After being teased around the campfire and a having a restless sleep in the back of a Toyota Land Cruiser, I had to consult with the 4Wheel and Off-Road staff. "What do I do?" "Am I going to get a big fat ticket for abandoning my Jeep?" "Will the Feds bring in a helicopter and send me a huge bill?" Those were a few of the (stupid?) questions I had for the seasoned editors.
Rick Pw suggested calling the Forest Service to let them know I was leaving the truck, and freed-up Fred Williams and David Kennedy for a rescue operation during the week. After David gave me a list of parts that may be needed to fix the power steering and necessities such as tow straps, two cases of trans fluid and fire extinguishers, I left the Cheap Truck Challenge camp. When I got home, I placed a call to the Forest Service and was assured the truck would not be removed, (the lady laughed at me, but was very nice about the situation), and was warned that vandalism was a possibility.
I tried not to think about finding a stripped or burned Grand Wagoneer in the woods and started shopping for parts. The major chain stores did not have the pressure line for the power steering, but Tampa Auto Parts in Reseda, California, had one in stock, plus they only charged a few bucks for a transmission mount (the chains wanted more than 20 dollars!). Once I had all the parts on David's list, I felt better about using (wasting?) the time of two editors with deadlines to meet. Over a truck stop breakfast on Tuesday, the guys kept assuring me that it was not a big deal and said it would be fun - that "other kind of fun" that Pw told me about back at camp.
After loading the Ultimate Adventure K10 and Fred's Army Truck, we headed to the end of the Miller Jeep Trail and started climbing the hill toward my FSJ, which was about two miles from the exit. I rode with David in the big yellow pickup and he suggested making mental notes about obstacles that I would have to face on the way out. Everything looked treacherous to me, but the UA truck lugged trough the trail like it was going over parking lot speed bumps. Fred had no problem keeping up in his green diesel pickup.
It only took about an hour to find Stinky parked where it had been "abandoned" three days earlier. Fortunately, the recent thunderstorms had not soaked the interior of the truck, since the passenger window stuck in the down position and the back glass was resting in the second row of seats. Also, there were no signs anyone had messed with the vehicle. Maybe it was because there was no temptation since it's a beater, but I prefer to think the folks on Miller Jeep Trail are just good people who pointed and laughed as they drove by.
Once the truck had been started and shut off, (to make sure it still worked), Fred leapt into action, threw down a tarp, got under the truck and was covered with grease in less than 60 seconds. He was soon joined by David, and I tried to help by handing tools to the guys like an assistant in a M.A.S.H. unit. Good news - Fred couldn't find anything wrong with the patient's steering and it kept the fluids down, so those parts can go back to the store. The prognosis was not so great for the transmission. It looks like the homemade shim was used to "solve" a problem with the seal was not holding the transmission oil like it did before the Cheap Truck Challenge - which means the trans will need to be removed for repairs.
When he got done laughing at the bailing wire holding the sheet metal to the tranny, Fred determined that the transmission mount looked fine, but the driver side engine mount was shot. That could explain why it was difficult to shift when the truck was off-camber. With the engine not secure, there was more movement in the drivetrain than should be allowed. (Maybe I can swap the power steering pump for some new mounts and fix one of the Jeep's ailments). Unable to find anything else wrong, Fred and David got out from under the truck and we added trans fluid to the power steering reservoir.
I started the jeep and the tires came to life with power assist - and it didn't seem to lose fluid when I cranked the wheel back and forth. With the engine running, the guys checked the transmission oil and there was none on the stick, so David added four quarts (which did not immediately get dumped onto the trail). Since the Jeep's hood can only be opened by poking a screwdriver, (or the included hacksaw dummy blade), in a gap above the grille, we worried about a game-breaking engine fire. Fred was more than happy to remove the hood and strap it to the roof rack.
After attaching chains and tow straps from the FSJ to the Ultimate Adventure truck, David warned me that Rule Number One was "Do NOT hit the yellow truck." I agreed, and we started the extraction. I tried to keep the straps taught while he led me down the tight switchbacks at the end of the trail. Using walkie-talkies to keep in communication, David gave me tips and plenty of encouragement as Fred trailed us out of the woods. Good thing the Army Truck was in the caravan, because I broke the unwritten Towing Rule Numero Uno, (unwritten because it is a given). I ran over the tow strap.
I had allowed too much slack while making a turn, and thought the chains had just shifted on the bumper when I radioed David that something did not look right. We stopped and when he removed the strap, my brake pedal went to the floor and I almost hit the yellow truck. Dang! Fred attached his winch and we were able to survey the damage. David said we needed a setback because things were going too easy, but I felt like a real sucker because I was scared the rescue would be infinitely harder since I was convinced the brakes would be gone.
Fred got under the truck and sacrificed a small pair of vice grips to clamp the rubber brake line, and secured the tool with zip ties. I was really worried about the brakes, and I'm sure the guys could tell. The idea of being unhooked from the other trucks for the rest of the trail was making me act like a real wuss. Fred said I should aim for a tree that would stop the truck if the brakes gave out. Oh boy.
Fortunately, that did not happen, and I did not hit the yellow truck, and I was even able to use the engine and possibly damaged tranny to power the Jeep up the few inclines left in the trail. It was a great relief to see a farm house that meant there was only about 50 yards left in the ride. I was able to avoid a large rock that is known for causing body damage and even made a final water crossing to get off the trail. What a relief it was to be closer to civilization.
We reinstalled the hood and the guys aired up their tires before we hit the road to find a place for the Jeep to sit until my 100 mile AAA towing kicked-in. I was surprised how mobile the FSJ was. It was able to drive (loudly) on a country road and easily made it to a large parking lot where I hoped it would go unnoticed for a few days. It dumped the transmission fluid while it sat around, but was able to drive and get in position so Shawn of Interstate Towing could put it on a flatbed. He followed me back to Los Angeles and after I parked it on the street outside my home, he wished me the best of luck with the future repairs/build-up of my "new" Cheap Jeep.