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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Nephew’s First Baja Trip And A Run-Away Alernator

Glen and his newphew Mark

One time in March I was taking my nephew, Mark, down to Baja for his very first Baja adventure with high hopes of great surf and fishing. The day before the trip I replaced the fan belt. We were just outside of El Socorro on the south side, just before heading into the hills to El Rosario when all of a sudden a loud crash-bang came from the front of the engine. My nephew saw something fly from under Big Red and over the side of the road into the bushes. My nephew said to me that it looked like an alternator to him. I immediately shut the engine off and to my luck there was a place to pull off the side of the road. I jumped out and looked underneath Big Red where the alternator was supposed to be and sure enough it was gone, so I asked my nephew to show me where he saw it go. We walked back about 75 yards and found it easily enough.

At the time this all took place it was about 4 hours before dark and it looked as though it could rain, so I needed to get to work fast. In all, it took about 3 hours and a lot of brain storming. I had to take off the grill, empty the radiator fluid into a bucket so I could reuse it, take out the radiator so I could get to the problem area where the bolt that held the alternator had sheered off at the engine block. Fortunately I had just loosened that bolt the day before to put on the new fan belt because it allowed me to take a screwdriver and back out the piece of bolt that was in the engine block. The other part of the bolt with the head on it was still with the alternator. I got real lucky here because there were still about 5 threads on the bolt still showing. The problem here was it also was broken at the same thickness of the alternator.

The first thing I did was look in my supply of nuts and bolts to see if I had any that would replace it and I didn’t. So the next thing I did was look at the frame and engine to see if I could rob one from somewhere else on Big Red, no such luck. The only idea I could come up with was I needed to cut some of the  alternator away where the bolt went through and threaded into the engine block. I needed to get those 5 threads of bolt to hold the alternator in place. So I took out my hacksaw and cut about a half of an inch off the ear of the alternator. The fan belt would no longer line up but it should work for another 600-700 miles. I wanted to make sure my nephew could still have his first Baja adventure and it was already turning into something neither of us had in mind.


After installing the alternator and belt I needed a way to keep the fan belt tight. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on those 5 delicate threads so I cut a wedge out of a piece of wood and put it between the engine and the alternator to tighten the fan belt and it worked beautifully. So long as it lasted the rest of the trip down and back I could fix it when I got home. My other concern was it was starting to look more and more like rain so I needed to get Big Red back together and get to someplace good to pull over for the night before it got dark. Where we were stuck at was not a good place at night. It was known for robberies. I didn’t tell my nephew that! I got Big Red back together just as it started to drizzle and we started it up and pulled onto the main road and we were off again.

Finding Big Red


Big Red somewhere in Baja



I’ve been traveling in Baja since the mid 60’s. Throughout those years having various vehicles and in search of what I thought would be the perfect rig. One day in the mid 80’s, I was walking down Mission Blvd, just a short distance from my surf shop. Just then I heard the sound of a healthy engine passing by. I looked and saw the perfect rig going down the road. My imagination began to go wild with the idea of owning that rig and what I could do to it and where I could go with it.  Anywhere in Baja is where it should be roaming. Little did I know that someday I would own that very same vehicle.

Two months later I had heard that the person that owned the rig was someone I knew and they were wanting to sell it. A month later I heard it was still for sale and he couldn’t get it to start. I decided to track the guy down and make him an offer. I finally caught up with the guy and he told me that he wanted to sell it soon so he could go to Hawaii. So I made him an offer of $1,000. He said ok and we made a deal. I towed it home and went through it and got it to start and made sure there was nothing seriously wrong with it. A month later I went to the DMV and registered it. The very next day another guy I knew came by my house and told me it was his vehicle and that the other guy had stolen it from him. I told him that the other guy had the pink slip and signed it over to me and the DMV was fine with everything and gave me the tags and registration. I told him he should see what the DMV has to say, but as far as I was concerned it was mine now.  Never heard anything else about it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Big Red and a Broken Shackle

Sunrise and Big Red
Photo By:  Boots McGhee

Topes And a Broken Shackle

Early morning around 4:30 am. It’s a late September morning and I was heading down to Scorpion Bay. The year was 1986-1987 and the town of Maneadera had decided to place a tope, Mexican speed bump, on the north side of town. Unmarked and no sign posted. Fully loaded and doing around 35-40 mph, I hit the tope and BAM! Big Red leaves the ground and I almost hit the ceiling and my dog Boojum is levitating in the air probably thinking, “so this is what it’s like to fly!” Everything in Big Red is upside down and sideways. Big Red’s suspension is real stiff for carrying heavy loads so it doesn’t give much, plus I was driving on a set of bias-ply tires which are similar to rolling on a set of rocks. Basically very stiff.

I didn’t break an axle and Big Red was still rolling so I figured everything was okay. A little later down the road I kept hearing a click and a clack when I would go around a curve. When I pulled over to the side of the road a while later I decided to see what was making the noise. I walked around Big Red for a general look and noticed it was leaning to the left a little. On closer inspection underneath I saw a large hole in the bottom of the truck bed and saw the leaf spring stuck in it. What had happened was when I hit the tope it had snapped the shackle that holds the leaf spring to the frame and the shackle was moving back and forth going around corners making the click clack noise. It was also putting extreme pressure sideways on the other leaf spring on the right side of the truck. If that one would have snapped the whole rear axle of Big Red would leave Big Red.

Well I was a little over 120 miles in to my 800 mile destination and needing to fix the problem. At the time I would always carry oak hardwood from packing pallets for firewood. I decided that in order to continue on, I would have to rig up a way to support the broken section of leaf spring so it would still be able to move freely and not be stuck in the bed of Big Red constantly boring a bigger hole, plus I needed to raise Big Red up to ride more level. So I pulled out a piece of oak and cut it to fit over the hole then jacked up Big Red and wired the oak piece to the shackle and leaf spring so that it could move back and forth without binding. I was determined to continue on and enjoy my trip. I would have to drive slowly and I mean slowly at between 25-35 mph the whole way. I periodically got out to check my handy work and things were holding up good. The only thing was I needed to slow way down around the curves so as not to put too much side pressure on the other suspension parts.

It took another whole day to get to Scorpion but I made it. The drive was good and slow and I got to see a lot of things that I normally wouldn’t have. When I got to Scorpion and made camp I had 2 months there was no rush to fix Big Red. Three weeks later I jacked up Big Red and took off the busted shackle and had Antonio Camacho come out and look at it. He took it to his place and welded it up for me. A week later he brought it out to me and I reinstalled it. He did a great job and it held for another 2 years until I located one and replaced it.




Monday, January 24, 2011

Hitchhikers and a Broken Clutch Cable

Halloween Potluck in Baja 2004
Photo By:  Boots McGhee

We stopped in to get gas at San Ignacio after traveling 120 miles on a dusty dirt road. Along the way we saw 2 German bicyclists needing a ride north. They weren’t looking so good so we offered them a ride. About 40 minutes down the road we pulled over to take a leak. When we all got back in I started Big Red and pushed on the clutch and then BAM! The pedal went straight to the floor and didn’t come up. I knew the clutch cable must be the problem, it probably snapped.

The two Germans wondered what happened and I told them they had just gotten a ride in a 1955 Chevy Step Van that broke down and we were going to be here awhile, but no worries.  It would all be fine.  They looked a little concerned as they looked around and saw that there was not a building in site! I could just imagine what they were thinking; Oh My God!  What kind of a ride did we get ourselves into?   I got out and under Big Red to see what the problem was and sure enough the clutch cable was hanging down, only it wasn’t the clutch itself that broke but a part that the cable connects to. The Germans asked if there would be a place to get the part in the next town and I told them there is no next town for a long ways. The part that broke no one would carry and that I would have to improvise by making the part while they waited.  They had no choice but to sit back and watch. 

So I took out the passenger seat and set it on the side of the road next to Big Red and took off the engine cover so I could get to the problem easier. The Germans looked curious and entertained and were taking pictures while Roberta sat relaxed in the chair on the roadside reading a book. I set my to mind to work trying to come up with something that I might have in Big Red parts and pieces surplus to make a part. I came up with the idea of using part of my tow chain. I cut two links off and managed to improvise them into a working swivel mechanism.

Now the Germans were getting a kick out of watching me fix Big Red. Roberta knew it would be ok. She had been traveling with me in Baja long enough to know that anything can happen. We seem to have quite a few interesting breakdowns, which for us keeps the challenge of traveling thru Baja fun.  One of the things that Roberta likes to do during all these happenings is to time how long it takes me to get us back on the road again.  Not that we are in a hurry, its just a fun thing to keep track of.  By the time an hour was up I had the part installed and Big Red was back together and we were on our way. 


Roberta, our Dog Boojum and our new friend Andy (from Germany)
relaxing while Glen fixs Big Red, again!  July 1999