pump later, I should be good to go right?  No, remember this is my luck were talking about!  My friend who installed the pump took it for a quick test drive to make sure everything was working correctly, just around the corner from my house in some dirt hills.  The steering is working as it should, but as he accelerates up the first hill, the Jeep dies and will not restart.  They are forced to drag it home dead on the end of the tow strap.

Installng the fuel injection system on my CJ’s AMC 360, a few years ago

After determining that we are getting spark, we figured out that gas is getting to my fuel injection system, but it’s not spraying out my injectors: no fuel = a not running Jeep.  And now we get to very fun game of diagnosing which electrical system is not working (I HATE electrical problems!  I think in Hell, people are forced to try to diagnose electrical issues in vehicles all day long for eternity!  The very thought makes me shudder!).  It could be a fuse out, but my luck makes that simple fix unlikely.  It could also possibly be my electronic control unit (ECU), or even my throttle position sensor (TPS), or who knows what else, maybe a broken wire somewhere, or something came unplugged, or, or, or…!  Did I mention I hate electrical problems?

Now remember this has all happened with my Jeep sitting in my yard, not going anywhere, not doing anything, not even hardly running for more than a few minutes!  This is my life, this is my luck.  If anybody wants to trade, even for a day or two, please, please let me know, both my Jeep and I would be very appreciative!

Due to my general lack of funds, and therefore my inability to take my jeep to a professional, I have over the years become a mediocre garage mechanic.  I have never taken an auto repair class, or had any kind of official instruction; everything I’ve learned has been firsthand either by having a friend show me, or muddling through it on my own, figuring it out as I go.  I believe I have a fairly decent mechanical aptitude, and I can generally picture and understand how things go together and what makes them work, which has been a huge help as I often fuddled my way through repairs on my Jeep.

Snap ring pliers removing a snap ring from the end of an axle shaft

Over the years I have found that having the right tool for the job makes all the difference in the world.  It is very frustrating to have to “Jimmy rig” something when you know there is a specific tool that would make life so much easier, and help you complete the job with minimal frustration.  One such tool I purchased was a pair of snap-ring pliers.  For years I had tried using screwdrivers, pliers, picks, punches, and maybe a few choice words to remove snap rings; the first time I used the snap-ring pliers I couldn’t believe how easy the snap-ring came off!  It’s amazing how effective a tool can be when you use it for its designed purpose!

As difficult as it is to try to do a job when you don’t have the correct tool, it is infinitely more frustrating to have the right tool and not know where it is.  I’ve often been in the middle of the job with tools scattered throughout the garage, in and around the Jeep, and who knows where else, and all I need is a 9/16″ socket.  Can I find one?  Of course not, even though I know I have at least four of them!  And then I’m forced to spend the next maddening half an hour looking for that one elusive socket so I can continue working on my project which “should only take an hour.”  I think this may be the real cause of male baldness, men tearing out their hair trying to find where they put the tool they just had in their hand!

Replacing a broken axleshaft on my Dana 60 at the Old School Rock Crawl

As I get older, I’m finding an even more frustrating situation: when I have the correct tool, when I know where the tool is, and when I even know how to do the job, and yet because of my disability I physically can’t do it.  Either my deformed fingers are choosing not to cooperate, or my atrophied legs won’t allow me to stand for long enough, or I just don’t have enough strength and stamina to do the job.

My finances rarely allow me to take my Jeep to the shop and pay $100 an hour labor rate, so what does this leave me with.  In my life I’ve made some amazing friends, and some incredible jeeping buddies, the only problem is most of them don’t live in Moab.  The couple friends I do have in town who are usually willing and knowledgeable enough to help me, have lives, families, and other responsibilities demanding their time.  So my Jeep sits, and I brood, feeling sorry for myself and my inability to get the job done. Those are the times that I wonder why am I in this sport, and is it really worth it?

Invariably I figure something out, and I find myself back on the trail remembering why I do it.  I feel the wind on my face, the rumble of my engine, the feel of my tires bouncing over the rocks and it calms me, and reminds me that yes, all the frustration was worth it!

Sunset at the campground

The 2011 Labor Day Safari and Campout is now history, so it’s time to look back at our successes and failures for this year in order to try to improve upon next year’s event.  In terms of numbers, we had about 85 registered vehicles, between participants and officials.  With that number of paid participants, it should give us just enough money to make the event profitable.

In our second year with our new format, the event seemed to be as successful and enjoyable as last year.  I think people are really starting to enjoy the “Stay Together – Play Together” concept; with lots of people renewing friendships from last year, and many new friends being made this year.  We definitely had lots of families participating this year, and there seemed to be a strong interest in the more scenic “family friendly” trails.  I led

Lunch break spot on Fins & Things

Cliffhanger, rated a 7 and therefore the hardest trail of the weekend, and we only had three participants, whereas Gold Bar Rim, rated a 5, had 20 vehicles.  For the most part, the rigs seemed to be much more mild this year, with 33″ and 35″ tires being the normal.  I’m not sure what this pattern means for the future, but it was at least interesting to observe.

Our “Beat the Heat” trail of going up La Sal Pass and down Geyser Pass in the nearby mountains was a huge success, and everybody who participated in it seemed to greatly enjoy the day.  This was the first time this trail is been run during Labor Day, but definitely will be added to next year’s schedule.  Our campground and weekend’s headquarters, Gold Bar Campground, had mixed reviews.  It is undeniably beautiful and easily accommodated our

“Beat the Heat” trail heading up into the La Sal mountains

participants, but being almost 15 miles out of town it wasn’t exactly the most convenient for those people who decided to stay in town.  This is something we will have to address next year; what other options do we have that can hold a hundred plus people, but is close to town?

The scary moment for the weekend happened on my Hell’s Revenge trail on Sunday, with a Jeep rolling onto its side at the top of the Hell’s Gate obstacle.  A simple flop on your side on this obstacle can easily turn into a multiple roll scenario very quickly, luckily for us that

Scary roll at the top of Hell’s Gate

wasn’t the case and the driver and passenger were okay, and only minimal damage was done to the Jeep.  The effectiveness in recovering the Jeep, and cleaning up the mess was truly an inspiration to jeepers, and the brotherhood that exists among us.  Friends as well and strangers jumped in without hesitation to do what needed to be done and ensure the safety of everybody involved.

Pulling spark plugs, and checking fluids after the roll-over

On a personally frustrating note, my Jeep was unfortunately undrivable for the weekend.  She (My Jeep is definitely a girl!) had been sitting on the trailer since the Old-School Rock Crawl awaiting a new transmission mount and a re-sealing of my transmission pan.  This was all completed Friday afternoon, and when we pulled her off the trailer I had no power steering.  After doing everything in my power, and within my knowledge, I unfortunately gave up and was forced to lead my two trails from the passenger seat: and as much as I hate to admit it, this was not the first time doing so.  Later, I found my power steering pump had gone out, luckily a cheap and fairly easy fix.

All in all, I think the weekend was great and have heard nothing but positive feedback from everyone I’ve talked to.  If you participated, thank you for coming!  If not, well, there’s always next year.

Morning trail lineup

This weekend, as millions of Americans will celebrate a day off from the daily grind of work, the Red Rock 4-Wheelers are taking advantage of the last holiday weekend of the summer season and are once again hosting their annual Labor Day Campout and Safari.  In our 37th year, we are offering a much smaller and more intimate event than the large, sometimes overpowering, Easter Jeep Safari.

Starting last year, we changed the event significantly.  It went from basically a miniature Jeep Safari, to an entity entirely unique.  With the majority of the work coming from Curtis and Deb King, as well as my wife Misty and I, we have changed the face of the Labor Day Campout.  I think Misty nailed it when she described it as, “Stay Together – Play Together.”  Unlike before, the weekend is offered as a package deal where your $150 registration

Door prizes

fee includes: a campsite available from Friday through Monday, up to three registered trails, one dinner, one breakfast, and annual Labor Day dash plaque, as well as numerous other perks (like the door prize giveaway).

It’s probably no surprise that I am leading the two most difficult trails we are offering for the weekend, Cliffhanger and Hell’s Revenge.  These are two of my favorite trails, and I look forward to taking people on

Curtis at the grill

them.  Hell’s revenge especially is an amazing trail, as you can take almost bone stock jeeps, as well as heavily modified rigs, and both can have fun due to the large number of optional obstacles which can add severe difficulties to the trail.

With our new format, last year’s event was the first Labor Day Campout in many years to be profitable, and we hope to continue that this year.  By making the event a more family friendly, beginner oriented weekend, we hope to draw a new audience to Moab.  We have put a cap on our trail sizes at 25 vehicles, compared to Jeep Safari which can have over 50.  We also are focusing more on the easier trails, to try to solicit more introductory jeepers.  So far the combination seems to be working well, and hopefully it continues.