Have you ever needed something that just couldn't be bought? Chances are if you're reading this, you're already on a quest to morph your own truck into something completely unique in one way or another. While most of us are either familiar with or capable of general fabrication and wrench-turning, we usually shy away from building our own precision hard parts. Not Jim McGean.
The stock front Dana 44 on Jim's '79 F-250 had repeatedly proven itself the weak link between the throaty 460 under the hood and the 40-inch tires that Jim throttled through many a mud pit. The quest began for a Dana 60 front axle to end the days of breakage. No luck. Dana 60 front axles weren't to be had in wrecking yards, and the axle builders of the day weren't anxious to tread the then-unfamiliar waters to build McGean the front axle he needed. "I got some replies of 'well, we could give it a shot' but nothing that gave me any confidence that I'd get a good axle in the end. I decided to build the axle myself."
As most of off-roading's success stories go, McGean started out in his garage, working after-hours. "I had until sundown to get my work done and stop making noise so that my neighbors wouldn't complain. In the winter, that meant I had to quit at about 4:30 in the afternoon." Jim's tools were as minimal as his available axle-building time. "I had a bench grinder, a cutting torch, and a stick welder. MIG and TIG welders were way too expensive at the time, so I bought a Lincoln stick welder because Lincoln was the only company that would let me finance a welder. I still have that Lincoln stick welder to this day." The grinder, torch, and welder gave him the capability to build other tools that allowed the Dana 60 to take shape."I built my own shop press, and designed my own cutting tools. I did have to buy my own lathe. I did a lot of research to find the correct parts and part numbers. I wanted to end up with an axle that was as good as or better than what the factories were building."
Jim's first front axle is still under his '79 F-250, which he still owns. After seeing his successful first axle, other people in the same situation asked Jim to build axles for their trucks, too
A few axles later, McGean was able to quit his day job as a product manager for an aerospace company and start Dynatrac. "I moved into an 800-square-foot industrial space and began to advertise locally, then I took a leap of faith and advertised in a national magazine."
Dynatrac has continued to grow, and today occupies a 10,000-square foot facility in Huntington Beach, California. The next move will be into some adjoining industrial space, which will give more breathing room in the shop. "I'm proud of what I've accomplished. I sleep well at night knowing we've done a quality job for our customers, and we'll continue to do so. I subscribe to what (former Chrysler CEO) Lee Iacocca said: 'We don't want to be the biggest, just the best.'" Still, Jim cautions: "If you're thinking of starting your own business, add up your expectations of what it will take, and multiply that times 10. Most people who start a business aren't willing to make the sacrifices and put in the work to make their businesses successful. This isn't about sitting back and expecting things to happen. It's about working the weekend to make sure the customers get what they need. There's also a certain amount of luck involved. You can start a business and do everything right, and still have it fail." Despite the sacrifices and effort, McGean remains positive:"I'm still as pumped about this as I ever was."
We spent a day at Dynatrac roaming the shop while our Pro Rock Dana 60 front and rear axles were being assembled. We stayed out of the way, and kept our fingers clear of the press and lathe, and didn't watch the welding arcs too closely. Yes, our axles were assembled with all the precision and ruggedness we were expecting. Yes, Dynatrac's staff knows its stuff and uses topnotch equipment to create the axles that built and maintain Dynatrac's reputation. As impressive as everything else was, we couldn't help simply feeling amazed that this all began in a single garage, after-hours, with a quest for something that couldn't be bought.
What's In An End
Ford 9-inch Big Bearing housing ends are commonly used on Dynatrac's semi-floating rearends. This first two photos show a stock-style 9-inch housing end, such as might be found in a wrecking yard. Made from a stamping, the housing end has a lip on the inside where it is butt-welded to the axle tube. The lip makes it difficult for oil to reach the bearing. By contrast, Dynatrac's housing end is a machined item that features a very smooth transition between the axle tube and the housing end. The internal contour of the housing end actually creates a reservoir that keeps oil in the bearing.