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Cherokee Uprising

Front Driver Side View
Ken Brubaker
| Senior Editor, Four Wheeler
Posted November 1, 2000

Scores of XJs Invade Tellico

Step By Step

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  • We had to admire Steve Ward’s attack-every-obstacle philosophy, and the Camdenton, Missouri, resident did just that on a daily basis. He has modified his Cherokee with a plethora of beefy accessories, including a 4-inch suspension lift that features Rubicon Express control arms, Rusty’s coils, heavy-duty track bar mounts, 33x12.50 Goodyear Wrangler tires, 4.56 gears, dual lockers, a Tom Woods slip-yoke eliminator kit, and custom bumpers.

  • Eric Grametbauer from Walland, Tennessee, scored big when he found this chic, vinyl, wood grain–equipped ’84 Wagoneer Limited. Not content with its stunning good looks, he began beefing the drivetrain for serious trail use. It now features a Weber carb to help the 2.8L V-6 engine breathe better, a 4-inch Trailmaster suspension kit, dual Detroit Lockers, 4.56 gears, and 31-inch all-terrain tires.

  • John Bellerby from Bristol, Pennsylvania, is still having nightmares about the Guardrail obstacle, which did this gnarly damage to his ’88 Cherokee. He actually made it up the obstacle easily, and then ventured too close to a drop-off on his right, which sent the Cherokee onto its roof. After winching his truck back onto its wheels, Bellerby says that wasn’t how he intended to use his new Warn winch.

  • Eric Thomas from Tidewater, Virginia, has created a capable daily driver/trail machine that conquered the toughest obstacles all weekend. The truck features a 3-inch suspension lift, dual lockers, 30x10.50 Swampers, 4.56 gears, and sway bar disconnects. It also boasts a Garvin roof rack and Hella lighting.

  • Easy trails were available for those folks who didn’t want to risk damaging their trucks, and there were plenty of spotters on hand to guide them through the tough spots.

  • Drivers left daily from the check-in area on the Tennessee side of Tellico. Over 90 people came to the event in more than 40 trucks from 13 different states.

  • Tim Clark from Farmersville, Ohio, came to Tellico in his beautiful ’91 Cherokee, which features a swapped-in Dana 44 rear diff, dual ARB Air Lockers, 4.10 gears, 33-inch tires, and a custom 5-inch suspension lift. He fabbed the custom roof rack, rear bumper, and skidplating.

  • Most of the Cherokees in attendance were modified along normal lines, but then there were the exceptions like this one, which offered the ultimate in passenger-friendly ingress and egress.

  • Chris Reinhardt from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, enhanced his ’89 Cherokee’s flexy front suspension with a Rusty’s 4-inch suspension kit, which gave him the extra flex needed to conquer the tougher Tellico trails. The rig also features a rear Lock-Right locker, 4.10 gears, 32-inch BFG Mud/Terrain tires, a Custom 4x4 front bumper, and a Warn 9000i winch.

  • Three trail levels were offered to NAXJA participants—easy, medium, and hard. This trail represented the medium level, which drew the largest number of Cherokees during Thursday’s trail riding.

  • As the sun began to set after the first day of trail riding, John Bellerby from Bristol, Pennsylvania, piloted his ’88 Cherokee across a creek on his way back to camp. It had been a long day for Bellerby, who had rolled his truck onto its roof on the top of the Guardrail obstacle, re-arranging a good portion of the sheetmetal on the passenger side.

  • The Tellico area had received a fair amount of rain in the days preceding the NAXJA event, and with the dense canopy of trees, the water had pooled in low spots creating a number of mud holes. Most of the holes had rocky bottoms though, so there was little chance of getting stuck.

  • Scott Macpetrie made the trek to Tennessee from Detroit and found plenty of challenge on a medium trail when he hooked the rear diff on a rock. Thanks to plenty of power from his Cherokee’s 4.0L engine, which has been enhanced with a Rusty’s air tube, MSD spark plug wires, and a Flowmaster exhaust, he eventually conquered the obstacle.

Cherokees rule. Just ask any member of the North American XJ Association (NAXJA), and that’s what you’ll hear from these devoted fans of the oft-overlooked vehicles. They base this on the XJ’s easy modification potential (a solid front axle), time-proven dependability (after all, the model has been in production since 1984), and trail prowess (medium overall size with little excessive exterior beef). All in all, it’s a vehicle that can comfortably haul five passengers and offer plenty of interior storage.

We had a chance to witness all of these attributes while tagging along on NAXJA’s XJ Fest 2000, which was held in and around eastern Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest (where else?). NAXJA members made the trek from over 13 states and as far away as Texas and Colorado to not only hang out with other XJ owners, but to take on the stunning Tellico trails over the course of four days.

In late July, the rolling hills of the Cherokee National Forest are so covered by a canopy of dense tree growth that even the midday sun is filtered, and the trails are heavily shaded and cool. This made for comfortable trail riding over the course of the four-day event, which featured easy, medium, and hard trail runs in the Upper Tellico ORV area. Tough obstacles like Slick Rock, Rock Garden, School Bus, and Guardrail all fell to the Cherokee invasion, and anybody who has been to Tellico knows that these legendary obstacles are not easily beat. For many members, the weekend was a shakedown for new mods; some held together and some didn’t. There was also a fair amount of general breakage, which is normal when challenging the Tellico area. Point is, these folks didn’t shy away from the many tough challenges of the area because they were driving a five-passenger SUV.

Over 40 vehicles made the trek to the XJ Fest 2000, and plans are already in the works for XJ Fest 2001. True to their roots, club info is available on the Internet at, where upcoming events, phone numbers, and membership info is available.