My Girl: Gettin' After It!!

My Girl: Gettin' After It!!
My truck on her maiden voyage in Moab 2012

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Every precious moment...

I am really enjoying the challenges of fatherhood. I might be at my most mentally sharp, if not also my most physically and mentally drained. In a way it works though. There isn't a lot of time or patience for wasted effort.

My blogging, unfortunately, has fallen a bit to the wayside, but it means that when I do have the occasion to sit down and post, there's evidently been a good amount of things to write about which have accumulated.

My precious moments, aside from time with my son, have been squeezing in the occasional workout and picking up a wrench to make a calculated adjustment or revision.

 I think we covered this in my last posts. I developed the annoying habit as of late, of bashing fairleads to bits. This was owing to way back when the mounting elevation for the winch plate was selected to coincide with an opening in the stock bumper. In hindsight, I should have looked into revising the position at the same time that I looked to ditch the stock shroud.

I had one more episode (technically two episodes) on the GLX trip in Indiana that steeled my resolve to modify the bumper to get the winch up and out of harms way and hopefully improve my approach angle.

 But I also developed a significant problem at Badlands as well. It wasn't apparent until I got home, washed the truck, and then observed a 'wet' spot still in the driveway several hours later. I had banged the oil pan enough times that the gasketing finally gave way. It turned into a months long ordeal to get a new pan.
 In the meantime, I was sent this incorrect part after two weeks of waiting, and performing near daily dialysis on my truck. It was a routine really. I'd top off the oil every 2-3 days, and place my plastic can beneath the truck anytime I'd be stopped for more than 15 minutes.

 After the wrong part materialized after 2 weeks of waiting, I figured I would try to take down the pan, clean up the gasketing, and then remount it. Except I couldn't figure out how to get it down without destroying it. And the attempt to liberate it only caused the gasketing to fail more and greater quantities of oil to seep out.
 Meanwhile, I had hoped that this was just splatter from the oil being whisked back aft at highway speeds. I was not so fortunate. I removed the diff skid and despite it's protection and the heavier duty cover, I had a leak here too. My hunch is that the sealant was not allowed to cure properly when my diff locker was installed and maybe a light bump was all it took to compromise this seal as well. Great.

The last item in my trifecta of pain at that outing (which was actually a great ride and I won a lot of gear at the raffle along with meeting good folks) was that my CB antenna connector got brutalized. For the short term, I swapped over the coax from the Scanner radio so that the CB could run off of that antenna. That was my final motivation to get the truck to keep her juices IN and to work the bumper. But I had to tackle these things based on priority.
 Found a Friday morning that was light and decided to run out and get some stock tube steel from BMG Metals. I really ought to open an account. It was a couple of weeks before I got to actually get to work on this, but at least I had collected some supplies. I had been meaning to bring the Rhino Rack Roof bars to store in the bed for such impromptu carrying opportunities. Fortunately, I was still able to get the steel up there on the rack while dodging the solar panel. I had hoped to only score a 5' section from the drop cut area of the shop, but the smallest section they  had was this 12' piece of 2"x4" 3/8 tube steel. It would have cost more to cut it then it was to buy the full available length. (Plus, supposedly they don't do a second cut on drop steel). I'm sure I'll find something else to do with the remaining length.
 Somewhere in the midst of sourcing steel, catching oil, and pursuing a couple of other ideas, my friend Dave tells me he's actually interested in buying an Xterra. For real this time. And not like the last 7-8 times where he head-faked me and then re-upped a lease on a RAV-4 or something else disappointing. This apparently was really going to happen.

Since I spend countless hours on forums and talking to other people who spend countless hours doing the same, I became a trusted advisor on this potential purchase. He went to see a truck that was advertised as being a Pro-4X. He didn't really know the differences in trims, but he wanted me to look at it since he didn't see the badge in the photos. Since he was buying used, it was possible that the prior owner had opted to de-badge as is sometimes the custom in certain circles. Anyway, we get there, they open it up, and after one quick look at the dash, I turn to the salesman to advise that there's been a mistake. Nowhere on the instrument cluster was there a button to manipulate the stock e-locker of the supposed Pro-4X. The dude argues with me, but ultimately I am vindicated when he returns to us (Dave had his wife and kids with him) and says, "The manager would like to speak with you". I was there in the capacity of "Luther, anger translator" on behalf of Dave and his family. Basically, a third party service does the invoicing and labeling of the inventory, and they made a mistake. And after some negotiating, a night's sleep on it, and a return visit, my buddy walked away with a pretty good deal on the S model as a result of the whole advertising snafu (and the fact that I saved the dealership from some pretty significant false advertising liability).

I try to tell my wife that there is some benefit of my pursuit of this hobby.

 The part finally arrives and I went HAM on the oil pan and it dropped off just as nicely. I did have to buy a special wrench to access two of the bolts that are up above the frame cross brace. But it is otherwise an unremarkable removal and reinstallation effort despite my initial hiccups in getting the thing down.

 So as never to again go through this pain, I went ahead and ordered a full set of Hefty Fabworks skids. It is what I should have done originally instead of ordering the factory Pro-4X skid. I had the Pro-4X skid mounted when this happened. I was able to score the additional Radiator Skid from Rob with VAXC locally. It was a deal that was contingent upon receipt and delivery of his new bumper. We were even able to have it delivered to coincide with a trip that Tom was taking to head up north to Jersey. That all worked out really well. I ordered new sway bar bushings based on the way that it mounts behind the sway bar bracket (might as well swap out the old ones while I'm there). Just waiting on the Hefty's to arrive at this point.
 With the bigger issue now resolved, it was time to rework this bumper. It would mean that my fogs, radios, and winch would all be off-line indefinitely. I just hoped that a zombie apocalypse would not pop off in the interim. I was fortunate that the dead remained so during this vulnerable period. Also I was afraid of deer. Two very different but real apprehensions.

 With these things, I have to balance my duties of a father with my duties as a hobbyist. This was probably not the best positioning of both, although I assure the general readership that the child was further away than the photo appears to reflect. I could see him and work on the repairs.
 Dave walked out of the dealership after that first long night of negotiating without the X. I was a bit bummed, but knew that we had gotten basically the best deal available. Well, he went back the next day and got him down another $250 at his wife's urging, because "she really wanted the Pro-4X features and we will have to add these features now on our own dime". Now, before that night, I am certain she did not know what the features were or what they performed (I explained in great detail though.) We were going to mod this thing anyway, but she really did help to move the needle on getting the manager to offer a good deal to them.
 So Dave brought the X by that weekend while I was busy tearing my truck apart. I wanted to line the two of them up in the cul de sac, but I think at this point, the gasketing on the oil pan was curing and I couldn't add any oil for another 24 hours.
 I got the idea of the new mounting concept from the late night helping Steve put the bumper on his 4Runner. I was going to bolt up the 2"x4" to the stock frame horns using a welded tab to connect to the two remaining weld nuts that were in tact. Ultimately I would weld this cross-member to the frame horns. From there I was going to drill holes in the cross member to accept the through-bolting of the old bumper assembly and probably add a vertical connection point at some point as well.
 From the front, it didn't look bad at all. Instead of being tucked underneath, the cross tubing would be out in front.
 But in practice, I felt it stood too far out in front. Another complication was that I intended to mount the winch plate to the top of the receiver hitch cross beam, but the cross tubing was about an inch too low to accommodate the height of the winch. It would need to be relocated as well.
 Somewhere in this, I decided that the bed cage and toolboxes had to go.
 I think I had become dissatisfied with the inability to carry large items in the bed easily, the added weight of all of that steel, and the realization that I was probably never going to purchase a proper rooftop tent.

I also have this kid who needs a stroller and other accessories. No problem slinging them in the back of the truck during fair weather, but throw in the chance of rain and we're trying to cram everything into the cab. It wouldn't work if we were all going somewhere as a family.
 So I spent a solid weekend hacking away at mounts that were still holding their respective loads, but that had become problematic to routinely service. I decided that whatever I did from here on out was going to need to be serviceable and readily removed and reinstalled.
 I watched a bed cap for two weeks in Baltimore that was exactly the color of my truck. The guy wanted $980 for it originally. I wrote to him saying that I had been seeing them in the $400 range, but they were either very far away or were for the long bed version. Although his was brand new, if he failed to get any better offers, I asked him to reach out to me to see if we could negotiate some on the price. He didn't respond to me directly, but in the next hour, his post had been modified to an asking price of $725.

I thought if I could wait him out another week or so, maybe I could get it for $600. Then one day, the post was gone. I had tracked a couple others and was, I thought, on the cusp of the deal for one in Jersey for an agreed upon price of $500 down from his $600 asking price. On the night before I was to drive up, he texted me to say that someone had paypal'd him $660 and that if it fell through, he would call me.

I felt bamboozled. It was certainly in his right to sell to whomever he wanted. But we had already reached a deal and I had promised to drive up in advance as soon as he provided me the location with cash in hand.

We were at a function at Dave's when I heard the news. His mom was there and she gave me the advise that, "if you see something you want, you have to go get it right then and there. You wait and it's gone."So when I found another one that was still being offered in Ohio, I did just that. I had seen it previously and ruled it out as too far away. Well, that day, they had dropped the price to $375. I asked if I could come then, but it was associated with a business that would not be open until Monday. So I worked a half day and drove out through 4 different storms and a handful of states to get my cap. All told, it was 10+ hours of driving from downtown DC, to Ravenna, OH, and back home. It was worth it. Only downsides to the deal at the moment was that the locking mechanism needs to be rekeyed. I was able to troubleshoot the jamming latch on the driver side.
 This is just a truck I saw in the area that looked pretty good. I do this when I can't go wheeling.
 I had quite the ordeal getting my antennas back online. I wanted the mounting to be independent of the bumper from now on. Adding the cap on the back created the dilemma of where to mount them. I first ordered the Firestik hood channel mounts, only to find out, upon installing them, that there was insufficient clearance between the body/fender and the mounting tab to accommodate a conventional PL-259 or whatever coax connection. So I had to go back on Amazon and order the special coax with the lug terminals. Then I was stubborn and thought that I knew better how to attach them and was getting intermittent signal. I believe, now upon humbling myself, that I have completed troubleshooting the installation.

They are a bit higher and wonkier looking than I wanted, but as with most things that I do, I just tell myself that it adds to the charm.

I decided to semi-permanently leave the cross bars mounted. I have enough clearance at the garage at work to get in and out without worry. Plus, I can tuck the antennas underneath the lead bar and they stay there without any additional measures needed.

When I get around to ordering sand ladders, I'll leave the sand ladders stowed in the bed of the truck, and if there is threatening weather, I'll deploy them to the rack to protect the solar panel beneath (from hail and the like).


I was having the damnedest time getting the tubing to cope and join. I am not particularly proud of what I had to do to get the attachment to work. For that reason, I abandoned the notion of adding the outrigger/wing sections to the bumper. Quite frankly, my skills as a fabricator are not quite up to snuff to pull it off. I was able to add what I think is an appropriate brace to the stinger hoop. This will have to do for now. I was running out of time and needed to finish SOMETHING. I was bumperless for about 2 weeks.
 I wanted to mount my lights independent of the bumper as well.

There was stock stud and nut here that appear to be associated with the radiator. I undid the nut and washer, attached the bracket and refastened. It is holding there like a champ.
 I won another set of lights from at a recent event. I want to mount them somewhere near the front of the truck aimed perpendicular to the direction of travel so I get some left to right illumination. I've not yet found a suitable anchor point. But that will be in the works.
 My dad came over to free me up to get a few of these details buttoned up. When Jenn has work, it really isn't safe for the kid to be around grinding and welding. So I am appreciative of my dad coming over to watch the little guy. I still was on diaper and feeding duty, but it really helped to be able to get some wrench time in to button this up. This was over the long Memorial Day weekend. It was my last best shot to get something workable completed prior to the start of another work week.

 I was going to try to fashion together a resurrected fair lead from the scraps of the prior carnage, but I decided I didn't have time to cobble anything else together. I bit the bullet and just ordered a new one.

 This is how she currently sits. I actually really like the mismatch of the cap. I'm not changing it. It's like the guys who have the tan softopper truck canopies or the military cargo trucks with the canvas tops. Mine just happens to be a hard top.
 I took this picture to illustrate how my boy gets tucked in back here. There was a question on one of the forums about car seats. The guy was a bit embarrassed to ask about something that wasn't a sexy mod, but I think that is one of the best functions of a forum for hard-to-find answers to things that many of us may have to contend with. Here, my little guy is sitting there snug.

He's coming up on a year old. I had thought at that point, you could turn them to forward facing seats. But that was a misinterpretation of a prior disclosure. The American Academy of Pediatrics is now clarifying that it is ideal for a child to remain rearfacing up through their 2nd birthday or until they exceed the height and weight of available rear facing seats. Even if the kid seems scrunched, they say, it is still a safer position to protect their head, neck, and spine in the event of a collision. I wasn't buying it, but then they said, essentially, that kids spend the first 9 months of their development balled up in a woman's abdomen, and then the next few months of life desiring to be swaddled when sleeping. They can sit in a car with their legs flexed without issue. Point taken.
I finally got around to working the seal on the differential cover. I was previously fond of stating that I was "too chickensh*t" to remove the cover for the bolt-on style of protection and that's why I opted for the rear differential skid. Well, with a cover that was leaking, I had to muster the cajones to do something about it. Nothing flew out and hit me in the face or anything crazy.

The one challenge I had when I tried this previously was that the 10mm (allen/hex key) drain plug was frozen in place. It had not occurred to me then to try to PB blaster it. So I subsequently went out and found a socket driver with an allen attachment so I could put it in my impact wrench. I also then PB blastered as prep. Well, the gun and the socket were too tall to fit under my differential (NEED MORE GROUND CLEARANCE--- ARRGGHHHH!!!). I was trying to jack up the rear bumper, but since I enclosed the bumper, I couldn't really get one side at a time. I don't like jacking from the center because the truck has tried to teeter before. Ultimately I decided to run out and get the ramp stands. I drove back on the ramp. Hit it and it immediately broke free. (I probably could have gotten it just with a straight allen after the PB set up). Anyway, it was easy after that.

I still don't know how to access the front differential fill port. Depending on how hard it is to get to, I may still pay for someone to do that. But for the rear differential, I cannot believe that I've paid anyone to do this for me. It is actually worse to me than paying for the oil changes (which I no longer do).

At some point, I'd like to learn how to repair/replace the axle seals. I imagine somewhere in the next 100,000 miles, those will go. And I would like to know how to do it myself. Time is certainly at a premium, but I am learning time and again that, for certain things, no one is going to take more care and interest in doing the job correctly than you. So if it is within a common man's means, I ought to be doing it is my take.

That's all I got. The little boy actually sat still long enough for me to pen this full thing. Good job, son.

Til next time.


I have a few more runs this year and some vacation time coming up that'll put me on the beach for some sand driving.

One will be at Southington Offroad Park. Really looking to have the skids buttoned up in time. The other is actually an Overland Challenge. I'll be using the Southington Run as a shakedown run for some of the changes I've made to the truck. Then we'll go live and actually compete with another teammate against as many as 19 other teams.