In February of 2006 we purchased a Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo with the 4.7l engine. Of course the first thing I wanted to do was to get it out in the snow and see how it handled. The following weekend after buying it we went up to the Arrow Head region of Minnesota to find some snow. Once up in the Arrowhead we found some fire access trails to check out the snow. I was a little too confident in the 4 wheel drive. Driving down this trail we came upon a Dog Sled team and had to stop. As soon as we stopped we were stuck. I had the foresight to bring a shovel, but only brought my collapsible army shovel. Hilary was NOT pleased with that decision. She didn’t mind being stuck, but detested the small excuse for a snow shovel. Using plenty of road side brush and carefully walking the jeep up out of the hole I’d dug we were able to get out. I then had to drive in reverse for about 2 miles before I could find a spot to turn around in. I have fond memories of this, but boy was it one of the less intelligent decisions I’ve made.
For the past 3 1/2 years we have been taking all of our trips without a TOAD. As I learned later this made choices of places to go and park much easier. However, there were a few trips where having the TOAD with would have been nice. Our trip out west in ’05 was a perfect example. Driving along various back country roads we encountered many fire roads it would have been fun to go up and explore. During our Christmas trip to VA in ’05 we also lost a wheel seal on the drive axle and got stranded in WV at the Huntington Welcome Center Rest Area. So, the spring of ’06 saw me working on a hitch so we could tow our Jeep.. I talked to a lot of people and looked at the various ways hitches have been made. I finally settled on building a replacement bumper mounting system. The original bumper mounting system was just too light of a guage of steel to make me feel comfortable hanging a jeep from it. So, I got 3/8″ steel plate and rebuilt the bumper mounts. I then hung a 3″x3″x3/8″ steel tube between the two mounts and welded a receiver hitch to that. The whole lot was then bolted back on the bus using Grade 8 bolts. I’m very pleased with how well this mounting system turned out. It is relatively easy to remove and plenty strong for carrying the load of towing a TOAD.
The box on the right of the receiver tube is bolted to the steel cross member so it can easily be removed for bumper support removal in the event the engine/tranny ever need to be removed again.
I capped off the ends of the square tube with some sheet metal to help keep rust and corrosion down. I originally wanted to make the entire hitch out of stainless steel, but switched to steel when I found out how much the equivalent pieces of stainless would cost! Ouch! I also could not find a stainless receiver tube to use.
I needed to use a 4″ drop receiver to bring the tow bar angle up to within normal specifications. After our first couple of trips I discovered the amount of “movement” present in the receiver drop was enough that it was moving around and causing some “wallowing” out to occur of the receiver tube. I welded on some steel shims to the drop to take the play out. So far this has stopped the wallowing out from pressing any further.
The new Jeep Grand Cherokees do not allow for easy taping into the brake light circuit per Blue Ox. So, I built my own additional lights. So far this setup has been working great and is easy to hookup.
In the fall of this year I did a complete coolant flush and refill I also replaced the thermostats. The new style of thermostat is on the right in the pictures below. The design appears to allow for straighter opening and closing. My original thermostats were 160 degree thermostats. The new ones are 180 degrees per the recommendation of several knowledgeable MAK board members.
I’m finally at the point in my conversion work where building the cabinetry is priority one. Before our trip out to see family in November I built up the underneath side of the cabinetry above the driver and passenger seats so I could mount our Boston Acoustics speakers permanently. We’d been putting up with my old boom box speakers, but decided it was time to move on to speakers easier to listen to over the course of many hours of driving. I’m really pleased with how well it turned out and the speakers sound just great!
In December I started working on the kitchen cabinetry. I was able to complete the kitchen overhead cabinets before Christmas break. I will be making the doors for the cabinet after I have the rest of the kitchen cabinets complete. This way I’ll build all doors and drawers at one time.
I have a rope light mounted on the bottom side front of the overhead cabinet. If you look carefully in the window you can see the reflection of the rope lights. I took a 12v light and cut/spliced to turn it into a 24v rope light to work easily with my 24v house system. So far so good!
The black switches in the far upper left corner are as follows:
lower = Wire Rope
Middle = under cabinet halogen lights (yet to be installed)
Upper = Over head lights (wires hanging down)