Wheeling and Wrenching in Harlan Ky
This past weekend I met up with the folks from the XJ List in Harlan, Ky for our semiannual meeting. After an uneventful drive to the park, we all began unloading our rigs and airing down our tires.
That is when we hit out first mechanical snag of the weekend. One of Jenny’s valve stem caps would not come off. We tried penetrating oil, vise grips and even a torch but it refused to budge. Evan was in need of some spark plugs so we quickly pulled the wheel and tire and tossed it in the bed of his rental pickup and headed for town.
We found a tire shop just a few miles up the road. They had her new valve stem installed in just a few minutes for only $6 and no questions asked. We headed on into town and got Evan some spark plugs.
We headed into the woods in the afternoon. For the first time in several trips for me we had dust instead of mud. It was very nice to make a slow crawl up trail 15 rather than a full throttle wheel spinning run. We made a nice clean run on Rail Bed getting everyone through with a few well stacked rocks. The only casualty was a broken brake line on Kevin’s Toyota. I also noticed a small leak at my front pinion seal.
The next morning I found my diff fluid mostly gone. The pinion bearing was worn enough to allow the shaft to keep the seal from sealing. I borrowed some fluid and kept on wheeling.
We took our group up to Lion’s Den to let Kevin and Dean run their Toyotas through the tight rocks. It took a lot of winching and rock stacking to get Kevin through. He suffered some body damage as well but he looked happy to be a lion tamer. Dean made the trip look almost easy as he put his exo cage to good use. He made it through without even using a winch.
We then headed up to Mason Jar. I have been wanting to run this trail again for a long time but conditions have never worked out quite right. I almost backed out again as I watched the buggies on 40s having trouble. But the group assured me that they would help me through.
My little 33” Buckshots get great grip but don’t give me a lot of clearance to get over the huge rocks in Mason Jar. I made it up onto the gate keeper rock pretty easily and had more confidence. By the time I made it to the rock that always scares me I was ready. I had broken an axle shaft on it last time. This time however, the Buckshots got a firm grip and I pulled up with very little wheel spin.
On the next ledge, Scott took a bad hop and broke the input yoke on his Dana 44. Neal had a spare so we swapped it out right there. We had a lot of unwanted advice from a group of ATV riders who passed by. With Scott back under power we finished the remainder of the trail easily.
On our last day, we went in search of more trails and tried to stay out of the sun as it was getting warm on the mountain. Neal suffered an electrical problem with his starter so that he had to always park where he could do a roll start each time. We had lunch at the entrance to Your Turn but decided not to run it due to the very difficult exit. We headed instead to Crawford’s cry. Neal made it up and so did Dean. Josh started up when he suddenly lost all oil pressure.
The rest of the group accompanied him to the zip line parking area where he could fetch it with his trailer. Jenny loaned him her XJ to go back and get his trailer. She found a seat in another Jeep and stayed with us.
I took a small group to Pin Ball and rail bed while the others helped Josh Load his possibly crippled rig. It remained to be diagnosed whether it was an actual failure or a sensor failure.
The newest member of our group had a bit of trouble on rail bed and first damaged a front leaf spring on his Wrangler. The a few feet later he broke an axle shaft. We helped him winch himself out. Once he was on level ground we swarmed over his Jeep like a pit crew and had a spare shaft installed in about 20 minutes.
Back at camp, I help talk him thorough a ball joint swap as well since he had some spares and a ball joint press. We finished just in time for supper.
Mike guiding Jeff & Jason as they replace the ball joints
The guys preparing the steaks, potato boats and corn for the group
Jenny’s XJ in Rail Bed
Kevin’s Toyota in Lion’s Den
Mike’s, Josh’s and Scott’s XJ’s waiting in line to go through Mason Jar
Jenny and Mitch helping prepare the food
Evan, Mike and Jenny
Evan & Kevin looking over the truck and determining what step to take next in Lion’s Den
Mike, Josh, Dean and Kurt looking on as Kevin drops into the Lion’s Den
Kevin, Evan & Amanda at Mason Jar
Dean taming the Lion’s Den, again