Troubled Child

Troubled Child at the entry to Grizzly Lake, in Colorado
My Jeep, Troubled Child, is a 1986 Grand Wagoneer purchased in August 1997 to explore dirt roads for photography and fishing. Before long, I had ignited a passion for four-wheeling.

Over the years, TC has grown into my ideal expedition vehicle for camping, fishing, and four-wheeling, balancing decent off-road capability with reasonable on-road comfort.

First fishing trip, "new" Jeep, August 1997

DIY Forever!

After my first fishing trip, the alternator went bad. Feeling the sting in the wallet to have a shop replace it, I vowed to turn my own wrenches.

Since then, I've learned tons. I can count on one hand the number of times it's been in a professional shop.

I've replaced timing set, engine, transmission, transfer case, axles, suspension, steering; rebuilt alternators, power steering; replaced u-joints, belts, hoses, brake parts; added and fixed electrical components, door mechanisms; and performed countless repairs and maintenance tasks.

The name? 

On one of my early Moab trips the truck kept breaking down unexpectedly and was named by the folks I wheeled with.

TC has lived up to its name experiencing lots of failures and exhibiting many quirks. Over time it's gotten better but you never know what TC has in store next.

Gold Bar Rim, 1999


My thirst for off-road adventure quickly highlighted the vehicle's shortcomings, solved with a number of upgrades over the years.


Stock, 360, installed in 2007
  • Unusually strong, stock AMC 360 V8
  • GM TBI fuel injection system, '7747 ECM
  • High performance TFI cap and rotor
  • 8mm Borg-Warner plug wires, GM HEI coil 
  • Autolite spark plugs
  • 3" custom single exhaust
  • Magnaflow muffler and high-flow catalytic converter
  • B&M 14,000-19,000 GVW auxiliary transmission cooler
I've swapped in a few engines. I rebuilt the stock motor but it was always weak. Had a '76 360 that leaked like a sieve. The current motor came from a low-miles, well-maintained 1984 GW and is the best so far.

I've also tried several carbs: Motorcraft 2150 and 4350, Edelbrock Performer, Carter AFB, QuadraJet. The 'Jet was the best for throttle response, emissions, and power. For extreme off-road angles the 'Jet and 2150 are tied at "tolerable." The current GM TBI has more power, drives better, runs cleaner, gets better mileage, and is awesome at all angles, as expected.


  • Rebuilt Jeep A727
  • TransGo reprogramming kit
  • Billet, 2-piece reverse servo piston (mrrandyj)
  • Custom 1100 rpm low-stall torque converter
  • Widetrack Dana 44 front
  • Front ARB Air Locker
  • Widetrack AMC 20 rear, stitch-welded tube, cast-iron cover
  • Rear Powertrax Lock-Right
  • Precision Gear 3.73:1 R&Ps
  • New Process 208 transfer case
I love the fast, positive shifts of the reprogrammed 727 and engine braking is better with the low stall torque converter. The wider axles improve stability on corners and off-road, the rear locker gets me just about anywhere if I have the clearance. I very, very rarely need the ARB. The NP208 has no vacuum, is locked in 4hi/4lo, and has shift-on-the-fly, so I don't really miss the 228.
TC scores around 500 on a 28° ramp


  • 4" Skyjacker all-spring lift
  • Rancho RS9000 shocks
  • Warrior anti-sway bar quick disconnects
  • 33x12.50" BF Goodrich Mud Terrain Tires
  • GM extended length brake hose
  • Valvoline synthetic brake fluid
Stock FSJ clearance is marginal. Thanks to a drivetrain tucked up above the bottom frame rails, a 4" lift yields crazy breakover clearance and passable approach angle. The Skyjacker 4-spring lift flexes decently and rides great. Nowadays, 33's are considered puny but at least they don't ask too much of the brakes or axles.

Electronics, Electrical

  • Uniden Pro 520XL CB radio, Larsen NMO27 antenna
  • Alinco DR-605TQ 2m/70cm amateur radio, Larsen NMO2/70SH antenna
  • Alinco DR-M06TH 6m amateur radio, Larsen 6m NMO mount antenna
  • Industrial-grade Hemisphere Crescent R120 GPS (10-60cm accuracy with SBAS) with Hemisphere A21 L1 antenna
  • Dell Lattitude E6410 ATG semi-ruggedized laptop on custom mount
  • Overland Navigator topo mapping software
  • Pioneer CD/CDR/CDRW/AUX, Boston Acoustics FX5 5" 2-way speakers (4)
  • Infinity Reference 1032W dual voice coil 10" subwoofer, Alpine MRP-M200 200W amp
  • Painless Wiring 7 circuit auxiliary fuse block custom mounted in glovebox
  • Napa Legend Premium AGM Battery, Group 34, 700CA @ 0°F
  • Delco Remy 12SI, 94A HD alternator
New shoes in prep for 2002 FSJ Invasion
I picked the Uniden 520XL because RF Gain is the bees knees, ignoring radios outside your immediate four-wheeling convoy. Also, no chrome to reflect sun and sear my retinas while wheelin.

I'm a ham operator, KØFSJ, because with repeaters, you can summon help from across the state, when you're in a cell-free zone. With better audio, range, and functionality, amateur radio is gaining popularity among the overland exploration crowd.

I highly recommend Larsen antennas; one survived 15+ years of abuse, the other has been going strong since 2002.

Overland Navigator software has been a big help in navigating mazes of back country trails. Plus, it's nice to have a mounted laptop for TBI tuning and troubleshooting.


  • Grant custom steering wheel
  • BestTop sport seats with manual seat brackets
  • Steel Horse center console
  • Rear map light conversion
  • Steel cable and carabiner cargo tie-down system
TC on Engineer Pass, 2002 Ouray FSJ Invasion
My back never liked the stock seats but loves those water-proof BestTops. The center console isn't for security but my elbow loves the padding. The rear map light seemed like a good idea, but nobody's ever needed it.


  • Hella H4 e-code headlights
  • Warn 610 spot lights and 620 flood lights, front 
  • Warn 520 flood lights, rear
  • Cheap LED driving lights from ebay
The Warn lights came in handy on one crazy trail run in Moab that ran way into the night. Their bright swath of light cutting through the blackness of night and illuminating Golden Crack was a true reassurance on a night when when several of the rigs were limping with many hours and miles left.

Off-Road Extras

  • On-Board Air, York compressor, 4WD Products air tank, and ARB solenoid / locker
  • Valley Industries swing-away spare tire carrier / jerry can holder
  • Wilderness safari rack, dual gas can carriers, hi-lift, and shovel mounts
  • Killer32 front and rear dual-tube steel bumpers
  • Warn 2" receiver shackle, rear; tow hooks, front
  • Warn XD9000i 4.6hp winch and recovery kit
  • Hi-lift jack and an ancient, free junkyard shovel
Holy Cross, 2004
I've really only needed the winch very few times. It's the High-Lift or the strap that gets me and others out of trouble 99% of the time. But, the winch works. It easily rescued dad-in-law's pickup from a massive snow bank one time...

The safari rack stores extra gas and water cans, camping gear stuffed into rafting dry-bags, spare axles and driveshafts, and a second 33x9.50 spare tire.

The Valley spare tire carrier was popular back in the day. Mine has held up ok, and so has the body, all things considered. I need a spare a couple times. The gas can a lot more times.

Jeep Robot

Troubled Child can now steer all by itself using a GPS, a couple tiny microcontroller brains, and a big motor to turn the steering wheel.

My team converted the Jeep to autonomous steering to enter--and then win--the 2014 Sparkfun Autonomous Vehicle Competition, a sort of mini-DARPA Grand Challenge for self-driving R/C cars.

It also won crowd favorite :) It was the first (and only) full size vehicle to enter. I wrote up the details on my robotics blog.

It's easy to convert back to normal use for driving. In fact, I went four-wheeling several days after the competition.

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