Another Lesson Learned

Dateline: June 14, 2005 – the Turquoise Trail Thing Rallye on the Navajo Reservation.

We had finished our guided tour of the Monument Valley backcountry around 8PM and prepared for the long ride back to our base accommodations in Cortez, Colorado.

Darkness was upon us by the time we had dropped off Ashley, our Navajo guide at Gouldings, and had the group of Thingers gassed and pottied. It was about 160 miles back to Cortez, and we set out with the usual banter and comments over the CB radios. We were on the road to Kayenta, AZ when it was time to turn on our headlights.

We were heading west instead of back east, because we were told it was longer distance…but a faster trip back to Cortez. We were to head west to Kayenta, and pick up Hwy 160, which would take us directly to Cortez.

After turning my headlights on just out of Gouldings, I noticed my voltmeter was reading 12v at 65 MPH. When picking up Hwy 160 at Kayenta, I noticed my voltmeter was reading 10 volts. The road was pitch black and lightning was flashing off to the north of us in the darkness of the high desert. After a few more miles I noticed the voltmeter was reading 8 volts and my lights were getting an orange cast to them!

Reassured by headlights of the Things behind me, I kept the throttle down and decided to make the best of what I had. I brought the Thing up to 70 mph and hummed along into the darkness. 6 volts now showing…the CD player under my dash dropped off-line, as there wasn’t enough juice to power it. My second warning. Down to 4 volts…. 92 miles from Cortez, a million miles from anything resembling assistance, except the knowledge and parts we had with us in our Things. Headlights failing, I was looking for a side road to pull off on. There was no shoulder to the highway, just sagebrush and soft sand right up to the fog line, not to mention DARK!

I started calling on the CB to the Thing behind me…I was about a ½ mile ahead at that time. The CB radio was failing as the juice diminished. My wife Mare broke out the flashlight to signal with, in case we were stopped on the road. The other Things were fast approaching in the dark. Concerned about being hit from the rear with no taillights. Now showing 2 volts on the meter…. calling on the radio… I barely can hear David Campbell over my CB trying to answer me. I pick up his call to tap my brake lights twice if it is me calling with electrical problems. Headlights are now dim like two candles, and I notice oncoming headlights a mile or so ahead. I can’t hear anything on the radio now and the oil temp gauge is starting to flop all over. It was at this point I see the oncoming car turn off on an unseen side road off to the south.

I watch his lights disappear into the sagebrush. Mare is looking for the small road in the darkness of the side of the road. I slow and hit the brakes when I see the break in the sagebrush. Nice wide area…but there has to be enough room for the other Things behind me to get them all off the pavement. Its 92 miles from Cortez, pitch-black dark, lightning flashing more now…and the Things are pulling off the road.

We get out and start trying to diagnose what has brought us to this in the middle of the Arizona desert at 11 pm at night. Dale and Larry get in the engine compartment and start looking for the obvious loose wire or burnt cable. Nothing! After we did all we could, we realized it was not gonna be a quick fix, and we would have to deal with it as best we could. Duke, Dale, Larry, Dudley, Bill, and I all participated in the exorcism of the bad electrical spirit, while David documented for the record and Charles acted as the safety officer. The women were off in the dark doing some strange dance. Evidently the ground there was just covered with strange looking beetles that were biting them on the ankles.

At this point, Dale says he has a spare battery under his back seat on the driver’s side and we could just put it in and make some miles until we ran that battery dry. He also suggested we pull one fuse to the driver side headlight and that will drop the drain on the battery. Good idea! We put my Thing back between Duke and David’s and head out on the road showing 12 volts on the voltmeter. We get back up to 70 mph and head the last 92 miles to Cortez. 10 miles out of Cortez the meter is showing 11 volts and things are looking better. We pull into the Tomahawk Motel after midnight.

The next day we were to visit Jay Jackson, a local resident who had a wrecking yard and had a few Things he might sell some parts off. I called him and said we were coming by to look, and I wondered if he had a compressor I could use to blow out my alternator. He said to come by his shop and I was welcome to use his compressor. A bunch of us went over there and sure enough Jay had a compressor…along with a complete shop that he offered to us to check out my Thing.

Dale was the lead GURU on the wiring. After about an hour of many tests and failings we found the alternator ground wire was missing. Tests showed there wasn’t enough of a ground through the alternator stand, nor strap to make the connection. The alternator was just barely holding its own while in operation, and when the lights came on it was running a big deficit, thus draining the battery. We made a ground wire and Larry put it on the alternator and ran it to the firewall where the old voltage regulator used to be installed. We fired up and the voltmeter read 13.8 back into the battery. Dale checked his and found his alternator was in the same state as mine and so was Duke’s. We made all of the repairs and were on our way to Mesa Verde the next morning.

The graciousness of Jay Jackson is well appreciated, and his assistance was invaluable, which enabled us to get back on the road and finish a great rallye. Jay is now a member of the Thing Registry and we look forward to visiting with him again. A very Good Man!