Walker Valley Work Day Mar, 2018

The day started cold (28 degrees) and clear with bright sunshine as we arrived in the parking area at Walker Valley about 7:30 AM to get ready to repair erosion damage on the Upper Timber Tamer Trail.  (Recall that work was done almost a year ago to stabilize the Rock Garden area near the top of this trail.)  With us were four heavy equipment operators (including our good friend Jeff Stafford, who also creates the “fun stuff” for the Off-Road Expo every September).  The other Tamers group was Cosmin Stejerean and, Candidate Aaron Rozeboom.  (More Tamers couldn’t be with us because we were spread pretty thin with the Swap Meet set-up in Puyallup and the Show & Shine at 4WheelParts in Lynnwood, which other Tamers covered.)

At about 8:00 AM (early for Tamer Time!), Jim Cahill from DNR headed our crew up to the trail, with the rare treat of opening the gate so no one had to pass through the Gatekeeper.  We joined Jeremy, Brad and Jeff from the Twisted Metal Offroad & Repair Shop whom Casey had recruited to help us were already at the top of the Upper Timber Trail when we arrived.  This was a good enough group to get us another 84 hours of M&O time toward our DNR commitment!
Once at the top of the Upper Timber Tamer Trail, we found one pile of small to moderate sized rocks and gravel with an excavator and a tracked dump truck (a pretty cool piece of equipment—think an off-road dump truck on tracks, that can swivel around like an excavator to go forward and backward without having to turn around!), then right at the trail head was a huge pile of boulders and two more excavators.  DNR went all out getting equipment for this work party!
We then chose assignments for traffic control.  Jeff from Twisted Metal went to the lower entrance of the Upper Timber Tamer Trail, then Cosmin, Brad and I broke up the duties for traffic control at the upper end of the trail.  The basic idea was to keep people off the trail while the work was underway as well as to safely guide them through the roadway at the upper end so they could safely pass to the other open trailheads (motorcycle trails and the EZ Connector Trail) without risk of being run over by an excavator or tracked dump truck.  (I can happily report there were absolutely zero injuries!)  The other bonus is that all the trail users we talked with were not only polite, but very appreciative that the DNR and our club were giving back to maintain these trails.  Win-win!!
It was fun watching the heavy equipment move the materials and mold the trail into much better condition.  This went along well until the tracked dump truck slipped one of its tracks partially off the guide wheels. That was when I learned that a grease gun is used to tighten the track once it is put back in place—and also that a grease gun was one thing we didn’t have.  Gary Bellows from DNR drove back to the DNR office to get a grease gun to fix the tracked dump truck; however, that took about another hour.
Finally, at about 3:00 PM the trail work was finished, the heavy equipment was driven back to the gate to store it, and we all drove to the bottom of the Upper Timber Tamer Trail to do the first-time run of the newly repaired Upper Timber Tamer Trail.  After a short bit of debate on the CBs for who was going to draw the short straw to lead the group, I volunteered.  Then up the trail we went!
All went well with our pretty well-equipped group for most of the trail—that is until we got to the Rock Garden.  That’s when all the real “fun” began!  There was absolutely no shortage of rocks (boulders, really), and they were all huge chassis-grabbing skid-plate-denting boulders that were only separated by lots of very slippery mud.  There was almost no traction to be found.  After choosing the trail option to the left I took the group up through the first major “Y” in the trail, where I found a narrow spot with some rocks I couldn’t get over no matter how hard I tried.  I had to pull a winch to a weathered-looking cedar stump that I suspect won’t be long for this world once more tree savers and winches have been attached to it.  (That was my first tow-fee to give to Casey.)  Next came the two overbuilt Twisted Metal Cherokees, both of whom just barely made it past those rocks after working, and working, and working their way to get over them.
Next, it was the Twisted Metal YJ on 35s.  (Of course, it was a RED YJ!!)  He also worked and worked and worked the boulders, then succumbed to “skinny-pedal fever”, bounced his D30 front end up and came down with a bang.  A big bang.  A really big bang.  (When both the top of and front edge of the driver front wheel are angled inward and the other tire is straight, you kind of know you have a problem.)  Well, turns out that funny angle was caused by not only a broken front axle U-joint (of course the ears were sheared off both the inner and outer axle shafts), but also by the broken ball joints.  Really the only thing holding the wheel onto the Jeep at that point was the tie rod end!  Naturally, the other side of the axle didn’t fare so well either; its U-joint trunnions had sheared from the body, but somehow the ears of the axle yokes were still intact.  Regardless, the Jeep was immobile in the middle of a skinny spot in the trail.
After diagnosing the sad carnage, Jeremy noted that the one necessary tool he didn’t have with him was a ball joint press.  Since he was piloting one of the Twisted Metal Cherokees that had made it through this tough spot, and since he owns the wonderfully equipped Twisted Metal Offroad & Repair shop, he drove around one of the right-sided paths to go back down the trail to the shop to get the ball joint press—and some ball joints.  At that point, since it was getting dark, several of the other folks decided to head back down the trail to head out.  I decided to stay with the Twisted Metal group since I had led them here, and since Tamers don’t abandon people on the trail.  (As a matter of fact, the Twisted Metal folks recounted to me one time in the past when Gary and Casey had stayed behind and even helped them by trailering home one of their broken Jeeps.  That good will isn’t forgotten and goes a long way!!)
It turned out that Jeremy had to go to TWO auto parts stores to get the ball joints.  (One store only had upper ball joints, and the other only had lower ball joints!)  It took him about 2 hours to get back to us on the trail with the press and the ball joints—long enough for us to enjoy a beautiful Washington sunset from the mountains, and long enough for me to get my exhaust put back together where the rocks had bent my stock T-case skid plate enough to pull apart the slip joint right in front of my muffler.  I also took that time to turn around to head back down, since we weren’t going to finish going up brand new trail—in the dark.  That was after I’d just incurred my second tow fee winching up to the point where I was (about at the bottom of the part that had been rebuilt earlier in the day)—then after turning around and getting stuck again, one of the unbroken Twisted Metal Jeeps had to come up to help pull me off yet another rock; but that was after I’d had to winch him up so he could be there as an anchor for me to winch myself out again for my third tow fee!  (Casey’s going to love this trail—it’s about as good as a snow run for tow fees!!)
This also set things up for Jeremy’s having a fun time doing a ball joint and axle shaft replacement on the trail by headlights and flashlights.  Finally, the driver side of the YJ had new ball joints and a replacement axle shaft, then it was time to gingerly move the YJ forward so the passenger side front axle could be addressed—when it wasn’t right beside a big rock.  Sadly, since the replacement axle shaft wouldn’t quite fit (it was a 1-piece unit, but the one in the YJ was a 2-piece vacuum disconnect), Jeremy removed the inner axle shaft and stuffed a rag in the end of the axle housing before putting it back together to 3-wheel off the trail.
From there we decided to head back down the known part of the trail rather than tempt fate by trying to climb that brand-new section of the Upper Timber Tamer Trail—in the dark.  (We suspected it wouldn’t be any easier, especially with the crippled YJ.)  Fortunately, there were no more incidents on the way out.  We finally passed through the Gate Keeper at Peter Burns Road about 9:00 PM, and the Twisted Metal crew headed south as I turned north to return to the parking lot and air my tires back up.  It was a long day at Walker, but a pretty darned good day, even at 13 hours.  The Twisted Metal folks were “good people”, and it was really good to have them join us in helping with the trail work today.  It will certainly be fun in a couple of weeks as we have our next official Timber Tamer Trail Run at Walker!

John Vandergrift