Bring Me Your Poor, Huddled Masses…$1,000 o.b.o.

00464fbc834607a6049faf1a57c96395Standing tall above the murky depths of New York Harbor is a universal symbol of hope and freedom that is recognized the world round, the likes only known by Coca-Cola and a pair of golden arches. We lovingly call her ‘Lady Liberty’- our Statue of Liberty. Etched on a plaque at her feet are the words of an otherwise totally obscure poem ‘New Colossus’ that have been respoken, at least in portion, countless thousands of times since it was unveiled in the late 1800’s. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”; the words even going on to single out the “wretched refuse” as being at the top of the want-list of desirables. While these simple words have grown to hold immeasurable importance in the history of our great country, I must admit that I have knowingly, and possibly even willingly, been given to a gross misinterpretation of them.


While the origin of this uplifting sonnet is referring solely to those individuals who might journey to our country in search of freedom, opportunity and the idea that your own pursuit of happiness is only limited by yourself. I have taken those words and twisted them, if only in my mind, to mean something so much different. I’ll call it my “Craigslist Mantra”.  If you’re not familiar with Craigslist, then you are not likely on anything that resembles the internet and you’re reading this blog would be purely coincidental, and if so, Welcome Aboard!

My affliction began about 2 years ago while searching the internet classifieds for a used car for my newly licensed son – a diamond in the rough, if you will (the car that I was in search of, not my son). I knew he would need something reliable, somewhat ‘sporty’ but not likely to exhaust my untold fortunes when it was time to pay for car insurance. We looked at many, drove several and ended up finding a real gem. While my son was just glad to have the whole thing behind him, I rather savored the experience. Soon I was justifying the need for a “backup” car as a means of supporting my addiction, for those times when my lifted Jeep was recovering from some off-road calamity or the weather was less-than-conducive to open air driving.


I innocently established a few guidelines to help direct and focus my search. First, it needed to be bought for $1000, or less (a criteria that quickly relegates your search into something that resembles a salvage yard scavenger hunt). Secondly, per my better half, it should not be an obvious project going into the purchase; in other words, it needed to be self-contained and not stored in crates and boxes in more than one location. Third, it should have both a roof and doors (this is something that needs no mention with normal people, a group from which I am excluded). Lastly, and not necessarily a requirement, it needed to be a Jeep.


Enter the tired, huddled masses! My search began as a daily ritualistic process of searching Craigslist in a geographic area centered around my home that progressively expands outward as my own level of desperation increases. Sure, there are some really horrid piles of scrap out there that could be had for a grand, but I was bound and determined to do better. Suddenly the quest for the holy grail of Jeeps was as much a part of my daily routine as 30 ounces of hot high-test coffee and checking emails. The more I looked, the more I slowly and surely surrendered to the fact that such a Jeep may not actually exist and, as I came to terms with this fact, my resolve to find such a Jeep deepened.  There is a well-known proposition in regards to making such a universally negative assumption. To say something doesn’t exist simply because you haven’t seen it is near-sighted. You should never make such a statement until you have literally looked everywhere and I had not so much as looked outside my state. How undedicated to the cause could I be?

When evaluating poor, huddled masses, it’s vital that you don’t only look skin deep, as a wiser older person may have once told you. Sure, that’s where the beauty lies but we’re looking for something with more substance than beauty. Then, suddenly on a hot sunny Sunday afternoon…there it was! I could tell by the way my wife gazed at me while we were test-driving it, that this was the one! She hadn’t looked at me with such obvious distrust since I told her that my engine swap shouldn’t take more than a weekend, two tops. The newfound fruits of my search were not easy on the eyes. There were many layers of dirt, mold and mildew or patina (whichever you prefer), a headliner that had been sacrificed to the car gods in a ritualistic slaying years earlier and a case of death wobble the likes I had only ever read about; one that the seller was leery to disclose to me for fear of nixing the deal. Nine hundred and sixty clams later and I was tooling home at the pace of 45.5 miles an hour, a tick off from the speed at which all manners of hell breaks loose in the decrepit ZJ’s front steering. But underneath that crusty exterior was a highly-optioned luxury SUV that had come on hard times and just needed somebody to believe in it once again; someone to give it one more chance at having purpose. Sure, it had some miles on it and it was far from perfect but aren’t we all?


Funny thing is, my search for the thousand dollar heap is all over but yet I still search, almost daily, for another. Just like the Statue of Liberty didn’t take a pry bar to the plaque the first time an immigrant found their way to our golden shores. No…there’s always room for one more. Just ask my wife. OlllllllO


Hittin’ the Skids

1Hang around the off-road scene for any length of time and you’re sure to pick up a few crucial pieces of knowledge. Properly applied, these tidbits of wisdom can mean the difference between pure enjoyment and an undying nightmare that will haunt you long after the trip is over. For starters, never go alone. I don’t mean to imply that you need a passenger, although one that packs a hearty lunch and splits the fuel cost is always nice; more so to have another vehicle go along to help lend support, brawn and brains to your venture. Bad decisions tend to be cast aside when vetted trough a backwoods democratic process, of sorts. Not to mention, a spotter is always good to have when things get squirrely. Secondly, NEVER wear nice shoes that you care anything about unless you have come to terms with the fact that you may never see them again. I know this seems like an insignificant little piece of advice but when you have your favorite pair of Merrells encased in a layer of slime and mud that’s thicker than a milkshake yet has the aroma of an untreated portable toilet, you’ll soon become an advocate for footwear preservation too. The final charge I would give you, and likely the most important, is to always prepare for everything. Being on the trail and having something break is bad. Having it break and being miles and miles away from a replacement part or the tools necessary to repair it is immeasurably worse. Having a breakdown and knowing it could have been prevented, well…


Photo Credit:

One fundamental component of being prepared is having a vehicle that is properly equipped to survive on the trail. For years, off-roaders have fitted their trail rigs with a variety of implements to help accomplish the task of protecting against damage. Often referred to as ‘armor’, bulky steel plates are affixed to body panels and frame rails by any means necessary, in an attempt to keep the rocks from displaying their abusive ways. These plates that line a vehicles underbelly are called ‘Skid Plates’ and they are purpose-designed and built to ward off impacts that would otherwise contact gas tanks, oil pans, steering boxes and other vital components.

So, whoever came up with these skid plates must have been a mechanical marvel, of sorts. To borrow the same theories of relation that exist between wall & cannonball or sword & shield and apply them to a Jeep is nothing short of brilliant! Did you ever wonder at what point Jeep actually decided that incorporating these new-fangled skid plates into the vehicle from the factory would make a great deal of sense, seeing as the likelihood of a Jeep being used off-road during its lifespan is much greater than just a slight possibility. The answer is that the very first ‘Jeep’ or Willys MA, to be exact, came with skid plates. It’s in their DNA as far back as we can trace. Granted, they have become much more advanced in their design and expanded in their usage but, even back in 1941, they realized the importance of a good defense.


The very first skid plates were pretty much dedicated only to the transmission region of the Jeep, as it hung precariously lower than the frame rails, rendering it quite vulnerable. Attaching a thick steel plate to the cross member not only protected the drivetrain from glancing blows, but the smooth face provided a slick surface to slide over rocks and obstructions, rather than become hung up on them.


While the exact origin of the skid plate, prior to this, would be hard to trace, it’s surprising to many that they have been around as long as they have; finding their way into an extensive array of makes and models today, both as standard equipment and, to a larger scale, as an aftermarket add-on accessory. To quote the age-old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” hits the proverbial nail on the head. Skid plates are precisely that- a dose of prevention only rarely are they weighed in ounces.


In fact, popular opinion among hard core off-roaders is that good old-fashioned steel, born of iron and fire, would be the material of choice for building a skid plate. Sure, it’s not the lightest material but it has the hard-headed resiliency to take a severe beating and get right back in line for another. If damaged, it can be removed, hammered out against a rock and welded with very basic tools and then reinstalled. Aluminum, on the other hand, definitely has the benefits of its light weight but is not as easily maintained or welded in the field, making it a wise choice for vehicles where exposure to severe off-road conditions is not a great concern, such as a trophy truck or “mall crawler”.


Photo Credit: JK Owners Forum

If you want to equip your Jeep to tackle the most unforgiving of trails, or just make it look like it could, Rugged Ridge has got the parts and accessories to make it happen. Yes, even skid plates! You can check them out on our website at OIIIIIIIO


I’ll Spare You the Details

1One of the most unique and differentiating features of the Willys / Jeep vehicle has always been the presence of an externally-mounted spare tire. In the early WWII-era models, the spare was first mounted to the rear of the tub but was relocated later to the rear side panel as civilian models were introduced in the mid 40’s, making way for the new rear tailgates on the CJ2 and CJ3 models. While the external mounting of the spare was most likely done out of dire shortage of interior space, the fact that it still resides outside of the frame rails today, some 75 years later, is somewhat surprising. With all of the creature comforts and niceties that have found their way into the current Jeep platform, one would almost expect to see the unsightly spare tire hidden underneath the rear end or tucked away discretely inside the cargo area. That just isn’t the way Jeep has ever done it. Jeeps are about no-nonsense utility…if we have a humongous spare tire, we want it right where we can get to it! Otherwise, we would’ve equipped them with teeny, tiny donut-shaped space-saver spares that tucks underneath your passenger seat.

I have information from very reliable sources, from people that have actually experienced an off-road vehicle roll-over firsthand, and they all unanimously proclaim that, in the event of such an occurrence, you do NOT want anything on the inside of your passenger compartment larger or heavier than a small stuffed animal. Cellphones, toolboxes, tire irons, roofing hammers or, heaven forbid, a 30 ounce stainless steel thermal tumbler filled with scalding-hot coffee are all transformed into barrel-rolling projectiles of terrifying mass that will dent, beat and bludgeon anything and everything in their path. While I agree that the spare tire mounted on the outside is still going to wreak unbelievable havoc if you go belly-up, I am much more comfortable with it not using my lap as a starting point for its dismount. For that reason, storing the spare tire outside the Jeep seems to make a great deal of sense.


3Another dilemma that is not so easily solved is what do we do in the event that we have a damaged tire and need to use our spare? First of all, if your Jeep has even a small suspension lift and larger tires, you will find that your original equipment jack is of little OR no use to you, other than keeping the jack mounting brackets from rattling. You are going to need to utilize a hi-lift or farm jack and some level of ingenuity in your execution of its use in order to change your flat tire. You will also face a similar problem when it comes to decide where to stow your jack. I prefer a hood jack mount for two reasons: first, the fact that the jack is easily accessible regardless of your vehicles positioning. Secondly and more importantly, those unknowing passersby who seem to inevitably mistake it for some sort of machine gun mounting apparatus always yield some really humorous conversations at the fueling station. Many people opt for mounting the jack right next to the spare on the rear bumper or tailgate which has its own merits. Of course, you could mount the jack on the inside of your Jeep, too (see paragraph above).

Once you have a hi-lift jack mounted in a convenient location on your Jeep, yet another dilemma rears its ugly head. Gravity was happy to assist you when you removed the spare tire but now it’s time to remount the flat tire on your carrier and you have seriously underestimated the weight of a wheel and tire combination, even when it’s flat. Hopefully, you have someone riding with you that can assist with the task of lifting the tire. Even a 35” diameter tire can be cumbersome to lift, if not impossible for some, especially when physical exhaustion and uneven terrain become factors. If you have a 37” tire or larger, I might suggest digging a shallow grave to bury it in or hide it under an immense pile of brush temporarily and return later with a friend/accomplice to retrieve it. However inconvenient this may seem at the time, it pales in comparison to the deflation of being found days later, after an extensive search, with only your arms and legs protruding from under the giant spare tire.