My wife and I spent the weekend of 13-14 September wheeling down near Manhattan, KS (about two hours due south of Lincoln). The original reason was to see the Durabak setup that Nick Falcetto seemed like a good excuse to get together. We chose to go down on a weekend when the Flatlanders Jeep Club had their monthly meeting in Manhattan.
Saturday, 13 Sep 1997
We left Lincoln around 9:30am Saturday (still pretty early for a Saturday). The map said our destination was 120 miles from home, which provided a good trial run for my recently-installed cruise control setup. We had agreed to meet Nick at the diner right outside the ORV area.
The ORV area is about a square mile of very diverse land. The southeast corner of it touches Tuttle Creek reservoir, which provided some cool photos at dusk and some decent mud for those who like that sort of thing. I’m not much of a mud runner, personally. The rest of the area has lots of hills and valleys criss-crossed with trails through the thick vegetation. Many of the hill climbs are covered in lose shale rock, which adds to the difficulty level a bit. This is apparently the only legal, public ORV area in Kansas. Since there are apparently no such areas in eastern Nebraska, it’s also the closest area to our home in Lincoln, NE.
The weekend we were there, they were having a mountain bike race through the ORV area. The course looked pretty grueling, but would no doubt be lots of fun for hard-core bikers. There were also several dune buggies and a motorcycle or two out there.
Nick and his grandpa, who rode shotgun, led Stacy & I around the area for a few hours. Nick’s 33″ tires offered a bit more ground clearance than did my stock 225/75R15’s, so most of the afternoon went like this:
- I spot Nick along a rocky obstacle.
- Nick spots me over the rocky obstacle. BANG! CLANK!
- We get down & look under my Jeep to see which part of the undercarriage got hit this time.
- We drive to the next obstacle.
Fortunately, my YJ incurred no major damage on this trip. I didn’t even get any significant dents!
Around 3pm, Nick decided to show me a new trail they’d just cleared. He couldn’t find the entrance to the top of the trail from the parking lot, so we went around and came at it from the bottom. The hill was a couple hundred feed long, covered with shale, and bordered by thick trees. Nick went first. He got just over half way up when I heard a loud BANG, after which Nick’s YJ rolled backwards 10 feet into a tree. “What happened, Nick?” “I think I broke a driveshaft, and I don’t have any brakes.” I quickly moved my YJ, which hadn’t yet started up the trail, to safety behind some trees. Upon further inspection, we found that Nick’s brakes were fine. His only damage was sheared clamps that hold his rear driveshaft U-joint to the axle pinion. Nick had spares, but unfortunately, the bolts holding the clamp in place had sheared off, rendering them un-removable on the trail. Nick got stuck on this same hill (without breakage) again in February ’98, so it now holds the title of “Falcetto Lane.”
We decided that my 4cyl couldn’t pull Nick to the top of the trail, so we radioed for help. A family in a Scout with a winch came to the rescue. As we led them back to the top of the trail, we ran into a couple guys that we’d met earlier that day. One of them had a Toyota pickup, also with a winch. The Scout pulled Nick just a few feet when the welds on their receiver-mounted hitch started to break, so the Toy took over. We had to stack lots of rocks near the ledges on the trail to get Nick to the top, but we finally made it. I decided not to push my luck and drove around the easy way to meet everyone at the top. Nick yanked his driveshaft, shoved his Plugzit into the hole in his t-case, and called it good. Since he was now in front-wheel drive, I had to tug him up to the parking lot.
We drove from there down to the campground (a couple miles north along the paved road & across 893) where a Scout club from Wichita was spending the night. Nick decided there that he couldn’t make field repairs, so he headed home 100 miles to Emporia and Stacy & I setup camp for the night with the Scout club.
The IH group were nice people, if not terribly sober. We decided to make another evening run to the ORV area with one of the guys in a XJ with 33″ Swampers. He was apparently running at street pressure, because he had more trouble running through mud & over branches than I did. While out there, we ran into three YJ’s from the Flatlanders Jeep Club that we’d join the next day. We talked with them til after dark, then wandered our way back to the campground.
Sunday, 14 Sep 1997
Since the Flatlanders meeting didn’t start until 1pm on Sunday, Stacy and I took our time getting up & going to Manhattan that day. The meeting is held at the Briggs Jeep/Eagle dealership just east of the Hwy 24 / Hwy 177 intersection in southeast Manhattan. They meet at 1pm during daylight savings time & at noon during standard time. There were 15 or so jeeps sitting in the lot, ranging from an old Willys flatfender to a YJ with 44″ Swampers to a stock TJ.
The meeting lasted about 45 minutes. We watched some video footage of a previous trail ride, talked about the 8:30 closing time of the ORV park, announced & made preliminary plans for future events, and then headed out in one long line toward the ORV park. One of the special guests that day was a photographer from the local Manhattan newspaper who was shooting a story about the park. The Brigg’s dealership’s latest trade-in was a beautiful 1950 Jeepster which attracted a lot of attention.
We stuck mostly to trails in the western end of the park this time. The first obstacle was a deep ravine with steep sides. The up side had a ledge if you went straight up, so many of us with stock tires angled off to the left a bit instead. A couple YJ’s waited a little too long to make the left turn, and therefore had to turn too sharp. They almost rolled back down into the ravine, but were saved by an appropriate application of a yank strap. Red Rocker and I (Obi-Wan) got immortalized on film.
The next bad obstacle was a steep, shale-covered hill with a dogleg right near the top. It wasn’t a problem for most of us, but one YJ who still had 40 psi in his tires had to be yanked. We aired him down when he reached the top.
We then spent some time fooling around on some little rock ledges. The less-capable of us just parked it & watched the big boys play. See photos of an XJ, a YJ, and an old Willys rock climbing.
The final major obstacle was a short, steep (80% grade) hill climb similar to the one that broke Nick’s U-joint, only steeper. This one had two distinct paths. The one on the left was narrower but easier (assuming you didn’t hit the trees on either side). The one on the right was bumpier and had a root & a tree stump that had to be avoided, all while climbing lose shale with decent velocity. I made it up OK, but bounced a lot had both front wheels airborne at one point. The other breakage on the trip happened to Brian, who drove an ’88 YJ with a Chevy drivetrain and 18.5/44-15 Super Swampers. About half way, his tires refused to spin and his engine refused to stop turning. He sheared his front driveshaft U-joint completely in two. He removed the driveshaft right where he sat, and we ended up backing him down the hill (under his own brake power) and having him follow along the creek bed to get back to the parking lot. That incident earned him the Hard Luck Trophy for that month.
After dinner at the Calico Kitchen in Riley, we headed home. We thoroughly enjoyed the people in the Flatlanders’ club and the ORV area, and we’ll certainly be back to that area in the near future.
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