My Banged Up Four Wheel Drive

When I lived in Arizona, I was craving a Four Wheel Drive vehicle. The problem was that I could not afford one and a camper or RV at the same time. The capability of being able to drive up the side of a mountain over rough terrain was a passion that beckoned me, nevertheless.

So, I tried juicing up my Chevy pickup with over sized tires, a 4 barrel carburetor, super shocks, etc. But those features just didn’t help much when you wanted to do some serious off-road driving. I needed something more suitable to fit the bill.

That candidate was discovered one day while my wife and I were out perusing used car lots. To her chagrin, I traded in a perfectly good pickup truck that I had bought new for $2,700 (1972 dollars) and got an old beat up Jeepster (Jeep mini SUV predecessor) with a dented front fender, no heater, and bare-bones interior. It cost me $1,400. Even though she balked at that decision, I was firmly rooted in hog heaven!

Camelback Mountain

By the time I got the Jeepster, I had become a very capable framing carpenter. I used that vehicle for carrying all my tools to a jobsite owned by a company called Ricco Construction, a homebuilder who represented my 10th different employer for my first year in the trade. The development was situated in the shadow of Camelback Mountain, a sort of singular iconic landmark that defined the location of the city of Scottsdale,  an upper-class community which was a stone’s throw from the metropolis of Phoenix, AZ.

Since I was the only member of my crew who had a 4 wheel drive vehicle, it wasn’t long before my fellow cohorts devised a plan to take it for a spin. After swearing that they were only going to use it for grabbing eats at a nearby convenience store, I let them go. This was not a good idea, because I allowed myself to trust scallywags who often pulled pranks at one time or another.

After they left, I sat down on a bench that gave me an excellent view of the mountain and partook of the sandwich in my lunch bag. While chewing on that morsel, I began to realize those clods were taking much too long to complete their jaunt. Before I knew it, a feeling of anxiety came over me.  

As I waited in vain, I suddenly caught sight of a vehicle off in the distance that looked exactly like mine crawling up along a steep embankment on the side of the mountain. This was a bad situation because they had no idea what they were doing. 

Without any hope of stopping this foolish endeavor, I watched in horror as they continued their trek at a sideways angle of almost 45 degrees to the vertical position. I was sure those numbskulls were going to push the Jeepster to the limit and tip it over followed by a metal crunching roll down the hill. Fortunately, they somehow they made it through, but I was furious when hey finally decided to end their unauthorized excursion and return to the job site. Needless to say, the vindictive side of my mantra kicked in shortly thereafter and I planned my revenge.


The next time a request was made for a ride, I cut their plea off by insisting that I do the driving. After loading the entire crew into the vehicle, I headed off. Since it was disguised as a lunch break joyride, I had them where I wanted them. 

Before they could catch wind of my scheme, I worked my way into to a sort of canyon like area that had no viable roads in sight. Then I approached a very narrow passageway that had a sharp drop off on both sides into a deep ravine below. After pausing for a moment to gauge the feelings of my passengers, I forged ahead.

While creeping along, I had to carefully guide the wheels over narrow slits of roadway that could have easily crumbled under the weight placed on them. Thinking that I had put us into a life threatening situation, everyone started using expletives to describe our impending doom. One of the guys almost became hysterical. He thought we were going to tumble into the crevice below and wet his pants.

After that terrifying exploit, I took us over to a  steeply angled rocky outcrop that even frightened me. Responding accordingly, my fellow carpenters were starting to hint that bailing out of the vehicle before I killed them might be a good option. Then they started to laugh hysterically and I almost did myself.

After finally making it to safer ground, I felt like my joyriders had reached the point where they were fed up with my antics. That was the final straw. They never asked to ride in the Jeepster again.

Off The Beaten Path

As a family, we made numerous trips up to the mountains and pine forests of Central and Northern Arizona looking for hidden pathways or ghost towns in remote locations. During these forays, I sometimes found myself asking for trouble and it certainly obliged more than once.

Driving off road, there were instances where I got high centered on a boulder or had my transfer case get jammed on top of a log that I thought the low slung vehicle would clear. Other times we got bogged down in mud or soft sand caused by a creek running through it. Traveling down a rock strewn riverbed full of briskly flowing water didn’t help matters either. Getting something disconnected or broken on the chassis was not difficult at all.

Once we came across a small tanker truck stuck in soft sand surrounded by a moving stream. I did have a tow chain on board and offered to help pull the vehicle out. After sinking down into the mire myself, I had to give up. As a last resort, I told the driver that I would go for help since cellphones were non-existent back then and he had no 2 way radio for emergency communication.

When we included overnight camping as part of our weekend adventures, we brought the Jeepster along by towing it behind the RV. During those expeditions, my wife did not like sitting in the passenger seat when we traversed twisting mountain roads with a steep drop off on one side. For piece of mind, she made me pull over and disconnect the Jeep tow bar so she could drive it behind us. I guess she figured at least one person would survive if I went over the embankment with the kids and plummeted to our deaths. As far as she was concerned, that person might as well be her!

Ghost Town Junkets

Arizona is full of old mining shafts, derelict ghost towns populated by weather-worn wooden houses, and tin-covered outbuildings in very remote locations. Some had no roads leading towards them and you had to guesstimate their exact locations.

Getting details on, and the approximate whereabouts of, these abandoned outposts required some type of authoritative documentation. We discovered a book called Ghost Towns of Arizona and it gave us the information we were looking for. Since there was no domestic GPS tracking devices like what you have today, the best method for finding these ruins was to pin-point some type of landmark and use that as a reference indicator for locating your target.

Ghost towns and old mine shafts give you a unique window into the past. Tracks leading into wide open caves or holes in the ground gave evidence of what prospectors and mining operations created to reach buried gold and silver deposits. Decaying wood-framed buildings with undersized doorways were prevalent and often makeshift at best.

This meant we had to fabricate our own routes to the supposed area described in the book. Deep river gullies, narrow brush covered pathways, and climbing steep hills were part of the journey. Sometimes you would come across a rattlesnake or other critter in your right-of-way.

When I got the Jeepster stuck on an obstacle in my pathway, wedged up under one of my axles, I had to get creative to free us up. Not having a winch to pull us out of the predicament I got us into meant a shovel was my best option. As the picture shows, I would have to climb under the Jeepster to loosen the sand or dirt under the obstruction so the wheels could touch down and gain traction. For good measure, my wife and kids sometimes got emotional if the situation looked hopeless. Lots of fun!

City Streets

All the joy of getting in trouble in a FWD vehicle is not isolated to the boonies. Driving in the city can be just as hazardous.

One time while driving in Phoenix, I approached an intersection that had no stop sign or traffic light. I at first wanted to make a right turn and flipped on my signal. Unfortunately, I changed my mind at the last second and proceeded straight ahead.

Meanwhile, a woman in a large Ford Thunderbird was very anxious to get out into that intersection. After looking at me first, she turned her head and checked for traffic coming in the opposite direction. Finding none, she pulled out into my path, but I was helpless to warn her because I had no horn.

Slamming into my right front fender, I thought she had disabled my vehicle. Instead, I saw large pieces of the front of her T-Bird crumble to the ground. Somehow, after the traffic report, I was able to drive away with a severely dented fender but nothing more. I guess Jeep vehicles could take a lot of punishment back in those days.

Last Days of Fun

We managed one trip by bringing an inexperienced older retired couple along for an overnight junket. It was not a good decision and we paid the price.

We were seasoned adventurers by then, but they were not. We let them bring their travel trailer into a campsite that was only accessible through a river gully. When they were confronted by this requirement, anxiety and panic to set in. After gunning the station wagon to make sure they would make it across, the husband spent half the night walking back and forth trying to figure out how they were going to get out of there. Feeling totally discombobulated by the time dawn arrived, they wanted to go back home and killed our plans for extended trip over to the Grand Canyon. That was a wasted weekend and we said Never Again!

The End Of Another Era 

Eventually, we saw the writing on the wall that told us our FWD days were coming to an end. With construction at a standstill, we sold our house and moved to California after our youngest daughter, Stephanie, was born. We ended up living in a beach city outside of Los Angeles. That decision brought smog, traffic jams, and long drives to work as a reward for our new lifestyle.

It was not the place for ready access to camping sites away from crowds of people. Almost nothing was available outside of a hot and dry dusty desert environment where you could camp without making a reservation or paying a fee.

So, I found less and less use for the Jeepster and decided to sell it along with the RV motor home we had eventually moved up to. California campsites were too far away, and gobs of cars littered the highways. Our days of easy access to last-minute outings were finally over.

Living in Arizona was a time in our lives we will never forget. We had a vehicle that was not all prettied up and costly like today’s SUV’s, FWD pickups, and such. Just plain basic four-wheel-drive transportation that got banged up and still kept ticking. Having I wonder where it is now and whether it is still running amok with some wild-eyed adventurer behind the wheel. Guess I will never know.

I am requesting that my readers click on the links provided and download a sample read of each book and give a review on Amazon. You will have free access to the first four chapters of each book. My hope is that you will like the story lines enough to obtain either an eBook version or a paperback copy that you can put on your bookshelf as a masterpiece when you are done. FATE STALKS A HERO I: RESURGENCE, FATE STALKS A HERO II:THE FIJI FULCRUM, and THE SAGA OF HERACLES PENOIT. I will be giving excerpts on these works in upcoming blogs to familiarize you the reader with exciting details about the contents of each one. Thank you!


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  • How could I ever forget these adventures!!?? Your Resilient Wife!

  • Susan

    I still search the roads for this silly Jeepster!

  • Way cool, some valid points! I appreciate you making this article available, the rest of the site is also high quality. Have a fun.

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