Saturday, May 10, 2014

Installing Safety Equipment

To prepare for any possible event is an interest challenge. Reflecting on what was required of us in Zimbabwe caused me to consider the requirements of other countries and quite simply, what makes sense whether it is a law or not. After doing some research on what other overlanders have installed, our experience in Zimbabwe and South Africa and complimenting it with what seems to make sense to me at the moment, I decided to purposefully address safety needs. I installed or otherwise packed in the truck somewhere the following items:

  • One Badger fire extinguisher rated for trash, wood, paper (A), liquids (B) and electrical equipment (C) in the left rear of the vehicle. It isn't rated for cooking. I'll have to consider that more as we go along.
  • Two Life Hammers used for breaking windows and cutting seat belts. One on the right side of the front console for both people in the front seat, as well as, one in the back for people in the rear of the vehicle.
  • Three seat belt cutters, one in front, two in back.
  • Three weighted base, reflective triangles from AAA in the event of a breakdown stowed in rear cubbies.
  • Also in the rear cubbies are three magnetic strobes from Wagan capable of multiple types of flashing red light patterns including SOS. These things cleverly mount anywhere on the vehicle due to their magnetic personality.
  • One ANSI/ISEA Z308.1-2009 general first aid kit. It isn't huge and definitely doesn't cover all the details necessary for extreme bush first aid/medical needs. However, I'll use it as a baseline implementation.
  • One yellow fluorescent utility vest under the driver seat (in Zimbabwe, these were often kept on the back of seats so the police visibly knew you had them).

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Planned Modifications List

As with anything, ideas abound. I have a list of things I believe to be on my 'to do' list and will continue researching their perceived value until I choose to or not to execute accordingly. Context I have to date is considering overland requirements of terrain I'd like to visit in South America, Central America, different parts of the US, particularly Alaska, as well as, Canada. Presumably off-road, mostly graded off-road though not necessarily, and definitely some paved experiences. I'm not particularly fond of, nor looking to go it with only one machine in the convoy, rock crawling and deep water, higher risk, fjording. Although I really like the word, "fjord". Of course I'm doing more exhaustive research on parts and pieces, routes, gas mileage, way points, weather, terrain and the like. For now, the baseline is outlined below as (what is it, where did I get it/plan to get it, date installed, approximate cost to purchase and approximate time to install for me):

Install Snorkel Fix rust, apply Line-X Replace rear bumper
Replace front bumper Modify suspension Install diff breather kit
Install roof rack Install rooftop tent Install awning
Install tent extension Install mossy netting Install front winch
Install redundant battery system Install air lockers Install two-stage fuel filters
Install flood lights Install rock sliders Install side rails
Install CB Install safety equipment

The date I publish this list is of course the baseline plan. However, as I finish planned work and/or modify the plan I'll continue updating this page associatively. As of this date, I have no idea what I'm talking about, but am excited to learn. I look forward to seeing what actually happens compared to what I think will happen (which is the definition of a journey I believe).

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mounting the Rear Bumper

As with everything else, after a bunch of research I settled upon the Slee Off-Road bumper with optional spare tire and ladder mounts.

The package arrived as a freight truck drop-off, was a large, heavy package (~259lbs) on a palette, and basically in the shape it left the factory. Slee Off-Road took a picture of the delivery prior to leaving the warehouse. I took a picture upon arrival. The pictures matched. I was impressed at how the components were shipped. Had I my wits about me, I would have taken a picture of the actual packing. Everything was individually wrapped and taped. The bumper in first, then expanding blow-foam blown around the perimeter to lock it in place and protect it from external blows. Impressed. Then the internal pieces were set on top and around the bumper using very thick pieces of some sort of padding with adhesive. Once these big padding pieces were in place, I doubt anything moved the entire trip. And then the box itself was closed up and itself wrapped in plastic and strapped shut thereby affixing it to the palette as one big unit. The boys that delivered it moved it up the driveway on a palette jack.

There were five things that needed to be removed from the rear bumper assembly prior to attempting the new bumper mount. After removing these things, the new bumper simply slid into place like a well-worn glove without much effort or coordination.

  • Two sub-assembly brackets on either side of the bumper assembly which originally held the factory bumper. Given they were original, they were also frozen. Since we didn't need to re-use these holes, I cut the head off the final, most stingy bolt and knocked it off with a hammer. All the others eventually came off with some love. This was no place for WD-40, but rather some CenPeCo Penetrator introduced to me by a friend who has decades more experience than I doing this sort of work. When I say things like, "It's frozen and won't move", he only smiles and teaches me another trick of the trade.
  • One tow hook
  • Two recovery point rings

Not knowing how difficult this bumper would be to hold in place, we set two jack stands (with a fat towel for scratch-control) underneath either wing and a floor jack (again, with a fat towel) underneath the rear centerpoint as a matter of safety. Frankly, because of the good design of the bumper itself, after we slid it onto the rear bumper frame assembly, it just sat there making our floor jack and jack stands safety elements only. They really supported no weight. Picking the bumper up and moving it around was a two-man job given the weight and awkward size/design. Otherwise, no issues.

If you have a new vehicle, I suspect the bumper mounting will go free, clear and smooth. If you have an older vehicle like I do, there is some prep-work that I should have done, but didn't think to do. It would have saved time.

  • Find out where you need to put new bolts into the frame and make sure the bolt holes are clean, accessible and will take the bolts easily when needed. I didn't do this. As a result, during the installation we spent extra time cleaning and otherwise getting old holes to work for us. Find which ones you need, clean them in advance. It will save time.
  • There are two bolts on each side of the bumper, closest to the bumper itself (and closest to you when viewing the pictures, bolts 1 and 2), that attach the bumper to the frame. For me, since the old bolts came out of these holes, new ones went in without issue.
  • Farther in from the back of the truck (in alignment with the bolts closest to the bumper, bolts 3 and 4) an additional two bolts need to go on both sides and is likely where an after-market tow bar would mount. These bolts hold the wing-braces to the frame which then connect out to the wing of the bumper itself for leveling, strength and stability. These holes had never been used for the life of the truck. The in-frame bolt plates (or welded nuts, I'm not completely sure) on the inside of the frame were not aligned to the holes and were full of rust, dirt and whatever else gets up in there from greater than decade of weather exposure. We had to hammer the frame, use an air compressor, some more rust remover, holler and complain for an unfortunate amount of time to make it work. We even greased the bolt shafts to aid in the effort. In the end, one of the bolts broke the plate free (or welded nut) and it spun freely. All other bolts went on correctly, though the ones in the unused holes required use of a commercial air gun else it would never have happened. I'll address the bolt that broke free by spot welding that portion of the plate to the frame and there will therefore be no concern. How I address the hanging bolt is yet to be determined.
  • There are two bolts that go straight into the rear bumper frame to the 11 and 1 o'clock positions of the receiver. We had to loosen the bumper to get the holes aligned correctly. Furthermore, to keep the bolts in the socket head as we passed it through the bumper itself to the frame, we greased up the head of the bolt to stick it in the socket head without falling. We had to mess with the bumper a bit to align the holes, pulling a dropped bolt or flat washer out with a magnet a couple of times, but it eventually worked.

Basically, pre-clean all the holes making sure bolts will go where they are supposed to go in advance of mounting the bumper. After that, fit all of the bolts before tightening any of them. It was artful science. I suppose, the older the vehicle, the more art.

Adding the ladder and tire mount were "as-is" simple. Particularly impressive to a friend of mine helping me were the high-end bearings Slee Off-Road uses in both pivots points for ladder and spare time mount. They seem to be high quality which bodes well for aging, weight and extensive use. Just follow the directions and this all makes sense and works as specified.

Out of everything, the license plate light kit seemed to be made of a brittle plastic that, if over-torqued, would likely just snap off. I was careful to not do such and it mounts cleanly. There is ample wiring length and, though I've not yet done it, I expect wiring it in will be a simple as well.

I'm pleased with this $2600 purchase (all in). This is solid, well-engineered, bumper solution with details on it that can only come from people who have first-hand experience.

Addressing Rust

Since I purchased the vehicle in December 2013, I hadn't had the opportunity to really study the vehicle out in the sun without being beaten by the winter winds, snow, etc. Whatever I would find wouldn't bother me because I knew this was the vehicle I wanted to have, build upon, evolve and use for overlanding. In the first nice days of Spring 2014 I took off the front mud flaps and sidesteps. And after giving the truck a thorough review, I found rust in a number of places that simply couldn't be ignored if I wanted to build upon this frame (actually, it could be ignored, but I'd be thinking about it every night whilst laying in bed staring at the ceiling).

  • Across the top of the windscreen where the glass ends and the roof starts
  • Underneath the rear bumper wings (behind rear tires), particularly the driver's side, was pretty much crumbly decay waiting to fall off (you couldn't tell by looking at it with bumper on)
  • On the bottom lip of the truck body, from front tire to back tire, the side steps had been contributing to and hiding rusty, crumbly decay

One of the other things I wanted to address was, in order to mount the snorkel I had to remove the radio antennae which then left a partially exposed hole. As well, in order to mount the snorkel I obviously made many new holes in the body that needed to be cleaned, primed and managed to prevent rust.

So, off to the body shop we went. Things I had done at the shop included:

  • Both bumpers removed
  • Lower metal area behind driver-side rear wheel cut out and completely replaced
  • All rust cleaned down to the metal around the lower perimeter of the truck and above the windscreen (window removed for this effort)
  • All paint removed down to metal where the snorkel mounts to the truck
  • Line-X applied across front of roof where windshield meets roof
  • Line-X applied down both sides of truck, front to back, from bottom lip up to bumper strips mid-body
  • Line-X applied to area just larger than snorkel (radio antennae hole welded up to disappear)
  • Line-X applied up both sides of the windshield largely motivated by the rust, secondarily by the snorkel mount

In order to fix the rust above the windscreen, the body shop guys told me there was a possibility the windscreen could break on extraction. So we included the cost of a new windscreen in the estimate. They were able to extract and fix it without a problem. Much to the chagrin of the body shop team, they cracked the windscreen when putting it back in. A pure accident. They were apologetic. I wasn't upset. Let's get real. Modifying anything other than a new vehicle comes with challenges and you have to know this before you start spending money. We scheduled to have the windscreen replaced in the coming week since I wanted to take the vehicle and get the rear bumper installed over the weekend.

By request, these guys mixed up a batch of touch-up paint for me so I could touch up here and there on things that could potentially be rust incubators. I expect the truck to get scratched up and so forth; no reason to be neglectful on glaring risks and deficiencies to the body along the journey.

After I got it home, I had expected the body shop guys to clean up the front and rear bumper mounts, but realized I failed to communicate it. All on me. So I took a Dewalt drill, a rust removing automotive brush from Wal-Mart and removed all the rust from the front and back bumper mounts, top, bottom, sides and edges (down to the bare metal in some cases). Safety glasses were very important here. Then I applied three coats of quick-dry Rustoleum dark gray body primer to them just to clean it up and help secure it for the next twenty or so years of weather exposure and such. It is just plain more work; however, I know from experience in other things that what you ignore today comes back in spades later. I don't like spades.

All in all, the body shop guys had the truck from Monday morning at 0830h to the following Saturday at 1130h and the cost was about $1540.00 and some change. We estimated that the Line-X added about 35lbs of body weight to the vehicle, though that is an unscientific guess based upon the other Line-X work these guys had performed for other people on different vehicles.

Mounting the Snorkel

After a bunch of research I chose the Australian Safari Snorkel product based upon a few considerations important to me.

  • What material is the snorkel made of and how will it wear through time, particularly with sun exposure?
  • How is the vent opening designed to manage dust, rain and general rubbish?
  • How does the snorkel mount to the vehicle and does it appear to be designed by abuse versus street appeal?
  • General perception of popularity among other consumers and contexts in which they were/are used (Australian outback versus San Francisco street shows, etc.)
  • Cost (though admittedly I'm generally not willing to go cheap now and pay for it again later if and when it breaks at an inopportune time
  • I generally pay attention to what products are produced for bush terrains like South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Canada, Alaska and Australia. I figure if it works in SA and Australia and is still popular with consumers, that's my baseline for comparison.

I found the directions worked exactly as written. A genuine pleasure for sure. No guessing. Follow the instructions, use the enclosed template. Worst case scenario I figured was a trip to the body shop to fix my mistakes and start over. Wasn't necessary. Everything worked.

The instructions required me to cut a 4.5" hole in the quarter panel for the ventilation tube, as well as, smaller holes for the mounts points. Not being an experienced body shop guy, I did a bunch of research on the drill bit necessary to cut through the quarter panel with precision, while minimizing what I speculated was a high probability of "jumping out of my hand" due to the 4.5" cut size.

I ended up purchasing a Lenox from Lowe's for the 4.5" hole cut saw, as well as, an Irwin step drill for the smaller mount holes. I used a Makita Hammer Drill in drill mode for the 4.5" cut and a normal drill for the others. A friend of mine was going to video the large cut, particularly hoping to video the jump so we could both laugh, cry and puke if it happened; however, the blade cut through the quarter panel so fast his camera hadn't even focused for a snapshot. We were both surprised. The step drill however, expectedly, took longer because I was over-cautious about drilling too big a hole and messing up the whole effort in a single mistake. Messing up due to naivete is one thing; messing up because I was careless is another. Experienced body shop people likely do this stuff in their sleep.

Very important in every one of the hole cuts was drilling in initial pilot hole first. After that the step drill and the mandrel both had a safe place from which to start doing the deed and kept the bits/blades from jumping. Because the front quarter panel changes angles due to the wheel well flare-out, the 4.5" saw didn't mount flush to the truck when I began the cut, so care had to be taken to manage positioning as the entire saw finally dug in and finished the job.

Because I knew that the snorkel would come back off later to do body work, I did not put the wheel well cover back in, nor did I waterproof any of the tubing connections as recommended. After the body work, then the waterproofing. In order to mount the new rubber connector from snorkel to air filter box, we simply greased the inside of the rubber "S" connector to make it slip into place easier. So while you're doing the work, make it permanent if you know you're not going to futz with it again later. In this case, I knew this was the dry mount before the bodywork to be followed up again later for more purposed waterproofing.

Seriously, on this one, the instructions and template worked. Following the directions made this work without a hitch for me. The purchase price for me was around $450 with free shipping from Seven Springs Customs Complete Off-Road. The packaging was great with no issues of travel damage. Go to the manufacturer website, choose your make, model and engine type and make the order.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Purpose and Intro

In a nutshell, this blog serves no greater purpose than to document the evolution of a 1999 OEM Toyota Land Cruiser to a modified vehicle more equipped for overlanding in different parts of the US, South America, Canada and desirably, Alaska. However, the distance between dream, plan and actually doing it requires a planning, money and time.

Furthermore, the details listed in this blog are desirably of useful reference to others in return for the immense value I've gained from reading the journeys of other machine platform evolutionaries, as well as, their overlanding journeys. Basically, we learn from our own experiences and that of others around us. My contribution is at best a drop in the bucket compared to many of which I've read, but a contribution nonetheless that will evolve through time.

You could say I developed the bug for being in the bush and overlanding while living and working in Zimbabwe, Africa. Beautiful people, beautiful country and absolutely beautiful exploration opportunities. Driving with the windows down for hours on end through areas of Zimbabwe where, if you weren't prepared to be completely self-reliant, you were toast required more of me than previous in my life. Thinking about possible situations, potential solutions and whether I was prepared to handle them became mind candy. And the machine platform? A gorgeous 1991 80s series Toyota Land Cruiser. Stick shift, right-hand drive, lift kit and general bush-ready (with a concealed front-end winch) and two spare tires to boot, we were naive and just ambitious enough to go and explore that gorgeous country. And the vehicle? Yeah, saved us multiple times because the Toyota Land Cruiser is a stellar bush capable platform.

I miss it; so am beginning a next chapter in the journey.