October Trailfest, 1999
By Ken Womack

On The Road

  On early Thursday morning, a group of SHR members met at I-45 N and 242 to gas up and run together to the October Trailfest in Oklahoma. Present were: Swede, J. J. Long, Paul Trotochaud, Dan and Diane Neuss, Steve and Linda Burroughs, and us (Ken & Evelyn Womack). After fueling up and fixing tire and light problems, we were off. Steve’s computer mapping program had us traveling a scenic and laid back journey thru north Texas into Oklahoma. We also had to switch towing positions due to Swede’s Jeep not towing well, and Paul’s Explorer tranny over-heating. With problems solved again we entered OK. with anticipation wild of our 4-wheeling adventures to come.

  We got to our motels and cabins, unloaded Jeeps and gear, then went to the Fairgrounds to register and get tech inspected. All rigs had to be inspected to get a rating. This was to make sure everybody’s rig was matched up for the trail they were running. We relaxed and visited, then turned in for the next day’s runs.


  Friday morning we met up with Todd DeMerchant and Ed Jennings, as well as Bob Fleming and Shawn Pagan. Todd had his well-equipped Toyota P/U, and Ed’s Jeep was sporting his brand-new full roll cage, truly awesome. Shawn was riding shotgun this time, riding with a buddy.  Swede, Paul and J. J. (riding shotgun with Paul), Ed J. and us ran Rock Creek and the Upper Powerline trails.

“Rock Creek Trail”

  Steve and Linda, Dan & Diane, Bob Fleming and Todd DeMerchant did the same trails, but downhill. We met them about halfway into Rock Creek, the opposite direction. We all had a great time. The trails were rated 4 uphill and 3 downhill. Instead of Upper Powerline, Steve’s group did The Lost Creek Trail, a tight, twisty, challenging trail. I hope to do this one next time. After the run, we went to the bottom of 3-stage to watch and perhaps do the first stage. Paul, Ed, and I all decided to try it after a few rigs tried, but had difficulty making it. The rigs that tried before us all tried to crawl up, but I have seen only a few make it this way. Paul and I both made it pretty easy, but Ed had some trouble. He tried it in 1st gear, but his 1st was too low. After airing down and running 2nd gear, he tried again, but his front wheels weren’t locked. His transfer case output wasn’t working. 2-wheel drive wasn’t cuttin’ it. It was fun climbing 3-stage, even if it was only the 1st level. Ed will be back, with all four wheels working, and will conquer that nasty ledge. It turns out that none of us did 3-stage all the way.

Stage 1 on “3-Stage

  On Sat. morning, I was pretty much settled on running 3-stage, but it was to be run with Rock Creek and Upper Power Line in conjunction. Since we had run those 2 trails the previous day, we just didn’t want to do them again. Swede, Paul T., J.J., Dan and Diane Neuss, and Shawn decided to run the 6-rated Snake Pit Trail. I decided not to run Snake Pit because I felt my Jeep wasn’t quite geared low enough. You really need a 50 to 1 or higher crawl ratio to do that trail without lunging and hopping over the huge rocks. Instead, Todd De Merchant and myself decided to run The Old Yanush Trail, rated a tough 5 by the trail guide Rick Hayes.



  We had about 15 vehicles on this trail that was out of town about 13 miles. After a repair was made before we left, Rick guided us to the trailhead. It was lock and load from the get go. A rocky steep trail immediately started a climb thru the thick woods. This trail was an old logging or skidder trail. We had several interesting rigs on this run. Rick (trail leader) had an awesome yellow early Bronco with V-8 power. There was 4 other Early Broncos, another yellow one, 2 orange ones, and a rough but competent black one, (Jim our tail-gunner). We had some CJ-7’s, a YJ  (besides mine), a Jeepster Commando, and Todd’s' Toyota P/U.

Our 1st major obstacle was a steep, but short climb up a hillside that was off-camber one way, then the other. At the top everyone got some air. Two of the Broncos broke a hub. A short break was taken to fix the hubs, and we were off again. The next bad spot was off-camber to the right big time. A push by spotters on your roll bar or hard top was needed to keep you from scraping off your fender flares. Next was a creek crossing that had washed out the trail. It would have been even tougher, but the creek was bone dry like most all the creeks were. An eerie sight for me because every other time I had been in Ok. the creeks were flowing. One Jeep nearly slid off into a ravine, but was saved by quick thinking onlookers and spotters and a winch cable. After all conquered this part, a look at the next hill was needed to fully grasp the difficulty. It was a steep rocky hill with several huge, loose boulders in the middle. Shortly past these were 2-ft. ledges that were real nasty. There really wasn’t a best line for all rigs. Each one seemed to need a slightly different approach. An orange CJ-7 had a hub explode into the ground. A winch from above pulled him up to the top where repairs would be done while the next rigs come up. Several rigs had problems. Todd’s well-equipped Toyota P/U was doing fine until he encountered a huge boulder. He got high-centered and backed up. The loose big rocks gave little traction. Todd kept trying, but his truck starting bouncing, and his left front Birfield Joint (similar to a U-joint) broke. He got a pull from the top, but no one had a spare Birfield.

Todd DeMerchant – The morning after…

I was able to make this hill, but not without some spotting help near the top. Fortunately, we had some very experienced folks on this run. This was the 1st of 3 very difficult hill climbs, and we still had to go down this gnarly hill we had just climbed. Todd’s steering was bad to the left, and was making some serious noises. At the bottom of this steep hill was another dry creek bed, and we had lunch here. Todd removed his front driveshaft, but the Birfield still was needed for steering. Todd would continue in 2-wheel low.

The next hill was even tougher than the 1st. Steeper with larger loose rocks and a huge slab of rock exposed right in the middle of the hill! To climb this massive rock, you had to hug the bank, just barely miss a sharp pointed rock and a tree. This hill broke several rigs, two more with broken hubs, and the black YJ broke a rear axle. The orange CJ-7 had only 32’s and one locker, and had to pulled up the hill most of the way. The YJ tried hard, but also had only one locker, and began bouncing while struggling for traction. Everybody always says, “Don’t bounce, you’ll break”, and they are right, but it is MUCH easier said than done. You always think you’ll get the traction you need, but it doesn’t always happen, sometimes you need to back up a foot, and give it another try, or even back all the way down. We were on this awesome obstacle for quite a while. Ominous rain clouds hinted a storm, but it was back towards town. Good thing, I sure wouldn’t want to be on this trail in the rain. Todd could not make the bottom part of the hill without the aid of a front axle pulling. It took 2 rigs plus another with a broken hub to pull Todd up this hill. While at the semi top of this hill, I realized there was still another part to climb that was optional (a bypass was there to avoid the extremely crazy hill there). 10 of 15 rigs opted for the bypass, which was wise. Only 2 made it all the way up under their own power, A white CJ-7 with a Chevy V-6, and Rick, our trail leader. An orange Bronco was winched up 2 sections. A black CJ-7 with Warn Coil Suspension just could not make it past this huge, sharp rocked ledge. The extreme wheel travel seemed to hinder it because the front wheels would drop into the next hole while the rear wheels were struggling for traction. The ledge kept throwing the Jeep into a sharp pointed rock that crushed his rocker panel & side mufflers next to the frame. He kept trying, but because he had no nerf bars, he could not slide past that rock. I never thought I would see TOO much wheel-travel, or would imagine such a situation.  I decide to try this hill and made it nearly to the top. But 10 ft. from it I got high centered on my skid plates and diffs. Winch time!  But I nearly made it!  At the top, the others were dragging the wounded black YJ around thru the forest, the wheel and axle sliding out of the housing. I had radioed that I had spare Dana 35 C axles, and at this point he was ready.  Rick led the others to the paved road, while Jim (the tail-gunner), the Commando and I stayed back to help the guy with the broken axle. Although I had never done this repair, it had been explained to me. We all helped with tools, gear lube and moral support while he took apart the carrier to remove the C-clips and slide out the left side, then force out the broken part out of the carrier. He bought one of my spare axles, and put it in. You are in bad shape on the trail if one breaks because the whole axle and wheel comes out. It’s nearly undriveable. Todd got down to pavement and was able to drive to town, where he pulled out his Birfield, to make it home Sunday.

Bob Fleming @ Camp - Clayton Country

This trail was a blast! We had some really cool folks on this trail. Most were excellent drivers and were prepared with spare parts and recovery equipment. All had a great time. I know I did. Todd did a fine job until the Birfield let go. He still had fun. This is a serious trail that is much harder than 3-stage; I would rate it a hard 5. I could imagine how tough it would be wet. Whew!

                         Ken Womack...