I recently purchased my very first jeep, a 2003 wrangler TJ Sahara, about three years ago. It was a stock automatic with 4.0 inline 6 cylinder motor, upgraded Dana 44 rear axle with limited slip and four wheel disc brakes. It’s my hypothesis that either the previous owner new a little something about jeeping or there was one heck of a sales person at the other end of this deal. None the less it is in my humble opinion a good little start for a dual purpose rig; that is off roader and daily driver. I’m not much of a mechanic however I figure if the army can teach a person with nonexistent mechanical ability to tear down and reassemble an array of assault weaponry and heavy machine guns in ninety seconds or less; yeah I got this. To say I was never much of a car or truck kid growing up would be a little bit of an understatement. Growing up vehicles in my family were seen as completely utilitarian. They were simply a mode of transport from one place to another: work, school, and hockey or baseball practice. There were no hobby cars, no dad’s midlife crisis mustang or corvette, or reliving the glory days of decades past with a deuce coupe or ford step side pickup or Bel Air. Heck my immediate uncles and first cousins all lived in different states throughout New England, just not mine. No chance in tagging along on junkyard or 4 wheeling trips there. However when I think back to the days of my childhood There was one instance when…; An Aunt and Uncle of mine happen to live in a decent sized colonial farm house, compliments of the exclusive junior prep school my uncle had just recently been named headmaster of. It was situated on I don’t know how many acres of beautiful small town Connecticut terra firma, surrounded by a large neatly groomed open field/front yard and the almost mandatory just right sized farm pond which lay behind the main house. It was textbook Salinger. Luckily everyone was pretty humble and down to earth so memories of thanksgiving past are always pleasant. Being the youngest of my family, separated from siblings and cousins by nearly 10 years of age, I spent a lot of time exploring the grounds and keeping myself entertained. I remember it had an old shed/garage with what I think was an old, broken down motor cycle or dirt bike of some sort, I never did get in to investigate, it was dark and there were spiders. That would be the closest I would ever come to a barn find.
Even when it came to our annual end of summer two week family “vacation” trip to our “work in progress” cabin in the rurals of New Hampshire, only accessible by a couple of miles of isolated dirt road. One would think this trip if any would require a jeep Wagoneer or old ford bronco or dear say extended cab four wheel drive pickup or vehicle some of similar nature to load up kids, clothes and family pet in Right? No such luck we made the nearly three hour trip in the luxury of our forest green Dodge Aspen station wagon, pets and all, not even snow tires with the extra tread; it was August. Our own personal monotone Queen Family Truckster you could say. So auto mechanics was never a high priority on my list of things to do today activities throughout my life. In fact it never even made the list. It’s not that I wasn’t into cool cars and trucks. I was weaned on television programming such as: The Dukes of Hazzard, Smokey and the Bandit, Magnum PI and Knight Rider, all of which featured very cool cars and very cool trucks on a weekly basis. I also sported a pretty robust collection of Matchbox cars! I’m sure there are a multitude of different ways and reasons for one to get into auto mechanics at an early age so I’m not going to waste anyone’s time pondering that particular set of how’s and why’s. Needless to say none of them landed on my front porch or in my garage for that matter.
I don’t think it was an accident I got into Off –Roading though or that in turn I was drawn to jeeps and the jeeping lifestyle in particular. Jeeps are sort of the holy grail of off roading vehicle. I’m guessing because of their beginning life as a rugged military vehicle. While in the Army in the early nineties I was stationed in you guessed it a small rural town in Lumpkin county Georgia, at a tiny post set down in the middle of the Chattahoochee National forest. Is anyone starting to notice a pattern here? This place was an outdoor lover’s paradise. With scenic mountain vistas, beautiful Lake Lanier, It boasted spectacular jade green rivers loaded with trout that conjured up thoughts of Papa Hemmingway himself, and yes more dirt roads which were now mostly comprised of red clay earth. It was on these backwoods roads I would get my first taste of actual off roading albeit a very small and infrequent taste; it was a taste none the less. Local logging trucks created large ruts in the wet clay roads making it sometimes difficult to negotiate especially in bad weather. Our two main vehicles were the M35 2 ½ ton truck or “deuce and a half” and the M1009 Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicle or “CUCV”, which was essentially a militarized K5 blazer. The deuce and a halves had I don’t know what for a drive train but sat on 2 ½ ton Rockwell axles and had an air compressor switch in the cab to engage the front wheels and driveshaft creating a six wheel drive truck. I only got to use it once getting myself out of some of those afore mentioned logging ruts. I have to say though it was pretty cool to hit the little metal toggle switch hear that quick whoosh of forced air and save the day. It also has given me the ability to say I have gotten out of the mud on a pair of Rockwells! The M1009 was powered by a 6.2 liter Detroit Diesel engine: sported a NP-208 transfer case, 10 bolt front and rear 3.08:1 gears with an Eaton automatic differential lock and an open front, all powered by a 24 volt electrical system. A lot of that still sounds like greek to me. Again these more than capable off road components were rarely used during my tenure in “the mountains.” That’s how we referred to our area of operation in the CNF. Never the less I have never forgotten about them and often smile when I see the occasional civilian driving a M1009-08,the latter being a pick-up version of the blazer, where I now live. To my surprise and delight they seem to be popular among the high school and college age drivers too. None of the automotive jargon you just heard was gleaned from memory it was all attained from steadfast research and by research I mean Google. I was going to go back and cut out all the techy stuff cause that’s really not me but I thought about it and I wouldn’t have half the understanding I do today if it wasn’t for a constant bombardment of technical terms from TV shows like Extreme 4x4and publications like JP Magazine and Peterson’s 4 Wheel and Off-Road, To name a few.
What follows will be an attempt to chronicle a better late than never story of immersion into jeep and Off-road culture. With a little less than gargantuan trepidation I’ll not be omitting any errors and failures along the way when it comes to my experiences. They I believe are just as much a part of the story as the successes. What I hope to accomplish with this blog is to illustrate that while it might be somewhat intimidating to some of us who aren’t automotive gurus it is possible to delve into the belly of the beast and come out not only unscathed but all the better for it. That which does not kill you will make you stronger. Enjoy and drive on!