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ARB 4X4 Truck Oklahoma - The ARB Oklahoma Odyssey

Posted in Features on September 1, 2001
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When ARB USA Marketing Manager Tony Curless called and asked if we were interested in tagging along on a whirlwind two-day adventure on some of Oklahoma's most hard-core trails, our caffeine-fogged, jet-lagged brains snapped to attention. After all, most people have heard of the infamous trails, but many haven't actually had the opportunity to experience them. However, what had to be the most intriguing aspect of the run was that it was designed exclusively for vehicles with 44-inch tires. And as we all know, fitting 44s (and having the driveline hold together) requires some significant modifications. This meant that we were going to be witness to an awesome collection of high-tech, bulletproof trucks sporting the latest in trail technology and extreme hard-core components.

The Plan
"One of our most innovative Air Locker dealers from Oklahoma - John Sumner of Wagoner Machine Shop - was instrumental in organizing this event," says Curless. Wagoner Machine Shop is famous for its line of hard-core upgrades, including a line of heavy-duty knuckles, diff covers, tie rods and ends, and brake kits to mount 15-inch disc brakes on Dana 60s and 14-bolt axles. All of the heavy-duty products generated by Wagoner Machine Shop are tested by the guys who work there because they're hard-core 'wheelers themselves.

The run was more than another excuse to go four-wheeling, though. It was a chance for ARB USA to gather information for future products and upgrades. "As more of our customers prepare their vehicles to tackle hard-core terrain, we felt that the time was right to conduct some important market research in order to better serve their needs, and the information gathered from this event provided ARB USA with vital, real-world testing data that cannot be accurately reproduced in a controlled environment," Curless says. This may explain why he was lying under the vehicles most of the weekend scratching notes on a pad of paper.

Day One: The Other Disney
Our two-day adventure began on the banks of the Grand Lake o' the Cherokees (commonly known as Grand Lake), near Disney, Oklahoma, as 14 awesome, massive rigs on 44s lined up on a cool morning to challenge the first of two distinctly different areas. All of the land we accessed is owned by the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) and is open to the public. Grand Lake was created in 1940 upon completion of the Pensacola Dam, which flooded the Grand River Valley with the waters of the Grand River, creating a 43,500-acre lake. Rarely are all of the dam's floodgates open, and the rocky base of the dam has become a playground for off-road vehicles.

This was our first destination, as our group traveled the short distance to the Waterfall, which we used as a warm-up for the plethora of rocks nearer to the dam. The Waterfall is a steep rock obstacle, which carries a small amount of water when the dam is closed and is completely submerged (as is all of the area in this section) when the dam is open. Its natural design offers one commonly used descending point, and a couple of lines for ascending the obstacle. After each truck in our group gave it a shot, we drove directly to the base of the dam where we could actually drive to the floodgates themselves. It was eerie to hear the lake lapping against the thick steel gates as we challenged the playground of rocks for a couple of hours.

After breaking for lunch, we convoyed to a nearby spot to tackle some wholly different kind of GRDA land, which offered a brutal collection of tight trails that meander through the hilly, forested Oklahoma hills. Known by locals as Cabbage Hollow, most of the trails in this area were cut by the Extreme 4WD Club of Tulsa with the GRDA's blessing, and they are tighter than Coach Class seats. Since many of the vehicles in our group were running full-width axles, just getting the trucks and their big 44s through the trails was an adventure, and there were plenty of hillclimbs just to keep things interesting. Many of these trails don't look accessible by a four-wheeler, let alone a vehicle on 44s, but a sharp eye and prudent use of the throttle and brake helped our entire group navigate this beautiful but challenging set of trails.

Day Two: Poteau
After 10 hours on the trails and rocks of the GRDA, our group loaded their rigs on their respective trailers for the three-hour dash to the town of Poteau, Oklahoma, for the second day of the Oklahoma Odyssey. Most of our group spent the night at the Black Angus Motel (the owner of which is an avid off-roader), and ironically, our group was waylaid on the main street of Poteau the next morning as a herd of cattle meandered across the road.

Several miles outside of Poteau are a few thousand acres of land owned by a paper company; the area is crisscrossed with old logging roads that sport some pretty unbelievable obstacles. After unloading our rigs at a nearby gas station, we jumped on the trailhead and promptly came to a gnarly uphill climb that featured rocks and tree roots. It's here that we spent the next couple of hours; each vehicle challenged the obstacle. Knowing that a significant amount of trail lay ahead, some members of our group who were having trouble ascending the hill chose to winch up instead of risking breakage.

Further up the trail we accessed areas where no one had been for several months, illustrated by the huge amount of timber blocking the trail from a December ice storm that paralyzed the eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas area. With one person operating a chainsaw and the other participants in a skirmish line moving the cut timber, we slowly made our way further into the hills. We would forge ahead and clear the trail, then move the vehicles forward and repeat the process. This was one place where the tall lifts and big 44s really showed their worth, since many times we merely left the timber where it was and drove over it.

Throughout the day, we were faced with wave after wave of obstacles, and we ended our day with a heart-pounding hillclimb up a steep, old logging road that left challengers with windshields full of Oklahoma sky.

Got 44s?
The first-ever ARB Oklahoma Odyssey was a great success, uniting a number of these massive, tougher-than-nails rigs in an unusual and challenging location. Not surprisingly, ARB USA is planning on making the two-day Oklahoma Odyssey a yearly event that will take place in mid-March. If you have a rig on 44s and you would like to receive an application for one of the limited spaces available, contact: Tony Curless, ARB USA Marketing Manager, Dept. 4WDSU, 20 S. Spokane St., Seattle, WA 98134, (206) 264-1669, tcurless@arbusa.com.

What the Pros Drive
John Sumner and Mark Hanson are a couple of the guys who make Wagoner Machine Shop in Claremore, Oklahoma, a cutting-edge source for the toughest in 4x4 upgrades and accessories. These guys eat, drink, and sleep hard-core 4x4s. Each of them has built his personal rig differently, but both illustrate super-functional designs and wildly bulletproof construction.

Sumner's Scrambler
John Sumner's '82 Jeep is powered by a Chevy TBI small-block engine, which sends power through a 700-R4 tranny. He has created a 98:1 crawl ratio, which was accomplished in part by mounting three transfer cases together: two NP203s and an NP205. John swapped in GM 14-bolt axles, front and rear, and stuffed them with 4.10 gears and Detroit Lockers. The awesome contraption rides on a flexy, custom coil suspension that's comprised of Superlift Jeep Cherokee 2-inch lift springs mounted between the frame and the diff. Other interesting and functional mods include an air tank that's actually a rear suspension component and dual Warn 8274 winches.

Mark's Mutt
One of the first things you notice about Mark Hanson's '82 Toyota-bodied 4x4 is the Nissan NX headlights that are integrated into the custom front bumper. But this truck is a lot more than just a pretty face. A TBI small-block Chevy engine is nestled into a custom frame, and it's backed up by a Turbo 350 tranny, NP203 and Dana 300 transfer cases, a front Dana 60 with an ARB Air Locker, a rear GM 14-bolt (welded), 4.88 gears, four-wheel disc brakes, a custom three-link suspension, an external cage, a Warn 8274 front-mounted winch, and a Ramsey RE8000 rear-mounted winch. Hansen proves his vehicle's durability each time he hits the trail with his aggressive and entertaining driving style.

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