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  1. #1

    Default Baja California - Gas, Leaf Springs, and Duct Tape

    MEMORABLE BREAKDOWNS & BACK ROADS

    Boy do I have a story!!! Every year we venture down to Baja California with the designation of Bahia de los Angeles. We usually make our base camp there and then have off to remote spots for day trips.

    In 2005 we had just wrapped up checking out some pretty interesting pictographs near Mission San Borja and were heading back to camp, me with 9 others in a convoy of 4 other vehicles. I was in my FJ40 Land Cruiser cruising about 45 MPH down this road then I heard a bang. I pulled over and checked things out. Pretty quickly, we found the problem –one of the main leaf springs that holds the axle to the frame was broken. We repaired it with some rope and wire and went on our way. The main camp was about 45 miles away and we still had some tough country to go through to get back home, so the rest of the drive took much longer than it normally would have. A few hours later, and some carefully placed adjustments with a sledge hammer, we made it back to camp.

    Later that day, I went into the small town and found a shop that could do some welding. My thought was I would weld a piece over the crack and then drill and bolt it in. An hour and $60 later, we had a repair that looked like it would do the trick.

    From Bahia de los Angeles to San Felipe is about 160 miles via the back road leading into San Felipe. This route is rough, tough and requires 4wheel drive. Because of the distance, and the obvious lack of the usual road-side facilities, on these trips you know to conserve every possible bit of gas. We typically carry extra fuel, but during this trip there was no gas available in Bahia de los Angeles. So when we departed our base camp, every vehicle carried about ¾ of a tank, with the exception of my FJ40 Cruiser, which was full. Everyone’s gas cans were empty. Calculating the distance of the route, we figured we all had enough gas to get to San Felipe. Well, we thought so, anyway.

    We left early in the morning; already the temperature was above 100 degrees. In what seemed like no time at all, we had put many miles behind us and had turned onto the back road leading into San Felipe.

    A note I forgot to mention – I had instructed everyone to stay within sight of one another, to not run vehicle air conditioners, and to maintain a consistent speed of about 45 mph. Because we were in a pretty desolate area, it was important to stay at least within sight of one another. Because we were off-roading, we knew gas mileage will be poor, and we wanted to take whatever measures we could to conserve.

    Within the first 15 miles of traveling this dirt road, the group had started to fall apart. Many fell behind, and some had turned on their air conditioners. Immediately, I knew that, if we continued with these habits, we would run out of gas and would not reach San Felipe. I stopped, and once again lectured the group about not using air conditioners, to keep to a speed of 45 mph and to stay together. Ten miles later, my lecture had been forgotten, vehicles were falling behind, and air conditioners were running. And the FJ40 had a flat. We fixed it and, dirty and sweating more, we got back on the road – about 20 minutes behind the rest of the group. Our radios wouldn’t work in that remote area, and we didn’t have visual on any of the others. Already I had consumed half a tank and we weren’t even half way there.

    I accelerated, taking it up to 55 mph. After about 15 minutes, I managed to catch up to one of the vehicles in our group, but they were heading back to find us. Thinking they had pulled over to let us pass, I thought the plan was for me to go by them and keep going, and they would turn around behind me and follow my lead. As I was approaching at 55mph, the driver of the other vehicle pulled out and made a u-turn right in front of me.

    I hit the brakes and did a quick evasive right turn, directly into a large incline ditch about 5 feet deep. Dust, dirt and rocks were flying everywhere and the Mule Trailer on the back of my FJ40 was going straight up in the air. Looking through the window, all I saw ahead were large rocks and I was still flying. I hit the brakes, grabbed the steering wheel, and prayed. Then came the BIG bang.

    We sat there, gathering ourselves, our possessions and our bearings, all the while pondering what had just happened to us. As the thick cloud of dust started to settle, I began to check the instrument panel. Everything looked okay: oil pressure, water and electrical were normal. Outside in front of us, there were large boulders. Down the incline and below us, large boulders.

    We got out and checked the damage. No leaks – good! No flat tires – good! No body damage – good (okay, we had a nice new dent in the front bumper.) Suspension – hmmm… the rear leaf springs that mount to the body were snapped in half, on both the driver and passenger sides. The rear axle was cocked at a right angle, with the rear passenger wheel against the body of the FJ40. The front axle was in better shape, but still way out of alignment.

    We gathered up our tool kit of rope and wire, went to work on the axles and managed to drive the Cruiser out of the ditch. The front drive shaft was also bent and, I would find out later, completely unsalvageable.

    Here we were out in the middle of the Baja Peninsula with three broken leaf springs, the temperature is well above 110 degrees, and the rest of the party is nowhere in sight. Reacting in my most adult manner, I yelled, “Why in the *!*#%*$^#! did you turn in front of us?” But I knew there was no satisfactory answer, and yelling was not going to accomplish anything.

    Flashback to 1991: During my active military days, I had the privilege of going to Iraq to participate in this little exercise called “Operation Desert Storm”. I was there to work in material management and to provide leadership for the task of moving the material from Point A to Points B and C. One day, I was on a convoy to get materials over to a tank battalion about 65 miles from camp. Since our unit was low on manpower, I had volunteered to go. I took a position in the middle of the convoy (safer that way). About half way there, a 5 ton truck up ahead of me in the convoy hit something in the road, breaking several leaf springs. Knowing vehicle parts was scarce, we called for a maintenance unit and they came over to investigate.

    Now, what you are about to read really happened and everyone I tell just shakes their head in disbelief and walks away, mumbling something about the desert heat frying my brain cells.

    One of the mechanics from the maintenance unit walked back to his rig and came back with a box of duct tape, a piece of metal, a jack, and a crowbar. We lifted the truck, got the crowbar to move the axle back into position and then lowered the truck back down. We then used the crowbar to bring the leaf springs back together. Then the mechanic placed the metal piece over the break, bring the end pieces of the break over and under each other so the lapped over each other, and started to duct tape the leaf-break, using five rolls of duct tape. Two hours later, and with no enemy shots fired at us, we were back on the road. The fix held up to get us to the drop-off point and then back to camp safely. In fact, the truck was in use for three more days before they replaced those springs. Yeah, say it.

    Back to my predicament in Baja…

    Standing there in the middle of hot, sweaty miles from nowhere, I told the group my Desert Storm story and they laughed. And yes, I carry three rolls of military grade duct tape with me. We jacked up the cruiser, aligned the axles, and got the leaf springs back in position with them over lapping each other. I used one roll of tape for each cracked leaf spring. Two hours later, tempers not great but better for having fixed the problem, all of us hot, dirty and sticky, we were back on the road.

    We kept the speed at 45mph and stopped every 15 miles to check out our work. Everything looked good. We finally reached Puertecitos, and paved road, and we met up with the rest of the group, running their air conditioners and such. Reviewing everyone’s gas situation, I knew it wasn’t good. I had just under ¼ tank and the rest of the vehicles in the group showed just above empty - and we still had about 60 miles to go on a nasty pitted pave road.

    With the exception of delving into the whys and wherefores of our trip into the ditch, I refrained from lectures about common sense traveling, such as staying in a group and exercising common sense in fuel conservation (i.e., steady pace at 45mph and no air conditioners).

    It was now around 3:30PM and we were back on the road, as a group this time. We were averaging about 35 mph and just about 15 miles outside of San Felipe when the first vehicle ran out of gas. Within moments, my Cruiser ran out of gas. We parked the rest of the vehicles off on the side of the road and loaded all the gas cans into the truck. I might add, the truck’s low gas light had just come on. We headed into town and made it to the first gas station, barely. When all done and said, we had filled up 12 gas cans and the truck.

    And an hour later, we were all on the road again.

    It was just before 6:00 pm when we pulled into San Felipe – dirty, hungry, thirsty, and hot. And we still had another 65 miles to go to our next destination, some remote hot springs located in some rugged mountains.

    Now, I am the rugged, give-me-the-desert-and-let’s-sleep-with-the-rattlesnakes type of guy, as were most of the rest of the group – but this time, we were beat and I mean beat. We wanted showers, clean clothes, food and cold drinks. Lots of all of it right now!

    At the gas station, someone mentioned a hotel and no one gave it second thought… we found the first one and quickly got our rooms… the showers were great, and swimming a treasure, and the bar down the street… I was in desert heaven.

    Now, San Felipe to San Bernardino is still a long drive – over 250 miles and keep in mind, we still had broken leaf springs being held in place by duct tape. The next morning we carefully looked over the situation and found it to be holding. So we elected to continue as is, after staying another day in San Felipe. When we finally got home, all of us were amazed with how the duct tape held up, getting us home safely.

    Over all, it was one of my most memorable breakdowns on some remote back road. And I know now to carry at least four rolls of duct tape – one for each set of leaf springs!

    I have since learned they sell temporary repair kits for broken leaf springs. They run about $65 for the kit. I carry two of them and to date, have yet to use one.

    [Editor's Note: You can read another of Joel's articles here -- an introduction to the Ruth Mine near Death Valley, California]
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 04-23-2007 at 10:52 AM. Reason: added a link to Joel's article

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,052

    Default Duct Tape to the Rescue

    Quote Originally Posted by The Desert Drifter View Post
    ....were heading back to camp, me with 9 others in a convoy of 4 other vehicles. I was in my FJ40 Land Cruiser cruising about 45 MPH down this road then I heard a bang
    Always a good way to start such a tale! Anway, I loved the story. I have never fixed axles with duct tape -- but close!

    Thanks,

    Mark
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 11-28-2006 at 01:31 PM. Reason: Referenced to photos removed

  3. #3

    Default

    I can see the photos. Not sure what you mean with format? Are they visible to you?

    Thanks
    Joel

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,052

    Default Weird -- but I think it is a user session time-out

    Quote Originally Posted by The Desert Drifter View Post
    I can see the photos. Not sure what you mean with format? Are they visible to you?
    The photos were visible, I reloaded them twice -- but there is something peculiar about how they are displayed on that other site and once the user session closes (either yours or mine) the images are no longer visible. {"Desert Drifter" is using a hyperlink photo blocker and so the images will not be visible on this Forum -- which is too bad} -- But his prose is fun!

    Mark
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 09-21-2006 at 12:25 AM.

  5. #5
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    Mar 2005
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    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula
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    3,318

    Default Wow...great story!

    Thanks for sharing, Desert Drifter! I was almost sweating just reading it!

    Duct tape is one of those miracles that modern society should never be without. Your story proves it.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
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    Western/Central Massachusetts
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    1,703

    Default

    Duct tape is also useful for when you slide down a roof and rip all the skin off of your arm. Seems to heal faster with that glue on there.
    Quote Originally Posted by The Desert Drifter
    Reacting in my most adult manner, I yelled, “Why in the *!*#%*$^#! did you turn in front of us?”
    Quote Originally Posted by The Desert Drifter
    Dust, dirt and rocks were flying everywhere
    Those parts sound like my daily commute...

    Good story - apparently no rattlesnakes in the hotel?
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 09-21-2006 at 05:06 PM.

  7. #7

    Default

    Rattlesnakes??? Did come across one at the gas station in San Felipe. Was coiled up by the trashcan and nobody knew it was there until it was pointed out by one of the attendents... about 3 feet away from my leg. Never rattled or anything.

    Hoepfully I can get this picture thing ironed and post a few here. I took several of the rattlesnake.

    Thanks
    Joel

  8. #8

    Default thanks for sharing that

    What a great story! Thanks for sharing it with us. Duct tape has so many uses even the astronauts take it with them.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
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    10,052

    Default Oh, thanks for that visual!

    Quote Originally Posted by Mass Tim View Post
    Duct tape is also useful for when you slide down a roof and rip all the skin off of your arm. Seems to heal faster with that glue on there.
    Oh my goodness, (or something), yow! When did that happen? Glad you could still type....

    Mark

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Keithville, LA
    Posts
    638

    Default Late to the Post, but

    Great story. And that also reminds me why I don't venture very far from paved roads and/or civilization. I don't have the mechanical skills. Just the ability to call AAA :).

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