Wow, what a crazy fall…

We left off talking about our upcoming fall wheeling trip to Clayton, Oklahoma with some of the Rubicon Owner’s Forum guys and then we were headed west to St George, Utah for, you guessed it, more rock-crawling with the Family Motor Coach Association 4-Wheelers.

We only managed to run the trails in Clayton for half of one day (three days were planned)

I broke the front left axle u-joint at Clayton, OK

I broke the front left axle u-joint at Clayton, OK Here’s the work party.

– while making a small turn around a boulder the left front tire got a little bound up and for the first time ever on our Jeep, I heard the unmistakeable BANG that I’ve heard so many times in the past on other vehicles.  That particular BANG noise is almost always an axle and sure enough, it was our front left axle, in particular the u-joint which exploded.  Thank goodness the axle shaft itself didn’t snap as it can be very difficult to extricate the inner part out of the axle tube.  Spencer and Phillip were great and jumped immediately in to help (actually all I got to do was to drag out my tools) to pull the broken axle from the tube and insert the replacement.  Yes, we had a replacement available!  So after only 30-45 minutes, the Jeep was back on the trail but by then it was lunch time so we made the short drive back to the coach.

At that point I decided it was not a good idea to continue running our Jeep since the

Spencer's running the trail behind me.  Nicely set up Jeep on 42" tires.

Spencer’s running the trail behind me that first morning. Nicely set up Jeep on 42″ tires.

replacement axle was only original equipment and not high-strength so I was a passenger for the next 2.5 days.  That was an interesting experience and I can now appreciate what Jane has to endure being in the right seat most of the time; my neck was so sore after we were done here it took me several days to recover.  As the driver, I get to hold onto the steering wheel and our driver’s seat has a high backrest with a neck pillow for good support – wow did I miss my seat.  In the meantime Jane was quite content to stay on the coach and do whatever that she wanted to do without me in her hair.

And for another first, I experienced my first flop (rolling over on your side) – since I was a passenger I was a spectator for this interesting event.  Chris, the driver, started to climb this obstacle that required careful tire placement but he got a little off-line and we started to lean a little to the left, then a little more, and then a little more.  Now I’ve done this many, many times (get off-camber) and have a seat-of-the-pants feel for about how much to push the center of gravity envelope and there was that moment when I told myself “here’s where gravity takes control” and sure enough we flopped almost completely horizontal on the left side.

It was a bit strange being held firmly by the seat belt and shoulder belt while at about an 80° angle but I quickly adjusted to the new sensation.  Then the event moved on to the

I'm a passenger when the driver flopped on the left side.  Great fun!

I’m a passenger when the driver flopped on the left side. Great fun!

recovery phase which required Chris’s winch and that’s when Chris discovered his usually handy winch controller was behind his seat and that he couldn’t reach it, nobody from the outside could reach in since there was a mass of rock blocking that door and initially I couldn’t reach it.  There was no way I was going to try to unbuckle my seat belt since I would have fallen on Chris so I made a few more attempts to stretch out and finally I managed to get a finger and then another finger on the controller line and pull it out from its cave.  After that, recovery went quickly with an experienced crew on the outside setting up the winch line to an appropriate anchor point and Chris quickly pulled us upright with the winch (he can operate the winch from the driver’s position with the winch controller) and he drove out.  That was a way fun experience.

The weather forecast for the day we left Clayton for St George, Utah was rain which usually isn’t a big deal but a complicating factor was that we were set up on grass at the off-road park and were in a low area so we made plans to get out of that place as soon as possible in the morning.  We got up early and had the coach ready to move to a paved area in the nearby town at 7am where we parked and had a quick breakfast.  It rained almost all of that day which made for more careful than usual driving (which gets very tiring.)

After a two day detour at Williams, Arizona to rest up and eat a meal out we continued on to the SW corner of Utah where we arrived at Temple View RV Resort in St George.  For orientation, St George is about 110 miles north of Las Vegas.  We quickly discovered that St George was a very neat, clean and very tidy town probably due in no small part to the overwhelming Mormon presence there – they seem to have a very strong work ethic and hold many of the same values as we do.

We had an interesting time running the trails in the St George area – for the first time we

Little Sahara aka Sand Mountain OHV area

Little Sahara aka Sand Mountain OHV area – these dunes are very large!

had to drive on very large sand dunes (Sand Mountain Off Highway Vehicle area) and there was for sure a learning curve.  Some of the dunes were very steep with sharp break-overs which required a lot of speed to climb but if you go too fast, you could launch yourself right over the dune top and go flying for 20 feet or more.  Think of a large ocean wave – sort of like a “comma” turned on end with a shallow angle on the approach side of the “wave” and a steep drop-off on the backside of the wave.  If you don’t go fast enough, you don’t make it to the top of the dune, if you go too fast, things get way too exciting on the other side.

I volunteered to lead a hard trail and then like an idiot volunteered to lead one more hard trail, it didn’t take long to realize the folly of this.  After going on one pre-run (we run trails the week before the event starts) on a hard trail I realized these trail are really difficult and that first trail was obstacle after obstacle with no let-up.  It was intense wheeling and made more so because almost nobody had any experience with the trails in the area since this

Not a good position - Mike is on a bad line!

Not a good position to be in – Mike is on a bad line!

was the very first FMCA 4-Wheeler event here.  After we returned to camp I dis-volunteered (un-volunteered?) to lead that second trail. The next day we ran an easier trail which took the stress level down a few notches and then the following day we did a pre-run of the trail we were going to lead the following week.  That trail was on the list to be run on two different days so the trail leader for the second running was with us for the pre-run.

Even though we had a GPS track of the trail, it wasn’t precise enough to exactly figure out where the trail went in several areas so the girls walked ahead of us guys to scout out the

I'm trail leader on this trail later in the week and had to make this climb!

I’m trail leader on this trail later in the week and had to make this climb!

trail.  This trail (called Plan B for some reason – maybe Plan A didn’t work out) was difficult in places and very technical (requiring an outside spotter and exact tire placement.)  When we led the trail with the group (I limited the trail to 10 vehicles) it was overall a good day, nobody got into trouble but there was one mandatory hard obstacle where most of the group had to be winched over.  As trail leader, I go first and fortunately I got up and over without too much trouble.

Here’s another picture of us doing an optional obstacle on a trail called Milt’s Mile Extended (it was too short for an all-day trail) – this trail was a bunch of fun and we’ll look forward to running it again if we manage to get back to St George.

Me climbing an optional obstacle - this one was fun

Me climbing an optional obstacle – this one was fun

Here’s a video of that same obstacle:

Here’s another video of a steep optional climb – this one was fun:

So we had a lot of fun and got to know more of the FMCA 4-Wheelers folks, since this was only our third rally we are still learning faces and names.  Oh, we did have a little Jeep trouble while in St George.  We were lined up to run a trail and I noticed some coolant fluid on the ground under the engine.  After a little more investigation I decided this was a very bad coolant leak and it appeared to be coming from the vicinity of the water pump (which was the only part of the cooling system not replaced), so we pulled out of the line and drove the mile or so the the local 4×4 shop and dropped it off.  Sure enough the problem was the water pump.  Sigh.

After an event like this, it’s always sort of sad to see the party break up – there were probably 80 or 90 RVs at Temple View RV Resort which took up a majority of one section, then there were very few.  We left a couple of days later and headed to Phoenix to have some routine maintenance done on the coach at the Freightliner dealer and there was an oil leak around the coach engine oil pan that I wanted them to look at also.  We just finished breakfast when the service manager called me with some really bad news – the oil leak was caused by blow-by (excessive crankcase pressure) which could be caused by worn cylinder walls, cracked piston ring(s), or something wrong in the head like worn valve guides.  Then more bad news – we had to leave the coach there and repairs were going to take 3-4 weeks and repairs could cost $25,000 if they had to tear the engine completely down.


We were a bit stunned to say the least, the engine (Cummins ISL – 8.9 L) only has 89,000 miles on it and we were expecting 250k miles without any kind of significant engine issue.  After we recovered from that initial shock of the situation our energy was directed towards the logistics of getting us, the dog and cat and some essential stuff home to Texas to wait out the repairs.  Since there was no way we were going to drive our special purpose rock-crawler Jeep a thousand miles each way, we looked into renting a car for a one-way.  After calling a couple of rental outfits the price was a big put-off – they wanted $400-700 for a one way rental and the drop-off city was not going to be convenient.  So, we started thinking about the crazy idea of buying a car to drive home.

Actually we were planning on replacing the Jeep Liberty in the next 12-18 months so the idea wasn’t quite as crazy as you might think.  We already had a target vehicle in mind – a VW Jetta Sportwagen diesel.  Since we do so much driving, the Jetta’s outstanding fuel economy (45+ mpg) was a major attractor.  And wouldn’t you know it, there was a VW dealer about a mile away from the Freightliner dealer so we checked out Jettas and while we were there, drove the larger and somewhat more expensive diesel Passat.  After the test drives and thinking the idea over, we decided to see if we couldn’t make a good deal on a new or low mileage Passat.  The larger size of the Passat was a primary factor in choosing that model.

Always hating dealing with car dealers, this buying experience was no different – these guys are sharks and are always looking at how to shake you down for a few more bucks.  After enduring the ridiculous back and forth among us, the salesman, sales manager, and the general manager, we had a deal or so I thought, they tried to slip a $449 “Document Fee” past us.  “But everybody pays this.” Sorry bub – I’m not everybody, I did manage to cut that back by $200. Then the financial closer guy wanted to sell us an extended warranty.  Nope.  Not a chance – I had to cut him off from his canned speech.  So Jane had a new car and we had our own vehicle to drive home.  Hope I don’t have to go through that crap again for several more years.

Jane's new Passat TDI SEL

Jane’s new Passat TDI SEL(diesel)

We were home maybe two weeks when I called the Freightliner service manager and got a bit of good news, they pulled the head from the engine and the cylinder walls look good (not a broken piston ring) so the problem is in the head somewhere – probably the valve guides are worn (or possibly a bad valve).  They sent the head out for an overhaul and it was supposed to be delivered yesterday.  So hopefully the repairs will be nowhere near the $25k mark.

As a final note, we have had some very cold weather here in the Texas Hill Country – we

Our five seconds of fame - we have a picture on TV of our freezing rain

Our five seconds of fame – we have a picture on TV of our freezing rain.  This is the weather guy using a visual aid

have been below freezing for several days and have had freezing rain, ice pellets and a few snow flurries this morning.  As I type this, the sun has shown itself for the first time in six days.  I took a picture of some frozen rain and emailed it to a local TV station in San Antonio we watch a lot and to our complete surprise, the picture was shown on the five o’clock news three or four days ago.  We’re famous for about five seconds!

To all of our dear readers, have a blessed Thanksgiving!  We all have much to be thankful for and please always think of others:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in… Matthew 25:35

Summer update #2 (of 2), ranch stuff

Summer must be over because football has started – yea! (Go Texas Longhorns, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, and Miami Dolphins!)

John and Sassy in the San Juan mountains

John and Sassy in the San Juan mountains

We last left off with us in Montrose, Colorado at our favorite campground (Centennial RV Park) and as usual, had a great time with our friends in the Western Slope 4-Wheelers club running around the San Juan mountains at 10-13,000 feet of elevation.  This year we didn’t spend quite as much time there as usual (about five weeks) because we had some other activities planned – we

Sassy at 12,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains

Sassy at 12,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains

The Columbine - state flower of Colorado

The Columbine – state flower of Colorado

were going to dry camp (no water/electric/sewer) in Leadville, Colorado at the All-for-Fun off-road event for a week (first time with the 290 watts of solar power I installed last summer and a residential-type of fridge), then we went to Chama, New Mexico to ride the Cumbres & Toltec steam train (we still like the Durango and Silverton train better), and then back home. The reason for coming home so early was due to our dear old friends

Just parked in Leadville, Colorado for the All-4-Fun off-road event.

Just parked in Leadville, Colorado for the All-4-Fun off-road event.

Alpine flowers

Alpine flowers

(Les & Karen) inviting us to spend a week with them on the beach at their time share in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Remember earlier in the year when the house air conditioner needed to be replaced?  Continuing on in that same vein the washer/dryer combo unit in the coach decided to stop drying so Jane basically was left with a washing machine.  Not a huge deal because almost all campgrounds have a few washers and dryers available, but the Splendide needed to be repaired ($$.)

Then a couple of days before we arrived home, the GE Advantium microwave/convection oven decided to not work ($$$$.)  This was a big deal since Jane had some frozen meals that really needed an oven to properly cook and all we had working was a cooktop.  The washing machine and Advantium oven are eight years old and their failing while a disappointment is not totally unexpected (can’t believe we’ve been running around North America for eight years!)

The Splendide problem was the main circuit board ($325 + shipping) and the Advantium problem was not determined and whatever the cause was, most likely was not worth repairing (an eight year-old appliance that’s been bouncing on the road for 87,000 miles.)  So.. hello new Advantium (sigh, $1,000.)  The new Advantium was installed by John and helpers a couple of hours ago.

Jumping around a little bit with the narrative, we had a great time in Cocoa Beach with our buds but we forgot what 100% humidity feels like.  Wow – it’s like having a hot and damp towel wrapped around your entire body when you aren’t in air conditioning.  After fun and frivolity (and several way fun cocktail hours and dinners out) we pointed ourselves to Ft Myers to visit with some other very dear friends (going back to the 1980s), Bob and Judy.  Bob had heart bypass surgery a few months ago (with a complication) but he is doing well – it was great to see them again.  Then we headed to Naples to visit with our physician nephew Erik and his physician wife Karen and their three small boys; they are escapees from NY state and we are delighted to see them relocated south.  They are doing great and loving their new location.

Our new rhea birds

Our new rhea birds

Ranch stuff – the Rhea birds were delivered a couple of weeks ago and they are settled in and doing very well.  We discovered that the birds leave a rather large pile of green poop which our newly bathed Sassy the corgi discovered and rolled around in a few days ago.  Sassy is just like a two year old human baby – turn your back on them for ten seconds and look-out, chances are she’s doing something against house rules.  So Sassy was quite the smelly mess with a bit of her covered in green poop –  we gave her another bath on the deck.  Never a dull moment.

Today  our trapper delivered a nice 13″ long horned blackbuck antelope to be the new

Our new breeder blackbuck antelope

Our new breeder blackbuck antelope

breeder male.  We wanted genetic diversity to improve the health and bloodline of the herd so this was a huge moment for us.  We haven’t seen the herd in a few hours but we’re hoping the new big man on campus (BMOC) will settle nicely into his new role as patriarch of our herd of 25 or so does and spike bucks.

While driving the Jeep Rubicon around Colorado on the highways this summer, we decided that something had to happen as far as more power.  The Rubicon sometimes can just barely make the speed limit with the engine screaming along at 4,000+ RPMs – it’s frustrating for us as well as the poor folks following behind us.  The solution was more power was needed – this could either be:


The supercharger is almost installed 🙂











a complete engine/drivetrain change out for a V-8 Hemi (mega bucks) or getting more power out of the current engine (mini-bucks relatively speaking.)  So, after doing some research and talking to owners of supercharged Jeeps similar to ours, we decided to supercharge the Jeep’s straight-six engine.

Like always, John did all of the work and the results are spectacular – the wheel horse power went from about 100 to 211 HP. Wow.  Here’s some videos of the unboxing of the supercharger kit, a dynamometer run before and after supercharging and a road test.

Next on the agenda is to head to Clayton, OK mid-October  for a wheeling event and then on to St. George, UT for – wait for it – more off-roading 🙂

What? It’s 2013 already?

Let’s see, where were we at last update…  It was fall and we participated in the Black Hills Jeep Jamboree.   Then elections happened and 51% of the voters decided we needed four more years of Barry & his buddies.  (Lord, please deliver from these feckless idiots in Washington.)

Since we’re (okay, John is) turning into off-road fanatics, it just seemed right to participate in the Family Motor Coach Assn (FMCA) 4-Wheeler’s

Trail repair - I tied a shock up and out of the way

At the Golden Vally FMCA 4-wheeler rally, I pulled out the left-rear shock from its mount

Thanksgiving event in Golden Vally, Arizona (near Kingman).  We joined the club several months previously but our schedules didn’t mesh until this event.  So we made another trip out West (we love the open spaces) and had to stop by Las Cruces, New Mexico to see our dear friends, the Topleys and John made his usual shopping foray at Harbor Freight tools.

We had a great time as usual in Las Cruces and then headed to the NW corner of Arizona

iPad taking video of a Jeep

We thought this was a very cool picture that Jane captured at the FMCA 4-Wheeler’s Thanksgiving rally

and had a great time with all of the old 4-wheel codgers like us <grin>, the rally and trails were very well organized, managed and we had a great time.  I was impressed at how much planning effort went into this production, this is what happens when you have a bunch of talented people with a lot of spare time on their hands 🙂

Since we pulled the left-rear shock absorber from its upper mount at this event, it was time to completely redo the rear axle shock mounting system and make certain that couldn’t happen again.  Since John

Rolled Jeep

A rolled Jeep at the FMCA 4-Wheelers 2012 Thanksgiving rally @ Golden Vally, AZ.  Everybody was okay

does 99% of the work on the Rubicon, it was necessary to buy a plasma torch to cut off the old parts.  Darn, another tool taking up space 😉  This work was quite involved since John fabricated new shock mounting brackets to be welded on the axle and relocated the upper coil spring mounting perch (via a kit.)

Then winter happened.

Fortunately it was a mild winter and all of our blackbuck antelope babies survived (four or five of them), we did have some animals netted and sold last fall but the herd is still at about 23 or so animals, plenty for our acreage.

Rock crawling buggy on 54" tires

Spotted at the Chili Challenge – a buggy on 54″ tires lined up for one of the extreme trails. What an amazing rig

Then we did two more Jeep events, the Chili Challenge (Las Cruces, NM) and the Texas Spur Jeep Jamboree for the third year in a row.

On a more domestic note, our house AC/heat pump decided to croak – it was diagnosed as a bad compressor.  A bum compressor isn’t necessary a hugely expensive repair ($1,000 which is a lot if you don’t have the money!) but the government has complicated things significantly with the elimination of first R-12 Freon, and then R-22 Freon which is what all household AC units used until two or three years ago.

The refrigerant now is the “earth friendly” (right) R-410a for home units.  The dirty little environmental secret that you won’t hear discussed is the fact that R-410a is not as efficient as R-22 and has to operate at far higher pressures (like twice as much) as good old R-22 and “however, it has a high global warming potential (1725 times the effect of carbon dioxide), similar to that of R-22.”  So, we’re using more energy to produce as many BTUs of cooling or heat but we’re saving the ozone while producing just much carbon dioxide.  Huh?  Time to send the environmental wackos and junk ‘scientists’ to a place where everything is.. Happy.  Yes, Happy Land where we’re saving everything from .. everything.   Ah, that feels so good..

Okay, done with that rant.

Back to the AC problem.  After a lot of discussion with our AC guy, we decided it was more

Rusty & leaking AC evaporator

Rusty & leaking AC evaporator (in the air handler)

practical to replace the entire system with a high SEER unit – this meant a totally new outside unit and a completely new inside unit (the air handler and evaporator.)  It was an expensive operation and it took three guys about 9 hours to make the change but we now have an “earth friendly” AC system (I’m so overwhelmed.)

The new AC system is working great (as we expected) so the new system should last many, many years (finger’s crossed.)

John got interested in Amateur Radio (WB5THT is his call sign) again after being inactive for many years so he’s back on the air.  Since everything was in the “I’m not going to work” mode, his old radios that were stored away for many years didn’t work of course, so new radios were ordered and he’s back on the air in the digital modes (like Teletype) and has communicated all over the world with a simple antenna, radio and PC.

As this update is penned (with a keyboard <grin>) we are in Balmorhea, TX at a cheapo campground with overflowing sewer hookups – never a dull moment when you’re on the road.  There aren’t a lot of choices out here unfortunately.

Thank you dear reader for following along with us as we travel, ranch, do stuff to and with the Jeep, and spend money 😉  As always, may God Bless.  -Jane and John-