The Just-Because Military Rig Run
It started out pretty much like every other half-baked, hair-brained Jp Magazine story idea. Rather than getting already overdue work done, a few of us were bench racin' at the office late one night and got to realizing there were at least seven ex-military rigs owned by magazine staffers-and most of them were Jeeps. So one thing led to another, and we figured out how we could take these barely speed-worthy rigs out on perhaps the most uncomfortable (and slow) road trip ever and get the company to foot the bill. As usual, the lightweights bailed out of the trip early on, leaving only the most masochistic along with a couple friends and readers to make the 500-plus-mile trek on- and off-road.
A few months later, we began the trip on a Wednesday in Escondido, California, only a hop, skip, and a jump from Tech Editor Christian Hazel's used-Jeep emporium and day care facility. So guess who was first on the scene? When Christian rolled up in his barely broken-in M-715, there was already a brand-new-looking M35A3 parked there. You can't even buy these things, and this one had a camper conversion and a CJ-3B in tow behind it no less. Fearing the worst, Christian was relieved to find that the A3 owner, Bill Doyle, and his daughter, Jessie, weren't hostile from the negative comments we've run in the past about the 3Bs being ugly. Another guy was there too. He appeared to possibly be a distant relative of Ted Nugent, but he was driving a pretty cool M-725 ambulance with a big-block and more electrical gadgets than anything Associate Editor Pete Trasborg owns. Had Pete not been rotting in Riverside traffic on the way down and showed up on time, it would have been impossible to pry him away from the electrically endowed Jeep.
Ironically, the only two people on the trip with any military experience at all showed up in perhaps the least-military-like vehicle. However, the Poison Spyder-built '05 Willys Wrangler toting Clifton Slay and Dave Lau was sporting the most on- and off-road friendly drivetrain and suspension of the group. But we still made fun of them anyway (because they looked like a couple of wannabe military sissies), but only behind their backs. Special Forces experience tends to make for some strange personalities if Clifton and Dave are any measure. We tried to get them both dressed up in fatigues, but too much prodding would've certainly resulted in a missing Jp staffer.
Ted Nugent couldn't make the trip, so he headed out. Just as we were leaving the parking lot, Pete finally rolled in. And staying true to the tendency of every other Jp road trip, someone had to get lost at the beginning. This time, it wasn't the leader (several years ago on the Jp Mayhem Tour from Las Vegas to Sturgis, Editor Cappa accidentally led the group through the scenic Vegas strip-club district). Anyway, while concentrating on traffic and drivetrain noises emanating from his 40-year-old truck, Christian missed a turn and blindly followed what looked like Bill's M35A3 camper-it turned out to be a garbage truck. From then on, Bill's ride was known as such. Pete followed Christian for several miles all while Pete's overly optioned, Yoda-voiced, Tom-Tom navigation system disputed by constantly repeating "around, you must turn!" at every intersection.
Pete and Christian finally figured out they were going the wrong way and caught up to us at lunch in Julian where about 1 or 2 inches of snow had fallen on the ground. The locals were ready to pretty much close the town down because of such a "blizzard." Hey, it's California, we don't know any better.
After the lunch break, we regrouped and headed for warmth down Banner Grade and into the Anza Borrego desert. Cappa found that the lack of power steering on a deuce makes for some pretty spooky speed cornering, but he decided not to mention it to his passenger, Jp Web Editor Jason Gonderman, who no doubt was busy sucking the seat cushion into his nether regions. Jason was quiet the whole time, so either it must have been obvious the dump-truck-sized vehicle was pushing straight into the wet corners where it should've been turning, or Jason was just oblivious to the danger-kinda like those people who fly those homemade helicopters that come in a kit. Anyway, Christian was busy trying to shoot photos of Bill's M35A3 while driving and nearly ran off the road multiple times.
Just outside of Glamis, we stopped for fuel and food in Brawley, where Clifton realized Cappa has a tendency to get back to his employment roots and has an innate ability to find 7-Eleven gas stations even when they are the least convenient refueling stations on the block.
Sometime during the early part of the trip over the desert highways, Pete noticed Christian had two hats. We could speculate that depending on wind and where the sun was, Christian would switch from one to the other. However, it's more fun to think Christian has a fetish for hats, much like the little old ladies who go to lunch on Sunday mornings after church.
It takes a long time to air down all of the tires on a deuce. Once its tires were in the 10-psi range, everyone else could've aired back up and down again three or more times. Around dusk, we motored down the sand highway in Glamis and pulled into the bottom of Oldsmobile Hill. Midweek in Glamis is unusually quiet compared with a major holiday weekend.
True to the theme of the event, Christian had decided to feast on military rations in the form of MREs. Bill and company gorged on fancy glasses of fine wine and barbequed chicken roasted on a portable gas grille that appeared from a secret compartment on the M35A3. Cappa and Jason devoured a bucket of KFC that they shared with Clifton's dogs. Needless to say, an A3 camper mutiny was developing but would never fully come to fruition, mostly because Bill's a nice guy.
We woke up early the next morning contemplating how 250 pounds of Dave (we're being nice), 200 pounds of Clifton, and nearly 150 pounds of dogs could fit in one tent (not to mention a TJ). After becoming frustrated with the flesh-versus-volume math, we made a few runs at Oldsmobile Hill. Christian quickly found out dune driving without power steering is a challenge.
Driving a deuce in the dunes is akin to driving an underpowered, difficult-to-shift dump truck. Low range was really too low with the torquey diesel, so Cappa had to make big loops to get into Fourth-gear High-range only to immediately grab Third once the truck hit the Olds incline and the bumps near the bottom. The deuce was only able to be prodded about one-third of the way up before it ran out of juice and began to dig in and sink. It would've performed a little better had the tires been set to around 5 psi.