Saw your editorial about first rigs (“The Beginning of the 4x4 Obsession,” Aug. ’17) and thought I’d send a pic of mine. Fresh off the farm, I moved to Arizona out of college and true to my farm boy self, figured an F-250 would be the best wheeling rig without talking to anyone about it. Put a 4-inch lift on it, initially some 33s and then some 36-inch Dick Cepeks. Didn’t do too much else to it but wheeled that thing all over the place. Lots of Arizona stuff and the Moab Jeep Safari once. Even took it to Colorado and did Black Bear Pass, among others. F-250s had a Dana 50 back then with pretty small parts and I broke the frontend three different times and a driveshaft once. Quickly realized this was not the right rig for wheeling the desert and eventually sold it for an ’85 Toyota, but that’s a different story.
I’m replying to the 4x4 obsession article. My first insight into cars was when I was either 5 or 6 and my dad had just gotten a ’68 Mustang for my mom as a birthday gift. It wasn’t fast and didn’t have any options, but it was cool riding around in the old behemoth. People would always stop my mom and ask her if it was for sale. It was great. We were like mini celebrities. But then during the winter my parents found out how bad the car actually was in the snow with no power brakes or power anything, so my parents decided to shove the car in our garage and buy a Jeep. They went out and bought a ’96 Grand Cherokee. It was a much needed improvement over the Mustang and the Jeep came fitted with some cool stuff. It was the model right below top of the line so it came with the 5.2L V-8 and really nice interior (but unfortunately came with Quadra-Trac) and it was great. Fast forward to today, that same truck is sitting in my driveway ready to become mine, and when it gets on the road again (after some repairs) it will not only be my first 4x4 but my first car as well. Ever since I first got into the Mustang I knew from then cars are all I ever wanted to do with my life and I’m hoping that one day I can be a magazine editor just like you guys!
I really like reading the articles on fourwheeler.com and I just wanted to reply to the request for 4x4 initiation stories.
My introduction to four-wheel drive happened in about 1985 when my dad, who was in equipment leasing, brought home a repossessed ’79 Jeep Wagoneer. We kids thought it was the coolest thing ever since we had grown up with only two-wheel-drive cars. That Jeep might as well have been a Ferrari because of how cool we felt riding around in it. We ended up having the Jeep for a couple of weekends and we took it to the High Uinta’s in eastern Utah for an overnight camping trip. The next week, we attempted to go to Francis Peak in Davis County, but got stuck in the snow. Four-wheel drive saved the day!
A few years later, my parents sold the Ford station wagon that they had and bought an ’85 Chevrolet Suburban. That tough old goat took us everywhere, but we never really used the 4x4 in it. Once in a while, my parents would use 4x4 to climb a snowy driveway. I learned how to drive in the Suburban, which taught me to not fear large vehicles and to respect my blind spots. The Suburban had a nasty habit of stalling when backing down our driveway, which always increased the fun factor of trying to stop. We kept the Suburban until 2005 when it had 312,000 miles on it. The old 350 small-block was really reliable. Unfortunately, the transmission was not so much. Looking back, I wish I had bought that truck from my folks because I would love to have fixed her up and kept her running.
For most of the time between 18 and about 35, I was really not interested too much in truck-like vehicles. I appreciated the precise handling and snappy acceleration provided by cars. But, I always had a piece of me that appreciated being able to use a car for utilitarian purposes once in a while. I have also never lost my love for station wagons. About two years ago, I finally decided that I’d had my fun with small cars and that it was time for a 4x4. I searched the local classified ads for old Ford Explorers, Chevy S-10 Blazers, and Jeep Cherokees (XJ). Each model was researched thoroughly, revealing pros and cons, likes and dislikes. The Explorers were spacious and comfortable, but generally had a ticking time bomb for transmissions. The S-10 Blazers were really good-looking trucks, but the front suspension and engines tended to be problem areas. The Cherokees were (surprise, surprise!) Unitbody, but had wonderful engines and transmissions and a HUGE aftermarket. I finally settled on buying a Cherokee. My father-in-law had a new JK, which I had driven a few times, and years previous had learned to drive stick on his TJ. I shopped and shopped on the local classifieds. Cherokees were pretty numerous, but most tended to be basket cases, riddled with problems, but with great engines. Finally, I found a ’98 Cherokee at a sleazy used car dealership. I sold my car and paid cash for my XJ. The car dealer I bought it from was not really sure how to handle someone walking in with cash and walking out with a car. He was used to dealing with deadbeats who had to finance everything and usually didn’t make payments.
The Cherokee I bought has been really a fun rig to own. It’s been reliable to a fault. So far, I’ve only had to replace the water pump and the U-joints in the front axle. It’s also been a great teaching and learning tool. I enlisted my boys to help me replace the thermostat last winter. We did that work ourselves and learned a few things. The XJ has about 145,000 miles on it and most everything works. Sure, it’s got some quarter panel rust, and a rather large dent, and the paint is typical late-’90s Chrysler (flaking off in sheets), but we have fun in it. Even my wife admits that it’s a cool ride. My oldest son and I got it good and stuck in the snow on a trail near our house. We learned about how to get it un-stuck from snow during that adventure. Just a couple of weeks ago, I took my kids and went to Moab to have some fun. The last time I was in Moab was in about 1987, which is a sin because I live in Utah. We had a blast with the Cherokee in Moab. Since it was our first time, we didn’t do anything crazy, but we did do the Hurrah Pass/Chicken Corners trail, which required the use of four-wheel drive a few times. The XJ impressed me with how effortlessly it handled the steeper sections and the little ledges in the trail. For a bone-stock XJ, I was really impressed. Needless to say, I think I’m hooked on four-wheeling. I really love it. I will take the rough-and-tumble nature of Jeeps and trucks any day over fickle, high-tech handling of a car. Sure, precision handling is cool, but it only gets you so far.
Attached are a couple of pictures from our Moab Jeep excursion. One is my XJ and my father-in-law’s JK on Hurrah Pass at a scenic overlook. The other is a picture of everyone checking out the dinosaur tracks near one of the entrances to Arches National Park. Four-wheeling is really about spending time with family!
In 1943, at age seven, I began retrieving the mail from the box a quarter-mile across a field. The nearest all-weather gravel road was over a mile away. If the Missouri roads were muddy the carrier drove the route from within a canvas cab over a steel frame built on a Ford-Ferguson farm tractor. The spinning large-lugged rear tires threw mud and fishtailed as they tried to push the smaller front wheels through the mud. In 1946, the mailman started delivering in a surplus Jeep. I was fascinated. There had been articles and photographs in magazines during WWII. This was the real thing and all four wheels threw less mud. It went faster and straighter than the two-wheel-drive tractor. I wanted one. That image stayed in my mind; it is still there. My reaction to flying snow, though, was much more favorable than flying mud. I still avoid mud, where possible.
My wrenching experience started with replacing burnt pistons and valves in a Chrysler industrial engine mounted behind the header of a Massey-Harris self-propelled combine. I was twelve. I was small enough to fit in the space where the engine was. The size of the space was responsible for the overheating of the engine, necessitating the repair work in the June heat of a wheat field.
Fast forward to about 1962 when I returned to visit my college fraternity house. One of the younger brothers, knowing of my interest, gave me the first two issues of Four Wheeler. The front of the earliest issue had a B&W picture of Telluride, Colorado, in the background. I watched the newsstands and bought every issue until I decided my income was sufficient to afford a multiple year subscription. I think I still have a copy of every Four Wheeler.
I got married. My wife was a college student. When she went to work after graduating we needed a second car. From reading Four Wheeler I thought I knew everything there was to know about the several 4WD vehicles then available. It was time to actually have a ’67 Bronco. A V-8, a full-length metal cab, dual fuel tanks, low range and limited-slip differential in both axles were required, I thought. It took time but I found a used ’67 when the ’68 model was introduced. I lived in Colorado, so I drove the old railroad grades, mining haul roads and utility access trails in the mountains. I was finally four-wheeling.
In 1972 there was a small third family member, so we acquired a travel trailer. The Bronco was too light and too short to handle the trailer so I traded for a ’71 Scout II, with a larger V-8, automatic transmission, longer wheelbase, and better brakes. It was a little less agile and had less ground clearance, but it managed a trip to Holy Cross City, without a winch or any other assistance. It turned out that experience was as important as equipment for successful four-wheeling in rugged conditions. I now regard those days as the golden age of four-wheeling. Fuel was cheap, and with two jerrycans I (we) could see much of the American West. I did not skimp on maintenance. The biggest worry was running out of fuel on the Arizona Strip or north of US 30 in Nevada. We did once run out of fuel about 200 yards from the service station pump coming out of the desert south of Mesquite, Nevada. History, mineral collecting, and landscape photography became part of the backcountry trips.
Rising fuel costs curtailed use of the trailer and soccer practice reduced four-wheeling. When my wife’s job moved across the city in 1986 I traded for an ’85 Jeep Cherokee with a V-6 and automatic transmission and ability to limit differential action in the transfer case so that she could commute in snow if necessary. I was amazed at the abilities of the thing; so amazed that I bought, dismantled, and reassembled to my liking four more of them, all with 4.0L engines, over the next ten years. Lifts, larger tires, portable 8,000-pound winch mounts for front or rear, and custom skidplates were added to some of them. A Comanche that wound up with a Dana 44 rear axle and a SelecTrac transfer case that looked and behaved as they would have in a Cherokee was one result from all the parts remaining from the backyard activity.
In 1998, the water pump in an ’88 Wagoneer crapped out on Buffalo Pass near Steamboat Springs. I coasted into town and bought my first new Cherokee, a ’98 with Selec-Trac. I drove it home, disposed of all the random parts of earlier models and ran it stock for three years. Then I had it lifted and both axles air-locked, with sway bar disconnect and front hitch receiver added, so that my 8,000-pound portable Ramsey winch was still usable. It still has less than 82,000 miles and I seldom use it for anything other than driving to, and then running, 4x4 trails.
Last fall (2016) I finally got around to running Black Bear and Imogene Pass, the last two trails of any note in Colorado that I had never before done. Both had been long overhyped I discovered, but I did get to see essentially the view of Telluride that was on the cover of the first Four Wheeler. Impressive views still propel my four-wheeling.
In the ’90s I wrote a number (18?) of “Getting There” columns for then-editor John Stewart who published all of them. I was very gratified. I have never been towed off the trail, but have towed a few others into town. I only had one occasion to rescue myself by winching, and that was a deliberate “stuck in the mud” to prove that I knew what needed to be done in the field. In my mind, modifications and accessories are not an end, but a means to an end.
I am still an enthusiast. I have been four-wheeling for 49-plus years.
Thanks to everyone who wrote in to share the beginnings of their 4x4 obsession!