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All posts for the month September, 2015

These are the images I captured of the super blood moon as it manifested in the mountains of New Mexico. Jim said I missed the best images when I was asleep.

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Below is the last remnants of the blood moon at dawn.

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For many years I have wanted to explore more of New Mexico, but various obligations, until now, have prevented me from doing so. There are mountains, plains, deserts, ghost towns, lakes and almost everthing associated with New Mexico all within hours of the cabin.  When we first arrived this year, it was still at the tail end of monsoon season and thunderstorms can make traveling off the beaten-path difficult.  Even though the truck is built to tackle most anything, it is far too easy to get into the back-country of New Mexico during inclement weather and find yourself really stuck! So, we tried to pick a day when the thunderstorms were more spotty than widespread to embark on a day trip to the Slaughter Mesa.  Slaughter Mesa has a mountain peak that is 8763 feet and despite the fact it is  less than two hours from our cabin, we had never been there.

First stop off the pavement was Quemado Lake. It is definitely on the “return to list” with kayaks or paddle boards.

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Although there was a very large forest fire in this area several years ago, it still has some of the biggest Ponderosa Pines I have seen in a while. They absolutely dwarfed Pamala! Unfortunately, this one was blocking our path up the canyon.  Note to self: pack chain saw for next trip into the wilderness!

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Making our way up to higher ground, beautiful grasslands surrounded us.

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The thunderstorms laughed at our efforts at planning around them and seemed to stalk us all day but we remained dry except for a little sprinkle here and there and fortunately, although we heard alot of distant thunder we didn’see any lightening.

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As we worked our way up over a rocky ridge, we were treated to this view of the valley that we would descend into.

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On our last stretch of dirt road before reaching pavement, we came upon a few of the last remaining buildings of Mangas ghost town.

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After working on the truck since January until literally 2 hours before we left, we finally started our annual Westbound migration in mid-July. A little later than we wanted to avoid the building heat and humidity of Southwest Florida, but migrating we were. For some reason the trip West, although we did things and visited people, seemed to pass in mostly a blur with few pictures taken.

Our first stop was in Orlando to visit our friends Rob, his wife Meghan and their two sons, who recently moved from Fort Myers. (regular readers may remember we visited Rob’s parents in Alaska during our travels last year) They had dinner waiting for us when we arrived (late) and we spent the evening and next morning over breakfast catching up. When it was time to leave the boys were trying to leave with us. Future adventure travelers perhaps? Still hot and humid.

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From there we paid a visit to our older daughter and son-in-law in Jacksonville. While there Andre, our son-in-law, and I did the Crocodile Crossing zip line tour at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. Unfortunately cameras were not allowed on the course. We had a blast but man was it hot and humid in the tree canopy! Did I mention we were leaving Florida to escape that?

The next few days found us wandering around Georgia and North Carolina. We visited Tallulah Falls in North Georgia. Still hot and humid with a nasty late evening thunderstorm thrown in for good measure. Glad we weren’t in a tent!

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Being novices to whitewater rafting, we went on our first “self-guided” whitewater trip with Rolling Thunder River Company on the Nantahala River in North Carolina. Of course it was my job to keep our Funyak upright and pointed in the right direction while under various threats to my well-being from Pamala. It didn’t help that the rental company refers to the two person boats as “divorce boats”!

Here we are deciding (I’m deciding, Pamala is reiterating previous threats) how to approach an upcoming class 3 rapid notorious for flipping rafts.

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Me doing my best to avoid said threats.

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And a happy, mostly dry, Pamala after my successful navigation.

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Still hot and humid, although the forty-something degree water helped. From there we were headed to a friends cabin in the boonies of North Carolina to spend the night. We were following hand written directions, so after passing a few gravel roads, when they said “go about a mile and a half and turn left on rough gravel road”, this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting! At least we knew it was the right gravel road. Still hot and humid.

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We made a few more stops along the way which were mostly uneventful…except one.

Beware of the town of Calhoun Tennessee, it is a SPEEDTRAP! 

And yes we were trapped! A $215 lesson learned!

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In retrospect, it is hard to believe that we have been traveling to Albuquerque annually for over 15 years and never once booked a hot air balloon ride. Albuquerque is the home of the largest balloon festival in the world. No where else have I visited and awakened to see the sky littered with colorful balloons of various sizes drifting over the city. Sooooo, finally, on our 21st wedding anniversary, we climbed into a hot air balloon basket and trusted our pilot, Dar of Rainbow Ryders, to dip us into the Rio Grande, clip the top of cottonwood trees and eventually ascend 4000 feet above ground level, giving us spectacular views of the world below us. The experience did not disappoint and was worthy of the 15 year wait. The two-hour flight could only have been enhanced by an in-flight gourmet meal with a three-person band serenading us. None the less, the entire experience, with the exception of an initial problem with the booking process, was enjoyable.  We especially appreciated the celebratory mimosas that awaited us once we were on the landing pad.

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The Dodge has been through so many changes over the years, I’ve lost track. From now on any big mods are going to be cataloged by year and occurrence. So I give you “Dodge Ram version 15.1”!

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After many years of ownership, countless “patch jobs”, an incalculable amount of parts and money, as well as endless hours of exhaustive research; I finally figured out how to fix the factory Dodge steering and suspension woes…

Step 1:

Remove the stock Dodge axle along with all associated steering and suspension components down to the bare frame rails and discard!

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Seriously, there are so many things wrong with the 2nd gen Dodge front end this may seem drastic but it’s where I ended up. Here’s a list of some of the problems and possible repercussions:

  1. flimsy stamped control arms with eccentric bolts for caster adjustment (adjustment bolts are prone to seizing)
  2. two piece driver’s side axle shaft with vacuum operated sliding collar instead of locking hubs(axle failure and vacuum leaks preventing 4×4 engagement, also increased drag and reduced mpg due to constant drag of rotating internal axle components while in 2 wheel drive)
  3. unit bearing hubs (expensive to replace and have been known to fail catastrophically while driving, also almost impossible to replace roadside as the center nut is torqued to 240+ ft lbs)
  4. under sized track bar with ball joint end (premature wear causing “death wobble”)
  5. undersized y-link configuration tie rods (vague steering feel and premature failure)
  6. un-braced steering box (vague steering and premature steering box failure)
  7. undersized ball joints (huge problem on these trucks: premature wear causing a myriad of problems, big repair bills and possible catastrophic failure)
  8. inadequate bushing assembly in bottom of steering column (premature wear causing vague steering feel)
  9. undersized steering shaft (premature wear causing vague steering feel)
  10. seriously low quality undersized shocks considering the weight of the Cummins diesel engine and the weight these trucks are designed to carry (premature failure and inadequate size cause poor ride and vehicle control characteristics as well as increased tire wear)
  11. I’ve also heard of the two piece, Dodge Dana 60 axle housings bending under severe use but I have not experienced this

I’m sure I’m missing something but those are the basics. This probably makes the Dodge engineering sound really bad, and it is, but truthfully most American made trucks are no better and if you actually use your truck, repairs/upgrades are inevitable.

The biggest piece of the puzzle was a custom front axle assembly built by John at Hillbilly Wizard. John answers his own phone and is more than willing to think outside the box and build you what you need. John and I agreed the stock housing was adequate for my needs and proceeded from there. In addition to the “fixes” a gearing change was needed along with a traction aiding device. What John built for me is a hybrid of Dodge, aftermarket, and 80s era Chevy K30 parts. I warn anyone trying to duplicate this axle build that John had a lot of parts incompatibility issues and machine work to do to put this axle together. This was not a bolt together project for him! Luckily for me however, the finished product did bolt in place. The two biggest drawbacks to this approach were a loss of ABS and a little less powerful front brakes, neither of which have posed a problem and the gains in strength and reliability far outweigh the disadvantages.

The axle build:

  1. stock Dodge Dana 60 housing
  2. 4.10 gears and ARB air locker
  3. 35 spline, 4340 chrome moly inner and outer axle shafts with a 1 piece passenger side shaft
  4. tube-end axle shaft seals
  5. Chevy kingpin inner C’s, kingpins, steering knuckles, roller bearings, brakes, hubs, etc
  6. bronze upper kingpin bushings
  7. Yukon locking hubs
  8. 1.5″ x .25″ DOM tie rods with Chevy 1 ton tie rod ends
  9. the high steer arm in the picture ended up not working out with my steering geometry, but that was due to my bad calculations

 

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Other parts in the front end rebuild include:

  1. Great Lake Off Road diff cover
  2. Ruff Stuff Specialties y-link steering kit
  3. custom made upper shock towers from Extreme Articulation (I had to modify these a bit but that was due to a miscalculation on my part)
  4. Borgeson steering box, pump, hoses, and billet steering shaft along with a Mr Gasket power steering cooler
  5. heavy duty replacement ends for existing DT ProFab track bar
  6. custom made PMT Fabrication adjustable control arms set 1″ longer than stock (ask for the “Dalton Highway spec”)
  7. Rock Solid Ram Truck Steering column bushing
  8. Sway-A-Way 2.5″ reservoir shocks with custom tuning from Ryan at AccuTune Off-Road (more on the shock tuning coming in another blog entry, short version: awesome!)
  9. slightly modified existing DT ProFab steering brace
  10. Buckstop front bumper that I’ve been running for several years had to be modified to clear the new 37″ tires and longer control arms
  11. Daystar bump stops

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That pretty much wraps it up for the front end. No small feat!

A lot of other things got done on version 15.1 also:

  1. rear axle received new 4.10 gearset, ARB air locker, and Great Lake Off Road cover
  2. Sway-A-Way 2.5″ reservoir rear shocks
  3. transmission was overhauled with billet torque converter and shift kit added
  4. transfer case was rebuilt
  5. 37×12.5×17 Mastercraft Courser MXT tires
  6. stock 3rd gen Dodge 17″ steel wheels
  7. LED backup and driving lights
  8. air tank and ARB compressor to activate lockers and inflate tires
  9. re-installation of camper box that I built a few years ago
  10. new windshield
  11. unplanned was a radiator, hoses, thermostat, and oil pan gasket replacement
  12. I’m sure there’s something I missed after almost 6 months of work

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So good for another 16 years and 180,000 miles right? We’ll see, I was actually still working on the truck 2 hours before we left! Reports on whether or not this round of modifications worked are coming soon.

Many thanks to John at Hillbilly Wizard and Ryan at AccuTune Off-Road for listening to what I needed and delivering awesome custom work!