Broken Hubs and Bent Drag Links

January 31, 2021

Gabe, Howard, Harvey, and I met to run some rocks. The wind chill was brutal and Harvey and I joked in the parking lot about how smart we were to leave our doors on for today. We decided to run Gatekeepers and then Meatgrinder and Dirty Little Secret.

Once headed up Reynolds Creek Road with the trailers, I was amazed at how many side by sides were out. Here we were, a pretty cold Saturday weekend in January, and Hemingway Butte was packed. There was a butt for every seat. The population growth and explosion of side by side sales are visible. Also, there were at least 20 different campers and toy haulers. People were everywhere.

In fact, later in the day on the trails, I met more traffic on the trails than I ever have. Gabe and I talked about how when we used to run rocks in the winter, we would go all day without seeing another group. Today, we ran into side by sides, crawlers, and dirt bikes on every trail.

It sucks that people are finding our play area for the last 20 years, but what sucks worse is the people that are not respecting the land. Dirty Little Secret is the perfect example. A tough rock trail up through a narrow canyon, there used to be no bypasses. Once you were in, you were in, and you better have 37s and two lockers and not care about body damage. That is still how we run it. However, there is now a separate road next to the rock trail, cutting up and down the hillsides that side by sides have beat in. It’s this way with all the trails: people who can’t run the rocks or obstacles have just cut new roads around them.

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A good look at how tight Dirty Little Secret is supposed to be. Remember to stay on trails. (Photo by the author)

This behavior — driving off trail whenever one feels like it — will eventually cause us to lose public lands. On the extra credit line of Meatgrinder, I sat and talked with a group of dirt bikes. I listened to where they were headed next: Dirty Little Secret. I told them to have fun but that the trail ran down through the canyon, not up and down the hills. They scoffed at me and told me of course they would ride the trail and not cut out of it.

As they pulled away, we watched them leave the trail and cut up and down the hills. It should be legal to shoot people like that in the leg. Maybe that’s too severe: say with a rimfire only.

Back to the wheeling: we ran Lower Gatekeeper and half of Upper with no problems. Then, we all started having big problems. When we started, the ground was frozen. However, about halfway up Upper Gatekeeper, the first inch or two of mud thawed and started coating everything. Rocks became slippery. Lines were impossible to hold.

It was time to get a little rowdy. I had to apply throttle and fight the last half of Upper Gatekeeper. Every time I thought I had something going, I would slip around and end up pointed in the wrong direction. I finally just started driving like I had a Dana 60 front end. Amazingly, I rock bounced my way to the top.

We headed down to Meatgrinder. I hit the Waterfall first and started to pull through the squeeze to get lined up. Right as Gabe pulled up behind me, we heard The Sound. The Sound that reminded me that I had a Dana 44, not a 60.

Broken axle parts have this very distinctive snapping sound. I heard it from my right front. Gabe was walking by it and said that I no longer had four-wheel drive. I backed out and we confirmed it was either a broken stub shaft or hub. After getting home, I pulled it apart and it was hub.

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The broken hub still installed (Photo by the author)
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The broken hub after uninstallation (Photo by the author)

Since we were close to the trailers, I spun my hubs free, took my Jeep to the trailer, and jumped in with Gabe.

We finished Meatgrinder and pulled up Dirty Little Secret, the whole way talking about dirt bikes and side by sides driving off the trail. On the last obstacle, in the muddy rocks, I watched Gabe have a very funny look on his face as he turned the steering wheel. “Get out and check my steering,” he said very oddly.

As I got out of the rig and looked, nothing was apparent at first. Then I saw it: Gabe had taco-ed his drag link with hydro assist. As his tire was pinned against the rock, his PSC steering had bent a Chromoly shaft. We had Harvey pull around us and winched to the top.

Luckily, there was still barely enough steering to turn left, so we limped back to the trailers.

Once again, rocks were undefeated and two out of the four rigs had minor repairs to make before the next time out. Just another day beating rigs on the rocks.

Written by: Nathan White