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Easter Jeep Fiasco

By Chaz Lamar

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Easter Jeep FiascoBefore the Safari

My EJS story begins a couple of months before the actual event. Around the December/January timeframe, I decided that it would be therapy for the poor turns my life had taken if I were to go to Moab. My Jeep was not what I considered "Moab ready," so I started looking on the boards for used lifts. As luck would have it, I found a nice lift on the boards for a very fair price. It took the better part of a week to install it, due to running around getting parts. The result was very nice, but the 33" tires were stressing out my 4cylinder engine with stock gears. I found some 4.88's and a Lock-Right for the rear axle and purchased the same for the front.

In early February, I ran into a friend of mine who had recently become a mechanic. He agreed to help me install the gears. Towards the beginning of March, however, I was still unable to hook up with my mechanic friend for the ring & pinion installs and instead found a fellow student with the experience and willingness to help me out. We installed the rear gears and lockers two weeks before the Safari with plans to install the front the following week. When he told me that weekend that he would be too busy to help me with the front, I became rather frantic.

I was able to find a transmission shop that would do the front install (most places around here will not touch front axles) as well as put in my remaining extended brake lines. Two of the brake lines were too rusted for me to remove. The shop told me that with their schedule they would need the Jeep for all of Wednesday, with a possibility that it would take part of Thursday, but that was unlikely.

Friday afternoon rolled around and they were just finishing up with my Jeep. Luckily, I went out a little early to pick the Jeep up. They had finished the gears and the front brake line, but didn't put in the rear. To address the oversight, they hurriedly pulled the Jeep in to work on the rear. It didn't look good. The soft line was rusted to the hard lines and so they all had to be replaced. After a short wait for the parts store to deliver new lines, I paid my bill and was off. To break in the gears, I drove the Jeep to school in four wheel drive and enjoyed the quirks of automatic lockers at highway speeds. (Editor's note- driving in 4wd on the street is generally not a very good idea!)

Safari Bound…almost
Saturday 03/23/2002
The following day, I had to go to school, as well as make a couple runs to the house I was selling, to move more stuff. Needless to say, my plans to leave for Moab by 7:00 PM were toast.

Early Start
Sunday 03/24/2002
I had a small trailer packed with gear behind the Jeep and was on the road by 1:00 AM Sunday morning. I arrived at my first stop by 3:00 AM. My sister lives in Manhattan, Kansas with the best brother-in-law a guy could ask for, Scott. Our plan was to go to the Tuttle Creek ORV Area on Sunday to try out the new modifications, fix any little things, pack up, and prepare to hit the road to make the fourteen-hour trip to Moab on Monday morning. Scott and I took off around 9:00 AM.

Everything was wonderful until we hit the first real obstacle - a medium limestone stair step. The front tires went up with no problem and then we stopped as we had before all the modifications. This time the problem was different. Instead of spinning a front and rear tire, both rear tires were spinning and the fronts were immobile. I have a stock NP231 transfer case, it was not possible to be in 2WD low.

Very alarmed, I backed off of the obstacle and hurried to a flat spot to perform the very scientific clutch-drop test. A drop in 4 Low showed only the rears spinning and a drop in 4 High showed four wheels spinning. Strange. A shift back into 4 Low and it was like I was in neutral. Definitely NOT GOOD.

Plan A: driving the Jeep to Moab on Monday was out of the question. Time to figure out a Plan B. Prior experience told me that there was no way I was going to find a junkyard that had my 3 requirements:  1) being open on Sunday   2) having a 4cylinder NP231 in stock   3) having the NP231 at a price I was willing to pay for a transfer case I didn't like.

Easter Jeep FiascoOn to Plan C: rent a truck and a trailer to pull the Jeep to Moab where we will find an Atlas II transfer case and a new rear drive shaft.

After a few quick calls we found a U-Haul that had an available one-way rental. We drove Scott's 4 Runner to Topeka (an hour in the wrong direction), picked up the 14 foot box truck and auto transport trailer and took both back to Manhattan. We unloaded my small transport trailer and put it in the back of the U-Haul. Then we put the Jeep on the auto transport trailer and loaded our gear into the Jeep. A quick stop for food and to update the family on our trip plans and we were on the road.

We stopped for gas just outside of Hayes, Kansas, where a trucker in the truck stop asked us which direction we were headed. Rather unsettled at this stranger's interest in our travel plans, we told him that we were headed west. He informed us that it would be in our best interest to stop in Russell, the next town of any size, to find a place to stay because the highway was closed at Hayes. Unable or unwilling to believe this terrible news we headed for Hayes to find out for ourselves.

Much to our dismay, the information was correct and we were forced to stop. We got a room in a hotel and then went to a gas station to try and get some playing cards. It was only 9:30 PM. The station didn't have any cards, but the attendant told us that the roads were supposed to be reopened at 2:00 AM. In the grand scheme of things, this was good news...if it was true. On a wish and a prayer, we requested a 2:00 AM wakeup call. Armed with our road information phone number, we attempted to sleep.

Forward Progress
Monday 03/25/2002
At 2:00 AM the recording on the road information number still listed the roads as closed. Ever optimistic, we set the alarm for 3:00 AM. Checking the road information number at 3:00 AM, we happily learned that the roads had, indeed, been opened. We packed up and took off. The roads were a little snowy and the wind kept snow in the air, so our highway speed dropped from the pre-stop 70 mph to 40 mph. It didn't matter. We were moving and our destination was Moab. The weather cleared at about the Colorado border and we were able to increase to the posted 75 mph.

We blazed through Denver and keep following I-70 to Utah. The rest of the trip was uneventful, if you don't count the gas scare. There is a portion of I-70 where there are no services for 56 miles. We were not quite ready to make a fuel stop when we saw the sign and unable to stop in time to make the exit. It was close, but we made it to the filling station on the other side. There was 5 gallons of gas easily accessible in the Jeep, so at most, it would have been an inconvenience.

We pulled into Moab at 3:00 PM and found a place to camp. We then headed for Moab Off Road to purchase an Atlas or find out where the vendors were to get one there. Moab Off Road informed us that an Atlas II transfer cases are special-ordered, built specifically for each application and the usual delivery time was 4 to 8 weeks. I was crushed. The only other option was to find a used 231. As luck would have it, Moab Off Road had a used 231 in their shop. As luck would also have it, it was for a 6 cylinder. (Editor's Note: The 4 and 6 cylinder 231 cases have different input spline counts, so the 6 cylinder 231 will not readily bolt up to a 4 cylinder's transmission).

I was going to go elsewhere to find the proper transfer case when I remembered thatI was a thousand miles from home on a vacation that required the use of my Jeep for full enjoyment, I knew very little of this town, and the chances of my finding another transfer case were very, very slim. I bought the 6 cylinder transfer case and took it back to the campsite where we planned on changing the input shafts. We set up camp and got to work on the Jeep. We pulled the broken case with very few complications. Using the U-Haul's Mom's Attic (space over the cab) as a work bench, we proceeded to crack the case. We were able to remove all the bolts except one, a reverse Torx that I didn't have a tool for. Exhausted and defeated, we threw everything in the truck and went to sleep.

Easter Jeep Fiasco1 missed trail + 2 transfer cases + 9.5 hours of waiting = 1 running Jeep
Tuesday 03/26/2002
We took our time getting ready in the morning because we didn't figure that Moab Off Road would open before 9:00 AM. We were at their door at 8:55 AM, and learned they had opened at 8:00 AM. The guys at Moab Off Road said that they would be able to have the input shafts swapped and the undamaged case installed by noon. We were shocked. We headed for town to kill a couple hours. Some souvenir shopping behind us, we got back to Moab Off Road shortly after 12:00 PM, and were very disappointed to see that the Jeep had not moved since the morning. A quick stop inside confirmed that they had not been able to begin yet, but we were next in line. We were told to check back at 3:00 PM.

Some time killing exercises and lunch brought us to 3:00 PM and the Jeep had still not moved. This time we were told to return at 5:00 PM. At 5:00 PM the Jeep was still where we had left it, but the transfer case was being worked on. Instead of leaving, we wasted time by playing frisbee in the parking lot and watching all the fun vehicles as they passed on the highway and pulled through the lot.

At 6:30 the Jeep was finished, I paid my bill, and we took off in the Jeep. Moab Off Road's earlier diagnosis had been correct. The fluid had drained out of the transfer case through the poor rear seal, the planetary gears overheated and subsequently failed. We filled both vehicles up with gas, cleaned the road salt and slime off the Jeep and the oil off the trailer and out of the rear of the truck.

By then, it was time for the good stuff. We parked the U-Haul and put the top and doors in the back of it, bundled up and went for a spin around town. Finally, we were cruising around Moab, Utah in our topless Jeep!

12 hours on the trail…rolls of fun
Wednesday 03/27/2002
Easter Jeep FiascoThe next morning was an early one. We met with the Rockcrawler.com group at the City Market at 6:00 AM. After introductions, we aired down and headed for the Golden Spike trail. The trail was everything we expected and more. The only thing detracting from the morning was the persistent smell of burning automatic transmission fluid as my newly rebuilt transfer case gleefully spewed it on my exhaust. The scenery was beautiful, the obstacles ranged from super easy to hard. All of my modifications were working great. I laughed every time I took a rather tight corner because my tires were chirping. Ah, lockers! Scott thought I was a goof for that. Later, I let him drive and he was doing the same thing, of course.

All of the obstacles were great. We'd wait for a while then we'd get to roll up. That's really all it took, with decent clearance, sticky tires, and dual lockers, my little Jeep rolled up everything. The morning was almost through when we came to an off-camber rock ledge. Everyone popped right up it, including the Liberty in our group. It had done this all day, making the rest of us look really silly with our lifts, lockers and big tires.

Scott got out of the Jeep to take pictures because he thought there could be some good articulation shots. I got a little excited and gave it a little too much gas and over I went! A 3/4 roll on my first big trail ride. Driver's side, top and passenger's side. I was having too much fun to be upset. I knew what I did wrong and was just amazed about all the stuff I'd read about happening to me.

When I started over. I knew it was going to be a roll and I knew what I had done to cause it. I was worried about all my stuff in the back. Luckily, I always have my Jerry can and toolbox tied down. I didn't have any way to tie down the rest of my stuff and I didn't want it to fall out and hurt anyone, but was too late to do anything about it at this point. I remember thinking, "wow, fuel injected engines really do run upside down!" Then I reached forward and shut the engine off while I was rubber side up.

As the last quarter roll completed I heard TXJEEPER shout , "good job of staying inside, man!" Everyone was asking me if I was okay. Aside from being shaken, there was nothing wrong. I was surprised to see a head pop up to my right. Cole had slithered under the Jeep after determining that it was stable. He informed me that he was going to help me out of my seat belt and if I fell on his head that he would be none to happy with me. That's the edited version.

Easter Jeep FiascoOnce I was safely out of the Jeep, there was nothing for me to do. The amazing group of people that I was riding with had already collected all my stuff and everyone was working to right my Jeep. It was a very professional operation. After making sure that my Jeep was in gear and had the parking brake on, one Jeep winched from uphill and the other from down. Initially, the downhill Jeep did most of the work, pulling my Jeep upright. Once there was tension on the uphill Jeep's cable, he slowly lowered my wheels to the ground.

Tony (YJLopes) and Cole quickly cleared the oil from the upper part of my engine and got the Jeep started. Then Cole helped me get my sound bar somewhat back together with the help of a BFH. Everyone was laughing that I had to have my stereo fixed before we could get rolling again, but it is the rear mounting point for my very heavy CB Rack. I didn't want that flopping around. All the damage from the rollover was cosmetic and I was able to drive away very easily. The rest of the group had eaten lunch while Cole and I worked on my sound bar (he sat on my CB Rack while he was working on it...just to let you know how stout the thing is). Scott & I ate a quick bite and the group hit the trail again.

I drove for a while to get the heebie jeebies out of my system and then let Scott take over. When we came up on the Golden Crack I took over and traversed it with very little problem. It was great! I let Scott drive again after that and the trail was very uneventful (that's not to say boring) for quite a while.

As the sun began to set we pulled up on an obstacle and Cole told us to go left. Scott went slightly left and kept on, but Cole continued to point us to the left. We weren't getting far enough left. Frustrated, Scott put the Jeep in reverse and pulled a very tight u-turn. We were awarded with a nice sound, somewhere between a snap and a pop. I thought it was the Lock Right. However, while attempting to traverse the small gulley Cole had been pointing us to, we discovered that the front passenger side u-joint and axle shaft had broken. We backed out of the gulley and Cole winched us up the bypass that we had been heading for earlier. We were missing the proper socket so the spare axle was stuffed with a shop rag and taped closed. I drove out of the Golden Spike in 3-wheel drive. I was constantly amazed at what that little Jeep was capable of.

Easter Jeep FiascoDetermined not to cause any more problems I followed Cole closely for the remainder of the trail, except I took the easier lines where he tried to find the hardest. We were compression braking down the trail in the dark when we were separated from the rest of the group due to a slight stuck, TXJEEPER's broken tire bead and poor CB communications.

Cole and I were averaging about 1.3 mph per his GPS, just waiting for the rest of the group to catch up. Most of the time we could see their headlights behind us but we never heard them on the radio. After a while, the trail flattened out and became a silty twisty road. Cole went Baja and I couldn't keep up. Part of it was probably due to the two additional cylinders his Jeep has that mine doesn't, but most of it has to be do to the fact that he's a performance driving coach and I'm an ex-bus driver. I wasn't too worried at first because I could just follow his cloud of dust (his lights were long gone). Then I started seeing branching trails and the trail started climbing. I thought I was at the end of the trail and almost went General Lee off a cliff, which was the end of my trying to catch up with Cole.

I turned around and got Scott on the CB. He was calling for the Rockcrawler.com group and I was busting my tail back the direction we came. We finally met up with the group and were able to drive out at a saner pace. We met up with Cole at the end of the trail. After a little chatting about the problems we had just experienced we went to dinner in town.

But it doesn't end there! No, not at all! Read On!