Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-93: Origins

Driving across the country solo is something that’s been on my list most of my life. In middle school and high school I’d plot routes out in Microsoft Streets and Trips and flip through atlases and National Park Unigrid brochures, linking together the highlights of the nation. In 2006, my family loaded up our trusty Yukon XL and drove out on I-70 for a week in Colorado, a place our family has made many memories on fly-drive trips. As fantastic a trip as that was, though, there was still a quarter of the journey to the coast left.

For the past eleven years, I’ve been driving Land Rovers from the early 1990s, trucks which in my case never seem to work quite right. I’ve never had one that was reliable enough to do 7,000 miles in one shot. That has hopefully changed, however; after three years, I think that my 1994 Discovery is going to be ready, with a three-month final push.

There is always a goal, of course. Last April, I really enjoyed flying out to the Mendo_Recce rally in Northern California, meeting people I’ve talked to online every day for years. It’s cemented itself on my annual events list.

As I thought over that trip in the months after, I thought of how driving myself to Mendo 2018 from New Jersey be a perfect way to set a goal to get my truck fixed up, finally.

So, I’ve devised the journey for two weeks, starting in late April 2018, dubbed “The Mother Country Trail.”

My route will take me across the East and Great Plains to Colorado, where at Denver I’ll jump off the Interstates and hit the Blue Highways, winding across the Rockies and into Moab, Utah. There, I have a booking to drive the White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park, considered one of the top off-road trails in the country for scenery. After three days on the trail, it’s across Nevada and the Sierras to Mendocino National Forest and the event. Afterwards, the plan is to head south down the spine of California to Death Valley or the Mojave Road, then perhaps some poking around in Arizona before heading home via I-40.

The name “Mother Country Trail” has two origins. The Trail part comes from the Emigrant Trails and Westward Expansion Trails that the route will trace part of; the California Trail, the Old Spanish Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the Oregon Trail. Parts of the journey will be directly in the footsteps of John Fremont, Kit Carson, and Jedeidah Smith.

“Mother Country” comes from my aviation hobby. In 1973, United Airlines began an ad campaign to promote their extensive coast-to-coast network. In 1972, they’d had a very successful ad campaign using Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” so successful that the Guthrie estate wanted twice the royalties for 1973. Looking for an alternative in the same vein, their ad agency commissioned a jingle called “Mother Country,” and had Bonnie Koloc, a folk singer from Chicago, sing it for the commercials.

The lyrics (see them in full here, along with more historic info on the campaign) begin with a verse that I think sums up the ethos of this trip pretty well, as well as the personal journey it represents:

Have you seen the other side
of where you live?
Don’t you know this great big land
has got so much to give? 
Mother Country’s got 
her arms open wide.
Don’t let your good land 
pass you by.

 

And this more chipper, “Teach the World to Sing” style version:

And further, this brand-enforcing one with some killer 747 footage at the end:

After many years of poking around the world in various ways, it’s now time to undertake a serious exploration of the homeland. I’ve seen the Other Side of Where I Live several times, and I’ve in fact gotten all the way there overland by Amtrak (a fantastic 2010 trip I may summarize on this site one day). There was, of course, that family trip to Colorado, still one of our most legendary adventures. But to be alone much of the way in a truck I rebuilt wholly by myself, that’s a new level of personal achievement.

I’ll detail some of the preparations here during the run up to departure in April, especially as some things might warrant some technical write-ups for the Land Rover crowd, and I plan to blog from the road.

2017: Year in Review

Here we are, 31 December 2017. This was a good year for me, one of the better ones I’ve had, to be honest. This morning, I sat at the counter at the Time to Eat Diner in Bridgewater, NJ, and reflected on the Top 10 adventures of the year over a Greek omelette. They reflect a year where I accomplished a lot of goals, both with travel and life.

1) Upper deck on a 747, United UA927 FRA-SFO. Riding in the bubble of the Queen of the Skies was a childhood dream of mine. Thanks to frequent flier miles, I was able to do it right before United retired their fleet, taking with it with my chance to cash in from my primary program for a guaranteed upstairs seat. By far the best 12 hours I’ve ever spent on a plane, so far.

2) The lighthouses of Ouesseant, France. One of the best days of my 18-year lighthousing career was exploring the famous wave-swept lights of Finistère by land and sea with Iasure and Loic, my AirBnB hosts. They went above and beyond to make the pilgrimage to one of the world’s lighthouse hotspots very, very special. I was starting to burn out on lighthouses a bit, and sitting at night watching the immense beam of the Creac’h flood my room in their guest house reinvigorated the passion.

3) Flying out to the Mendo_Recce Land Rover rally in Mendocino NF, California. Having been an active member of the Mendo email list for years now, it was such a blast to finally put so many faces to names and explore a new part of the country. I really, really hit it off with a few people especially and have enjoyed building up those friendships. I also got to spend a full weekend flying out and driving up with my friend Ben, who was a founding member of the list in 1994 when he lived in California, and who now lives a half hour away from me in New Jersey.

4) As an example of those new friendships, I had an awesome time ending the September #JumboJourney in Portland, exploring back roads of Oregon for three days with my Mendo friend Nathan in his Range Rover. It was so cool to explore a new part of the country with someone whose travel style I totally resonated with.

5) Part of that journey was finding the location of the Original Stash, the first-ever geocache placed in 2000. It’s a pilgrimage for all geocachers, and I’m glad to have that on my “permanent record.” This year was a year I came to peace with my new geocaching style, which is “find what I want and skip the crappy ones.” I let a lot of pressure off of how I play the game, stopped caring about the numbers, and played it the way I really want to — exploring new places. I only found about 40 this year, but all of them were worth it.

6) The eclipse from Cashiers, North Carolina. I flew down to spend a few days with my aunt at her house in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We missed viewing totality directly by fifteen seconds in a shift in the clouds just before it began, but we got part of the experience in the darkness and sensory changes, and got to spend a few days one-on-one, which we’ve never had the chance to do.

7) Visiting my friends Barb and Jarek in Florida for my birthday. Having one of the mainstays of my New Jersey Land Rover family move a thousand miles away has been really tough this year; we’ve kept in touch constantly via phone and Internet, but it’s not the same as spending many weekend days popping in at their house 20 minutes away. We had an awesome weekend with warm weather just when I was getting down on winter up here, and an awesome birthday celebration.

8) The Land Rover Mid-Atlantic Rally in Virginia. The Mid-Atlantic has been on my Rover Bucket List for years, and although it wasn’t the same as the MARs of legend in the 90s and early 2000s, it was still fun — especially as aforementioned new Floridians came to join some of our New Jersey contingent. Also fun was the drive home from Blacksburg, Virginia…by way of Marietta, Ohio and Somerset County, Pennsylvania. I saw the steamboat W.P. Snyder, took in some National Park Service units (including the immensely moving Flight 93 National Memorial), and traversed West Virginia in a driving rain. I took two days to get home on complete whim, with absolutely no plans and what became a totally illogical itinerary, The only reason I was able to do that with the Discovery is because of a LOT of hard work, blood, sweat and tears that I poured into it since buying it as a bit of a barn find three years ago. Crossing the Ohio River felt like a major accomplishment.

9) I did 5,600 miles in the Disco between September and now, going to Land Rover events across the East. In addition to the MAR, I did the All Metal Dash, the annual Guy Fawkes Rally, and the Robesonia Trials. I did a ton of driving around locally as well, all with a confidence I haven’t had from a car in years. It still needs work, especially as I plan to drive it to California for Mendo in April, but there’s been so much progress.

10) One of the best Rover trips of the year was actually the one I didn’t take a Rover on. After busting my ass to prepare for the Ottawa Valley Land Rovers Birthday Party in Ontario, buttoning the truck up after weeks of work the night before, I broke down with a fuel pump issue 88 miles into the trip to Canada. Determined to still spend the weekend with my friends, I unloaded the tow truck and headed down to the local Enterprise outlet to hire a Nissan Frontier for the weekend. I didn’t have a Land Rover at the event, but I got to be with my friends, and that was really the most important part.

Here’s to many adventures in 2018, and may they top these, and may it be a healthy and happy year for all!

Rover Tech: Discovery 1 GM Fuel Pump Swap

NB: This is an incomplete post from December 2016 on the subject of replacing the core of fuel pumps for 1980s-90s Land Rovers. I never finished it, but I’m publishing it in March 2018 for the benefit of a friend in need of the information. I’ll get to it eventually.

If there’s one thing I like doing with my truck, it’s making it more field servicable. The great thing about 90s-era Land Rovers is that they actually have a lot of parts crossover with other European, and even American, cars. One of the classic instances of this is swapping a fuel pump from a General Motors vehicle into a Discovery 1 or Range Rover Classic.

I did this on the side of the road in Upstate New York back in June 2016, but it seems like my half-assed trail fix backfired, as now in a deep and dark December, I find my truck again stranded, this time in my driveway.

Since there’s a lot of forum posts about how to fix this, but no really thorough explanation for those of us who are both visual and anal-retentive, I’ve written this heavily-illustrated article to help you, oh gentle reader, too get your Land Rover on the road.

This is a somewhat simple fix, all in. You can cobble it together, as I did, and do fine for a while. But in the heat of the moment on a warm summer’s day in a gas station forecourt, I missed several steps, and there’s some things I wish I’d done differently.

The details henceforth apply to a 1994 Discovery 1 with a North American-spec 3.9 litre Rover V8. They “should” cross over to V8 Range Rover Classics after 1989, and continue to cover all Discovery 1 models through the run-out year of 1999. However, I make no guarantees. Later Discovery 1 trucks had some variations in their fuel systems, most notably the addition of AEL (Advanced Evaporation Loss) systems in the 1997 model year, and the 4.0 litre GEMS engine may have some different requirements to the earlier 14CUX ignition system. As I’ve only ever owned 14CUX trucks, I’m not sure there. There’s a pretty good chance that these instructions largely or totally apply to these other applications, but I make no guarantees, and if you blow up your truck using these instructions, that’s on you.

Right, onward.

When I say "remove everything from the back," this is how not-fun that is to do on a roadtrip.
When I say “remove everything from the back,” this is how not-fun that is to do on a roadtrip.

The fuel pump is located in the fuel tank, and can be accessed through a hatch in the rear floor on all Discovery 1s and Range Rover Classics after 1989. To get to this hatch, remove everything from the back of the vehicle, pull up the rear carpeting, and you will find a flap cut into the rubber padding beneath in the rear cargo area floor. Flip it over and you’ll see a round hatch about twelve inches around. Undo the six screws and set it aside. Do not lose the screws like I did.

There’s three things to disconnect here, which are both electric and fuel. Remember, these things do not go well together. The electric multiplug comes off by pushing the tab in the side and sliding it off. There’s two fittings holding the feed and return lines that go from the pump to the engine. Depending on where you live, when/if this was last done, and your lot in life, these may be very, very seized. A liberal application of your favourite penetrating liquid (I’m a PB Blaster man myself) and high-quality profanity, combined with the patience of a saint, should undo these. Keep calm, if these break you’re kinda pretty much completely screwed.

Now that you’ve undone these three connections, the good thing to do would be to vacuum the indentation around the fuel pump port in the tank so that you don’t get all the dirt and crap in the tank. This is possible to varying degrees depending on situation, however, so if you’re really stuck just do the best you can. Then undo the giant ring around the fuel pump hole, and lift it away. The pump now sits before you, awaiting its careful removal from the hole in the tank, an exercise to be undertaken with the greatest of care to avoid damaging the float for the level sensor.

Unless you’re a better man or woman than I, you will spill fuel in your cargo area. Fortunately you’ve got the carpet all tucked away somewhere nice, and you can just try and sop up as much as you can.

The liberated pump.
—”Mr Fuel Pump, are you free?” —”I’m free!”

You have now liberated the fuel pump, and it’s time to really dig in. Go somewhere relatively clean with it and it’s time to disassemble.

The pump itself is contained in the lower, enclosed half of the assembly. To detach this, carefully prise the four clips holding it in, taking the utmost of care to not break them. Doing this second exercise in December, with an outdoor temperature of 15 Fahrenheit, I decided that it would be prudent to bring the assembly inside to warm up a bit to help prevent brittleness issues. (Remember, direct heat is not a way to assuage this, considering the circumstance.)

You should now see the metal cylindrical pump exposed, with two electrical wires attaching it to the top of the assembly and a plastic corrugated hose connecting the pump’s output to the outlet for the feed line at the top of the assembly. The original pump, at least on my truck, has a flanged barb on the end of the output outlet, which nicely nests into this hose.

When keeping in mind that Land Rover did not really intend for this assembly to be a user-serviceable part, this hose has a very symbiotic relationship with its original host pump, but it is both very difficult and somewhat impractical to reuse it. The two replacement pumps I’ve had so far (more on that below) did not have these dramatic barbs on the outlet, which impacts the ability of this hose to seal to the new pump. When I had my original trailside repair, I kind of picked it off with an etching chisel and needlenose pliers, and later reattached it by squeezing it shut with a zip tie. This was functional but not ideal, so let’s do it proper.

Right, now you’ve got the actual pump itself free, let’s take a look.

I’m looking at three pumps here: (1) the original Land Rover part, which may or may not have been there for twenty-two years; (2) the latest purchase, an ACDelco EP241; and (3) the interim device, a Delphi FE0114 that I purchased at a NAPA on site.

Here is where I figured some stuff out after the fact. Apparently the 14CUX (1994-5 D1, possibly RRC 1989ish-1995) and GEMS (1996-9) trucks could use different spec pumps. Going back to vintage resources, the venerable Discoweb parts number resource, likely last updated some time during the second Bush administration, supplies different part numbers that I’ve extrapolated as follows:

14CUX/3.9
AC Delco EP-241

GEMS/4.0
Airtex E3270
Delphi FE0114

What’s the difference?

(WHAT THE $@%# IS THE DIFFERENCE?)

After replacing the part, I’ve found that the EP-241 does, in fact, seem to run better than the FE0114. It is quieter, and the truck seems to have slightly better performance. This may be in my head.

 

The Trials and Tribulations of a Land Rover Owner, Part One

The first thing the new owner of an older Land Rover will learn is that breakdowns are always to be expected at the point where you have finally become totally confident about the state of your vehicle. You learn this lesson very, very quickly. After a few years, the underlying anxiety that accompanies any road trip becomes a part of your psyche, and you throw a bottle of Xanax or whatever in the center console and be done with it.

The second thing you learn is that most things in an old Land Rover are possible to bodge together again with some basic tools and knowledge, and possibly some RTV sealant. By “basic tools,” I mean the three large Husky tool bags I keep in the back of my Discovery, plus the crate of extra fluids, plus the spare parts artfully placed throughout the vehicle. (Upper coolant hose under the driver’s seat, spare serpentine belt next to the atlas behind the back seat, spare radiator cap in the glove box.)

And this is where my latest Trials and Tribulations — the first of this blog column — began.

A few weeks ago, I was heading to the Ottawa Valley Land Rovers‘ 33rd Annual Birthday Party rally, one of the biggest and oldest Land Rover events on the East Coast. With the goal of exploring some parts of the Ontarian side of the St. Lawrence Seaway, I rolled out of the house at 3 AM, streaming BBC Merseyside on TuneIn to track the returns of the Brexit referendum. By Scranton, David Cameron had resigned, the sun was rising, and everything on the Disco was feeling pretty tickety boo. I hit Syracuse at rush hour, headed up I-81, and just south of Watertown, decided to fill the truck up with some sweet ethanol-free 91 octane petrol that we’re not allowed to have in the good ol’ Garden State.

The ungrateful bastard rewarded this gift by not starting. Shit.

I flicked the key; the solenoid in the starter clicked once, the fuel pump’s familiar two-second startup buzz was absent. I thus realized two things: one, I should swap out the fuel pump I wanted to swap out anyway; and two, my friends were coming up to the same event from Connecticut via Albany, and I should probably get in touch with them to rendezvous if needed.

I was thus sat front of a gas pump at a moderately busy Sunoco station, taking the entirety of my camping gear out of the back of the truck and laying it out on the forecourt so I could access the fuel pump in the tank, and somehow the entire patronage of the station was entirely nonplussed, oblivious to the old green truck with the New Jersey plates expelling its contents out of its rear.

Someone finally noticed me, helped me push the truck onto the side of the station, and in a move that forever cements him on the good side of my Rover Karma Book, offered me a lift to the NAPA a mile away to score a new fuel pump.

These things would never happen Downstate.

I scored a Delphi fuel pump to serve the purposes of the famous Land Rover/General Motors pump swap, and nothing more. This will become important later and was quite bone-headed.

Back at the truck, I proceeded to remove the entirety of my fuel pump from the tank, feeling not that bad about spilling some of the fuel, because it’s a bloody gas station, and I’m quite proud of myself because I’m a New Jerseyite and I didn’t spill any this time at the pump like I always do because we don’t do this shit ourselves. On speakerphone with some friends, which I don’t think you’re supposed to do either but whatever, I got it done and in, and it still didn’t start.

I directed my friends to rendezvous, and regretted not buying that damn wire. I fiddled for about an hour, until my friends arrived in a glorious convoy. One of them went to purchase the wire so we could hot wire the fuel pump. The starter solenoid seemed to have also gone decidedly wonky, causing part of these issues, so we jumped the solenoid with my jump leads and headed northward to a fantastic event, where I alas played it safe and didn’t wheel the truck, because no way was I jumping that solenoid if I stalled in a river. We tinkered some over the weekend, but nothing we hypothesized seemed to actually work, except for our theory of “let’s drink for now and worry about it later.”

20160625_065757
The extent of Duncan’s Canadian fun.

And thus, with a hot wired fuel pump and a starter that works sometimes on its own and sometimes by crawling under with the jump leads and being careful to not scald yourself on the exhaust, I go into the third lesson of a Land Rover owner.

Lesson Three: because these things break down so frequently, and because they’re so bog easy to repair, once you have some kind of workaround to fix things you sometimes become incredibly complacent with things like your convoluted starting procedure that includes connecting something submerged in a 23-gallon tank of waiting explosion to a live battery of waiting fire, and consider using jump leads to start your car without involving another car totally fine and acceptable.

Complacency in action.
Complacency in action.

So I drove around town with said complacency, and felt so damn confident with my vehicle’s bodged together state that I decided, I shall take this vehicle off roading with my friends in Vermont two weekends after the Ottawa adventure, having put minimal effort into fixing anything.

This is the source of the Fitzgerald Corollary, which is that whenever I take my trucks on any trip with other Land Rovers, they get incredibly antisocial and decide to expound all their grief and woes of any degree into one gloriously large and dramatic breakdown. The lead-in hint was an expulsion of coolant from the expansion tank at a rest area in New York, as I ironically sat waiting for my friend Jarek’s Mercedes-Benz OM617-powered Disovery to cool down from a sustained 70mph highway run. And then to make it worse, I found myself on a hill climb into a crazy trail in Southern Vermont, with a truck that has now compounded all of its issues into a fit of stalling and cutting out whenever asked to perform between 700rpm and 1800rpm on an incline, requiring immense group effort and use of tow straps to coax it to the top of said complex hill climb, until such point as I jumped in at the top of the hill and drove it down the other side with the CD changer spinning and the truck performing near enough perfectly. The only issue was that the speedometer wasn’t working, due to the Vehicle Speed Sensor that has not worked since December, and the absence of which has caused minimal issue for 5,000 miles of driving since then. That may or may not have still been a cause of the trail issues; jury’s out.

Disco Woe on the Thruway.
Disco Woe on the Thruway.

To make matters more fun is another tenet, the one of “just because you think you engineered something better than everyone else ever has does does not mean it is.” In my case, I learnt that my method of dealing with a seized center differential lock lever was brilliant and convenient in the driveway, but beggared second-degree burns when implemented in the wild, which I have the scars to prove such on the back of my left hand and back of my right arm.

And so, I got to that point of caving to all of the lessons and tenets, and realized We Have Issues and headed home early to solve my woes, by way of my friend Eric Riston in Albany who sells parts for Atlantic British and will help you with your woes as much as he helped me with mine if you call him there on extension 231.

At a Land Rover Holy Land, Atlantic British in Clifton Park, NY.
At a Land Rover Holy Land, Atlantic British in Clifton Park, NY.

Because I have found that I do not need to drive this truck during the week, since I carpool to work and get home too late to actually have a life, I’ve parked it in the driveway the past two weeks and have done heavy tinkering on it at night. Although I’ve done tons of work on this truck lately, I did purchase it as a sort of step above a barn find in Vermont, having been off the road approximately five years. It’s structurally in quite good condition considering its age and location, but there’s lots of little stuff still to keep on top of to get it in the great shape it has potential to be in.

The results of said tinkering? To be figured out Friday night, when Duncan comes out again for yet another rally — fortunately, closer to home.