I’m wrenching like my life depends on it right now because today, I’m supposed to begin a 1,700 mile trip to Utah in my $800 Jeep Grand Wagoneer with a Willys CJ-2A in tow. How that’s going to happen when I still have so much work to do is absolutely beyond me.
There’s been no update on Project Redwood, the dilapidated 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer that I’m driving from Michigan to the Easter Jeep Safari in Utah, in a few days because, along with some friends, I’ve been buried deep in wrenching. Too deep.
One of my biggest struggles lately has been the brakes. I stayed up late Tuesday night rebuilding the drum brakes and replacing brake hoses. Everything was rusted. Every bolt. Every fitting.
I broke a brake line around 1 a.m. and just about cried myself to sleep. The good news is that, by chance, I found a decent brake hard line on a Grand Wagoneer at the junkyard yesterday morning, but the bad news is that, even after installing it, the brakes still leaked.
So I went and formed my own new hard line, but the brakes continued to leak. Then I grabbed some new wheel cylinders, and the leak went away, only to start up again at my rear brake hose fitting. Why something as simple as brakes is ruining my life, I do not know. It’s driving me mad.
My transfer case, which—like my transmission—is leaking like a damn waterfall, will not shift into four-wheel drive (and thus, not into low-range), but I haven’t even bothered worrying about that because the brakes are my top priority. Speaking of things I haven’t bothered worrying about: the transmission’s neutral safety switch is also acting up, preventing the Jeep from starting every now and again. But a little jiggle of the shifter seems to solve this; hopefully it doesn’t come back to haunt me.
Andrew and I took care of a bad front driveshaft U-joint last night after we noticed a vibration during driving. We conducted the repair using a hammer and some sockets, and not the ball joint press I had sitting on the desk. This way, if we do blow a U-joint on the trails of Moab, we’ll know how to take care of it without specialty tools.
My trailer harness, which was working just a few days ago, wasn’t functioning last night after picking up our Auto Transport (which the company graciously lent us for $0), but a heroic reader named Jamie decided to drive 50 miles to my house last night around 9 p.m. to deal with the shitshow you see above.
He uncovered a lot of corroded wires:
The poor bastard stuck around until about 2:30 a.m. sorting out my problems, but somehow maintained a great attitude while wrenching in my filthy, crowded garage. Andrew and I are very grateful that Jamie was willing to hang out in this dungeon and sacrifice a few years of life expectancy for the greater good.
Speaking of Andrew, he will be joining me on this doomed expedition. He will be the voice of reason, I think. I hope.
I’ve still got a bit of work to do on the brakes. It continues to leak, even in places where all the hardware is brand new. I’d also like to replace the rear shocks and adjust the transmission bands before I leave, but those may just have to wait.
As for my general attitude about the trip: I’m nervous, and I’m not exactly sure why. My friends and I have replaced almost the entire brake system (master cylinder, hoses, calipers, wheel cylinders, pads, shoes, etc.), installed a new water pump, plumbed in a transmission cooler, rebuilt the carburetor, replaced the steering parts, changed all the fluids and thrown on nice tires.
But despite all of these common-sense preventative measures, I still feel a bit uneasy. I can’t put my finger on it—maybe it’s the erratic oil pressure that’s freaking me out. Maybe it’s the rusty brake lines that I keep breaking off, or maybe it’s the master cylinder whose brake fluid I spilled all over my face the other night while bench bleeding.
Maybe it was the front axle shaft ear that I gouged while trying to remove a U-joint with a press. Maybe it’s the transmission that reaches over 200 degrees F unladen during regular driving (this is a transmission outlet temperature, admittedly). Maybe it’s the fact that the Jeep leans hard to the left when unloaded. Maybe it’s my rusted out fuel tank skid plate (which, I’m told, actually holds up the tank). All of these annoyances and setbacks are adding up to sow seeds of doubt in my head.
But I suspect that the true reason why I’m so nervous has to do with the fact that I’m towing a vehicle near its maximum rated load. That’s a big deal, and I know it.
It means that, even with cold ambient temperatures on my side, all the important systems—the engine, transmission, differentials and brakes—will be worked hard. And it also means that any failure—a bad bearing or a bad ball joint—becomes that much more dangerous.
I’m more tired than I’ve ever been, having stayed up last night until 5:30 a.m. In fact, just writing this article was a genuine struggle. But I’ll continue wrenching until Andrew and I feel the Jeep is ready to hit the road.
And once we do, we’ll continue fixing things, finding new problems, fixing more things, and eventually passing out covered in grease, only to wake up the next day to limp this rusty old Jeep—which just a few months ago had been sitting for 12 years—to the off-road promised land.
Either that, or we’ll ditch it in a junkyard somewhere and continue on in the Willys. Who knows.