Archive for the ‘Jeep’ Category

The Getaway Jeep Gets a Body

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

While some other things in life have conspired to make progress on the Getaway Jeep slow down to a crawl – the progress that has been made has been pretty significant. I’ve essentially been working on two different fronts – the undercarriage and mechanical as well as the body work towards the ends of finally joining the two.

I wanted to get as much done as possible on the chassis while I could work on it from above. That meant rebuilding the rear drum brakes with all new hardware, installing the driveshafts, and getting a preliminary setup on the angles of the axles. At least that was the plan.

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If you recognise that part – you’ll know that if I were simply installing a driveshaft that I’m doing it wrong. Well it turns out that when I was replacing the u-joints in my rear driveshaft, my makeshift press slipped and did so right at the wrong time that momentum took it’s course. When I looked at the results, my driveshaft was damaged, the metal that holds one of the c-clips in place was crushed and I chose not to risk letting the rest of the c-clip ring do the job. So I grabbed the spare driveshaft that I had from building one truck out of two – only to find out that shaft was a different length and not compatible. My next decision was to replace the stock shaft with a new one or to make an upgrade that I was planning to do a few years down the road – a slip yoke eliminator kit (SYE) and beefier double cardan driveshaft. The upgrade allows for greater differences in the relative height of my engine and transmission from the driven axle which can be used for larger lifts or for tucking the drivetrain higher for more ground clearance. The problem is that the two pieces of equipment to make this possible don’t come cheap and that’s why I had set them aside as a future upgrade. But now with a broken driveshaft, the cost of a replacement driveshaft is almost as high as both pieces of upgraded hardware.

Still, I didn’t want to invest that money just yet and so went looking for anyone in the local community that might have a used driveshaft laying around, or I thought there was a slim chance that someone might be selling both the upgraded driveshaft and SYE for a good price. As it turns out, there weren’t any stock driveshafts, but a guy offered me the upgraded shaft and a complete transfer case with the SYE already installed in it for a great price, the only catch being that it was built for a YJ, not my TJ model, so he told me it would fit except that I’d have to change the output yoke for the front driveshaft from the one he had to the one I already had for my TJ, but since the transfer cases themselves didn’t change in that time that would be a minor change. So I get it all home and test fit it in place and boy was he wrong. The driveshaft was significantly too long to fit. So since I would be installing a body lift and already had a motor mount lift in place, I tried raising the transmission an equal amount, keeping the engine and transmission in the same place now relative to the body, but effectively raising it an inch relative to the axle. Still no joy. So I tried raising the transmission two inches to give even more space knowing that this might have pushed my shifter into the radio when all was said and done. But it didn’t matter because it still didn’t fit.

Now if you look at the total cost of the upgraded driveshaft and the SYE kit, the driveshaft is 2/3 of that cost. Luckily for me at this point, I had paid less for the used parts than the driveshaft alone was worth new, and the driveshaft clearly wasn’t very old. And also luckily for me, SYE kit’s actually come in two different lengths – a short, and a super short. So I ordered up a super short SYE kit new and got to installing it. Now with a working driveline with all the bells and whistles, the only upgrade I’d have for later would be a ‘tummy tuck’ – raising the transmission from the stock position hanging below the frame to a higher point, in extreme cases right inside the frame rails for maximum protection and ground clearance. Little did I know that TMR Customs just down the road from me was busy putting together a brand new website just as I was puzzling through all these issues. Why does that matter? Well in the process of converting the stock Jeep into a short bed pickup, I’d planned to cut two support braces out the stock roll cage. To keep things safe, I had intended to install TMR’s ‘trail cage’ kit, a heavily built upgrade to the stock cage to give better protection to the passengers by building a forward portion to the cage that was missing from the factory and was far superior to the stock braces I was going to cut out. Not that I intended to push this truck to the extreme limits where a complete roll cage was needed to handle rolling the truck out on the trail, but that level of extra safety more than compensated for the parts I was cutting out of the stock safety system for on the highway and allowed my top modifications to go easily. It was one of the pieces I intended to use right from day one and had no reasonable replacement for, I just hadn’t purchased it yet as it was one of the most expensive single pieces I was adding to the truck and I was trying to spread the costs out a little.

Well along with the new website’s launch, TMR was offering some big discounts at the time on most of their selection, including my roll cage plans. So big a discount in fact, that the savings covered the cost of their transmission mount kit which was sort of a little christmas present to be able to do my tummy tuck work right away without any real added expense. That also meant that I was removing the big, stock transmission mount/skid plate. That skid plate causes all kinds of hassles when working on the truck that I’ve now eliminated as well as making routine maintenance much easier, and best of all it also eliminated the problem my father had last winter with his TJ in snow and slush off the road catching inside the skid and freezing his four wheel drive shifter in place. And just like that, the chassis was ready to receive a body again.

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In the mean time I had been working on getting the body tub ready in the good weather as it still sat outside, the garage not being big enough for both parts of the truck. The tub off the chassis I was rebuilding had been in an accident and was unusable. That’s where the second truck came into use as it had a perfectly good tub on it. Or at least, what had been a perfectly good tub. As you can see from the photos above of the reinforcement rail on the tub that mounts to the frame, sitting for another two years while the project was launched didn’t help the tub any. It was still mostly good, but these two support rails were write offs. They are available aftermarket, but seemed to me pretty ridiculously priced for what was essentially just two pieces of pressed tin, no thicker than standard body metal. The front’s of these torque boxes as they’re called is quite intricate, but the rear section of them is simply a channel with indentations where the body mounts sit.

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Then one day it occurred to me – the indents were essentially irrelevant. They made mass assembly easier by letting the body index onto the chassis, but since I was only building one truck, a few extra minutes in mating the chassis and body was irrelevant to me. So I removed them and just replace the rear of the torque boxes with heavy duty channel I had bent to shape for me at a machine shop, and cut the still good forward torque boxes off the otherwise destroyed tub and welded them to my good tub.

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I cut away the existing torque boxes and made some minor repairs to the tub floor where needed by cutting away the bad metal and forming new material in it’s place from flat sheet. Then I fabricated the body mounts to fit inside the torque boxes and welded those onto the tub.

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It was more work, but instead of simply welding a nut to the inside of the torque boxes, I decided to give myself some margin for error by letting the nut float in the channel on a large piece of plate which itself was held from drifting too far out of position by some simple tin captures. This gave me an inch of free play for the nut to move inside the channel, but still left a large plate to take the torque when tightening down the tub.

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With that done, I put down a coat of POR 15 to seal the underside of the tub and turned it up right side up again.

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While the tub was easily moved around on a utility trailer, I strapped it down flat and went to see a friend – and professional welder – to mock in an improved roll cage. With this in place I could finally start to see the shape my new truck would take with a pickup inspired cab roof.

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I enlisted some help and finally set the tub on the chassis. A relatively minor step that looks like real progress and certainly got me excited to getting this truck running under it’s own power again.

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It’s from here that I started into what was the most intense modification to the truck – the one step thus far that sealed it into going the direction I had planned as a short bed pickup and permanently ruled out ever installing a rear seat again – installing the new back wall of the shorter cab. I was able to cut the cab corners out of yet another (third) Jeep that was destined for the scrap yard. This left me with the clean, round edges to mount a top to just like the back of a factory Jeep. My plan is to modify a factory soft top by essentially cutting the rear seat section out of the top and sewing it back together again. I’ll do a little better than that to minimize seams and potential leaks, but that’s conceptually the plan. I’ve also used my metal break to bend up a tail gate from scratch to fit into this new cab wall that is not shown here. It will be removable to give me more space to cleanly transport things such as a few 2×4’s or pipe in the otherwise short 32″ bed.

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The trickiest part of this plan was mating the rounded edge into the otherwise straight belt rail in a way that would end up clean and functional, but still look good and allow proper water drainage for any puddles that form on the new bed hard tonneau cover. Missing in this photo is the new metal to fill in the blank behind the new, green cab wall and the cut original side wall. This metal seals up the original belt line to the rear, squares off the cargo box from the rear, and seals the hole between a straight wall and the rounded cab wall, letting water drain out over the side of the body through the split in the belt rail.

I had been dreading this stage in the build because it was critical to realizing my final vision – but I wasn’t really sure how to pull it off. Cutting up the cab corners to fit around the wheel wells and to mate up with the stock belt rail gave me a pretty good idea how it would come together without irreversibly cutting into my good tub. From there, I made two measurement at the front and rear cuts in the belt rail and otherwise just free handed my cuts with the cut off wheel in the grinder. With a little bit of massaging in the final body job I’m certain it will come out pretty clean though.

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Finally I seam sealed my newly sized cab and laid down a coat of bed liner on the floor and back walls. I opted not to bed line the front wall of the tub to make things easier fitting everything to the firewall. I wanted to get the dash and pedals in place to start getting the Jeep back into running shape before fitting the front fenders and finishing the last of the body work.

For the first time since starting to rip apart the crashed Jeep in late October of last year, it feels like the end is drawing near and I’ll finally be able to drive my creation out of the driveway, but surprisingly a name hasn’t fallen on the Getaway Jeep yet. Maybe as the body starts taking it’s new shape it will come to me.

2016 Adventures Review

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

Getting back to the end of the year again I thought it was time to look back at some of the adventures and share some of my favourite images. It’s become a tradition after 2014 and 2015

Chippewa Falls

Chippewa Falls is just barely off Highway 17 and happens to be the mid-point of the Trans-Canada highway. A little bit of exploration and a little climb over the rocks gets you this view of the small section of the falls.

Magpie Falls

Known for it’s waterfalls, I finally made my way up to Wawa this summer and of course got some photos having a boxing match with the goose. When you tire of that though, a long, dusty road through a field will take you seemingly nowhere until you drop into the canyon where Magpie Falls sits. The size of the falls is impressive and there’s a great viewing platform – but if you’re adventurous you can find a better view.

Wawa Falls

Meanwhile, just outside of the town of Wawa sits Wawa falls. These falls were only a few feet from the road, but from the top were somewhat boring, but after clambering down off the road and along the side of the falls they look much better from the bottom.

Black Beaver Falls

After exploring Wawa, the next day was a train journey into the Agawa Canyon where Black Beaver Falls sits. Water flow was abnormally low this year, so the falls were a little less impressive than normal, in fact Bridal Veil Falls on the other side of the river was almost non-existent. Maybe another time I’ll take the hike in to get a better look.

Agawa Canyon

Luckily there are other attractions in the Agawa Canyon, although I paid for this one. The train only gave us 75 minutes in the park before going back to Sault Ste. Marie and should you miss it the only way home is a sixteen mile hike out to the highway where you can hopefully hitch a ride. There are two primary attractions, each claiming to need 45 minutes walk to view. I managed to get in both – looking at the waterfalls first, then sprinting up 250 vertical feet to get to this lookout and back before the train left without me.

Aubrey Falls

Out in the middle of nowhere lies Aubrey Falls. The area was quite popular amongst the group of seven and the local tourism board had posted a number of painting reproductions next to their inspiration. Taking a look at these falls and the river they sit on I’ve never wanted more to pack up some camping and art gear and wander aimlessly up river for a few weeks.

Aubrey Falls Trees

On the way back to the Jeep from Aubrey Falls I was struck by this scene and how amazing these trees looked – I had to stop for a photo to remember them by.

Tractor at Sunrise

In September I made a trip up North and happened to run across this old tractor sitting in the field at sunrise. I’ve never spent much time on the farm, but I’ve always been fascinated by the hard work that built this country and love seeing the old equipment, particularly when it’s still in running shape or put to regular use.

New Post Falls

I’d been to New Post Falls before this, but this was the first time that there was a safety net to make finding the top of the falls possible. These falls are massive and the ground here was actually vibrating with the waters rush over the edge and the mist was so heavy that your clothes were soaked through in seconds.

Northern Lights

Oddly enough, in all my years of photography I’ve only once taken photos of the night sky and that was to capture a lunar eclipse. The night that I tried it I just happened to capture both a shooting star and the northern lights all in one go. Sometimes you just get lucky like that.

Bear Run

I had some time in Pennsylvania this year and got to explore this set of dozens of tiny little falls on Bear Run leading it’s way down to…

Fallingwater

Fallingwater. Ever since I learned about the house I’ve wanted to go and take in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater for myself and it’s every bit as impressive as it seems in books – assuming you’re a little bit of an architecture nerd like me. Of course, anytime you have a place as heavily photographed as this it’s hard to find a unique view of it, so if you think you’ve seen this before, that’s why.

The Getaway Jeep Stands Once More

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

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With the rear end of the getaway Jeep complete, it was finally time to take a look at the front. The first step was to clean up the rust, put down a coat of Por15 to seal up the frame from future issues, and install a motor mount lift. This moves the engine up an inch higher than stock giving me a little more ground clearance to the oil pan and re-aligning the fan with the radiator. More importantly to me though it changes the angle of the transfer case output and the rear driveshaft geometry, hopefully warding off drivetrain vibrations that sometimes come with a lifted Jeep. I’m hoping that with a mild 2-1/2″ lift and this tweak I’ll be fine and at least for now avoid the additional expense of a slip yoke eliminator and carden joint drive shaft.

If you’ve been following the build, you already know that I had some serious issues with the steering gear box mount, but there were some other hang ups along the way as well. During the tear down I noticed one of the front axle shafts was nearly seized solid. I already had plans to replace all the u-joints anyways, but this sealed the deal, doubly so when I pulled what was left of the old bearing out.

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Of course though, even this relatively simple job had to fight me. With several weeks of back order waiting on the u-joints, I thought I had it made when they finally arrived. That was until I went to install them and one of the axle shaft joints only came with three of the required four c-clips. I made some calls to the local truck and auto shops to no avail – the only suggestion I received was to order another unit and wait on that all over again. Impatient, I bought a no-name u-joint thinking that I could just use the clips in the quality unit that I had ordered, only to find that the no-name joint used ever so slightly different specs – the c-clip was 0.7mm smaller and would not fit. Finally I tried placing a call to Dana Spicer – the manufacturer – who were so sorry for the mix-up that they couriered a replacement over night from Tennessee. But just to get in a final dig, Fedex managed to screw up the final delivery and instead of arriving at my door I had a two hour drive to pick up the final part – a part with a value of a whopping eleven cents!

With the axle shafts ready to go, I finally turned to re-assembling everything on the front end. I used the same basic method to install the front axle as I did the rear – centring the axle on the bump stops, aligning it to point straight with the frame, setting up the bump stop height against the shock travel, and then re-checking the first two adjustments. That’s when things went sideways though. Every time I cycled the axle through it’s travel it seemed to move forward, as though the control arms had grown and the bump stops where now out of alignment. It didn’t make any logical sense since nothing had changed. So I installed the track bar to keep the axle in more precise alignment, only to find that the mounting bracket on the frame side now hit the differential cover, scraping a layer of fresh paint off it in the process. Thankfully the bracket was heavily over-engineered and even after removing some material from it to create the clearance I needed I’m still certain the cast factory part it’s mounted to will fail first. With all that sorted, the springs were installed as well as the axle shafts, wheel bearings and brakes. For now the original brakes are remaining in place as those are parts that are prone to rapid deterioration and I can’t be certain yet the chassis won’t be sitting some time while the body is prepped, but those parts will all be evaluated and replaced as needed before the Jeep gets saftied for the road.

Now it was on to the steering bits. After having witnessed first hand the effects of a bad case of ‘death wobble‘ – an issue with various causes almost all revolving around loose steering parts – I had decided to replace every last joint and tie rod end with top of the line, brand new pieces. I even decided to replace the tie rod itself even though there shouldn’t be anything wrong with the old one being simply a threaded tube and having no bends – it was the fact that I could get a brand new tie rod for only $35 and save breaking the rust loose on the old one that sold me. As it turned out, that was a bit of a mistake. I got the tie rod through Crown Automotive – usually known for making good quality replacement parts for Jeeps of all ages long after Jeep themselves have discontinued the part. Unfortunately for me, for some reason or another the tie rod ends wouldn’t thread in to the new tie rod. They smoothly turned in about an inch then seized solid. Knowing that they couldn’t possibly be cross threaded after going in that far so smoothly I grabbed a wrench and forced the issue a couple more turns then removed the parts – sure enough it was eating the threads on the new tie rod end. I salvaged the original tie rod from the scrap pile, cleaned it up and sure enough the ends threaded in beautifully smooth without any issue at all. Turns out my shiny new tie rod had been threaded wrong from the factory. So let this be a warning to future builders – don’t trust the Crown TJ tie rod. Luckily my old one was still good and I only damaged about one and a half threads on the very end of one tie rod end so the parts are still more than strong enough, but so much for my completely shiny and new steering bits plan.

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Using some information I found online as well as a tip about using lengths of metal stock in place of tire for more accurate measurements, I did a basic alignment right in the garage before mounting tires. Some people online believe that this is just as accurate as a commercial alignment on a Jeep since the very nature of the truck is simple with few adjustments available. Either way I plan to have a commercial alignment done before the truck hits the road as having installed adjustable control arms in place of the factory units does give me control over the caster angle which can be measure more accurately with the commercial equipment. But it will be interesting to see how close this simple driveway alignment came to the real thing. If it’s within reason I know one more job that I won’t be paying someone else to do again. However on future attempts I’ll actually remember to bring better clamps instead of leaving them at home and I’ll use heavier metal arms as these ones required a little care to ensure they weren’t bending.

With that done, it was finally time to mount the front tires, take the truck down off the jackstands, and for the first time since starting this project ten months ago, the Jeep was finally standing on it’s own tires again. It seemed only right to push it out into the driveway and give it a bath, knocking months of accumulated rust and dirt off it.

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There are still a few more things to do, like run the fuel and brake lines, change the transmission and motor oils, bolt up the fuel tank and do some final setup on the steering assembly – but other wise this chassis is ready for a body to be mounted to it. I feel like this crazy project is finally reached a stage where it seems achievable.

In the mean time, in it’s continued search for a name, I’ve taken to calling it ‘Project Wanderlust’ since every moment turning wrenches brings dreams of the remote places this rig will be taking me soon enough. We’ll see if the name sticks or not, but either way, one day this truck will be rolling it’s way up the Dempster Highway soon to connect right through to the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk.

Getaway Jeep Gets A New Sense of Direction

Monday, June 27th, 2016

So a slightly smaller post this time – even though a couple other things have been happening on the Jeep front I wanted to focused just on one problem because it seems it’s a unique one in the TJ world. When I pulled off my steering box I found this:

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The steering box had nearly ripped itself right off the frame. Some online reading makes it seem that this is a fairly common issue on CJ’s and YJ’s with oversize rubber and replacement steering box mounts and reinforcements are available right off the shelf – but for TJ’s there’s nothing. Is it a non-issue or am I just ahead of the curve? Of course some east coast salt in the mix doesn’t help things, but either way there’s now a real dilemma – what to do? First step was to hit things with a wire brush to see the extent of the damage. At that point it was obvious there was no fixing or patching the existing. I figured there might not be a solution off the shelf, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t create one myself. I took some measurements then cut the existing mount off the frame. It was pretty obvious at that point I was going in the right direction.

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For one of the highest stress points on the frame, there isn’t much metal left there. What’s surprising is that this frame had recently been certified as safe in this condition. So I cracked out some of my recently dormant engineering background and designed the new mount. I had a friend with a high end machine shop who agreed to prototype out a new mount. The biggest dilemma to building the new mount was finding the solid bolt mounts with just the right inner diameter. They have to be open enough to let the bolt slide freely but tight fitting enough not to introduce play. Rather than try to find pipe with a 12.15mm inner diameter, we were able to just weld in solid rod then machine it to the exact inner diameter. That’s the only part stopping the backyard mechanic from taking this project on I think. If one were really dedicated through they might be able to salvage the material out of the factory mount. With that issue solved, the rest of the mount was designed with over-building in mind. I spec’ed 3/16″ sheet throughout but it was actually built with 1/4″. We probably should have then recessed the bolt faces slightly, but I can tell you that the factory bolts are long enough to take up the excess – but you do have to compensate for the extra plate thickness in the length of the pipes supporting the bolt as their inside edge sets the steering box the right distance from the frame. So if you add a 1/16″ to the plate size, also add 1/16″ to the length of those pipes from the outer mount face. I also made a point to leave the lower corner open to drain mud and water.

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With the mount built – it was time to weld it in place. You’ll notice in the photos that there’s also some smaller plates welded to the frame – those are patches to reinforce the tear and the removed rust. With the new steering box mount now welded in place I think this is probably the strongest part of the frame.

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And just like that the frame is ready to go again – the steering box mount fits perfectly and I just need to trim off the lower corner so it doesn’t catch rocks. If you’re having a similar problem – download the steering box mount plans and build you’re own, or contact me to arrange to have one built.

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Biff’s Georgian Bay Road Trip

Saturday, June 18th, 2016

A friend of mine was recently looking for a good local road trip, but there was a lot to share so I thought I’d put it here so it can be tracked down, but also in case anyone else is looking. So Sheryl, here you go:

For the sake of convenience, I’ve started and ended the trip in Barrie and structured it as a pretty basic loop of highways and a series of side trips off the main route so you can customise as you see fit, or easily reverse the route. The basics are as follows:

  • From Barrie, head West on Bayfield Street which becomes Highway 26
  • Keep an eye open for a hard turn to the right in Stayner, and a series of twists and turns in both Collingwood and Owen Sound – they’re all marked but watch for the signs to keep on Highway 26 through these towns.
  • Highway 26 ends in Owen Sound. After the highway takes you around a left turn, look for a right onto Highway 6 or 10th Street – it’s two blocks away and the next set of street lights. Should be pretty obvious but keep an eye open here too.
  • Follow Highway 6 out of town and follow it North towards Wiarton.
  • Take the Chi-Cheemaun ferry from Tobermory to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island – call ahead and book your reservation, it can be tough to get the sailing you want in summer and weekends
  • Keep North on Highway 6 until the end and turn right onto Highway 17 towards Sudbury
  • In Sudbury, turn right again to go south on Highway 69, which will become the 400 and take you right back in to Barrie

So now that you have the basics, here’s some of the things to check out along the way:

Historic Fort Willow

If you want to take in a little history, make a side trip to Fort Willow. You’ll see the fort walls along with what’s left of the old foundations of the store houses and other buildings along with some interpretive plaques giving you the history. To get there, look for a left onto County Road 43 (Snow Valley Road), follow it through a jog to the right then left, and straight through onto Portage Trail where 43 ends. Fort Willow has a small parking lot on your right just past a sharp 90 turn to the left where the road changes names to Grenfel Road. To return to the main route, go back the way you came, but turn left at the four way intersection onto George Johnston Road – that will take you back to Highway 26 where a left will get you back on track.

Wasaga Beach

Wasaga shouldn’t need any introduction, but if you care to pay a visit along the way it’s only a short jaunt to the East at the first roundabout on Highway 26 (Mosley Street)

Collingwood Arboretum

If you’re looking to get out of the car for a few minutes, Collingwood has a beautiful arboretum with paved and natural trails throughout the park. If you’re looking for a long walk (or trying to avoid one) look for the main trail right near the entrance – it’s an abandoned rail line that to the East will take you back to Stayner or to the West over 30km to Meaford. To get to the arboretum, turn right onto Cedar Street (at McDonald’s) and there’s a large parking lot a block back.

Craigleith Heritage Depot

You’ll pass mere meters from the Craighleith Museum in the old rail station. Inside is also a tourism information booth, though I’ve never been in, there are some great gardens and plaques explaining the history of the station.

Thornbury Fish Ladder

Yes, fish ladder. Early in it’s history Thornbury built a dam and mill on the Beaver River which has been rebuilt over the years – but the Beaver River is also a significant spawning grounds for salmon so more recently they’ve built the fish ladder. Essentially a series of small dams and pools letting the fish jump up from pool to pool until they reach the level of the river upstream. Park behind the town hall on Mill Street and walk past the plaques describing the town history on your way to the crowds sure to be gathered around the fish ladder.

Meaford

Meaford is one of my favourite little towns. Look for Grandma Lambes on the highway coming in to town for fresh apples right from the orchard out back along with lots of home baking and local produce. For a great meal check out the Leeky Canoe downtown, right across from the big apple (you’ll know it when you see it). Take a stroll down Bridge Street to check out the busy harbour. Or take a left on William Street, just past the Dairy Queen, and check out the Meaford Factory Outlet – the place is huge and sells almost everything – it can be fun to explore, but set aside some time.

Owen Sound Waterfalls

There are a number of great waterfalls in Owen Sound that are easily accessible. If you want to check them out, when you reach 10th Street and the street lights where you would normally turn right onto Highway 6 West, go straight through onto Highway 6 South to a right onto County Road 18 and another right onto Inglis Falls Road. There’s a nice little park at Inglis Falls where a part of the old mill still survives as well as a trail leading down to several viewing platforms to check out the falls. To continue the falls tour, go back out to County Road 18 and turn right to continue the way you were going, another concession and a half to the West and Country Road 18 will take a turn to the right at a major intersection, taking you back North to the main highway. You’ll come out to another set of street lights where Highway 6 turns north (straight through) towards Wiarton. Turning right here takes you back into downtown Owen Sound if you need any supplies, but straight through is another information booth, behind which is a roughly half kilometre trail back to Jones Falls. To return to the main route, turn right as you’re leaving the information centre to take Highway 6 North towards Wiarton. There are actually four main waterfalls in Owen Sound, these two are my favourites, but check out this site for information on all four falls.

Sauble Beach and Sauble Falls

Sauble FallsNot as popular as Wasaga Beach, but I like it more, Sauble Beach is an incredibly deep beach right on Lake Huron. The beach stretches for miles to the North and South and is so deep that you can actually park right on the sand (for a fee). It’s always a happening place with lots of small tourist shops along the back edge of the beach. Just to the North is Sauble Falls inside the Sauble Falls Provincial Park. The falls aren’t tall, but their main attraction is that for much of the year the water flow is low enough that you can walk right across the falls without issue. Plan on wading in and even sitting down and relaxing right in the middle of the falls if it’s a warm day. To get there, when you reach the town of Hepworth you’ll come to the only set of street lights in town. The main route turns right, but go straight through onto County Road 8 and follow it straight through until it ends right on the beach. To continue on to the falls, go back out County Road 8 to the main lights and turn left onto Country Road 13 (Sauble Falls Parkway. The park will be on the left hand side. To return to the main route, keep going North on Sauble Falls Parkway and keep an eye open for where Country Road 13 turns right towards Wiarton. Where the road ends, you may want to turn right and fill up on gas in Wiarton as it’s a little ways to the next good chance for fuel. Otherwise turn left and continue North on Highway 6.

Spirit Rock Conservation Area & The Corran

Just north of Wiarton you’ll see a tiny gravel road on the right that takes you in to the Spirit Rock Conservation Area (there’s a sign). Follow the road back to the parking lot near The Corran – a long abandoned set of ruins for a mansion built in the turn of the century along with the barn. I have an aunt who told stories of when the kids in Wiarton used to party in mansion and how amazing the library was until one night it burnt down. At Spirit Rock you can also follow the Bruce Trail a short way South to a great outlook over Georgian Bay. One word of caution, particularly here but for most of the rest of this journey, keep an ear open for rattles as you’re walking – the Massassauga Rattlesnake likes to call this area home.

Cabot Head Lighthouse Museum

Cabot Head LighthouseThis is the most difficult side trip thus far requiring about 10km of driving down a single lane gravel road. At the end of that road though is one of the early lighthouses around Georgian Bay that’s been converted into a rather interesting museum about lighthouses, shipwrecks, and early life that allows you to walk right up to the top of the lighthouse and look out for miles, or stroll the grounds to see all the support structures and hike up to the entrance to Wingfield Basin where ships would wait out bad storms and at least one sank. To get there, not far past the small community of Millar Lake and Millar Lake Road, Dyer’s Bay Road turns right of Highway 6. Follow that to a “T” intersection where you turn right, then take the next left – you’ll still be on Dyers Bay Road. Follow the road through the community and veer right onto Shoreline Drive and then shortly a right onto Cabot Head Road. Cabot Head Road is a long, single lane gravel road, be prepared to sneak past oncoming traffic. Back track to get back onto the main route and turn right to keep going north on Highway 6.

Mermaid Cove

If you’re looking for a quiet escape and beautiful view of Georgian Bay/Lake Huron then Mermaid Cove is the place to be. Just a short drive and stroll away from downtown Tobermory but hardly visited it seems. To get there, turn right onto Bay Street and take a tour through the downtown and Little Tub Harbour, then hang a right at the end of the road and follow that to the end and stroll a short ways down the trail. To get back, take Harpur Drive and Head Street instead of the one way Bay Street.

Big Tub Harbour & Lighthouse

Big Tub LighthouseWhen you think you’ve reached the end of the road, Highway 6 and the ferry staging area are just to your right, but to the left Big Tub Road circles Big Tub Harbour – another common port in storm and has quite a significant wreck mere inches below the water. Once upon a time you could see this wreck from the shore but today it’s all private cottages. Now the only way to get a good look is on one of the glass bottom boat tours. The light house at the end of the road is well worth a visit though and gives a unique view of the town of Tobermory.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil FallsIf you’re anywhere on Manitoulin Island, Bridal Veil Falls is worth the trip – it’s a true must see. Get changed into your swimsuit in one of the change rooms at the top of falls, then take the staircase down to the base where you can wade into the pool at the bottom of the falls or walk right behind the falls themselves. It’s a pretty magical little spot. You can also stroll along the trail down river learning more about the history of the community. And best of all, when you get back to the top – there’s ice cream waiting for you right across the road. To get there, turn left onto County Road 542 and follow that to Mindemoya where you’ll turn right on County Road 551 to go North to M’Chigeeng. Along the way you’ll see a small parkette on the left at Mindemoya Lake – from here you can see Treasure Island which is the world’s largest island in a lake which is on an island in a lake. When you get to M’Chigeeng the road will end in a T-intersection with County Road 540 – remember this intersection for later – but for now turn left and go to Kagawong. There will be a park on the right side of the road downtown. To return to the main route you can return the way you came or when you get to that T-intersection in M’Chigeeng just go straight through, staying on Country Road 540 to go to Little Current where you’ll rejoin the main loop. I prefer the latter as 540 follows the northern shore of the island and I think it’s more scenic, it also takes you right past the Cup and Saucer Trail.

Cup and Saucer Trail

Cup and Saucer TrailCup and Saucer Trail is amongst the best known hiking trails in the province. I’ve only done it once, and even then not the full length, I just went up to the lookout and back, but the lookout is well worth the stop. Remember that Manitoulin is an extension of the Bruce Peninsula and in a large sense the whole Niagara Escarpment – that means a tall, shear cliff made of limestone – and with that limestone comes a warning. Limestone isn’t exactly the hardest, most stable rock, so don’t get too close to the edge, some sections over hang the exposure. But the view is phenomenal overlooking some the highlands farms and Lake Manitou – the largest lake on an island in a lake in the world. The hike up to the lookout is fairly short – took me about 25 minutes I think – but moderately difficult as a few sections take you almost straight up it seems. Bring a pair of good hikers and some water. If you’re coming from Bridal Veil Falls, go straight through the intersection  in M’Chigeeng to stay on Country Road 540 and look for Bidwell Road on the right. There’s actually a large bill board pointing the way to the trail when you’re coming this way. From here I would certainly turn right back at the 540 and follow it on to Little Current to rejoin the main loop there.

Little Current Swing Bridge

Right on the main route is the only land connection to Manitoulin Island. The bridge is only a single lane and was initially built by the railway in 1913. In 1946, Canadian Pacific Railway and the Ministry of Transportation struck a deal to convert the bridge to accept both rail and car traffic and for the first time you could reach the island by car without the ferry. By 1980 the rail line was lifted and today it is an auto bridge only but still a single lane and swinging open for the first fifteen minutes of each daylight hour to allow boat traffic through.

Northern LaCloche Range

From Little Current on, Highway 6 passes through the northern edge of the LaCloche mountain range. The road dips, dives and twists, but keep an eye open to the left and right none the less for some spectacular views of the white Quartzite mountains.

Note to the Main Route

When you reach Espanola, I recommend filling your tank and stocking up on any supplies you need, particularly if you’re going to the Chutes, as you’ll be on a more barren stretch of highway than you’ve travelled thus far. The next good chance for supplies is Sudbury, 70km away if you go directly.

The Chutes

Upper ChutesAt 60km round trip, Chutes Provincial Park is one of the longest side trips on this route, but I’ve grown a fondness for the little park. It’s a pretty commercialised park and camping, particularly RV camping, is the biggest part of the park. However it’s wrapped around a pretty spectacular set of half a dozen water falls in a row known as The Chutes. The largest fall is right at a parking lot with a beautiful and always changing beach right at it’s base. The beach is on an oxbow in the so it’s always changing minutely, but if you take a stroll up the well maintained trail you’ll come across viewing platforms and higher up shallow falls that you’ll be able to walk right into if you’re warm. To get there, when you reach the end of Highway 6, instead of turning right to go towards Sudbury, turn left towards Massey, and then turn right in downtown Massey onto County Road 553 (Imperial Street). The park will be on the right just a few blocks in. Just retrace your steps to get back on the main route and carry on Highway 17 towards Sudbury.

Sudbury

When you reach Sudbury, there’s lots to do. This is the home of Science North and the Big Nickel – but I’m not going to go into any of those – partly because there’s no shortage of information of those attractions just a google search away, and partly because I’ve never been and mostly just treat Sudbury as a resupply point along the way. That said, if you’re continuing on this route, I very, very strongly recommend re-supplying in Sudbury. Beyond here you’ll be faced with some pretty barren stretches of road and though there will be periodic gas stations along the way they are mostly on native lands so they’re not stations you’ll be familiar with and the prices are typically higher. When you’re coming in to Sudbury, take the exit onto County Road 80 and keep right to go into Sudbury. You’ll reach a major intersection between Country Roads 80 and 46 known as The Four Corners. Within a stones throw of here you’ll find gas, a grocery store, restaurants and hotels. To resume the journey from this intersection, go South past the Southridge Mall on County Road 46 which just go straight onto Highway 69 South where you want to be.

The Crack, LaCloche and Killarney

Granite RidgeThis is a long side trip down Highway 637 at 140km round trip (you did fill your gas tank to the brim in Sudbury, right?) but it’s one of my favourite spots in the province. The town of Killarney was inaccessible by road until this highway opened in 1962. As such the town developed in a unique way along the water front, but the area was always visited by adventurous types, perhaps most famously as one of the main areas of inspiration for members of the Group of Seven – it’s the white quartzite mountains that draw us in. Downtown Kilarney offers the best fish & chips I’ve ever had at Herbert Fisheries as well as a few simple hiking trails. Inside Killarney Provincial Park are two trails that I highly recommend (as well as several others I haven’t yet done). The Granite Ridge Trail is right across from the main office at the George Lake Campground – it’s an out and back trail about an hour long total but of moderate difficulty – a few sections seem to go straight up. The magic of this trail is that because of it’s relative short length and the fact that it goes up to two great lookouts over the mountains and of Georgian Bay, with an early start the mountain lookout is an incredible spot to be for sunrise. But the crown jewel of Killarney is really “The Crack.” Part of the much longer (10 day hike) LaCloche-The CrackSilhouette Trail, the hike to the Crack is an out and back that you don’t want to stray from beyond the day hike section unless you’re prepared with several days worth of food. Bring lots of water and some good hikers as the Crack is a difficult hike with several, long, near vertical stretches and the last climb up to the Crack itself literally being a climb over large fallen boulders between the two pieced of the cracked ridge. Many sites I checked recommended not going if it had been raining as the rock can become quite slick and they make a big deal of having to be quite fit to tackle this trail and only do it from an early morning start. That said, I did it with someone who only had a few short hikes to her name prior this and we took about 5 hours hiking time – that said she was shot for the day once we reached the car again. Once you make it to the top though, the view is absolutely stunning – it is so worth the trip to get up there, just be prepared with enough water and take your time. Extra tip: never stop right at the top of a difficult climb else the blood will rush to your head and could even make you feel ill. Once you get up one of those long, steep sections, keep walking, even if it’s super slow, for a few more minutes before resting. If you do get into a jam for fuel while in on Highway 637, Killarney Outfitters has a small, above ground tank of fuel available – it’s expensive and you don’t know who supplied it, but it’s the only source fuel along this entire highway.

The French River and Recolett Falls

Recollet FallsThere’s another small park just on the South side of the French River and it’s worth a stop. Walk out onto the snowmobile bridge to get a good look at the mighty French River, or if you’re feeling more adventurous, there’s a short (about 45 minute) and fairly simple hike to Recollet Falls

Parry Sound Lookout Tower

I haven’t actually made the trip up this tower myself, but it’s on my to do list. Located right downtown is a ten storey former fire lookout tower that gives a commanding view out over Parry Sound the town and the bay. There are some great photos out there of the train coming through town taken from the tower. Exit into Parry Sound on Bowes Street, then just before crossing the river hang a left onto Great North Road and another left onto George Street. The tower and the West Parry Sound District Museum are on the right at the top of the hill. You can retrace your steps back to Highway 400 or go further in Bowes Street to explore the downtown core.

Depot Harbour

Depot Harbour RoundhouseDepot Harbour is the ghost town at the end of the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway. It was a happening place at the turn of the 20th century hauling lumber out of Algonquin Park and grain from the prairies on to Ottawa. The town was built here by the railway company after they determined that land prices in Parry Sound were too high when they took advantage of a provision in the Indian Act that allowed railways to expropriate native owned lands. At it’s best, there were trains in Depot Harbour every twenty minutes, but by the time a rail trestle in Algonquin Park washed away in the spring melt the rail line wasn’t profitable enough to justify rebuilding. The town slowly faded until World War II when the site was used to store explosive cordite for the war and towards the end of the war the grain elevators exploded destroying the port. What was left of the town was slowly removed and today only the foundations and part of the roundhouse remain, but for those interested in history it’s pretty interesting. It’s pretty easy to find Depot Harbour at the end of Old Tracks Road on Parry Island, however I’ll be a little vague here as there are steps to take before stopping in. Depot Harbour has reverted back to native land and before paying it a visit you should have permission – I’d recommend getting in touch with the Wasauksing Administration Office. If you choose to ignore this advice, at least treat the land and people with respect, remember you’re a visitor at best but can easily be viewed as a trespasser without getting permission first.

Big Chute Marine Railway

Ever watched a boat climb over a rock? It happens daily all summer long at the Big Chute Marine Railway. It’s an interesting invention that consists of a single, very large rail car of sorts that dips right into the water. Boats can then float onto the rail car which then cradles them in giant straps and lifts them up out of the water and up a height of 60 feet of rock past the falls to continue up the Trent Severn Waterway. Also on the site is an observation deck, the old marine railway dating back to the early twentieth century, and a sort of museum in the old hydro electric station. To get there, get off the 400 at County Road 34 (White’s Falls Road) and follow 34 across the highway and short jog back North before turning East towards Big Chute. At Big Chute, Muskoka’s County Road 34 becomes Simcoe County Road 17 (Upper Big Chute Road) and you can either follow that to Coldwater and Highway 12 West to get back to the 400, or retrace County Road 34 the way you came in.

Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons & Martyr’s Shrine

Sainte-Marie is a glimpse into the more distant past – it’s an extensive recreation of a French community and mission built in 1639 right over top of the original community. It’s quite an attraction and a trip here is a ritual for most of the local public schools. Right across the road stands the Martyr’s Shrine – one of only two national shrine’s in Canada built in 1926 in honour of the 8 Jessuit missionaries working in the area in 1649. It’s a massive building and the architecture is quite impressive. If you’re coming here from Coldwater, just keep travelling Highway 12 West. If you’re coming down the 400, exit for Highway 12 West towards Waubaushene and Midland. Both attractions are right on Highway 12 as you first enter Midland, before crossing the river. To get back on track you can return to Highway 400 the way you came, or for a more scenic route, continue following Highway 12 West until it ends at County Road 93 (Penetanguishene Road) and take a left, following that road all the way back into Barrie.

Getaway Jeep Rolls On

Sunday, May 29th, 2016

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There was more than a little delay in this project, but things are moving again. While wire brushing the frame I found some a weak spot hidden behind the frame mount for the lower control arm. I fabbed up a quick reinforcement plate, but since the shop I’m working in has some electrical issues I wasn’t able to plug in a welder. I had to wait on a guy with a portable welding setup who did some great work but took a while to connect with. With that cleaned up though, I put in a drainage hole to prevent future issues and coated the rear half of the frame with POR 15 – a rust preventative and paint that’s supposed to be great and is looking very promising so far.

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First up was to get the axle back into place – a job easier said than done. Choosing to go with more flexible and more tunable adjustable control arms adds some ability and precision to the truck, but adds more work. Instead of just bolting them in and hoping the Jeep engineers chose a correct enough length even after my modifications, the axle can be setup to the new correct location. First centreing the axle on the bump stops and squaring it to the frame, then setting up the bump stops to maximize the travel of the shocks without damaging them. One final step is to set the angle that the axle meets the driveshaft but can’t do so until I have the actual driving weight on the suspension.

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The final hiccup in the axle installation was the trackbar. Used to keep the axle in the correct location left to right. With the lift in place the trackbar needs to be relocated so that it’s fixed length holds the axle in the right place. However that relocation moved the bar into contact with the frame rail that supports the fuel tank when the axle reaches only half it’s suspension travel. Of course a few months ago I passed on a new second hand adjustable rear track bar that would have solved this problem, but at the time I didn’t see the value in that – now I get to pay full price before putting the truck on the road – oh well.

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The next step was to bolt in the exhaust – a stainless steel system from MBRP that should last a good long time and happens to have a nice rumble to it without being too loud and seems to give a nice little power boost at the same time. This went fairly painlessly with only a small modification to move the rear most exhaust hanger from the outside to inside of the frame to give a touch of clearance around the after market shocks. If you’re sharp and know Jeeps well enough you may have also noticed the bolts holding the transmission support/skid plate in place now go right through the frame. It’s a known weak spot that the existing bolts that secure to captive bolts inside the frame strip out. A quick and elegant solution I found online is to simply drill through the frame and use a longer bolt with a standard nut on the top side. These bolts are a little long and they were later replaced with shorter ones once I found them hardened to be strong enough, but given that I’m later installing a small body lift as well, adding more space between the body and frame, it probably would have worked anyway.

And with that I finally got to turn the truck around and start work on the front half. Yes, I skipped putting in the fuel tank as I’ll be using the tank out of my second, parts donor truck and there’s no need storing fuel in the garage in the mean time. I also skipped running any of the fuel or brake lines yet as I have a bit of work to do to the body tub before it gets bolted in place. Should that work take longer than expected and this frame ends up sitting longer, I’ll want to re-evaluate the brakes anyway before hitting the road with it.

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20160505_195653All the while doing the rear section of the frame, through all the delays, I kept reminding myself that the front would go quickly. After all, I had little more than to unbolt the axle, clean everything up and paint it, then start reassembling again. But then I unbolted the steering box.

Yes, that is a big rip in the frame where the torque from steering oversize tires tried, and nearly succeeded, in pulling the steering box right off. I initially considered a simple fix and simply accepting that the life span of this frame would be somewhat more limited than I thought. In the end though I settled on a proper fix.

The catch came next. The steering box mount is a simple but fairly precise piece. It would take some work to build one from scratch in my somewhat limited shop. So my first step was to look to the online parts catalogs where I found no end of ready to bolt on steering box mounts for Jeep CJ’s and YJ’s where this seems a fairly common problem – but no where could I find a TJ mount. Maybe I’m just ahead of the curve on this problem.

Steering-Box-Mount-2So I started taking some measurements and let my inner engineer come out to design a new, stronger steering box mount and sent the plans off to a friend who runs a machine shop known for doing the impossible with great precision. With that part out for production I’m again at a bit of a stand still on the Jeep, but after wire brushing and cutting off the factory steering box mount it was pretty clear that this was the only route to go. Given the amount of material missing, you really have to wonder how it is that this truck passed a safety certification just before I bought it.

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In the mean time, I’m starting some work on the body tub – it needs some attention to the floor supports before moving on to where the truly custom work begins. Other than that, I’m thinking that this project needs a proper name but haven’t found one I like yet – any ideas?

The Getaway Jeep Project

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

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For about two years now a project has been slowly forming in my head to build my version of the ultimate adventure truck. I knew it would be based on a Jeep TJ platform for that trucks adaptability and off road capability along with its simple, repairable design and wealth of cheap parts. However I wanted the flexibility of an open bed pickup for small loads as well as the ability to load bikes and gear low where they’re not getting smacked off trees on the way in to adventure. So pretty early in the design process I knew I’d be building a custom top and roll cage to create the ultra short bed Jeep pickup that isn’t currently available on the market (though it’s recently been promised by Chrysler for 2018 so I guess I’m just ahead of my time). The bed would have a hard tonneau top and truck logistics racking to make it easy to add or remove cargo baskets, spare fuel tanks for the way-back country, and two bike racks. And just to make it stand out a little more while eliminating Jeep’s rust prone fenders, I’m going to cut the stock fenders off entirely in favour of some perfectly round fenders more often seen on tractor trailers. With some creative trimming it’ll give the truck a design nod towards the classic Kaiser and Power Wagon heavy military trucks.

Inside there will be a nearly completely customized dash. This is not only to make room for the extra electronics, lights, power, and recovery equipment, but also my custom head unit. Instead of a conventional radio I’ll be repurposing an android tablet. Besides the required mp3 player this will also put navigation, a full set of guages and diagnostics, and a copy of the service manual within easy reach at all times.

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So why am I bringing all this up now? This past weekend the project took a huge step forward. I purchased the truck that all this is going into back in the fall – but as you can see from the photo above it needed a little work.

The previous owner got their license on a Thursday, picked up a freshly certified truck on a Friday, and had spun it into a tree on wet pavement before the end of the work week. Inexperienced drivers and short wheelbase vehicles can be dangerous. For me, however, here was a Jeep Sahara with the upgraded drivetrain that had been freshly gone over and certified and only needed some body work. It just so happens I already had another TJ with a good body that needed some undercarriage work. A match made in heaven it would seem.

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After a couple weekends of ripping and stripping in my spare time I had the truck down to a near bare frame – just where I wanted to start. Since I’d need to reach this stage in a body swap, and with some of my upgrades to near this stage even with a new truck, it made sense.

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As it looks today the rear end is even more bare. But it’s the perfect time to go over the frame and clean it up to be worry free for years to come. As well as an amazing time for some undercarriage upgrades. I have a shiny new performance exhaust kit as well as a 3″ suspension lift and 1″ body lift for the truck. The goal is to put some more air between me and the ground for when the trail disappears but not so much as to hurt on road drive ability or need major component upgrades. I also have some new adjustable control arms to milk more articulation and control out of my truck.

Up to this point however the project has been nothing but destruction and spending on parts. That’s where this weekend was key. At long last I finished the process of destruction and put a fresh coat of paint on the rear axle finally beginning the process of creation.

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Not many jeepers can say that their axles are so clean that they shine grey under a photo flash instead of black…but now I am one of them. Keep watching for more as the project evolves but so far what do you think of my latest brain child?