XJ Cherokee: Sleeping Platform

Last summer while we were traveling around in Francis I never bothered to make a sleeping platform. The FSJ has a really ample cargo area once the seat is removed so it never really became a high priority for me (also, my living situation last year never really was conducive to building one). When I brought Ruth home, I knew that I would need to build a platform in order to have well organized road trips. The platform didn’t get built before my Thanksgiving trip to Arizona but that mostly just proved that a platform would be key to being happy—packages of bagels rolling around on the passenger floorboards and weird lumpy unlevel futons are cool for a couple of days but SP and I sleep in the Jeep often enough to justify something better.

Sunrise XJ mountaintop

The first iteration of XJ platform I used was on my first big US road trip in 2010. F and I made it out of 3/4″ sanded plywood. We didn’t want it to sag or be unstable but we later realized that we’d way over built it. F passed along to me some measurements for a more streamlined platform out of 5/8″ OSB. His new version had made some cool improvements that increased access underneath the forward part of the platform and I decided to mostly copy his plan.

Lowes I picked up a sheet of 1/2″ OSB and had it cut to length in the store (Lowes and Home Depot will both do this for you) as well as twelve 1 1/2″ L-brackets (they came in packages of 4). Back at home, I cut the remainder into supports: three lengthwise supports and a cross-brace for the front. I rough fit everything together inside the jeep to confirm placement before screwing things together. I decided to trim the back corners to 45-degrees for ease of reaching things that might fall to the sides of the platform and to nestle the platform as far back against the tailgate as possible. (I’ve got long legs and drive with the seat just one click forward from all the way back.)

Test fitting
Fitting the main piece
Redneck sawhorses
Cutting the remainder for supports

I decided to leave the plastic trim at the bottom of the tailgate opening on, although in the original and F’s recent version, it was removed for ease of removing plastic storage containers. (I can always decide to remove mine later if I decide.) My outer supports rest right against the base of the wheel wells and the middle support is aligned with the tailgate latch. The front cross member is centered and rests on the narrow lip that the front of the back seat bottom rests on.

Supports

Everything was assembled with the L-brackets and put back into the Jeep to check for fit. Once I confirmed everything was in the right spot, I took the platform out one more time and used my angle grinder to remove the points of the screws that were protruding. Coats and sleeping bags don’t play very well with sharp pointy things so it’s time well spent.

Sprocket ready to load up to the platform

The platform only took me a couple of hours to build and really affordable:

◊ 1 sheet 1/2″ OSB: ~$10

◊ 4 packages of 4ct. 2 1/2″ L-brackets (the Stanley ones I got included screws): $13.27

Platform total: <$25!

(I also bought four plastic totes from Home Depot to organize my storage for another $20)

Depending on your desires you could purchase thicker OSB or even plywood if you desire a smoother surface. I’m going to test this out for the summer and see how it goes, the rough surface might wind up collecting more Sprocket dirt than I want but if I change my mind, I can disassemble this and reuse my brackets so it’ll be a good experiment.

XJ Sleeping Platform

Sprocket says "Thank you, Mom."
Sprocket says “Thank you, Mom.”

Ouray FSJ Invasion: Maggie Gulch

Every year, a group of full size Jeep enthusiasts descends upon Ouray for a couple of days in July. I had absolutely no excuse to not attend since it is so close to home and I was excited to see more Wagoneers, Cherokees, and J-trucks!

I was able to join everyone for a barbeque dinner on Wednesday evening and a mellow ride up gorgeous Maggie Gulch near Silverton before it was time for me to head out for Ice Lakes Basin and the start of my county high point adventure. While my jeep isn’t pictured, this photo I stole from our Facebook group shows just how many FSJs were present! It was pretty cool:

FSJ lineup

Although I’ve done quite a fair amount of exploring in the Ridgway-Ouray area I haven’t driven any of the roads heading south out of Silverton. I am so glad to have gotten to head up Maggie Gulch; I’ll be back since there are a handful of 13ers that are pretty easy to access from the top of the road!

Jeeping

Maggie Gulch (also known as CR 23) is located about six miles east of Silverton. The road isn’t long and isn’t difficult at all but the views were absolutely incredible.

Maggie Gulch

FSJ at top of Maggie Gulch

Sprocket immediately went into his classic alpine dog mode, sniffing his way through the tundra. As we were hanging out, a family showed up with a 12 week old puppy named Clifford. Sprocket and Clifford weren’t too sure about each other but I’m pretty sure that if they’d have had more time together, Sprocket would have been teaching him all about hiking:

Sprocket and Puppy

Like many roads in the San Juans, this ends at an old mine. It’s always kind of neat to poke around and check out the old workings:

Mine at the top of Maggie Gulch

I really thought that they were kidding when I was asked if I wanted cheese crisps and ribs. No one was kidding.

Trail food

Sprocket above Maggie Gulch

FSJ, Maggie Gulch

Maggie Gulch

Maggie Gulch

Looking forward to next year!

1977 Jeep Cherokee: Tailgate Rehabilitation

Among the common issues on the full size Cherokee (and Wagoneer) was that the rear window had to roll down to open the tailgate. This design had it’s benefits with a truck like tailgate for sitting on and a giant opening which makes for awesome camping views (plus there’s no overhead hatch to hit your head on like the XJ). The downside is that if something happens to the window mechanism, you can’t open the tailgate.

FSJ Tailgate glory

When I bought my Cherokee, the rear window kind of worked. By kind of, I mean that it would roll down about two inches, I’d get out rock it to the left, and then be able to roll it down the rest of the way. I’m sure you can imagine that as my primary way to load and unload Sprocket that this got old very quickly. I ordered all of the internal parts hoping to only have to disassemble the whole thing once and figured I could handle the more external parts as I desired. In retrospect, I wish I would have just ordered the deluxe tailgate renewal kit from Team Wagoneer considering that I used everything but the lifter bar and its cushion (and I was just lucky, I very well could have needed this and had actually ordered it separately).

This was my first major repair on the Jeep and I was a little bit nervous. I’d tried to read descriptions on the FSJ forums (Full Size Jeep Network and International Full Size Jeep Association). I’d poured over the factory service manual diagram of the tailgate. And finally I realized that unless I just dove in I wasn’t really going to understand it.

Tailgate rebuild: access panel removed

My first order of business was to actually remove the window. I recommend having a garage or at least not being in Colorado during the wettest May ever. Removing the window was actually a lot easier than I’d expected it to be. I took off the carpet on the tailgate and the access panel. I raised the window just enough to get my hand inside and remove the clips from the lifter bar. Next, I worked one of the studs out of the slots in the window lifter and began to search for a friend to help support the window before I removed the other stud and slid the window out. Fortunately for me, Ridgway is a friendly place and I nicely asked a woman out on a walk through the neighborhood to help me for two minutes while I accomplished those things. (Fortunately for her, it only took about one minute.)

Lifter channel in the tailgate

A look at how the studs and clips hold in the window:

Lifter channel and clip

Lifter channel

I inspected the lifter channel (also known sometimes as a lifter bar?) and realized that I didn’t actually need to remove the glass from it. I’d heard that these often rust out; mine was dirty but not rusted so I opted to keep it.

I replaced the tailgate glass side channels which looked like they’d seen better days. In fact, this was all I needed to replace to make the window function. After 38 years of dust working its way into the channels, there were large chunks missing. In fact either the inner or the outer piece (I didn’t really look at it until I’d set it down) of the drivers side channel was entirely missing. Putting in the new channels only took a couple of minutes but the rain started falling before I could get them in so it necessitated this:

Redneck jeep working; beer

I became the heroine of my neighborhood when I had to leave Francis looking like this for a couple of days while I waited for the sun to return:

FSJ with tarp

Eventually, I got tired of waiting for the rain to clear so I informed my friend Bryan that I was coming over to use his garage. This arrangement also helped me to have his help getting the window back in place. (I was petrified of breaking it the entire time it was out of the vehicle. It took a little bit of figuring out how to get the clips back in (I’d bought a new pair in case the ones inside bent or broke on the way out or in…) but I got them in, or so I thought…

Lifter channel clips

I left my friend’s house and headed to the laundromat and was super excited with my working window but suddenly, right as the rain started falling, it wouldn’t roll up. One side just wasn’t going up and it didn’t take very long for me to figure out that one of the clips had fallen off. With thunder rolling in the background, I decided to avail myself of the cover provided by an after-hours bank drive through:

Fixing the FSJ window in a drivethru

Sure enough, that fixed the problem!

I found that with all the driving I do down dirt and gravel roads that I was pulling in a lot of dust. I’d learned that the original weather stripping was body mounted but somewhere along the lines, someone had replaced mine with generic weather stripping. This didn’t take long at all to replace but it had taken me until the end of my roadtrip with Amanda to choke it up and spend the money on a new seal. The seal needs the plastic rivets at the top and doesn’t come with them. I had one still floating around, fortunately, so I was able to size one for the other side.

I also went ahead and replaced the upper slide channel since pretty much everything else was new and didn’t want it to feel left out. Removing the old one was way more of a pain than putting in the new one since it came out in about twenty pieces.

I also purchased a new wiring harness for the rear window that I haven’t finished installing yet—with all of our monsoons, it’s been hard to feel comfortable cutting off my ability to close the window for a day! More on that coming soon (probably once I get to De Beque and have a garage!).

1977 Jeep Cherokee: Power Steering Pump

When I had my steering debacle in SLC, I noticed that the power steering hoses were showing some wear and it probably didn’t help any when the whole steering box was hanging from them…

Since I was going to replace the hoses anyway, I checked on the price of a power steering pump and realized that for $40, I needed to go ahead and replace it anyway since I was going through the work of changing the hoses.

Power steering pump

All mechanical projects seem to take me quite awhile, but I’m learning and becoming much more proficient. It’s a process but I’m kind of proud of myself.

Power Steering pump

Power steering pump

The good news is that my steering feels so much better. The sort of good news is that I’ve located the steering fluid leak and it’s not the pump or the hoses (although I think there was at least weeping from them both before). The bad news is that it’s at the pitman shaft seal. So I’m trying to figure out how to proceed–fortunately, a rebuild kit for the steering box is cheap, it’s just another new thing to learn!

1977 Jeep Cherokee: Replacing Rag Joint

I’ve been shopping for the perfect XJ Cherokee for quite awhile and one popped up in Salt Lake City that seemed like it would fit the bill perfectly with low miles, a five speed, and cruise control. I didn’t want to risk missing out so Sprocket and I drove straight up from Ridgway and got into SLC at about 2am. In the morning before looking at the Jeep, I headed over to the bank to get some cash.

As I pulled into the drive through, I heard a loud clunk sound. At first, I was confused, had I some how hit something? I sort of forgot about it while I was conducting my business at the bank but as I pulled out of the drive through I realized I couldn’t turn left. Something seemed bound up.

I crawled underneath the jeep and noticed that the tie rod end & pitman arm were hitting the sway bar when I tried to turn to the left. I went back into the jeep and turned the wheels to the right and heard another larger, ominous, clunk. This time, it seemed apparent what was wrong: the steering box was hanging down off of its mounts. While not an ideal situation, I figured this wasn’t that bad and I’d be on my way within the hour.

When I returned from the hardware store bearing what I hoped was the correct hardware (this was actually the second trip…), I realized, it was more than just a broken bolt. There was actually a broken part. I had no idea what that part was but I knew that my mission had just gotten a lot more complicated. I also noticed that the steering box had been bolted from the top and they had sheared off in the steering box.

I headed over to a fast food restaurant, washed my hands, and took a walk to look at that XJ. Turns out, it wasn’t what I wanted. As  I walked back I started browsing the forums and learning all about the steering system on the Jeep. Turns out, I had a broken “rag joint” or power steering coupler—the part that connects the input from your steering wheel to the steering box.

That bolt circled in red is supposed to be attached to the hole on the rag joint (indicated by the arrow. My theory is that when the steering box fell, it stressed the 38 year old piece of rubber and it failed.

Broken Rag Join

While I was able to locate a replacement rag joint fairly easily, first I had to figure out how to get the old broken one off. I struggled with it for awhile and was finally able to get the old joint off of the steering box. This might have been the low point for me—I was covered in power steering fluid (cursing the advice I’d been give to not replace the pump and just make sure it was full), removing a part that I didn’t fully understand how it worked, and just feeling a little bit unsure.

Filty

As I read the installation instructions, I realized that I was going to need some backup. While I was carrying tools, I didn’t have a grinder or a drill to remove the old pins. Away I went to Pep Boys (again) to see if their service department would do me a little favor. Thankfully, they seemed happy to help and soon I was headed back to figure out how to reinstall the rag joint.

Rag joint pieces

Exhausted at Pep Boys

Somehow, I made this way more complicated than it needed to be and it took me a long time. It was all made more difficult by the fact that the steering box was definitely supposed to be attached by the top bolts so I ended up using ratchet straps to hold it exactly in place.

Final product

On the way to fellow #omniten member Josh’s house (yay for friends to crash with!) I stopped for some beer and for the bolts I’d need to fix the Jeep for good (yay for Josh having a drill!). I had some priceless looks but when the cashier at the liqour store asked, “What happened to you?” And I answered, “Well, the bolts on my steering box sheared and when it fell it look the 30 year old rag joint with it, but I fixed it.” His answer? “I’m seriously impressed.” Since I was seriously impressed with myself, it felt good to hear someone say it.

Filty

At Josh’s place I was able to use his drill to extract the broken bolts from the steering box and get it bolted up so that I didn’t need the ratchet strap safeties. The replacement rag joint was a little thicker than the original and I couldn’t get the metal support to fit on correctly in the parking lot because the bolts were too short and had little “keepers” on them. I ground off the keepers (they looked like ski pole baskets) and replaced with the longer bolts that came with the replacement part.

Everything is back together and looks great. Except, I’m going to have to take it apart one more time to get the steering wheel straight since I apparently bolted the steering column attachment on 180 degrees off. Oops. But this time, it should go fast. 3rd time’s the charm. 🙂

(The wheels are just slightly turned to the left in this photo. It’s driving me nuts to have the AMC logo upside-down.)

 

Steering wheel off 180 degrees

A Girl’s Guide To Getting Unstuck

Okay, actually, there’s nothing gendered about this guide—the principles of getting your vehicle unstuck are the same whether you’re male or female. Although we might all try our best to avoid finding our vehicles stuck far from pavement it happens to the best of us at times. Dedicated 4x4ers will often have a winch on their vehicle but the rest of us can usually save ourselves from expensive tow bills with minimal equipment:

Tire ruts

Step 1: Take your foot off the accelerator.

Mashing your foot into the accelerator is not going to help matters. In fact, a lot of the time you can go from being “kinda stuck” to “really stuck” in a few seconds by spinning your tires in the snow, mud or sand.

Step 2: Visually inspect your situation

Now is the time to figure out why you’re stuck. The main reason is likely that you don’t have enough traction and your tires are simply spinning in place. However, if you’ve already spun the tires enough, you might find that the frame of your vehicle (or at least the axle) is now resting on the ground. If this has happened, it’s time to start digging. I usually carry a short shovel for this purpose but if you don’t have a shovel, get creative. Since the vehicle is already struggling for traction, you don’t want to have to fight any additional friction as well!

Tire Ruts

Step 3: Air down

If you still have your tires at full highway air pressure, it’s time to change that. Most cars have pressure of about 35-50 psi in the tires. Airing down can be a little bit of an art: there is no hard and fast amount you should air down to. In general, I air down a little bit at a time dropping first to 18-20 psi, reevaluating, then dropping to 15-10 psi. In some situations it might be okay to go as low as 5 psi—much lower than that and you risk unseating your tire from the bead of the wheel. You’ll want to have a low pressure tire gauge since most gauges don’t read accurately below about 20 psi (it can be helpful to have a regular gauge too for airing back up). Let the air out by pushing in the center of the valve stem which lets air pass out of the tires.

I carry a compressor in the Jeep so I’m not near as afraid to air down as I would be otherwise since I have the ability to air the tires back to a better driving pressure once I’m unstuck. Once you’ve aired down your tires, they will experience excess wear running on asphalt and they’ll also get hot increasing chances of a blowout.

(If I’m going to be on dirt roads for an extended period, I’ll often air down to at least 20 psi just for comfort. This can often help prevent getting stuck but it also removes some of your margin of error if you do.)

Low PSI

Step 4: Attempt to extricate

Attempt this step carefully! At this point, I tend to attempt to drive out of the situation with my head hanging out the window alternately checking my front tire and my back tire for traction. Often, airing down your tires will be enough to allow you to “walk out” of your situation, especially if you didn’t bury the vehicle before admitting that you were stuck.

Gently press on the accelerator. If nothing happens, continue on to the next steps. If you’re out, great! Congratulations!

Step 5: Attempt to find additional traction

Your car is stuck because it doesn’t have enough traction so now your job is to find a way to get it more traction. Tree branches can form additional traction. I’ve used a pack as traction. Vehicle floor mats could work as well. Once, I used found carpet strips to give traction on silty mud (reallllly slippery!)

Getting jeep unstuck

Step 6:  Get moving

Hopefully, by now, you’re mobilizing. Beyond airing down and giving yourself a little bit of extra traction it’s hard to do much else by yourself without a winch.

Faster isn’t always better but once you’re moving again, the gas pedal can be your friend! I once got the van stuck in soft desert wash sand, aired down, and got moving again only to feel myself getting stuck. I gave the van a little extra gas and found that the extra momentum was enough to get me back onto the hardpack.

Step 7: Carrying the tools for help

If you weren’t able to get yourself out, it’s time to start walking towards help or calling for a tow truck. Fortunately, the above tricks usually get you free!

Just in case you run into a friendly stranger who might want to help but isn’t prepared, carrying your own recovery strap and “D-ring” or shackle can be a real life saver! Knowing where your vehicle has a good tow point is always nice before you have to go crawling around in the mud to find it!