This CJ-7 has every conceivable accessory. For the rugged, remote trail, a portable or on-board frequency welder is as valuable as any other accessory! Outfit for the most challenging prospects.
One memory that sticks is a mid-’90s trip over the Rubicon Trail. I was on assignment from Chevrolet, a publicity stunt involving two Geo Trackers tackling the rugged route. We were on an endless stretch of rock trail and came upon a couple of fellows with a CJ-5 Jeep. They were struggling along with a fractured steering gear bracket that left the Jeep without steering control.
At the time, power gear braces were just emerging, and these two had yet to find that accessory. Wheeling with big tires and heavy hands, they discovered the exceptional force of a Saginaw power steering gear. Bound in the rocks, the driver twisted the steering wheel one too many times. Typical of many AMC-era CJs, the mounting brackets cracked, and the gear snapped loose from the frame.
Despite my welding background, I was of little help without a welder. We watched these chaps steer the front wheels with a tree limb, making less than a quarter mile over the previous several hours. Their fuel supply now low, their situation bleak, they were last seen in our rear view mirrors as we turned to the Trackers’ challenges. We continued in the opposite direction.
Even an iron axle casting can be repaired. This obsolete, vintage casting has a deep crack that requires extensive welding. The repair is better suited for your home shop or a sublet. TIG process (shown) requires spotlessly clean materials and would not be practical on the trail. On-trail, an emergency fix might be implemented with stick (SMAW) or MIG/spool flux-core welding. GMAW/MIG with shielded gas would be impractical under most trail conditions.
I could not shake that CJ from my mind, even in the midst of the most focused trip I’ve ever taken over that trail. Had we been equipped with an on-board frequency welder or a portable, battery-powered welder, I could have welded the factory steering gear bracket back into place, enabling the CJ to make Loon Lake and the good road. Instead, we reflected on just how many days it might take for them to drive out, using a tree limb as a tiller.
Today, on-board frequency welders and portable battery-powered welders are common. When big groups and clubs hit the 4WD trail, there’s almost always a welder involved. I heartily recommend this for trails like the Rubicon, and it is just as important that folks can weld. Like winches, just having a welder does not mean that it can be properly or safely operated.
Having 45 years of exposure to a variety of welding processes, having taught the craft for five years to hundreds of adult-level students, I have founded ideas about welding methods and welding equipment. My vivid recollection of that Jeep CJ-5, those two fellows inching their way along the Rubicon Trail, motivates this section. Let’s evaluate practical, reliable welding equipment for the trail!
This obsolete cluster gear required normalizing, welding, shaping and re-heat treatment to achieve proper case hardness. This is not a trail fix. On the trail, weld repairs are emergencies and safety driven. Given the right equipment, the repair can often be done properly and serve permanently. This requires proper equipment and welding skills.