• Category Archives Z.E.R.T.
  • Zombie Truck Down

    TL/DR: Yup, done broke it again. And it ran fine till I noticed it was broke.

    Last weekend (a week ago), our local but nationally-known motocross track, Budd’s Creek, hosted a 4×4 event with Big Dogs Offroad. Last year I broke the front drive shaft at the event. This year, with the new suspension, new transfer case, transmission, and both drive shafts, I toughed out not just the muddy motocross track, but tried the “Green” trail. Made two passes at the motocross track, both times with passengers. A number of folks either didn’t want to try their Lite 4x4s in the mud, or their spouse’s vehicle died and they didn’t get a chance to make a run around the track. The Green trail was a challenge but was overcome. Some mud, a few short hill-climbs, off-camber, etc. Biggest problem was a turn limited by three poorly placed trees. I had to back-and-fill to get between the trees and make the turn. Narrower vehicles had no problem, and I wasn’t going to back out of the trail, a mile backwards through mud! I slightly tweaked the roof rail against the tree, but that isn’t my main Ouchie.

    I broke one side of my motor mount. Didn’t realize it till the next day, after helping a friend move his trailer. I noticed a lot of vibration from the motor, more than usual (it’s a diesel!), that went away as I got off idle. The front engine crossmember has two tabs sticking up, with sleeves welded to the end of the tabs. Bolts from the engine mounts go through the sleeves, holding the engine to the crossmember; The passenger side tab had sheared off the tube and rotated 90 degrees, resting on the crossmember. Vibrating in place I might add, the right side of the engine sitting an inch lower in the chassis.

    Tab looks like this where it tore the weld from the tubular crossmember:

    IMG_2162I couldn’t find the records where I’d ordered the current crossmember three years ago. I went online and found a much better design, beafier, etc. Ordered and received same. But it won’t fit using the same mounting process and holes as the broken crossmember, as well as the first-generation crossmember when the Zombie truck was still gas-powered.

    Sigh. Back to the drawing board. Need to find a source for 1.75/1.80″ ID, 1/8″ thick steel tubing, about a foot or so. And a couple of piece of 1/8″ plate. Without paying out the @ss for shipping, and delivery to a residential address.

    Which leaves the Zombie Truck sitting in the garage, mud smeared on the right side, mud underneath, and the engine resting on blocks in the engine compartment.

    Which means it’s not going to the campground this weekend and I’m not tearing the intake manifold off the BMW to fix the cold-start misfire.

  • RV Gets Better

    Some of this is repeat, but with more info and Picture!

    I may jinx myself, but the RV from Heck is getting better and better each time that we use it. It may have been so obstinate after we bought it because it was driven and used so little in the past. Which means that there may be more hidden surprises here and there. Like last trip, the engine-driven AC decided not to AC any more. Fortunately, it wasn’t too warm on the drive. I dropped the beast at our local bus/RV repair shop on a Friday. A week later they finally got back to me: The cooling fan on the condenser was locked up. The AC would kick on, the condenser would get hot, signal the fan to turn on. When there was no fan cooling the condenser, the AC would shut off again. The shop told me it’d be a real pain to find the fan. Right. Turns out, it was a generic 16″ aftermarket electric fan like you’d put behind the radiator of a car. I pulled the fan off Friday afternoon, picked up a universal replacement the next morning, and a few hours later the AC was working again. Though there’s something strange with the ducting or switch now that I have to investigate. Maybe something didn’t get hooked up again under the dash.

    Then changed oil, oil filter, and fuel filters. All five gallons of oil. Filter is about 18″ long and 7-8 inches in diameter, not your average car filter. Two fuel filters, one inside the rear bumper and the other up high, just under the cylinder head, in an awkward place (for an RV). But thanks to Dad and the tools I brought home after he passed away, the oil filter strap wrench mated to 1/2″ extensions worked beautifully to pull all of the filters. Thanks Dad.

    Also did oil change on the Zombie Truck, it was overdue. And funny thing, the Zombie Truck oil change, specifically the filter, was much messier than the RV. Go figure. Just sloppy was all.

    But the big thing was changes in the interior. Right after getting the RV, I’d pulled both CRT TVs out of the interior, one in the bedroom, the other in the console over the driver/passenger seats. Crazy spot as anyone in the sofa would have to turn sideways to watch. I mounted a flat panel TV over the main cabin door on a removable mount, much better for viewing from the sofa and captains chairs. The now-empty hole was pretty big but had a tilted floor, to point the TV downward. I pulled the plastic liner and floor, re-did the floor to be level in the hole, added sides, back, top, and front (not pictured), and am calling it nearly complete. Just need to put fabric to cover the interior, and it’ll make a good cubby for something, like laptops and such when not needed. Yes, the photo is correctly oriented: Windshield below, ceiling above.


    The bigger project was revamping the pantry. The RV had a closet and plumbing across from the fridge for washer/dryer which were never installed. The one shelf, about knee-level, was coming loose and tilting, and was in general an impractical space. So I pulled the one shelf, put boards on both sides both vertically and horizontally, tweaked and reinstalled the old shelf and added a second shelf. Both shelves got front lips to prevent sloshing. And mounted the paper-plate and plastic bag holders (not pictured). Works much better now. Heavy stuff like the bottled water, toaster-oven, and such stay down low, plastic/paper/decorations up high where they’re more reachable. And food-stuffs as well, getting them out of the cookware cabinets.


    Next on the agenda: some minor mods to the Zombie Truck to make towing easier. I’ve ordered an LED strip tail/brake/turn/backup light and trailer wiring. Will permanently mount the LED strip below the tailgate and plug it into the trailer light hitch on the Zombie Truck for normal use, wiring up the backup lights. But I’m also going to run a wiring harness underneath the truck, next to the trailer plug, that runs from the rear of the truck to the front bumper. That and a four foot pigtail will allow me to disconnect the LED lights from the trailer light plug, and connect the LED lights directly to the RV trailer light plug. No more attaching/dismounting the magnetic lights on the back of the Zombie Truck for towing!

    After nearly two years, I’m finally working out operations: outfit prior to travel, undock and travel, post-travel bed-down. Yay!

  • Stardate 101020152054

    Several thoughts going on:

    Hillary is in deeper trouble. As I described previously, classified data corrupts absolutely, and the FBI is now looking at State Dept. computers trying to find out how classified data made it to Hillary’s email server. More backups are being found. And it turns out that someone outed an undercover agent by name. Seriously classified stuff. How Hillary and her pals stay out of orange pantsuits is beyond me.

    Something funny to think about, though I forgot where I stole it from, sorry…:hillarysurprise2

    There’s a BlogShoot at 340 Defense in a couple of weeks, but I won’t be able to make it. I’m getting bariatric surgery done the day before the shoot. I’m tired of either weighing on the high side of 250+ lbs, or having a terribly restricted diet just to maintain 240 lbs. So I’m getting the Gastric Sleeve performed, where a major portion of my stomach will be lopped-off. No resection of my small intestine like my wife had with her Roux-en-Y operation five years ago. That was a life-saver for her. I’m nowhere near as unhealthy, but want a better, more enjoyable lifestyle. And eliminate the growing problems of diabetes, high blood pressure, constantly changing wardrobe, etc. Will pass more info on that later. So think of me while y’all are out there having a real blast. I’m sorry to miss the event, for sure.

    The Zombie Truck is back together but has a terrible noise. The noise happens when I’m not entirely on the throttle, but not entirely off either. Really annoying – the transmission and transfer case were both professionally rebuilt just a couple of weeks ago. I pulled the rear axle cover off, dumped the fluid, and saw no damage to the rear ring and pinion, so repackaged with new gasket and fluid. If it’s not the transfer case, then I may have a damaged axle shaft. Sigh.

    Finally, I’ll be out of sorts next week. Heading out to get some learnin’ done. Training and testing for Certified Ethical Hacker. Yeah, a real oxymoron if you ever heard one. But a cert that’s sure to help my career in the long run.

    So, if you promise to clean the cat litter box and take the dog out daily, I’ll make sure to stock the freezer with some chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream. And tuna-flavored  ice cream for my few Kzin friends out there.

  • Nearly Resurrected

    Well, after over a month of work and a not-insignificant amount of money, the Zombie Truck is once again on all four tires and is able to move under its own power. I got the rear drive shaft today, the front had arrived last Friday. Installed both, filled the transfer case (carefully), and put fluid in the transmission. Except between a new torque converter and the deep sump on the transmission, I ran out of ATF without getting it properly on the dipstick. So I’ll pick up a couple of quarts tomorrow to top it off. I got a surprise and need to find out why my low oil pressure light came on but I have good pressure by the electric pressure gauge. I suspect I bumped off the wire going to the pressure switch. The brakes seem to be properly bled, the pedal is hard and doesn’t allow the truck to move. After adding fluid, torque the front drive shaft, put the interior back together. Pick up and clean tools, sort through parts for keep vs. trash. I’ve now got several hundred pounds of steel to trade in for cash – old springs, shackles and the now deceased transfer case.

    The big decision: Do I find some other way to fill the wife’s parking spot in the garage until she decides to get rid of stuff, or just watch her fill up the spot on her own, till she cannot park in the garage any more?


    Sorry, didn’t get a more recent photo… Here’s the poor truck still in the air, only one set of springs installed.IMG_1758

  • He’s Dead Jim

    Yup. Dropped the transfer case, it’s nothing but junk. Nothing recoverable. And to make matters worse, all of the jumping and bouncing around completely cracked the back end of the transmission too. So it got dropped as well and will go to the shop for teardown and installation into a new casing. Bad timing, what with planned trips and home remodeling going on. And I don’t have trash service in the meantime.b09987b74b1152393c5f75716a6d8292

  • Grenaded NP208

    Well, the RV from Heck finally broke its jinx. We have just returned from a successful trip from home to Fayetteville, NC and back. Fifth attempt to do so. First failed two hours short with a dead alternator. Second and third failed with some wonky transmission wiring. Fourth failed because of a dying starter. Fifth time was a charm. I’d found and reserved a campground near Fayetteville, had a great time with the kids, grandkids, and a nephew of my wife, in from SoCal doing training nearby.

    However, the title of this post leads to a different issue. Naturally. Over the last few months I’ve rigged the Zombie Emergency Response Truck (ZERT) as a “toad”. In RV-parlance, that’s a tow-ed vehicle, or in nautical terms, a dingy. Got a good deal on a strong tow bar, made safety chains, magnetic lights and wiring, and modified the front bumper for the tow bar mounts. The trick with flat-towing a vehicle is to keep the transmission from spinning while the driveshafts are still connected. A 4×4 with a real transfer case can select Neutral on the case, and put the transmission in Park, and be happily towed. There’s some caveats, but not part of this discussion.

    Anyway, the Zombie Truck happily rolled along behind the RV all the way to Fayetteville. Unhooked and used the truck several times, but noticed a rumbling noise each time. Planned to look into the problem when we got home, as I am also getting ready to install new springs and shocks (see prior breakage for reason). Well, about two hours into the drive home, I’m looking in the rear view mirror and notice smoke billowing from the ZERT. Quickly pull over and assess. Hmmm. Rear drive shaft front yoke is demolished. Some ATF from the transfer case (correct for an NP208). Transfer case is HOT to the touch. Being on the side of a busy Interstate, didn’t see a need to troubleshoot or inspect, just get back on the road. So, I unbolted the rear driveshaft’s rear yoke and used heavy zip-ties to suspend it under the truck from the frame. Didn’t want to pull it completely, GM used a slip yoke in the front and removing the drive shaft would cause leakage of ATF. 20 minutes after noticing smoke, headed back down the road. In reality, I could have safely pulled the rear drive shaft entirely and not worried about ATF loss.

    Got home, pulled off the center console rear panel (upholstered plywood, 6 screws), and looked down at the transfer case. Or more exactly, what remained of the transfer case:




    Ummm. Front of the ZERT is to the right, the rear driveshaft is out of the picture to the left. See the big piece of aluminum that’s vertically oriented in this photo? That runs crosswise in the ZERT, has the transfer case chain inside, you can see a little of it. That dark-colored set of gears, shifters, etc. in the upper right of this photo? That used to be contained in the forward half of the transfer case. About 1/4 of the complete transfer case is missing, most of it being the front half. Along with all of the fluid from the case. Big Bada Boom somewhere after we left for home.

    Couple of theories, nothing for certain other than that this transfer case is now an expensive piece of scrap metal.

    My first guess is that the U-joint on the slip yoke on the rear drive shaft got loose, worked the rear seal out, causing loss of ATF from the transfer case. No lube, no cooling. Kaboom. My second guess is a little more complicated: The transfer case in this vehicle is rotated about 40 degrees out of normal position for better ground clearance. Custom adapter between the transmission and the case. The pump in the case may not have been able to pick up fluid if it was too low. Same result: no cooling, kaboom, though I wasn’t having any problems when driving the vehicle. Third possibility is that the boot covering the transfer case shifter pushed the lever into an partially-engaged position, causing wear and heat in the gears. The transmission was in park, so I’m praying that nothing happened to that. I’ve already replaced the transmission because of a snapped input shaft…

    Either way, the case is getting dropped out tomorrow afternoon, won’t take much time. No oil to drain, and I’m not going to be gentle getting it the 24 inches from truck to ground. And I’m planning, after all is said, done, replaced, will disconnect the drive shafts before towing. It only takes a few minutes, there’s no need to jack up the vehicle either.

    All in all though, a good trip, and we weren’t stranded anywhere…

  • Hors de Combat

    So I bent the Zombie Emergency Response Vehicle (ZERT) today. It’s fully drivable, only it’s now missing the capability to be a 4×4. Here’s why:

    Also former front drive shaft

    Former front drive shaft

    That was, until this morning, a one-piece front drive shaft with slip yoke, from the transfer case to the front axle. It’s now a three piece drive shaft and no longer connects the transfer case to the front axle.

    The back story is thus – The big motocross track in Southern Maryland, Budds Creek Motocross Race Track, along with Big Dogs Offroad LLC hosted an event here this weekend at the Track. (No, I’m getting no money or goods from this…). The motocross track was opened to 4×4 street-legal vehicles only, low speed, along with a confidence/obstacle course, teeter-totter, show-and-shine, vendors booths, and three different woods trails. Inaugural event for the combined organizations, though Big Dogs holds events at other locations, just first time at Budds Creek.

    Shortly after the driver meeting I headed onto the motocross track. Nice solid surface, lots of ups and downs. 4×4 Low engaged, headed out. First couple of hills OK. Then got noise from the front end while going down hill, especially if I had to brake. About four good hills in, about 1/4 of the way, the noise got louder and became a thumping noise. Pulled off the trail into a field and saw the front and back portions of the drive shaft hanging down with nothing in between. Another 4-wheeler delivered the missing section. I whipped out a couple of wrenches (9/16″  of mine, borrowed a 1/2″), yanked the remaining pieces off, and finished the course easily in 2×4, rear only.

    Why did it fail? The original springs had been re-arched when I converted from the donor 1984 Suburban to the ZERT. 200,000+ miles and a diesel engine has taken a toll on them. So going downhill, in combination with braking, brought the driveshaft into intimate contact with a starter bolt. Worked just like a pipe cutter and sheared the shaft in half. Custom piece to fit the modified ZERT drivetrain, I’ll have to order a new one. And get some new springs, bump stops, and shocks. Good thing I recently weighed each corner of the ZERT. 1400 lbs on each front tire, 1300 on each rear. Near 50/50 weight distribution. If the truck had the original 350 gas engine, it’d be right on the mark.

    After a while, I repeated motocross track 2×4 only. With the rear locker, diesel torque, the new (used) Hummer tires, I made each and every hill without fail, a little wheel spin at the top of the steepest ones. Otherwise, the ZERT was a hit at the meet.

    Went with a buddy in his nicely tricked up Jeep. He had done the obstacle course once already and decided to try his luck again. This time, he had a little problem and had to get an “assist” out of the tire/log portion.

    Hung up on the log in front

    Hung up on the tires in the rear

    Nothing damaged other than his pride.

    So I rode shotgun and we headed to the trails. People were breaking and getting stuck on all three trails. I bailed out and stopped traffic at the entrance to all three while everyone sorted themselves out over the course of a hot, sweaty hour or more. In the woods, not a lot of room to maneuver. One of the passengers of another Jeep got out of her ride. And promptly slid and fell in the mud. Her little brother was clean though. I suspect that he pushed her…


    An old 4×4 showed up and tried the motocross track:

    Old Power Wagon

    Finally, our county EMS/Fire recruiters showed up to get some more suckers, er, volunteers. Like me:

    St. Mary's County EMS/Fire recruiters

    There’s more going on there tomorrow but I’ll be busy with the wife. Overall, a fantastic time, met lots of great people, got reacquainted with a few old buddies. For those one or two readers who meet for dinner and shots, I’ve got some interesting information from the Big Dogs owner. Not for general dissemination yet. I’ll be in contact about that somehow…