Overland Expo West 2017 – Part 1
[Caution for those having limited cellular data plans: there are many (small) photos in this post below, so you may want to stop loading this page right now before your Internet provider slides you into the $15/Gig penalty box for overage. Text usually comes through first.]
At its new venue at the Fort Tuthill County Park, the Overland Expo West went from being hopelessly jammed in camping arrangements to being merely crowded. The dispersed camping area was not suited to especially tall or long rigs, and signups for weekend camping passes were restricted to this end. The display space was sprawling and had the raw space available for more, if need be in future years. I was surprised that Crux Offroad (an aluminum bridge/traction device maker) was not there, but each vendor has to make their own decision as to whether displaying at the show is worth the effort and expense. Nonetheless, a wide variety of rig and accessory outfits and individuals showed up and showed off.
I’ll show a mass of pictures below, which are pretty much self-explanatory. Three occurrences worthy of mention are not shown.
Overlanding videos ranging from shorts to one hour ran all day, every day in the “Theater”, which was a re-purposed auditorium with folding chairs. The fare varied from self-absorbed “look at me catching fish and mountain biking” to can’t-stop-watching true overlanding across continents. The best of the latter (I felt) was called The Great Game by Jon Beardmore, a guy who struck out from a traditional 9-5 job to cross central Asia in a 20-year-old Toyota Land Cruiser. As you can imagine, he’s a character, but he principally captured two things: people are just people no matter where you go, and you’d better have a Plan B and a basket of money available when the mechanicals decide to give it up. He made it over the 30,000 miles, and despite heroic efforts, his Land Cruiser “Boris” did not – at least under its own power. Were it all glossy success stories, overlanding would be nothing special. The intro guy at the start of the evening asked for a show of hands as to who was already on the road, and who wanted/planned to be. The latter greatly outnumbered the former, which nicely catered to the purpose of the Expo: to introduce and promote vehicle-based world travel, especially to young people. In the movie, Jon was coming across a ton of ordinary folks along the way, all of whom helped when they could, and even invited him to meals with family. At its core, that’s what overlanding is about, after the adventure of the travel itself.
After dark on Saturday night, Baja Design put on a light show. Well, kinda. They offer a confusing mass of LED driving lights that range from wide-throw cornering lights to 150 MPH racing pencil lights. Since I hadn’t gotten much help from their website about what light model does exactly what, I showed up in the dark at 8 PM in front of some grandstands facing the horse racing track. It was illuminating. Sorry. Any high-performance lamp is going to cost serious money, and LED lamps are certainly no exception. The cheapies that don’t do much good start at around $300 per unit, and many of the show rigs there were wearing thousands of dollars-worth of lighting. So my interest was more academic. After all, aside from the nice ceiling lights in my Grandby camper, the only LED lights I come in contact with are stocking stuffers that glow instead of illuminate. The headlamp on my Evelo e-bike helps in the blackest of nights, but only if you don’t exceed 8-10 MPH. Re-aim it further forward, and it doesn’t help at all. So, I wanted to see for myself if LED driving lights were worth all the hoopla and considerable expense, or if they were merely more Toys for Boys.
I have seen the light, bretheren! I was surprised to find that, chosen correctly, Baja’s fare at least does the needed task brilliantly. Basically, you can have more light than you need at no more than a 40-watt draw, which is minuscule compared to the old days, where big-amp cabling and heavy-duty relays were needed to keep a pencil-beam lamp alight. You know the kind – you turn on the lamps and the engine stalls out. I also discovered that 90% of what they offer are serious overkill unless you’re treating a dirt trail like a race course. Predictably, most of the guys there were gravitating toward the “illuminate the next mile” lights. More surprising was that only one unit was needed to do realistic jobs, not a pair. They also offer light bars containing multiple lamps, which can be mixed and matched for purpose, ranging from 10″ to 40″ in length, but you need to have a truly lucrative job, no marriage and no kids to be able to afford those. Since my trail speeds typically range from 3 to 10 MPH in the hoppalong Mighty Furd, I need one of these like I need another hole in my head, but I did find the demo to be very valuable just for the sake of having answered my questions. I hope to mount a pair of conventional foglights this winter in Yuma, a pair that my son gave me years ago, but that I haven’t been able to figure out how to securely mount so that they don’t wobble up and down. Maybe this is the year, if I can find a workable bracket.
Having suffered a tire puncture in the middle of nowhere last Spring, I was watching a demo in back of the ARB booth earlier that same day, showing how “easy” it is to repair a puncture en situ. There are a couple of prerequisites of course. You need to know where the leak site is (which I did this during my own event). And you need to have a decent air pump which can add air faster than the leak can drain it (which I did). This means either stuffing the offending article back in to slow the outflow, or perhaps jamming a tire repair tool in to do the same job. Turns out that trying to insert a repair plug into a low-pressure tire is a Herculean task, since the tire carcass will flex and dish in, effectively reducing the size of the hole. With just a few PSI in the demo tire, the demo guy was leaning his full body weight against the insertion tool, and the plug was just not going in. He added air with his pump to firm up the tread area, and in the plug went, as easy as pie. Having never made a pie myself (I’m more into the consuming end of that process), I have to think that inserting the plug was even easier. This brings up the last requirement – in order to wield sufficient force, you need straightforward access to the puncture. On a front tire, that means turning the steering wheel and driving forward such that the puncture is in a position where you can jam the insertion tool in straightforwardly. You can’t do that on a rear tire, so you need a hell of a lot of wheelwell clearance where you have a chance to get lucky with insertion force. Or failing that, to dismount the wheel. Noteworthy is the fact that a repair plug is considered to be a temporary repair and is limited to the tread area for effectiveness. Its purpose is to get you rolling again, hopefully to a shop that can dismount the tire and apply a patch to the inside.
Overall, I found the tire plugging demonstration very disappointing. Disappointing not for the fighting chance that it gave you to come out of a bad situation, but for the fact that I spent money. As I considered the odds of a puncture (low) balanced with the fact that the outcome can be quite a physical ordeal, I antied up for ARB’s tire patch kit. Both the Ford’s jack and the spare tire lowering mechanisms are a bit Rube Goldberg-ish, and take considerable time (not counting hacksawing through the mud-filled cable lock to release the spare) to get assembled and done, particularly with the bike in front and the cargo box in back. Get one flat, and you no longer have a spare tire, should you get another. That ran through my head as I made a beeline toward town along the same road that had given me the first flat. That particular puncture would have been much less effort to plug, frankly. Minutes instead of hours of exhausting work. Cheaper kits are available, but ARB’s is very complete, and both tools have aluminum handles, making them much easier to trust when you’re putting all you’ve got into something. I used to design plastic products, and the only plastic-handled tools of this type that I would trust certainly wouldn’t cost any less than ARB’s aluminum ones.
But that wasn’t the extent of my sin, brothers and sisters. I did worse. I also ordered a newly-designed digital air chuck for my Viair pump. The pump works great, but the gizmo to control air flow and read the current tire pressure has taken to being way off in that department. Once you have added air, you’re supposed to release the control handle and read the resulting pressure in the big needle gauge. Squeeze the handle again to add more air, if needed. Trouble is, the reading pressure is inconsistent and typically way high. The only way to now get a reasonably accurate reading is to disconnect it from the tire, then reconnect it. Plus, the doodad that you clamp onto the tire valve is finicky. Go too deep and no air can get in. Go too shallow and it pops off, obviously. Combined, this makes airing up a lot more of a time-consuming nuisance that it should be. I yawned when the demo guy passed around their new chuck assembly, until it got to me. Digital, okay, needs two AA batteries. The tire he’d been using it on to add air made it seem pretty accurate and its spec is +/-1 PSI accuracy, has no problem with my higher than normal pressures, backlighted large numeral display, thumb-type air control and pushbutton bleeder, and an attachment hose long enough that you aren’t required to squat or sit in the dust for the half-hour it takes to air up. (Hmmm, that’s a big deal.) The icing was that the tire valve connector can’t be done wrong. Depress a small lever, shove the thing over the valve to bottom it out, and it’s at the correct height. Release the lever. No horsing around to hunt for a workable position. Dang! I was sold, since the more of an ordeal you make airing up, the more hesitant you become to airing down in the first place. It’s the PITA factor, and this thing promised to eliminate every objection I had to using the OEM Viair chuck. The downside? The vendor next to ARB had already sold out the day before, but promised to ship it to my home address (where I’m heading) free, plus the “show special pricing”, plus an added 10% off for my questionable inconvenience. Done. I won’t have much use for it until my return toward the West, so I’m willing to suffer not immediately having it in my hands.
Lastly, I sat down afterward for awhile with the demo guy, who retired after 33 years with ARB. Canadian without an accent. He noted that they did competitive product testing before designing their new air chuck, and mentioned that they’d noticed the Viair’s quirks, which puzzled him. He didn’t know why their sample did that, and wondered if it was an isolated case. Nope. I told him that although I considered myself to be an incorrigible cheapskate, that I’d found that I don’t have any problem paying extra for good equipment that does the job and lasts. And that there should be no concern about what to get “next time” because there should ideally be no “next time” based on product failure. If possible, buy it once, and then wear it out, if possible. Not too surprising that he agreed, since ARB’s stuff, on the whole, represents an upgrade to commodity equipment sold on price. He countered with the observation that too many off-road enthusiasts of all stripes tend to just load up on equipment based on what others tell them they should have, so what they wind up with too often is stuff that they as individuals have little use for in what they do. They follow the formula for the Ideal Rig, which is tremendously expensive (see LED demo above) and image-intense, but not applicable to what they actually do with it or have a need for. The better route, he felt, was to use the vehicle pretty much as-is, go where you like to go and do what you like to do with it, and then prove a need. Get that piece of kit that will solve that problem, and keep going piece by piece. Makes sense to me, and this from a guy who (was) happy to supply anything, anywhere. Emotionally-driven buys are less financially and physically effective than experience-driven buys. Better to get what we need, not what we want or are told that we should have because it’s cool, or is the latest forum fad, or solves a problem that we don’t have. That was my take.
You may wish to check out the Turtle Expedition’s “About” page, which is an easy but fascinating read. Wow.
The boys under the Cummins tent were a happy-go-lucky bunch, seeing as how they’ve managed to avoid the fumbling diesel engine-related reputation fallout created at various times within the Fiat/Chrysler, Ford and GM camps. Not that they didn’t have serious problems at times, but they did manage to maintain a positive image throughout. Seeing that they had a Jeep fitted with their new crate motor on display, I mentioned the recent teething problems with Fiat’s 3.0L VM Motori Ecodiesel fitted to their own Ram and Jeep lines, saying it was too bad that Cummins’ new motor, had it arrived earlier, would have been a tempting production choice with, odds are, fewer problems. He smiled and replied in Corporate-speak, the words as obtuse as possible, something to the effect of “We have many partners worldwide, and we do everything we can to enhance their products and build their markets as we…blah…together…mutual…blah blah”. I smiled and blurted out, “You have to say that, don’t you?” He grinned and replied, “Yes, I do! But I think our new crate motor will offer many iconic and classic 4×4 vehicle enthusiasts a great new option to re-power their vehicles.” Indeed. One of the boys over at a display which can offer you a pristine “new old” International Scout would agree. He had one of these R2.8s, an early production sample, stuffed underhood.
That and more in the next post of this series.