Obi-Wan’s Toy

Jeep. There's only one.
(Obi-Wan's YJ)

I love my Jeep.

“No one ever accused the Wrangler of being comfortable, quiet, or practical. No one ever called it boring, either. The Wrangler is a two-door toy, … great fun to drive with the top down.” — AUTOMOBILE MAGAZINE, Sport Utilities ’95; Buyer’s Guide, March 1995.

And great fun it is! The Wrangler is the ultimate convertible. There’s nothing quite like cruising around on a warm summer afternoon with the sun in your eyes and the wind in your hair. I highly recommend the experience to anyone who has yet to try it.

“Off road… the Wrangler performs amazingly well. It is capable of digging its way through terrain where owners of rival vehicles would long ago have bottled out because of the possibility of doing major cosmetic damage. A few scrapes and dents on the Wrangler, you suspect, would add as much to its resale value as any of the stainless steel accessories provided for owners who do not believe the standard item is outrageous enough.” — THE SCOTSMAN, February 18, 1995.

This is one that adhere to religiously. Two weeks after I bought the vehicle, I’d dented the hood and both front fenders, torn the passenger seat, broken the driver seat, scraped paint off both back corners, and bent the frame so badly that the passenger door no longer fit on. None of it intentionally, of course. You’d think a box frame could stand up to being dropped from four feet in the air. 😉

The frame bending was fun: I was 4-wheeling on a piece of my grandparents’ back pasture. I was doing about 25 mph across what looked like nice, flat land when I hit a 1′ deep by 3′ wide ditch. When the front wheels hit the trailing (up-going) edge of the ditch, the impact sent the front wheels 4 feet in the air & put the Jeep at a 40 degree angle. When the back wheels hit that same edge, it stopped me dead in my tracks & slammed the front end down hard. The impact of landing is what bent the frame & dented the fenders. I was stunned, but able to drive away from it with no problems. It wasn’t until the next day when I tried to put the top & doors back on that I realized the passenger door was no longer smaller than the opening it was designed to fit. Estimates were $800-1500, but I got away with only paying $500, $360 of which was insurance money. I’m much more careful now.

The test drive was also a bit unusual. Wranglers are impossible to find in Lincoln, so I decided to look around out in Colorado Springs, where the selection is much better, when I was out there for a weekend wedding. I’d wanted to get a 6 cyl, but they’re about $5K more than a 4 cyl, and I didn’t think I could afford it. I expressed this to one salesman and asked whether he thought a 4 cyl was powerful enough. He said, “Well, let’s see,” hopped in a topless 4 cyl Wrangler, and took us 4-wheeling for a test drive (in the foothills shown above). As they say, “Only in a Jeep.”

Joining a club of other off-road enthusiasts is a great way to learn more about your vehicle. From Oct 1997 – Oct 2000 I was a member of the Flatlanders Jeep Club based in Manhattan, KS. From February 1999 – late 2002, I was a member of the Just Jeeps of Omaha club. I still associate with the JJ folks. They’re good people, I just don’t have time to make it to any of their official functions any more.

Miscellaneous 4×4-related stuff, including the magazine search engine and my favorite 4×4 links page, is located here.

Here’s a list of some of the custom modifications I’ve made and some other popular ones that I’d like to make in the future.

I must be modifying my YJ a bit too much, because I finally broke down and bought a tow rig in the form of a ’77 Jeep Wagoneer with a 401 V8 so that my ever-growing family could travel in style to distant four-wheeling events.

Here are the trip reports for some of the wheeling trips I’ve taken. Many of them are the monthly outings for the Flatlanders Jeep Club, based in Manhattan, KS.

Here’s a brief summary of the damage incurred since I bought the vehicle 2 Sep 95:

  • 3 Sep 1995: Dented the hood while sitting on it posing for a picture.
  • Probably 8 Sep 1995: A 10-yr-old climbing into the back seat broke the drivers seat.
  • 17 Sep 1995: Hit a previously-invisible ditch and went airborne. Bent the frame, dented both front fenders, and warped the side panels.
  • Sometime in the first two weeks: While unsuccessfully attempting to remove the 150-lb hardtop by myself, I scraped paint off both back corners.
  • Sometime in the first two weeks: The passenger seat somehow got torn.
  • 15 Mar 1996: While opening the driver’s door, my knee bumped the inside door handle upward, snapping it off.
  • 11 May 1996: Flying gravel from an oncoming car put a pit in the windshield.
  • 14 May 1996: Five minutes of quarter-sized hail pot-marked the hood and fenders.
  • 30 Jun 1996: Drove over a fire pit hidden in 6-foot tall grass, and the up-ended culvert pipe ripped the front right fender flare.
  • 10 Aug 1996: Oil pressure sending unit gave out en route to 150 miles of trail riding near Bailey, CO. Pegged the oil pressure gauge and scared me half to death, but no mechanical problems.
  • 19 Aug 1996: Yet another windshield pit found. Source unknown.
  • 21 Mar 1997: I put a nasty 4-inch dent in the transfer case skid plate when both axles simultaneously dropped off their respective ledges and nearly high-centered me on a rock on Poison Spider Mesa.
  • 18 Feb 1998: A thief pried my vent window out of its frame, unlocked my door, broke my stereo and the latch on my factory center console, and ran off with my CB and over $700 in tools. Here’s how I fixed the window.
  • 30 Mar 1998: While working on the engine, the wind caught my hood and threw it back against my roof, denting it and scraping off bits of paint.
  • 11 Apr 1998: While climbing a nasty hill in Kane Creek Canyon in Moab, I blew a bead and flattened a tire. Unable to stop and change the tire at that point on the hill, I continued to the top, destroying the tire in the process.
  • Summer 1998: On this trip, I noticed that the lower mounting point on my alternator bracket had been broken some time ago (after the new alternator was installed in June). A tight fan belt holds it in place, but I’m looking around for a new bracket.
  • 17 Oct 1998: While doing something (probably hitting a mud hole too hard) on this trip, I split my fan shroud front-to-back. I sewed it together with three zip ties. The same outing tore the mud flap off the frame below the fan & pulleys. That was fixed by using a strip of metal to clamp the flap to the frame instead of just the plastic rivets.
  • 21 Nov 1998: I guess you aren’t supposed to drive around with the hard-top’s rear window open. The weight of the window bouncing killed one support arm and made the fiberglass top at the base of the other one split in two. Some fiberglass patching goop spread inside the crack fixed it.
  • 1 May 1999: The welds that hold your spring perches to your axle undergo a lot of stress when climbing rock ledges. When I installed my SOA lift, I didn’t weld my perches on good enough, and they broke lose during the 2nd Annual Flatlanders 4×4 Fest. Thanks to several friends and my Premier Power Welder, I was able to fix it on the trail and drive back home that night.
  • 16 Dec 2000: While stopped on a highway waiting for oncoming traffic to pass so I could turn left, I was rear-ended at 45 mph by a Chevy C1500 pickup. The Chevy was totalled. I got a broken spare tire hub cap, bent tailgate, bent rear license plate, and broken driver seat. The insurance estimate was $1800, but I fixed it myself for less than $500, most of which went to a new Bestop TrailMax Pro seat. I left the Chevy’s front marker light stuck to my rear bumper for three weeks as a sign that I eat Chevy’s.
  • Feb 2001: Not two months after being hit from behind by one GM truck, I was hit from in front by another. This time an old geezer in a ’98 Jimmy backed into my front bumper in a parking garage. OK, so the only damage I incurred was a bent front license plate. My tow hook and shackle caused well over $1000 damage to the Jimmy’s tailgate and rear bumper, though. Jeep: 2, GM: 0.
  • 22-23 Sep 2001: On the narrow, off-camber trails at Timber Ridge near Castana, IA, I got a little too cozy with some trees and warped a few of my fender flares, not to mention adding plenty of custom pinstriping. I also laid my YJ on its side, but fortunately didn’t take any damage from that.
  • 8-9 Jun 2002: In the narrow trees at the Badlands Off-Road Park in Attica, IN, I dented my left rocker panel, mangled the drip rail on the right side of my windshield frame, tore off both my radio and CB antennas, ripped my roll bar pad in a couple places, broke off the left side “door open” switch, mildly dented my oil pan, and broke the knob off one of my RS9000 rear shocks.
  • 27 Sep 2003: Somewhere on this run at Tuttle Creek, KS, (probably climbing a ledge), I flexxed my right rear axle tube, breaking the rosette welds at the housing and two teeth off the spider gears in my rear differential. The Dana 35 was toast, and got replaced by a Ford 8.8″. On that same run, I also sliced a tire sidewall on a BFG MT and had to buy a new spare.

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