Jeep Cherokee on Rail Bed

XJList Spring Fling Day 2

Day two in Harlan dawned wet and foggy. We slowly crawled out of our tents. I found Scott Paulman working with a leaking bead on his XJ. He used his Highlift jack to break the bead and clean the debris that had collected there. We tossed it in the back of my Jeep for a run down to the air supply at the bottom of the hill. There we reseated the bead and filled it with air.

Frosty treated me to some of his farm fresh eggs cooked on a propane grill. We said good bye to Adam as he headed out to attend to other obligations for the weekend. Then we started planning the day. One of my favorite trails from our last trip to Harlan was Rail Bed and I was ready to run it again. So we decided to go there first and work our way back through the park.

Wayne Klotz junior and senior arrived and unloaded and next Jennifer and Janice arrived. We lined up the Jeeps and headed up the Putney Trail. The overnight rains had made the trail a bit slick in places and this provided a great warm up for things to come.

About half way up the mountain we met a pair of off roaders coming back down. There day had ended early with a broken rear drive shaft on their Wrangler. Getting past each other took a while on the narrow trail especially with one of the Jeeps being injured.

At Middle Fork we all took a run up one of the play hills and headed on out to The South side of the park. We really appreciated all the new signs that Harlan County parks has added. Good use of the grant money in my opinion.

We found Rail Bed and somehow, I ended up in the lead as we poked around for the way in that does not require going up the water fall. I switched on my front locker and headed up the rocky trail.

My favorite thing about Rail Bed is that it is all rock. No mud mixed in. And the rocks are big enough to be challenging but not so big that they overwhelm my 33” Maxxis Buckshots.

Jeep Cherokee Rail Bed

At the end of the trail, I noticed that the ground around the last big rock had really eroded away compared to the last time I was here. I elected to take the easy way out and skip the last boulder. Well, the easy way out is not so easy any more either. There is a name sake piece of rail road track that has been uncovered by the erosion right at the apex of the climb threatening to slice the tires of any one who stays in the ruts. I gave it one try but I slid into the ruts right at the rail and I decided to drop back down.

Jeep Cherokee XJ off road

The second option for and easy out is to squeeze by a tree on a very narrow ledge. This is made even more challenging by a strategically placed rock that the bottom that prevents lining up the way you would prefer and by a root at the base of the tree that requires a bump right where you don’t want to bump. Also, should you miss, there is about an eight to ten foot drop on to the rock you are trying to bypass below.
I picked my way up carefully and made it past the scary part just fine. I parked and went back to watch the others coming up behind me. I missed most of the action but I got back just as Wayne was taking the bypass exit. I spotted him around the rock and he chose the narrow ledge as well.

Next up was Jenny enjoying the traction of her new rear Lock Right locker. I spotted her around the rock and she took off up the hill. She may have bounced on the tree root or the ground may have given way, but for what ever reason, she suddenly found her left front tire dangling over the edge. See the video here:

Jeep Cherokee XJ off road

She held firm on the brake pedal while I ran up to get my winch cable. Wayne Sr. took my cable and hooked on to her front tow hook as I held by brake and spooled in the cable. The tire slid back to the bank but was firmly hung on the root s and would not pull back over the lip. The Klotzs grabbed her tow strap and quickly secured her B pillar to the tree for extra stability.

Jeep Cherokee XJ off road

We tried to have be back up to pull the front tire back onto the surface but that caused her rear tire to slip over the edge making for an even more serious situation. Neal Hoover realized we needed another winch ASAP so he made the run up the cut with the piece of rail track partially blocking it. He made and incredible drive up the hill and turned just at the right moment to miss the tire slasher and pop up over the crest. He got his winch cable connected to the back of her Jeep and she was again stable.

Janice held the brake in Neal’s Jeep while I held the brake in mine. I could not see well from the seat of my Jeep so I handed my winch controller to Neal. He held his wireless remote in one hand and worked my winch with the other. Matt remarked that he looked like he was playing X box winches as he maneuvered Jenny’s Jeep.

After some tense moments she was finally back on stable ground. She drove up the rest of the way parked and ran to find a place to pee.

Next in line was Matt. As he approached the tree on the ledge he started to slip on the tree root as well. When his spotted motioned for a turn to the left, he just shook his head no. His spotter called for a bump and again he shook his head no. Eventually he carefully powered his Jeep over the root and up to safety.

Next, the guys with larger tires decided the safe way out was to go over and around the last boulder. They all made it out just fine.

Jeep Cherokee XJ off road

After we all calmed down some we headed to the nearby lower rock garden to play around.

Jeep Cherokee XJ off road

Jeep Cherokee XJ off road

It was there we saw a very strange contraption. It had the body of a XJ, the grill of a CJ and the frame and engine of something Fordish. It seemed to be abandoned there.

Jeep Cherokee XJ off road

Next, we headed up to a new trail called Killin’ Time. Neal got caught between a rock and a hard place and several of us decided to abandon the run and go watch from the nearby road. When Josh made his run he got hung at about he same place as Neal did. Neal climbed in the back of Josh’s Jeep and gave a demonstration of how active ballast works as a traction aid. Neal jumped out and Josh made it up the rest of the trail.

Jeep Cherokee XJ off road

Next we found our way to Profanity. This somewhat difficult climb was made even nastier by the wet slippery mud. I was near the back of the pack and watched as several Jeeps made the climb. As the trail was getting more and more torn up I decided to take the parallel climb along with Jenny. About that time, Wayne popped the bead on his rear tire and had to back down. I went back down and assisted with getting his tire changed.

Jeep Cherokee XJ off road

As we were getting ready to move on, Jenny noticed her power steering was not acting right. We popped the hood and saw fluid every where but in the reservoir. There was no apparent leak in the hoses so we collected fluid form the group and tried it again. Evan looked in to see if he could see the leak as Jenny turned the wheel. Fluid sprayed out everywhere as he jumped back. The source of the leak was found and it was the pump shaft seal.

We told her not to steer more than necessary and headed back up the trails. Back at Middle Fork, Jenny asked Evan to drive her Jeep back down trail 45 as he power assist was coming in and out and she did not want to battle the tricky trail 45 without it.

Back at camp, Evan loaned Janice and Jenny his BMW for a parts run while he and I started removing the damaged power steering pump.

Fast ride to town

New members Ron and Tracy had arrived at camp by this time so the rest of the group took them out to see some trails before dark. They found a beautiful vista on a trail we had never explored before.

Jeep Cherokee XJ off road

Even and I had the pump off before the girls got back with the replacement. When they arrived we were ready to pop it back on when we saw the new pump did not have a pulley, just instructions on how to reuse the original one. Instructions like, “Do not use a hammer!” We tried several methods to remove the old pulley but eventually decided to we had to have the correct puller. Evan and I headed back to town to take advantage of Advance Auto’s loan a tool program.

Back at camp and armed with the proper implements, Evan removed the old pulley and pressed it on the new pump.

Jeep Cherokee XJ repair

We got it all bolted back up just about dark and left the filling and bleeding for morning. We settled in by the campfire for and evening of food and fellowship.