Trip to Lookout Pass
October 15, 2006
by Bruce Erickson

map showing Lookout Pass on the Idaho/Montana border.

The trip started innocently enough. Four Jeeps met at the Conoco station in Frenchtown - Shawn with two of his kids in a TJ, Larry in his TJ, Willie and Jeanne in their monster truck wannabe Grand, and Bruce and Gary in a YJ. With gas approaching $2.50 per gallon, Larry opted to leave his TJ parked and ride with Willie and Jeanne rather than fill the tank. He was also a bit apprehensive about his front pinion seal leaking. In retrospect, from my point of view it was like worrying about a few drops of rain just before falling into a lake.

We drove the three vehicles to Haugan, Montana, to use the facilities and fill gas tanks. Willie popped his hood to make sure everything was in place prior to hitting the trail. Bruce asked about a discoloration on the top of Willie’s new (less than 1000 miles) K&N air filter housing. As Willie was explaining that it was just rubbing on the sound insulation on the hood, both noticed an open vertical crack just over an inch long in the housing. About that time, Larry noticed that the base of the housing was not sealing on the throttle body. There was a gap of about 1/8th inch at least halfway around the base. No one had silicone sealant, and the convenience store didn’t have any. Bruce came up with a roll of rubber tape that Larry rolled into a long tube and placed between the air filter housing and the throttle body to act as a gasket. He then wrapped a length of it around the assembly to further seal it. A piece of duct tape was placed over the vertical crack to seal it. Just another drop of rain!

We continued on I-90 to the Taft exit, where we followed the old Northern Pacific Railroad right-of-way toward Lookout Pass. We paralleled the interstate going west for a couple miles, then crossed under it and headed east before rounding a big ridge and driving through Tunnel No. 1, which was constructed in 1916. We drove to the base of the Lookout Pass Ski Area on the east side, and took an old mining road up to the ridge that forms the Idaho/Montana border. We followed the road up the ridge to the end where we had lunch. If the clouds had lifted, if the rain had stopped, and if the gale-force winds had died down, we could have walked out the ridge about a quarter mile to see the upper and lower St. Regis lakes to the east and the upper and lower Stevens lakes to the west.

photo of a vehicle on the trail on a misty day.

Willie’s Grand at the end of the road.


Photo of a guy making a "spark plug" hand gesture from his Jeep.

Shawn describing a sparkplug.


Photo of a man driving his Jeep on the road.

Bruce enjoying a wet ride.

We drove down the Idaho side on some old mining roads. The first road we took led to a T intersection. To the left was a road that went maybe half a mile before gradually disappearing into an overgrown thicket. The right fork went past the top of a steep road going straight down the hill. Larry had been on that steep road a few years ago. We discussed going down it, but decided it would be wiser to go to the bottom and drive up just in case there was an impassible object there.

We returned to the ridge top road and took the next road into Idaho. It led down and around the hill to the bottom of the steep road. We drove up the lower part of the steep road to where it really pitched up and turned into a rutted, loose, wet gravel surface. Having a mostly stock vehicle, Bruce and Gary decided to see how far they could get. They got about half way up the visible part of the road when they lost all forward movement. Bruce hit the clutch and brake just as a BANG sounded, like a hammer on an anvil. Hoping they just hit a rock in the road, they slowly backed down the hill and turned off to the side. A quick look under the YJ showed no broken u-joints or any other problems.

Shawn and his kids then tried with their locked TJ. They motored slowly all the way to the top and back down without spinning a tire. We started back down the road to explore some other roads with the YJ in front followed by the TJ and the Grand. We didn’t go more than a couple hundred feet when Shawn radioed to stop because he could see what made the noise. Bruce and Gary stopped and got out of the YJ to see what happened. The passenger side rear wheel was sticking way out on a shaft of broken axle. I think this is where we fell into the lake.

Photo of the Jeep with an  axle problem.

I’d sure like to meet the Jeep engineers who spec’d Dana 35s for so many years.

Willie, Larry, and Shawn leapt into action as if they saw this every day. Shawn hooked his winch to the drawbar of the YJ to keep it from rolling down the hill. Shawn and his son Jack cut a six-foot long pole from a tree. Bruce used his dirty, sticking high-lift jack to raise the rear end enough for Larry to push the wheel assembly and axle back into place. Gary laughed, took pictures, and made snide comments that only a friend of 25 years could get away with. We used Willie’s tie-down straps to lash the pole to the frame and side bar in front of the tire in two places and to the bumperette in the rear. The pressure of the pole on the tire kept it in place so the rig could be slowly driven out.

Photo of the makeshift brace used to keep the tire/axle on the vehicle.

Temporary repair to hold the wheel assembly in place

We slowly drove down the road for a couple miles to the interstate, stopping occasionally to push the wheel assembly back onto the brake shoes. The temporary fix worked, but generated shreds of sidewall and the smell of burning rubber after a mile or so. It’s probably a good idea to switch to the spare tire if you ever run across a similar situation. Notice the whitewall tire and white rubber dust on the pole in the following picture.

Photo of a man adjusting the brace.

Bruce snugging up the straps to keep the brake drum on the shoes.

We left the YJ parked by the interstate and headed back to Frenchtown. Willie and Bruce went back with Willie’s pickup and trailer that night. For dinner, they ate the best and most appreciated peanut butter and jelly sandwiches ever made, thanks to Jeanne. They got back to the Jeep in the dark in a constant rain. It took awhile to get the Jeep loaded on the trailer and to figure out how to get it all chained down. Willie jumped into the pickup to start it. Dead. Choice words were not spoken, but could be read in the expressions on both Bruce’s and Willie’s faces. Neither could tell if those were tears or raindrops on the other’s face. The Jeep was unloaded, driven to the front of the pickup where it jump-started the pickup, and then the Jeep was loaded on the trailer again. It was faster and easier the second time.

Willie and Bruce unloaded the Jeep at Jeff’s Off-Road. Willie found a big “For Sale” sign and put it on the windshield. Bruce didn’t object. Bruce was home by midnight, Willie a little later. Bruce was very appreciative of all Willie’s help and knows he owes Willie a HUGE, HUGE favor or three.

The four-wheelers dilemma - fix it or replace it with something better. Larry generously offered a Dana 35 rear end to replace the broken one. After discussions of pros and cons with Larry, Willie, Shawn, Gary, and Jeff and after a reality check from his wife Lori - “Don’t be cheap. Fix it so it won’t happen again.” - Bruce decided to have the rear converted to a Ford 8.8 with disk brakes. Besides being considerably stronger than the Dana 35 it replaces, the disk brakes hold the wheel in place if an axle ever does break. No more shredded sidewalls!