Steve Nantz's 1987 Jeep YJ Wrangler
Brownie wasn’t always a 1987 YJ. It started life as a 1979 CJ7. During its CJ7 life, it became a Moab Off-Road rental Jeep equipped with Ford 9-inch front and rearends and Detroit Lockers front and rear.
Moab Off-Road’s owner, Rick Sparks, would loan Brownie to me whenever I was in town without a 4x4. I’ll never forget the day I pointed Brownie up a canyon with two friends following. One of them got on the CB and asked, “Where are we going?” I replied that this canyon looked interesting and we needed to reopen the trail going up it. A short while later, I broke Brownie’s left front axleshaft while climbing a ledge. We removed it and continued to work on the canyon trail.
Late that evening, I took Brownie’s broken axleshaft, stuck it in the ground at the canyon mouth, and dubbed the trail Shaft Snapper Canyon. Once we found how fast we could run this trail, we added it to Helldorado, a trail we had opened and I had named just a few months earlier when writing about it in Four Wheeler Magazine. Shaft Snapper Canyon became Lower Helldorado. Maybe you remember the old axleshaft that was stuck in the ground and stayed there for years.
Another Brownie story: I was leading a group of Jeep engineers up Helldorado. I decided to try to go to the right of Breakover Rock, the obstacle before the Helldorado Waterfall. All went well at first. Brownie straddled the opening and the front tires climbed up and dropped into the narrow slot. I hoped the rear tires would grip the rock and climb up and over, too. Nope. Once the front tires were in the squeeze, the rear tires just spun. I was wedged.
The only way out of this was to winch. Kevin Hawkins drove over Breakover Rock and got ahead of us so we could use his flatfender as a winch point. It didn’t work. Brownie was wedged too tight for the winch to pull us forward. I looked up at the cliff to my right and saw a tree on top. We decided to run Brownie’s winch line up the cliff, around the tree, then back down to the rear of the Jeep. We would winch Brownie straight up the cliff side, then use Kevin’s winch to pull us forward out of the bind. Unbelievably, this worked – after a lot of pulling and straining. There was one problem. When I went to turn the wheels, something wasn’t right. I crawled underneath and found the CJ drag link adjustment sleeve had bent itself into oblivion. As I wondered what to do, Jim Repp from Jeep appeared and handed me a brand-new CJ OE drag link adjuster. I was happy Jim had come along on this trip and had known I was going to ruin that very part.
Brownie was now free and didn’t have one crease, dent, or scratch. One of the other Jeep engineers volunteered to climb the cliff and get the winch line down. As he climbed, a large rock dislodged and started sliding. I watched in horror as it gained speed and bounced, bounced, slid, and then…crash! It smashed into Brownie’s windshield that was lying on the hood, shattering the glass. Everyone but me thought it was hilarious. I was worried what Rick was going to say when I returned the Jeep. As it turned out, he didn’t care and thought the story was funny, too.
Later, I was driving Brownie with Peter Fogel and Kevin Hawkins following in their flatfenders. When we arrived at the top of a cliff, Peter exclaimed, “You sure drive that rental differently than you drive your own Jeep!”
He was right. Our own 4x4s can go many places. Rental 4x4s go everywhere.