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  • Writer's pictureKelsey

Take a knee, Rockford.

Sometimes you’re due to put in a long day or three to work on your vehicle.

Last Saturday felt like three. We drove Rockford (Tonto’s last name... folks seem to like it better anyway....) the 150 or so miles to Tucson.

In a short wheelbase lifted truck with no power steering and high winds with bikes on the back... this was... exciting. I found a tractor trailer to draft behind which made it more tolerable for about half of the drive. The rest was mostly white knuckling. We made it to Tucson after sunset and I crashed out immediately at my parents house. I can’t really explain how exhausted I was after that.

Saturday 6am. Time to head to Brent’s. Brent’s house is a wonderful place. In pictures it looks like a playground where racecars and classic cars come to life. In reality it’s a place of immensely hard work. (For reference, this is where I first learned to weld and we built a 1600 car and started racing Baja etc. That was about 1999-ish)

“Where does he get these wonderful toys!?!?”

This is something I say upon every visit. No matter if it’s been a month or a day since I visited he is sure to have some new tool. Often times it’s a tool from the late 1800's or early 1900's that still performs it’s job perfectly. I love that.

I can tell you after using a old manual tire mounting/dismounting tool and doing 12 racecar tires one day... modern stuff is nice too!!

We got started early. We had a lot to do... Knuckle Rebuild and welding up some tears in the body work. The actual steps of the job aren’t too hard. When everything is coated in a thick layer of birfield soup it gets a bit slower. Not to mention that, although I’ve rebuilt knuckles before, I still have to constantly reference a diagram to remember what piece comes next and not miss a step. I prefer diagrams to written instructions. I guess I’m more visual although I used the instructions until I missed a step and then went back to the diagram per my usual.


Progress was slow and frustrating. Everything was covered in such a thick layer that the 4 cans of brake clean were pitifully too few. We’d take a part off and put the hardware into a plastic bag and put some kerosene in it. Kelsey sat there with a nice trough of kerosene and a scrubber working on the big parts while I wrenched away.

I’m so thankful to have her as a teammate. Through the long windy day in the sun she worked with me without a break or even lunch. We lowered the truck and found brownie bites from her birthday a couple days before and ate those for lunch. You do what you gotta do. This job, just in labor, was $750 to $1,000 so it was well worth doing it ourselves.

We did one side at a time to preserve 1 side as an example, not that I trust it was entirely right, but still I think it’s better to focus on doing one thing correctly. I did make one critical mistake. The package of parts had 2 of everything, except axle seals which it had 4 of since I got the normal ones included in the kit and the upgraded Marlin Crawler seals. So far so good. I should end with just 2 parts unused and all the rest gone. Then, after having 1 side mostly together I realized there were still 2 of another part. It was literally the 3rd of about 20 to go on. It was many many greased up layers to get to.

THANKFULLY it was the split ring piece of metal that seats on the back side of the knuckle next to the wipers. I was able to loosen just that part and get it on since it’s a SPLIT ring of metal. Crisis averted.

No other stupidity happened besides.... walking into the bumper of the truck hard enough to draw a fair amount of blood out of my head. I did the “Honey, stitches or no stitches?” check and when the answer was no, we got back to work without a miss step.


The sun was getting low when we buttoned up the other side. I was worried that one of the hundreds of little steps had been forgotten. I stood there and said out loud everything I tightened as I pointed to each one to let it set in... nope, we’re done! WE DID IT!

So much of me wanted to crack a beer and relax to celebrate, but we had a GREAT welder working nearby so I needed to take advantage of that. We chipped what paint off of the fender that we could and got busy setting up the welder. Brent first did his great work banging on areas of the fender in directions that logically made little to no sense if you don’t know how metal acts. As he banged in strange directions I was reminded of his brilliance in an area that I was clueless in. The fender started to look “correct” again and the two ripped halves naturally sat next to each other with just the smallest gap. With a slight push from his knee he welded it up on both sides.

An interesting aside is that the fender had been repaired before. We found brass brazing right along the split part of the fender. An old body shop technique long forgotten by most. We got the other side welded together and realized that it too had once been repaired.


The sun was very low in the sky and we still needed to clean up after ourselves. I realized that leaving the metal completely raw was not a smart way to go so I rifled through the paint cabinet... “Cummins Engine Tan”... that should do it. We added a new shade of paint to Rockford.

Now, truly a painted horse we drove back to my parents, happy with our epic day of work and how it turned out. The next day we did a hike with my parents and checked off Kelsey’s first Gila Monster sighting and another crested saguaro before heading home.... slowly... the back way... taking some stops along the way to take dirt roads.


So, now I just need to sort out the front pinion seal leak, main seal leak, loud click from the fuel pump, rear output seal leak, broken leaf spring, dead shocks, rear swingout that doesn’t swing, fix the horn, fix the windows so they don’t rattle and they DO roll up and down, fix all the leaks rain comes in from and.... okay I’ll just stop there I got a little depressed. Still, on the way home, we pulled off the road and down a wash. We cracked a beer and sat on the front bumper just staring at the desert. We just sat there for a while and let our crazy pace slow down for a bit. I was happy. I love this little truck. It’s enough as it is.

Pre-Cummins engine tan addition, but you’ll see it soon enough

The desert in Tucson is prettier than Phoenix. Due in part to being almost 1,500 feet higher in elevation at about 3,000ft

Horrible photo of a crested saguaro...


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