The West Coast was battered by storms last winter, delivering record rainfall from Seattle to San Diego. Reno was no exception, and many of the trails in the surrounding desert saw significant changes as a result of the heavy precipitation. As the landscape dried out and the weather warmed up, we became eager to check out trail conditions and test out the modifications we had performed on our rigs over the winter.
Our group of five rigs headed to Dead Horse Canyon, which is located in the hills to the southeast of Reno. The canyon is 4 miles of nonstop boulders, and once you are on the trail there is no turning back until you reach the exit of the canyon. Fortunately the water from the winter had receded, with some obstacles filled with sand and easier and others completely washed out and nearly impassible.
Everything was going great—until it wasn’t. After five hours we had covered approximately three-quarters of the trail and were making good time, but then one of the Early Broncos quit running. Confronted with our own “dead horse,” the group had to band together to get the rig off the trail. There was no way we could pull the Bronco behind another vehicle, the only option was to get it running again. After making a run into town to grab parts from Summit Racing Equipment, we were able to get the Bronco on the move and made it back to pavement 14 hours after starting Dead Horse Canyon. On the bright side, at least it had stopped snowing a month earlier!
Jack Peeler slung a Dana 60 front axle and Dana 70 rear axle under his 4Runner to live with the 40-inch Pro Comp Xtreme MT2 tires. Simple leaf springs suspend the axles and provide ample flex and stability on the trail.
Dead Horse Canyon can be run from the top down with gravity assisting you or from the bottom up, as we ran it. In this direction the trail starts out relatively mild and the rocks get larger as you continue upward.
Matt Barnes was a law enforcement officer, talented fabricator, and all around great guy. He lost his battle with cancer in 2013, but his memory lives on through his 4Runner. Barnes’ friend, Alan Johnson, now wheels the Toyota on all of Barnes’ favorite trails.
Even with 130 hp, our Tracker has plenty of power to spin the 37-inch Maxxis Trepadors. Proper gearing from the Trail Tough Rockmonster gears in the Samurai transfer case is key to getting the most out of the 2.0L engine.
Marc Letourneau linked the back of his early Bronco since we saw him last. He cut off the rear of the frame and replaced it with box tubing. King coilovers mount outside the frame. A truss that provides link mounts was added to the 14-bolt rear housing.
Jack and Darcie Peeler have owned a slew of rigs over the years but recently returned to the first-generation 4Runner platform. His 1985 runs a 4.3L V-6 mated to a Toyota R51F transmission and dual transfer cases with 4.7:1 gears from Marlin Crawler in the rear case.
TJ Turrietta and his son, Wesley, spend a ton of time wheeling their Early Bronco, and it shows. Well, not only in the dented sheetmetal, but the Bronco is well sorted and is just as capable at high speeds as it is rockcrawling thanks to the custom link suspension that TJ built for the front and rear.
Many of the obstacles on Dead Horse Canyon aren’t quite wide enough to fit through, so you have to climb way high, even with relatively narrow Toyota axles. Of course, the higher you climb, the more you tip towards the rocks that you are trying to avoid.
All of the vehicles on the trip were equipped with manual transmissions; we can’t remember the last run we were on when that happened. Marc Letourneau’s Bronco has an NP435 backed by an NP203 mated to the factory Dana 20 transfer case.
Our Tracker continues to impress us with its capabilities on the trail. If we have a complaint, it is that we mounted the MasterCraft Safety suspension seats too low, limiting visibility. Raising the seats is on the short list of future modifications.
TJ Turrietta runs 37-inch Maxxis Trepadors on Walker Evans wheels. A Dana 44 and Ford 9-inch combo survive behind his heavy right foot thanks to full spools and RCV axles front and rear.
We picked a beautiful day to hit the trail. The sky was clear and temperatures were in the mid-80s, which is good considering the lack of shade in Dead Horse Canyon. Just a few months earlier this trail was covered in snow and ice.
Marc Letourneau put a Dana 60 and 14-bolt under his early Bronco years ago to handle the 38-inch Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs on Fuel beadlock wheels. The axles have 4.88 gears, and the front has an ARB Air Locker, the rear a Detroit Locker.
About our Tracker, people still ask all the time, “What is the wheelbase on that thing?” It was stretched out to 103 inches so it is plenty stable when climbing obstacles and has approach and departure angles over 90 degrees.
The remains of this car found their way to the bottom of the canyon years ago. Over the winter the carcass picked up a lot of debris, which indicates just how much water was flowing through the bottom of the seasonal wash.
The front diff covers really took a beating on this trail. The miles of diff hangers and loose rocks meant that progress was stopped regularly.
After slipping off the line, the full weight of Jack Peeler’s 4Runner was on his tie rod. He couldn’t go forward, but he could not back up either. Some quick maneuvering with his Smittybilt winch and a few strategically placed rocks got him moving again quickly.
The group was about three-quarters of the way through the trail when Marc Letourneau’s Bronco quit running. The 396ci engine was running hot, so the issue was originally diagnosed as vaporlock or a bad fuel pump. After it cooled off, though, we realized that the engine wasn’t getting any spark.
You are probably familiar with ordering parts from Summit Racing Equipment’s catalog or website, but did you know that Summit has three retail locations? The one in Reno is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Summit’s store has saved our bacon on more than one occasion.
Armed with a new TFI module, coil, ignition box, and fuel pump from Summit, we started throwing parts at the Bronco as the sun dipped behind the mountains. The ignition box ended up being the culprit, and after wiring in a new one, Letourneau was able to drive off the trail.