Coyote Lake August 2013

The SLO 4 Wheelers were headed to Coyote Lake so we decided to join them for a long weekend. 


Since camping is somewhat limited at the lake we decided to beat the rush and wheel in thursday.  Thinking that we were the only ones headed up that early we made no plans and cruised over to prather, got fuel and had lunch.  As luck would have it, we saw a few other members getting gas on our way out of prather.  Since we were towing I figured they’d have no problems catching us on the four lanes as we crept to the top, so we continued on.  Surprisingly, the only one to catch us was Derrick and he pulled off at a snopark at the very top of the grade past Shaver Lake.  We found a place to park the tow rig and continued up to Sandy Flats so the wife could use the outhouse.


Not sure how long the others would take to get there we decided to continue on and take our time with the trail.  Its amazing how quickly one rig can move through a trail!  Before I knew it we were at Red Lake.  We enjoyed the scenery a bit and pushed on.  I guess the jeep makes it rather boring as my wife decided to start reading her book after the gatekeeper!  We arrived at Coyote Lake with our choice of campsites available.  As we were setting up camp Derrick and a couple other Toyota guys showed up and quickly found spots.  Not too long afterward Mike, Matt and Randy showed up and picked out sites.  Even though we couldn’t have a fire due to fire restrictions everyone was in a good mood!

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The plan for day two was to get in a bit more wheeling and meet the rest of the group coming in.  We didn’t get that early of a start so we ran into them just above the Coyote Lake gatekeeper.  We still had fun doing some easy wheeling and helping the others through the trail.  Everyone got to the lake and setup camp.  Some of the kids, well most of them, jumped in Kenn’s canoe for a ride out on the lake while some of the other guys went fishing.  We wound up huddled around the lanterns at night due to the fire restrictions.

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Saturday was a day to relax and goof off.  We woke up late and attempted to hike up to the top of the mountain across the lake.  We made it 2/3rds of the way up and had to turn around.  Elevation is not your friend when you live at sea level!  I think everyone else made it up though!  The rest of the day was spent resting, eating, fishing or whatever we wanted to do.


Sunday came all too quickly and we had to pack up and leave.  Wheeling out was uneventful although it did take a while now that we were with a few different rigs and we ran into a couple of groups coming in for the day.  There isn’t much that beats wheeling in the Sierra’s!  From the smell of the fresh air and trees, to the rocky stream crossings and wildflowers growing along side the trail it is allways breathtakingly beautifull!


It can also be equally challenging if you know where to look.  After hitting most of the optional lines coming out of Coyote, the group split up and some went home.  The rest of us decided to go down the Mirror Lake trail for a bit to the “hard” section I kept hearing about.  I had allways heard something about a rock and a tree.  The trail starts out very easy and then your dropping down a steep rocky face and around a tree with a boulder on the left.  We all turned around and started back up one by one.


Derrick went first in his Toyota.  He crawled up around the tree and then snaked his way up the rocky face till the truck started sliding off towards the edge.  He thought it would be best to winch from there and live to wheel another day.  Tom was next and had to take quite a few tries around the tree due to his carburetor loading up.  A couple of tries up top and he was through.  Kenn followed in his new 4runner and made quick work of the whole section.  I was next with Mike in his CJ7 behind me.  I told Carrie to buckle up and wear the harnesses this time as I wasn’t happy with the offcamber climb.  I knew if the Toyotas could do it, the buggy would have no problems, but better safe than sorry!  We got to the tree and cruised right around it with no problems.  I waited for Mike on the other side in case he had issues.  He popped right up no problem!  The upper section had a couple of large boulders on the right forming the edge of the trail, and a steep off camber slab to the left.  The idea was to stay up high on the slab to avoid getting caught on the boulders, just don’t roll it either!  We went high on the left, but its so steep and off camber all four wheels were spinning and the buggy was drifting sideways into the boulders.  Forward progress came to halt and we backed up to take another shot.  This time Kenn thought we should try crawling the boulders.  The frontend went up easily and after a bit of spotting and using all the travel the suspension had we managed to crawl our way to the top!  I parked and got out to wait for Mike, but he was allready up.  I guess he brought more rig than he thought!


We got back to Sandy Flats, unlocked the hubs, and drove back to the tow rigs.  After packing up the rigs we drove back down to Prather and had fresh hot pizza!

It was an excellent trip and we can’t wait to go back!

Coyote Lake Video:

Coyote Lake Gatekeeper Video:

Mirror Lake Climb Video:

Jeep LJ Transfercase and Engine Skidplate

Jon came to me with a need for more clearance under his jeep.  After looking at the beat up sheetmetal skidplate that was under his jeep we quickly came up with plan for more beef!


I fabricated two crossmembers and redid the complex stock jeep t-case mount.  The crossmembers are structural and will support the trans and t-case even with the skidplate removed which makes maintanence easier.  The skidplate is 1/4″ thick steel and is also structural.  Combined the crossmembers and skidplate should be able to take quite a hit!

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Jon also wanted an engine skidplate to protect the oil pan and trans pan.  A front mount was fabricated off the engine mounts and another 1/4″ skidplate welded together.  I welded some 3/16″ strap to the bottom of the skid for extra support.DSCN3956

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Jon was also worried about the stock rubicon air lockers and rightly so with them being mounted directly on the allread bent stock skidplate.  Now the air lockers are mounted on top of the rear crossmember 1.5″ away from the skid.  The skid plate also wraps around the back to further protect the lockers and plumbing from rocks and trail debris.

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Ball Joint D60 Steering Arm

How do you get a highsteer arm bolted onto a steering knuckle that never had provisions for anything to be bolted on the top of it?  You get creative and machine your own mount.

Joe came to me and needed a way to get a steering arm on top of his superduty D60 steering knuckle.  There are no bolt holes on top and in fact its just a raw casting thats not even flat.  After some trial and error with cardstock templates I came up with a plan to work around the existing brake caliper mount web thats in the way and finalized the drawings.steering arm2

I then set about making a fixture to hold the knuckle upright so I could mill the top perpendicular to the wheel bearing hub.  I drilled the face of the fixture with two different patterns so I would be able to do left and right knuckles.


I started out by making the arm.  It was machined out of 1018 cold roll bar stock, 1″ thick.  The step in the arm and knuckle as well as the slot for the brake caliper mount web allow the arm to be “keyed” to the knuckle and no tappered cone washers are needed.  After the arm was done I pressed the ball joints out of the knuckle and mounted it to the fixture on the milling machine.  Quite a bit had to be cut off the knuckle since every surface is at an odd angle and the top needs to be flat.  Six holes were drilled and tapped for 1/2-20 bolts.  Due to the proximity of the brake caliper mount web, grade 8 socket head cap screws were used.DSCN3834DSCN3843

While it was a bit of work, this was a fun project and a good challenge!


Carrizo Plains Exploring April 2013

I had wanted to check out the Carrizo Plains National Monument for awhile now and spring seemed like the best time to go.  It should be green right?  Normaly april would be a great time to go and see green hills and lots of wildflowers, but not this year.  Our last real heavy rain was sometime in november and we’ve only had a few trace amounts since.  You can see from the pics that its been a very dry winter.  In fact when we were out there in late april it was allready getting close to 90deg during the day!  Anyhow, it was good break from yardwork and next time we come we will know a bit more about where to go.  Here are some pics from the trip.



Dusy-Ershim 2009

Here are some pics from our Dusy-Ershim trip in 2009.

Design Ideas

I’ve been working on some ideas.  These are kinda random thoughts at the moment.

Here is a break away mirror for tube chassis vehicles.side mirror, main assy, image1

I’ve also slowly been designing a 3 Link front for my toyota.  This needs a lot more work.  I need to get the panhard in.  So far this is basicly just a rough sketch to get an idea of what I can do design truck front link suspension, image1toyota truck front link suspension, image2

Double Shear D60 Highsteer Arms

I originaly designed the jeep buggy to be road legal, which meant having to keep a standard steering box and mechanical connection to the wheels.  So my front suspension was set as a 3-link with panhard.  Due to the steering relationship between the panhard and draglink, I didn’t have much room to put a tierod up front.  I also thought it would be better to get the tie rod and hydro assist cylinder behind the axle and out of the way.  I did some quick mockups and determined that a tierod could indeed fit in between my upper suspension link and the pinion on my D60.

I did some CAD design work to figure out how long and at what angle to make the steering arms.  I designed these for correct ackerman for my wheelbase, remember I was expecting this to be streetable.  The length was determined by figure out my max steering angle and the 8″ throw of my hydro assist cylinder.  If the arms are too long then the ram won’t have enough travel, if they are too short, then the ram has too much travel.  You really want everything to max out at the exact same time.  I did the same for designing the draglink arm.

Here is a point I’d like to stress.  A vehicle is a complex collection of different mechanism working together to create a driveable vehicle.  Not thinking about how one alteration affects the other systems will often lead to issues using the vehicle and a less than stellar driving experience and potentialy a few long nights on the trail.  The way the steering box interacts with the steering arms, knuckles, tie rod, assist cyl, rim offset and tires, and panhard all effect how the vehicle behaves on and off road.  You can’t simply focus on one part.DSCN2521

I went to work and machined some 1″ plate to form the base of my steering arms.  The sides were milled and the kingpin cap bolt pattern was drilled into them.  I decided to upgrade the kingpin cap bolts to 9/16″ from 1/2″ for a bit more strength.  The cap was also cut for the kingpin bearing thrust washer and shims.  I also decided to do away with the upper kingpin bearing spring.  The spring deflecting at full steering lock is a known issue that causes broken u-joints and knuckles.DSCN2522

1/4″ cold roll plate was used top and bottom to form the actual pockets the rod ends would attach too.  All the pieces were beveled substantially before welding, welded then ground smooth.  Some 3/16″ plate was then wrapped around the outsides to help tie everything together.DSCN2524

3/4 x 3/4 rod ends were used for the tie rod, while 7/8 x 3/4 rod ends with misalignment spacers were used for the draglink.  I made my own 303 stainless steel cone washers and used grade 8 bolts throughout.  I know everyone’s going to tell me I should use studs and nuts to hold the arms to the knuckle and that studs are stronger.  Show me proof!  Show me some actual engineering that similar size and grade, stud and nuts are stronger than bolts, and not internet hearsay.  In my experience studs are commonly used for ease of assembly or in situations that will require frequent disassembly.

So far the only real downside I have found to these steering arms has been the inability to remove the front calipers with the arms installed.  Everything, including the hydro assist ram is tucked up neatly and out of the way.DSCN3050

Future revisions will hopefully include a 9deg angle correction for the kingpin inclination, as well as externally adjustable preload for the upper kingpin bearing and a dedicated hydro assist mount.

For now they’re working out great!


Plated D60 Knuckles

Its common knowledge that stock D60 front kingpin outer knuckles aren’t the strongest.  Luckily, I have chevy front knuckles that are stronger than the ford versions.  The weak point is where the top of the kingpin meets the spindle attachment area.  Vehicles with highsteer wind up twisting that kingpin mounting surface off the rest of the knuckle.


An easy, and better yet, economical solution to expensive aftermarket knuckles, is to plate the knuckle.  Simply by adding plates front and back can significantly increase the strength of the stock knuckle. 

I used some cardboard to make templates and cut them out of 1/4″ plate.  I then used a sanding disc and cleaned up the knuckle surfaces in prep for welding.  Heating the knuckle up with a torch helps get a better penetrating weld at the start.  Luckily these are cast steel and weld rather well.  Then just let them slow cool, the slower the better.


I did have to do a bit of “blacksmithing” to get the plate pieces to conform to the contours of the knuckle, but it was rather easy.  I’ve seen others that have plating tying the side in above the spindle as well, but for these chevy knuckles I wasn’t as concerned.

So far they’ve been holding up just fine to 40″ tires and hydro assist steering!


Hollister Hills April 2013

Went for a short trip up to Hollister Hills SVRA this past weekend.  I towed the jeep up Friday night and met some friends from the SLO4Wheelers.  I showed up at about 8:30 at night and promptly got lost in the dark.  After being “caught” night wheeling with my truck and jeep on the trailer, I was escorted down to the camp area.  Boy was it packed!

I think I got about 2hrs of sleep that night and the morning was a bit rough.  Luckily the new to me camper shell and a little propane heater helped to take the bite out of the cold morning air.

Tom led us over to the Mcray Road obstacle course so we all could check it out.  Some of us played on one of the rocky sections while the others watched or checked out the rest of it.  If you haven’t seen it, Mcray road is a series of really hard man made obstacles.  Even in my jeep buggy I knew it would be pointless to try most of it.

Bonanza Trail

After checking that out, we cruised over and ran the bonanza trail.  Its your basic Hollister ravine trail. You wind your way up the hill in the bottom of a ravine, often times leaned over so far your cage is touching the opposite embankment.  We spent a little bit of time getting up the trail.  Trails like this aren’t easy on full bodied rigs.  We attempted to go to the top, but found out that it was a dead end.  Coming back down Kenn found out he had sliced a tire so we headed back to camp for lunch.

After lunch, Kenn hoped in my jeep buggy and we took off following Derek and Chad up to the jungle trail, yet another tight ravine trail.  We started in and almost immediately I this overwhelming smell of fuel.  I had been smelling bits here and there all morning, but it was obvious now that something wasn’t right.  We stopped, popped the hood and sure enough fuel is dribbling out of my high pressure line to fuel rail connection.  I knew I didn’t have any parts to fix it, so we decided to limp back to camp rather than risk having a fireball on the trail.  Bummer, my day was over because of a 10 cent o-ring.

Chad coming out of the pit

We then jumped in Kenn’s cruiser and went over to watch the action at the obstacle course.  The highlight came when Chad decided to crawl into the rock pit.  He got most of the way out, but there was this one pesky rock that kept holding him up.  On his last try, a little too much gas, a hop and bounce, and BAM, broken sector shaft on the steering box!

Broken Sector shaft

That was pretty much it.  We got Chad out, loaded up the rigs and took off.  It was a good weekend and I think everyone had fun!  I did, even though my day was cut short, and I’m looking forward to going back!