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April 2012 Trail Head

Posted in Features on April 1, 2012
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Time stands still for no man. It’s hard to argue with that old axiom ’cause it’s true. But that’s not to say it passes at the same rate. Ever notice how an hour spent sitting in an insurance seminar seems like a lifetime, but a six-day vacation seems to go by in the blink of an eye? The same holds true when it comes to this vehicular hobby we all suffer from. My wife calls it Jeep time, and it goes something like this.

Me: “Hey hon, I gotta run out to the garage and finish the suspension on the Cherokee Chief. I’m just tossing on the new rear springs.”

Her: “How long will it take, because we’re supposed to meet the (insert any couple’s name here) for dinner in three hours.”

Me: “Oh, it’s easy. It’ll only take 30 minutes. I’ll be done and showered in plenty of time.”

Her: (Sigh) “Okay, I’ll call and cancel the baby sitter.”

As usual, she was right. Apparently, to calculate Jeep time, you first start by vocalizing a realistic or optimistic estimate of completion time. This alerts Murphy’s Law and gives the cosmic karma police time to mobilize and intervene on your behalf—no matter how ridiculously easy the task you’re about to embark upon. Then, you take normal-people-time and multiply it by a factor of 10. That’s Jeep time, and as it turns out, is a fairly accurate assessment because five hours later I was wrapping up the rear suspension of my Cherokee.

I always start any suspension install by putting on the extended brake line(s). But I was operating on Jeep time, so the fittings on the ’78 Cherokee’s frame-to-axle hose wouldn’t budge. Even my line wrenches were rounding off the fittings. After much time I got ’em off with some Vise Grips and careful heat from a propane torch. Then, I grabbed a new braided steel line I had laying around from an old project. I got the new distribution block bolted to the axletube and the hard lines bolted to the distribution block before realizing the fittings on the frame end didn’t match. Hey, it’s Jeep time. Off came the new line, on went the old line pinched shut and dangling, and finally off came the springs … or so I thought.

I was operating on Jeep time, so naturally the driver-side spring-eye bolt was buried under the fuel tank and skidplate. Thankfully, only the skidplate had to come out and not the entire fuel tank, to which I had just added 15 gallons. Mr. Murphy was merciful, but only temporarily. I got the shackle-end of the spring bolted up, but then had to struggle for quite a while to get the main eye lined up because of how aggressively arched the new springs were.

With the lessons learned on the driver-side spring, I assumed the passenger-side spring would go on in a heartbeat, but I was operating on Jeep time, so … well … it didn’t. This time I started by bolting on the main eye first and trying to do the shackle second. I had to temporarily remove the tailpipe hanger, which broke … and became a permanently removed tailpipe hanger. You know why.

And on it went until the Jeep was finally sitting on its new springs and the driveshaft was hooked up. By now the kids were in bed and the flies were buzzing around the plate of cold dinner my wife had kindly placed on my workbench while I was on my back under the Cherokee … doing that 30-minute suspension install.

Why do we do it? Because despite the fact that during these wrenching sessions some of us develop new and exciting swear words, some emulate their favorite big-league pitcher using box end wrenches or sockets, and some just curl up in the fetal position and cry on the garage floor (hey, we’ve all been there). Deep down we love this stuff. And we’ll keep coming back for more. You know why? It’s human nature to forget discomfort. Women describe childbirth as the most excruciating thing a human can endure, yet the human race goes on. Pain fades, but the end result is worth it—and deep down, it truly is a labor of love. Your worst 5-hour install is still better than 30 minutes of filling out TPS reports at the office.

So right now I’m gonna hit “Save” on the ol’ computer, wrap up this editorial, and take 45 minutes to swap intake manifolds on the Cherokee Chief. See ya in a couple of hours.

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