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Investigative Solutions

The Forest, the Pit and the Mud hole
By Bill E. Branscum   ©2003
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Thanksgiving was a wonderful family affair at our house. As has always been the case, I spent the day cooking and enjoyed some quality time with my family. In deference to popular demand, I made a ham this year. I think I'll write another "Now We're Cookin'" article and publish the recipe as I did with my turkey recipe under Ideas and Suggestions.

Once Thanksgiving Day turned into Friday, everyone disappeared. Luz took off to Miami to attend a three-day church event and, as if that wasn't bad enough, even Jeremy bailed on us. "Whaddya mean ya gotta work - it seems like just last week I was diapering your little butt."

In my mind, I understand that Jeremy's grown up, but in my mind's eye, I still see him as one of my kids. I guess it's a thing all parent's must learn to get used to, but as long as I've had children it's always been, "Where we go, we all go." It sure feels odd to do something without him.

Anyway, finding ourselves all alone with nothing to do, the kids and I did the logical thing - we packed up the Jeep and headed for the hills.

Now, I admit, there's some that might not have thought that the logical thing to do - take Mikey, the local Jeep dealership's mechanic for example.

I have no doubt that Mikey spent his Thanksgiving weekend giving thanks - thanks that he was finally rid of me and my Jeep.

Nope, I'm thinkin' that after spending Tuesday and Wednesday installing my suspension lift kit, shocks, tires, etc., Mikey would not have thought driving it all the way to Ocala to test it out on some of Florida's most treacherous terrain was "logical."

Then there's the Service Manager, Robert Tozzi. When he said, "Drive it around and get used to it for a while," I'm not sure a five hour drive to Ocala and three days of rocks and mud was what he meant. It wasn't as if I didn't check it out first - I let Luz put it through our "front yard torture test."

Once we made sure it didn't bind, rub or break - off to Ocala we went.

The first thing we noticed was the difference in handling. Although the Rancho Rock Crawler suspension lift had raised the Jeep about four inches, and the Goodyear MTR 35x12.5x16's raised it two more, the notorious Jeep sway and roll was gone. More importantly, adding the winch to the front bumper had exacerbated the "nose dive" effect when you hit the brakes - that was gone too. A blindfolded passenger who had ridden in both would swear that the lifted Jeep was stock, and the stock ride was the result of a poorly designed suspension lift.

The next thing I noticed was the gas mileage - tooling along at an indicated speed of 65MPH, which I believe to be just over 70MPH since the dealer hasn't calibrated the speedometer yet, the engine was turning 2000 RPM's in overdrive.

I cannot say it was as smooth and stable as my Suburban, but the suspension lift and tires were a dramatic improvement over stock and the 35 inch MTR's made no more noise than the 31 inch MTR's that the Jeep came stock with.

From the kid's standpoint, the changes were even greater than they were from mine. Since I had installed the under seat security drawer manufactured by Tuffy a few weeks prior, it had raised the back seat about three inches making it easier for them to see, and making the shoulder belt fall naturally across their chests rather than against their necks. Anyone who hauls children around in their Jeep should install one of these drawers, whether they have anything to put in it or not.

After spending the day exploring the Ocala National Forest, it finally got dark and gave us an opportunity to try out the new lighting system. With four Hella FF 75's in the rack, and a pair of KC Titanium Daylighter's mounted on the windshield brackets, we could light up the world - including a young doe that was not sure what to make of us. How's that for a "deer in the headlights look?"
We ran into Fred Duncan, the owner of a green Cherokee, who we had meet at the Jeeptoberfest. He offered us a tour of the place they call "Little Tellico," otherwise referred to as "The Pit," the scene of a spectacular roll over the week before.

We had visited The Pit with several local Jeepers back in October, after the Jeeptoberfest was over, but most of it was beyond the capability of our stock Jeep - with the Rubicon's lockers and low gears we had some advantages but the Jeep was so low to the ground that we couldn't negotiate the rocks and deep ruts. It was a totally different experience this time around.

The pictures are accessible thru the link at the bottom of the page.

When we stopped to eat lunch at the Pizza Hut, Alan and Dwana May pulled up in Alan's blue Jeep to say hello. I say "his" Jeep because Alan's wife has a Jeep of her own. We had met them at the Jeeptoberfest and they had recognized our Jeep as they were driving by.

Alan and Dwana are involved with a local group of off road enthusiasts who are developing a privately owned adult playground where playtime is not limited to Jeeps. They invited us to come to Interlachen and see what they were doing.

We met up with Alan at Reco Transmission in Interlachen, FL the following day. Alan introduced me to Ray Essex, the owner of the property they are developing. Ray is an interesting guy - although he looks like someone that Hollywood would typecast as a biker, or a blacksmith (OK, so who am I to talk), He's a very soft spoken guy who is very concerned that there are few recreational activities available to local young people. He wanted to discuss ways of building an recreational environment that would attract young people and provide them with someplace safe to go, and something healthy to do.

After about five minutes, it became obvious that Al, Ray, his brother Walt Essex and their friend Jeff Simms, have gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to create something worthwhile for their community. Having invested the money, and being willing and capable of doing the work, he and Alan had concerns regarding the "real world" realities involved like permitting, zoning, insurance, liability and they wanted to discuss what others might have done elsewhere.

Alan took us on a tour of their property, and it was hard to imagine how anything could be more different than the sheer walls and rocky hills of "Little Tellico." In fact, it was a lot like the Everglades, except this place has real trees, and the stuff they call "mud" is a very distant cousin to the sandy stuff we are used to.

Alan showed us the "scenic route " through the property - it could just as easily have been navigated via canoe. It was a winding, muddy creek shared by Jeeps, trucks and teenagers on four-wheelers.
It was going pretty well until Joey Vance and his wife, Stephanie, had something break in the front end of their CJ7. They felt pretty sure it was their ring gear, but whatever broke, it left them with a two-wheel drive Jeep that couldn't make it through.
Ronnie Palmatier came back to help them, and his CJ7 was doing fine until he got high centered on a submerged tree while trying to turn around. Fortunately, his Jeep was pointed at an open space on the embankment that made it possible to use the Rubicon's winch and pull him off the tree and up the hill.
Once we got that one pulled out, Alan maneuvered his Jeep to a position that would allow him to pull Joey up the embankment.

In addition to the creek bed, they have the "Mud Pit," a huge, soggy, nasty bog where otherwise normal people congregate to . . . well, let's just call it a perverse S&M ritual that people who drive Camry's are not likely to understand.

One thing's for sure -- this here is a genuine "equal opportunity" mud hole - it soon proved to be a trap for old Fords and new Ford's alike.

"Now Mikey, Robert, just because it looks like I took these pictures from out in the middle of this mess, don't be worrying that I went out and got this fancy new suspension all dirty. We live in an age of telephoto lenses, so we can shoot pictures that make it look like we're closer than we are.

Besides, these kids would never want to get out and get our pretty new tires all dirty - honest fellas, no need to be worrying about that!"

"OK, well, if it makes ya feel any better, at least we found a nice place to wash it all off."

One vehicle that you couldn't help but notice at the mud hole was a beautiful old Chevy Blazer from the 70's, back in the days before some bright college boy dreamed up the "double wall construction" idea that rapidly turned Chevy trucks into rust buckets.

This wasn't a truck anyone could miss, but I noticed it because it reminded me of a copper colored one I desperately wanted to buy about twenty five years ago - right down to the flag in the window.

They didn't get stuck, or even look as if it was a possibility. They just blasted around in the mud until she got tired of it - that's right, she.

I'd been missing Luz company for a couple of days, but when Sue Thiede came back and jumped down out of that truck, I was especially sorry that she wasn't there to see it. Macho little mamasita that she is, she would have really enjoyed that.



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