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Chevrolet K5 Blazers Invade Oklahoma!

Front Driver Side View Car On Rocks
Ken Brubaker
| Senior Editor, Four Wheeler
Posted August 1, 2002

Blazer Blitzkrieg!

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  • Todd Hedrick painted his ’89 GMC Jimmy’s body with a spray can to “ensure easy trail touch ups,” and underneath the truck he installed scores (literally) of custom components to ensure the truck can handle almost any trail condition. One of the most interesting mods is the addition of Ford F- 250 shock towers to the front of the vehicle to allow full travel of Rancho 5012 shock absorbers.

  • There wasn’t a significant amount of breakage on our Blazer run. In fact, the worst breakage happened to the rear driveshaft of Bob Engelbach’s ’71 Blazer, and that was fixed in a short time, thanks to Russ Hogan and his welder.

  • Engelbach’s ’71 Blazer is all about function. It sports a front Dana 60 axle, Detroit Lockers, 5.13 gears, and 38-inch Swampers.

  • According to K5 Blazer owners, it just doesn’t get any better than fullsize trucks on the trail, and they pride themselves in being able to pack their trucks full of gear, thanks to gobs of weatherproof interior storage. Event coordinator Neil Pickett’s ’78 Blazer features a soft top, a Dana 44 front axle with Lock-Right locker, a rear GM 12-bolt with Detroit Locker and lots of what Neil calls custom dents.

  • A picturesque overlook provided a great location for our noontime lunch break, and if offered a bird’s-eye view of the Grand River Valley to the south of the dam.

  • Chris VanGoethem splashes through a water crossing in his stunning yellow ’84 Blazer, which sports a Rough Country lift and 35-inch BFG All-Terrain tires.

  • Steve Frisbie’s ’85 may look like a trail toy but in reality he says it’s his family’s second vehicle, and it sees daily street use. Frisbie owns Missouri Offroad Outfitters, which offers loads of cool Blazer and GM stuff including diff covers, trusses, rear shock-mount kits and a custom front crossmember that eliminates drag-link-to-frame contact after installing crossover steering.

  • It’s a no-brainer as to why K5 Blazers are so popular, with their easy-to-lift leaf-spring suspensions, dime-a-dozen Chevy small-block engines, and short wheelbase for maneuverability.

  • The most heavily modified Blazer in attendance was Steve Sharp’s ’72. This monster has been stretched to 102 inches via a custom frame, the rear has been bobbed by 18 inches to improve departure angle, the hood has been lowered by 5 inches, and it sports dual 2 1/2-ton Rockwell axles.

Daylight was just beginning to filter through the heavy veil of night as our group of K5 Blazers began to gather in the parking lot of an interesting little motel in northeastern Oklahoma. The motel’s proprietor stood outside of his on-grounds trailer dressed in pajamas, with one pink bunny slipper on his left foot and a sneaker on his right. He was squinting in the gathering light while mumbling about tending bar until four in the morning. Next to him sat his faithful but very odd-looking black Labrador retriever, which for some reason had a white lampshade tied around its furry neck, the open end of the shade facing forward, creating what looked like a bobbing, drooling daisy. The sight of the early risers and their parade of growling GM iron transfixed both man and dog. Not that we can say we blame the pair for staring. After all, it’s not every day that folks and their dogs get to see that many K5 Blazers in one place.

The impetus behind this gathering of Blazer faithful was Blazer owner/fanatic Neil Pickett of St. Louis, Missouri. He operates, which is dedicated to K5 technical articles, product reviews, and general Blazer worship, and through contacts made there and through such Blazer info Web sites like, he concluded that there was a number of Blazer owners nationwide who would like to meet up and explore off-highway trails. So as numerous brand-specific gatherings of trucks tend to begin nowadays, he used the Internet to coordinate a rendezvous in Disney, Oklahoma. The result was an event called the Midwest Spring K5 Thing, and in 2002 it drew an eclectic mix of more than 18 Blazers from Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, and Arkansas. While these vehicles may share the same body style, each was markedly different. Each truck bore modifications created by either the necessity of upgrading components due to past trail damage or simply to reflect the owner’s needs and desires. One of the most remarkable and impressive aspects of the run was the fact that almost every rig in attendance was driven to the event. As a matter of fact, even Dan Dycus, the “Long Distance Award” winner, drove his 454ci powered ’86 Blazer from Streamwood, Illinois. Many owners told us that their trucks were their only source of transportation, thus these trucks were not weekend toys, but daily drivers.

Now before we go any further, there probably are some younger readers out there who may be stumped by the K5 prelude to the Blazer nameplate. Some automatically equate the Blazer title to the compact Blazer that was introduced in 1984. These S-10 Blazers are most certainly not what we’re referring to, and most Blazer purists wish the “little” vehicles had been named something else. The Blazers we’re talking about are the two-door fullsize machines built between the years of 1969 and 1991. These vehicles have a long, illustrious history in truckdom, and even though they’ve been out of production for more than a decade (see sidebar), they still have a loyal, worldwide following. The letter “K” in K5 is a code meaning four-wheel drive, while the number “5” is a code for Blazer. Other “K” designations in the GM line included the K10 ½-ton, K20 ¾-ton, and K30 1-ton four-wheel-drive pickups.

In 1940, the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) erected the Pensacola Dam in northeast Oklahoma, which effectively hindered the Grand River’s lazy flow southward. Of course, this wasn’t a bad thing because the barrier created the 43,500-acre Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees in the Grand River Valley. This new body of water translated to lots of potential hydroelectric power, and to a very welcome area for aquatic recreation. The thing that’s very interesting about the dam, however, is that most of the time its spillways are closed. So what does this have to do with anything? How about acres of mostly dry, water-polished rock, devoid of soil. And what’s most interesting is that the GRDA cheerfully allows 4x4s and off-highway vehicles the privilege of exploring the spacious property. Undoubtedly you’ve heard of this area near Disney, Oklahoma, but what you may not know is how surprising and fun the area really is, which is one of the reasons why this K5 club chose to have the Spring Thing there.

The Crossroads Café sits in Langley, Oklahoma, near the intersection of Highways 28 and 82, and it was the breakfast meeting place for our group. We were all a bit bleary-eyed after staying up late ’wheelin and talkin’ tech at Russ Hogan’s Offroad Park near Disney, but it didn’t affect our appetites. Our hungry band devoured almost every edible thing in sight. We then adjourned to the meeting room, where the aforementioned Neil Pickett welcomed everyone to the 2nd Annual Midwest Spring K5 Thing. As we soon found out, the owners of these Blazers represented a wide variety of tradesman and careers, including several computer techs, a few mechanical engineers, a student, salesman, a graphic designer, a U.S. Marine, and even a Missouri state highway patrolman.

We hopped into Steve Frisbie’s yellow ’85 Blazer (you may remember this stunning and capable truck from the September ’01 cover of Four Wheeler) for the ride to the dam. A few of the more heavily modified vehicles in our group started the day by descending and ascending the “waterfall” obstacle, which is one of the most popular, picturesque, and arguably difficult obstacles on the property. Steve Sharp made it look like a drive down an interstate in his yellow ’72 Rockwell-equipped Blazer, followed by Bob Engelbach in his orange ’71 and Frisbie in his ’85. From there our group headed closer to the dam, and it was at this point that John Ward, from Del City, Oklahoma, logged the first trail damage of the day when his ’86 Blazer slid into some boulders, mashing the lower-left-side sheetmetal. He accepted the damage like a champ, however, even though the vehicle is his daily driver. Bob Engelbach was the next to collect trail damage as he was attempting to climb up an insanely steep rock face. The result was a broken rear driveshaft that required a quick weld courtesy of Russ Hogan. On the upside, the maneuver earned Engelbach the “Most Nuts” award. This area was a great playground for the trucks, as each driver could pick an obstacle that he or she felt comfortable with. We were reminded why Blazers are well respected as we saw them scoot around boulders easily due to their short wheelbase while durable leaf-spring suspensions allowed the solid front and rear axles to articulate. During our day-long excursion we challenged the rocks, water, and boulders of the area, and by late afternoon we had eventually wound our way downstream to the Rock Garden, which offered drivers a chance to hone their ’crawling skills if they were so inclined.

The Midwest Spring K5 Thing is an annual event that is open to Blazer/Jimmy K5 vehicles. The beauty of the event is that there are obstacles, or the lack thereof, to suit every modification level of vehicle. It’s also a great place to talk tech, because as we learned, these Blazer owners know of numerous sources for quality aftermarket Blazer products. Did we mention that participation in the event is free? Well, it is. So what are you waiting for? For info on 2003’s event visit or contact organizer Neil Pickett at 314/ 842-5146,