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7/23 11:40 AM Mountain time, Helena Montana
I don't even know where to begin. Since last time (Eric takes a deep breath), we managed to nurse the Dog down here from Great Falls. We hooked up with John Bushnell, a local CJ-7 owner and possibly the most energetic and enthusiastic person that I've ever met. We then went to meet John's friends, Stan Cronin and Clay Burkett. Stan owns Cronin Automotive and Clay is another local Jeeper/mechanic. Between them and John, they diagnosed our problem as a leaky exhaust manifold gasket (shows what I know). We went to Stan's incredible shop at his place just outside of town (see pics, and that's only half of it). Once there, we changed the transmission fluid/gasket/filter, removed the intake/exhaust manifolds, heli-coiled a stripped-out thread in the block, installed new intake and exhaust gaskets, installed new intake and exhaust gaskets, installed a new exhaust manifold, reinstalled the intake manifold/carburetor, and finally set the timing (whew).

Eric and the Postal CJ-8
The ride to Helena, MT
And now - the details. The drive to Helena was incredible and we had plenty of time to enjoy it - driving as slow as we were. You can see from the pictures that there was some incredible mountains and valleys and we spent a while driving alongside the Missouri river, which was amazing. The Dog made it okay and we got in touch with John just before lunch.

John met us in his nice '86 CJ-7 and we talked for a minute then went to find Stan and Clay. They were nice enough to take a break from working on a Toyota pickup to check out our problem. Stan, the master mechanic (really - I saw the certificate) had it nailed in about 30 seconds and proved that I don't know didly about diagnosing engines. It was coming (mainly) from the front exhaust port and the bolt there looked a little sketchy. Luckily, someone had the forethought to grab John's old intake and exhaust manifolds (he's got a Chevy V-8 in his ride now) which Clay still had, in case mine turned out warped if we had to go so far as to take them off.

From there, John, Jason and I went out back to Stan's incredible garage at his place "in the valley" to work on the Dog. On Stan's recommendation, Jason and I dropped the transmission pan and changed the fluid and filter which went much smoother that it would have in Jason's driveway with the use of Stan's air jack, jack stands and bottle jack to support the tranny. Stan showed up a little later as we were getting ready to start the exhaust leak and we discovered that the front lower manifold bolt on cylinder #1 wasn't even finger tight. What turned out to be the real problem was a broken bolt in the hole, leaving only a couple threads for the bolt that someone tried to jam in there. In an attempt to try to fix the problem without taking off the manifolds, we tried drilling the bolt and backing it out, but no dice.

At some point in all this mess up to now, another local, Doug Herold (a Bronco driver, but we quickly forgot about that) showed up after seeing on the net that we were in town. He turned out to be another vital pair of hands and another mechanically knowledgeable head, especially on the carb/intake side of things.

When that didn't work, we moved up to the heli-coil kit, which required removing the manifolds to get room enough to work. What we noticed upon removing the manifolds was that someone JB Welded a bolt in there and that's what was broken off. We drilled out the hole and decided to try to put the heli-coil insert in with some of our own JB Weld to hold it because the coil only had a few threads in the back of the hole that were actually grabbing. That went smoothly and we moved on to the gaskets. At this point, we hadn't entirely removed the manifolds, we just got them off and out of the way. When we went to reinstall, we found out that the exhaust manifold was badly warped and we couldn't even come close to getting a couple of the manifold bolts back in.

Eric and the Postal CJ-8
Jason, John and Doug hard at work on the Dog.
Off came the manifolds and after unhooking a few hundred vacuum hoses (seemed that way anyhow) and shoving some wiring harnesses around we got them out. I measured mine versus John's old one to discover mine was indeed warped by close to 1/4"! We swapped in the "new" manifold and reinstallation was a relative snap. It was an interesting time trying to reconnect everything that was removed to get the manifolds out and there's a nice picture of all of us (I should be there too, but someone had to sneak the picture) trying to follow Chilton's vacuum diagram.

Everything did go back in and with the exception of one misplaced vacuum line on the carb, it all worked great! No more exhaust leak (although we weren't able to get the full torque on the heli-coil, but very close) and the engine starts and idles much better than before. We got the timing set and everything was finished.

At this point, it was around 1:30 AM and even though John had to make it to work in the morning, he was kind enough to show us an AMAZING place to camp at a state park right near his house. The Jeep made its first real off-road trip to get up to the site! It was just a dirt road with slight ruts from rain, but it was definitely off-road and we're no longer off-road virgins! There's a nice picture of our little campsite. Not a bad view! This morning, we met Stan, John and Clay for lunch on us where we found out that John actually ran out of gas on the drive home from the campsite and had to hoof it to the service station!

We couldn't have asked for anything else of these guys and we can't thank them enough for what they did to help us out. All of them are the nicest people you want to meet and if there's more like them in Montana, I think I'm ready to move. Throughout the day (we were at it for 13 hours), Jason, Doug and I took breaks to sit, have a drink and rest, but John just kept at it all day. I know he had three young boys at home and I don't think it's right that he is able to have that kind of energy, but I thank God he did!

Update: we've been on the road now for a couple of hours and we're on I-90 heading to Billings. The Jeep's running better than ever, the gas mileage seems to be back up and we're cruising along well at 65mph. The scenery's still incredible. I didn't know central Montana was so hilly. We'll see where we make it tonight. We're hoping for the Mt. Rushmore/Devil's Tower/Badlands area. Assuming things stay good mechanically, we will have a little time to play with here before we need to make it to the Jeep Jamboree at 4WD Hardware in Ohio.


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