Travel | Milwaukee Trip – Part 1

Travel | Milwaukee Trip – Part 1

We had planned a trip up to Milwaukee for a while now. There is an annual Bead & Button show there, with classes and a lot of vendors, so with my wife being a beader, it provided a great excuse to head out to the midwest. We lucked out and were grateful that we had family come into town to watch our little guy and dog for the week. Our first leg of the trip was to Cleveland, which would be the halfway point for us on the way up to Milwaukee. This was a pretty uneventful ride, and we left at a decent time so traffic wasn’t that bad and we had smooth sailing. We only stopped for gas and hit up a Hardees for lunch. We apparently were a bit excited to get this trip going, and actually forgot that we were supposed to make a stop on the way. We made it to Cleveland around dinner time on Sunday. The hotel mentioned that there wasn’t a lot of stuff open at this time, but pointed us to a couple of areas where we may find dinner. Being in the truck all day, we decided to walk down to the water front and check out a few of the sites. The road outside of our hotel ended at Lake Erie and the water front area, so off we went. The lake front was undergoing some renovations, so we imagine there will be more activity there in the future, but we did manage to climb these rather large steps to see the skyline. It’s a pretty cool view, even with the overcast weather. On the way to the water front, you pass the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It was closed at the time. Truth be told, we actually weren’t really that gung ho to go in anyway.

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Cleveland skyline from Lake Erie

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View across the tracks to a train station.

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Birthplace of Rock & Roll with the Hall of Fame Museum in the background.

We headed back downtown. The majority of the city was pretty quiet. The Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors were playing in the NBA finals, though in California. However, the Quicken Loans Arena was hosting a viewing party, so we started to see the trickle of fans in their Cleveland gear. We headed to the Historic Gateway District. The main road leads to the Arena, so it was loaded with people. The Gateway is a pretty cool area, a portion of it is only open to foot traffic and there is a lot of activity happening. There were a bunch of restaurants and bars in this area that were actually open. Many bars were getting ready for the game. We saw Iron Chef Michael Symon’s Lola Bistro, though we weren’t in that state of mind, so we ended up eating at Zocalo. It’s a Mexican Restaurant & Tequila bar, and an empty outdoor seating area. With all the people walking through, we wanted to maximize our people watching. They age Tequila onsite, so when I ordered a margarita, I had to try their Zocalo. To be honest, I think this may have been a waste. The margarita tasted like many others, and thinking back, no need to use the good liquor in a mix drink. We ended up ordering way more food than we needed. We had some confusion on sizes, as we thought the menu was indicating one of each (Tacos, Empanadas, etc), yet they came out in groups. So we essentially had three of everything. The food was decent, but the location was all that was necessary.

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Zocalo – The entrance is through an ally.

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Margarita, salsa, & gaucamole.

After stuffing ourselves, we meandered back to the hotel to call it a night. We had been on the road all day, and needed to plan our next day. At this point, we had realized that we missed a stop, and wanted to make sure we coordinated the rest of the trip better. During this coordination we realized that we wouldn’t be able to hit up Great Lakes Brewing during this trip. This was high on the list, however they were not a walkable distance for dinner, and they opened later on Monday than we wanted to delay getting on the road again. Especially since we had to backtrack to stop in at our previously missed site. So after a good nights rest and solid breakfast, we got back on the road to head to this missed site, which is Smucker’s.

The beauty of going on trips and traveling through America is you learn so much. We had never realized that Smucker’s was in the heart of Ohio, that they owned a lot of other products other than Jelly (the biggest shocker being Jif Peanut Butter), and that they would have a place for you to visit. We stopped in at the headquarters first, which is located at 1 Strawberry Lane in Orrville, Ohio. I love it when business brand like that, and continue to get a kick out of the street name. Must say though, the store was a bit of a bust. We were hoping for unique items or even lower pricing, however this is not the case. The store itself is pretty cool, and there is a cafe. In the middle, there is a sampling station, where they will provide samples of some of the products. But the majority of the items available are stuff you can buy at your local grocery store for the same price. The other let down was on the designer side, as we thought the colored glass in the back of the store was going to be jelly, alas its just colored glass. We made sure to grab some JIF socks and Smucker’s t-shirts though as well as pick up a few jars due to convenience.

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Smucker’s Company Store & Cafe

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Smucker’s Company Store & Cafe Interior

We got back on the road and pushed on. Most of this leg of the trip was through America’s heartland, and mainly farms. We did stop at an Arby’s for lunch, but not much else big happened until we got to South Bend Indiana. We had to stop in at Notre Dame and see the Football Jesus, as well as get our stadium picture (here is a link to the stadium picture). We were a bit surprised at Notre Dame, granted we didn’t drive through the whole campus, but a lot of it looked fairly new. I was expecting a more historic look I guess. And for some reason, I thought the Football Jesus was right next to the stadium, it is across a lawn near the stadium. Amazing how distorted things can look on TV sometimes. After driving around and trying to secure the best angle, we got back on the highway. We got bogged down once we hit Chicago. Not sure if the expressway would have been better, but we were right in rush hour, so we got to enjoy the skyline for a bit. We finally made it to Milwaukee. After settling in the hotel, we ventured out to grab dinner. We were pretty tired at this point, and didn’t do a lot of research on where to grab a meal. We also knew we would be there for the majority of the week and had time. Rock Bottom Brewery was right around the corner and looked over the river. Rockbottom may be mainstream now, but it holds a special place to us. When we first met during a school trip, the first place we officially had dinner at was a Rock Bottom. When we moved to the DC area, we frequented the Rock Bottom in Arlington, and we have hit many others in other cities. They have a great location, with plenty of out door seating, bar, and grill space. This wasn’t open at the time, and it started raining when we were seated, but we were still able to look out at the sites. It was nice to just chill after a long two days of travel, and so we hit the sack after dinner to relax.

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University of Notre Dame – Football Jesus

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Rock Bottom Milwaukee – Our View

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Rock Bottom Milwaukee – Entry & Signage


Zocalo Mexican Grill & Tequileria
2071 E 4th Street
Cleveland, OH 44115

JM Smucker Company Store & Cafe
333 Wadsworth Road
Orrville, OH 44667
Smucker Company Store Website

University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery
740 N Plankinton Ave #1
Milwaukee, WI 53203

4Runner | 4XInnovations Rock Sliders

4Runner | 4XInnovations Rock Sliders

When I first got the 4Runner, it had running boards on it. Now these are great to be used as steps, but they don’t do well to protect much of anything. In fact, during one of the offroad trips, part of the running board was ripped off and left somewhere in the woods. I saw an image afterwards of a 4Runner that had some tough looking bumper and sliders, and always figured it would happen at some point. I had something similar on my Jeep Wrangler back in the day and always knew they were effective and useful. However, other modifications became priority in my mind before the sliders. After a trip to Rausch for the GPAX Shocker Run over a year ago, one of the FORCE members mentioned I should get some and that he would help make a pair. His truck had some nice tube bending and welding, so I was game. This was in fact the second time someone had made this offer to me. Wanting the sliders was also escalated after another trip where I got to see some put to good use. Life can get in the way sometimes, and so it went from building them from scratch to ordering a pair and installing them. So after a ton of research, I decided to order a pair of the DOM with a kickout from 4XInnovations. They had a great price and plenty of people vouching for them. Order was placed after Christmas, and happily they did not take as long as expected to arrive (I’ve seen some estimates in the 5 month range for other manufacturers, whereas these showed up in less than 2 months). Timing was again not in my favor, and so they sat for a while in the garage. I checked a few off-road/overland shops in the area, and received pricing ranging from $400 to $800. I was a bit surprised. Wanting to get them on before Summer started, as trips and scheduling would become even harder, I called up the other friend of mine who offered, Matt. Now, luck was on my side, and everything worked out perfectly.

I woke up early to head out to his house, and along the way, ran into a bunch of heavy rain. I was starting to become concerned that this would not happen. Upon my arrival, the rain stopped and though a little windy, the sun would eventually peak out. We picked up some welding gas and started putting a plan together.

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Rock Slider mock up

First step was to place the jack stands and mock up the fitment. This allowed us to see the mounting points, final angle, and figure out the next steps. At first we were going to measure out a bunch of stuff, but once we had the mock up set up, we realized that there were only a few natural locations for the connections. The sliders came with three tubes for connection to the frame. One would go in the center, and the other two as far to each end as possible. Due to some body mounts, these were located inward a bit.

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Modding the Mod

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Brackets to Plates

Not sure why, but two of the brackets were longer than the others. I’m assuming this was because it is somewhat of a universal kit (fits 1990-2013 4Runners. So we cut them down. After some grinding along the edges and the mounting plates, it was time to weld the bracket tube to the plate. The plates had 4 holes in them, assuming for people who want to bolt to the frame. The tube was close to the bottom of the plate, based to the alignment we noticed during the mock up. We also attached the gusset on the top. Since the force will be pushing upward toward your vehicle, this is a must.

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Angle mock up

We then did another mock up. Again, we were being very technical in our approach. In reality, we had a lot of luck I think. We had some angle steel sitting around that provided just enough lift to the brackets for the right amount of angle. I’ve seen some guys angle it a lot, however I only wanted a few degrees. I can’t tell you the final angle, but it fit exactly as desired, in fact, couldn’t be tilted higher. As previously mentioned, the mock up showed us the best location for attachment, so we did another mock up with the jack stands and marked the locations. These were then welded. Only two are shown in the pic, but the final center one was added the same way. At this point, we had to make another trip to the store for welding gas. We made it back to the house only to realize that they had given us the wrong bottle. So this warranted another trip. Somewhere in there, we also decided to grab lunch.

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Grind the frame

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With the brackets attached, we grind down the frame to expose fresh metal. There was a moment of pride to see nice shiny metal hidden under the aging point. It also reminded me that I needed to strip down the frame and refinish at some point, since old 4Runners are prone to rusty frames. We used a series of jack stands, clamps, and man power to hold the sliders in place as they were tacked down. Once tacked, Matt went to work welding the plates to the body, and then rosetting the 4 mounting holes. We thought this part would go pretty quickly, but it took a little longer than expected. Not sure if it was the wind or the angle of welding, but we had a lot of sputtering and the welds weren’t coming along as nicely as the previous jobs.

I know this may not be the best method, and we discussed another, of welding out from the frame. Though our method had some issues along the way, we felt there would have been more room for error doing the other method. The notched tubes to the slider for instance.

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We finished much earlier than I was expecting. So I stopped by the auto store on my way home to pick up paint. I wanted the matte finish, and found some “nerf” bar spray paint. Family was still out and about, so I decided to try and tackle the painting. I used some old drawings that were about to be recycled and taped off the side panels and laid some protection for the driveway. I was able to apply 3 coats on each, and was even able to get the sliders and frames completely. Figured there would be touch up down the road, as they will be sliding at some point.

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Finished Product

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Final overall

The painting went well, and everything came out better than expected. I’m still getting used to having them there. Another reason I removed the running boards was I didn’t use them as step and so my leg would always rub against it (getting my pants dirty). These rub my leg as well. Guess I’ll just have to raise the 4Runner up so that I have to use the step…

Big shout out to my friend Matt for all his help. You can always throw some support his way, by picking up some www.josephmagnus.com.

For more info about sliders (these were the 1990-2013 4Runner DOM Rock Sliders w/ kick out) and other great products that 4XInnovations have, check out their site: http://www.4xinnovations.com/


Off-road | Twin Mountain Offroad Adventure & Meadow Knob

Off-road | Twin Mountain Offroad Adventure & Meadow Knob

It is becoming an annual custom now that FORCE (Frontier Off-Road Club East) hosts a MLK Jr weekend event. This year, it was a joint even with VAXC (Virginia Xterra Club – http://www.vaxc.org/). It was to visit a relatively new off-road park in the hills of West Virginia, Twin Mountain Off Road Adventure. This park was created by John Bradshaw, who has been off-roading his entire life and has been competing in many overlanding trophies. He decided to build this park to continue his passion.

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John’s Unimog

The event was set, and we had a decent group signed up go. The days before were to have crazy weather however, and due to that weather, a potential requirement for chains. Many of us did not have chains, and though they are great to have, I wanted to use the money for other modifications to the truck. So the days up to the event were a big question mark for some, and it was up until the few hours before leaving that we weren’t completely sure we were heading out. After some conversations with other members, we were a go no matter what. The park had temperatures drop in the negatives for windchill, and the ground was frozen solid a few days before the event. This meant that the upper layer was essentially slick mud on ice. As we arrived, John wasn’t even recommending hitting the trails with chains, as most hills were off camber and cut into the mountain side. Meaning, if you slid, you slid hard, and potentially over the side of the mountain. The park has a camping site, big fire pit, and facilities. Some of the members camped the night before, and it looks like something to remember for the future, as there is nothing else close by.

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Some of the mud picked up in the skills portion.

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Group photo.

So to make something out of nothing, we decided to play on the skills portion of the park. There are a few water/mud pits, step inclines, off camber areas, log bridge crossing, and plenty of ground to play on. We had a few guys get stuck in various locations and one even centered on the logs. The biggest pride moment was to take it to the steep grade hill, made much more difficult with the mud layer. After cresting, the vehicles just slid down the remainder of the obstacle. Though we only got a few hours of wheeling in, it was great fun, and we all agreed that we needed to come back when conditions were better. With this park only a few hours away from DC, we have much to look forward to in it’s development. Big shout out to John for letting us wheel, and for breaking out the Unimog a few times.

While grabbing something to eat, the group was discussing what to do next. It was decided that a late afternoon to evening run was going to be made in the George Washington National Forest to set up for the following day’s ride. After gassing up, we headed down interstate 81, picked up a few passengers from JMU, and continued to the trail head. We took Union Springs Road up the mountain. It was a bit of a bumpy ride, had some areas of snow and ice, but didn’t have too many obstacles. There were a few rocky and steep incline areas, but the majority of the ride was smooth sailing. We did hit a small play area that had a few frozen over puddles. After breaking the ice up and running through a few times, we pushed forward. We made it to Meadow Knob, which is a clearing on the ridge. From what I understand, a bunch of people camp here. It was pretty dark, but looked like a solid camp site for future rides. Great view of Harrisonburg, and so we decided to take a group photo.

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Playing in the mud. Photo by Ian Barry.

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Rock climbing.

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Group photo at Meadow Knob. Photo by Ian Barry.

We ran into a few more obstacles. One of which was a rock drop off. Those of us who didn’t have the correct armor and ground clearance decided to go around, but there were a few who went over. Cell phone video capabilities just weren’t there, and so what we captured wouldn’t provide enough detail to what actually happened. We had another rocky incline requiring some spotters, and once everyone was up, we took the opportunity to bid farewell. Part of our group was going to continue camping in the forest that night, while the rest of us headed into Harrisonburg. We headed down the mountain on Dunkle Hollow and exited around Switzer Lake. It was a shame to leave the comforting darkness of the woods and enter back into cell phone service, but it was late and time to grab dinner and beers.

During this trip, we did stop at a fair amount of breweries and beer centric restaurants. Feel free to read about it here.

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The next morning before heading home.

Twin Mountain Off Road Adventure
N 39 11’34.73″ W 79 00’36.89″
Williamsport, WV



4Runner | Tie-Rods

4Runner | Tie-Rods

A while back when I had my brakes done, the shop recommended that I fix the steering bushing and my passenger side tie-rod, as it was starting to go. It was now noticeable to the steering wheel, as at some speeds there was noticeable vibration and twitch. Considering these were the original tie-rods from ’99, it wasn’t a bad idea anyway. I ordered Moog replacement parts, inner and outers, as well as the lower ball joints. These parts sat in my garage for a few months at least before I found a good weekend to try and tackle this and be able to bring it to a shop for re-alignment. I had done my research, watched plenty of videos, and read up on forums to make sure I was prepared. I had assisted on a tie-rod replacement back when we had the Jeep Wrangler, but this would be my first at it alone. From what I had read, 4Runner’s were easy to do, so that made me happy.

So on Black Friday, I decided to tackle this. Figured that I would get it done on Friday and be able to bring it to a shop on Saturday. After getting the tire off, I sprayed it heavily with PB Blaster to loosen up the old bolt and cotter pin. At this point, I took a measurement of how far the outer was threaded into the inner. This would allow me to get somewhat close when putting it back together. The pin came out with some jiggle, and nut loose with some effort. I had a pickling fork from the timing belt work (we used it to jam the flywheel), so I figured this would be an easy pop. After all, all the material I read and saw said you had to have the tool, and I figured I had the tool. It did not though. Some videos even recommended hammering on one part of the joint, and it would just pop out. Not so here. Nope, this was a pain and it was in there. After a few moments of frustration, I headed to AutoZone and Pep Boys to find a “The Tool”. I didn’t see said tool in the loaner book, and found a tie-rod tool on the shelf. When I got home, it was tool small and wouldn’t fit around the joint. So I returned this one and got a bigger one, though it was called a Pittman Arm tool. This one wouldn’t fit either. So, it was time to put the tire on, and limit driving the 4Runner (the pickling fork had killed the gasket and nicely removed all the grease in it). Day lost.

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Tire off (placed under for added safety) and view of old outer tie-rod with tie-rod boot.

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Measuring remaining threads on the outer. Took a picture so it would be easier to remember the measurement.

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Nut & cotter pin thoroughly doused in PB Blaster.

The following weekend, I made sure I got the right tool. I stopped in Advanced AutoParts and purchased the one I had seen in a couple of articles. This tool made all the difference. I was able to keep the Pittman Arm tool, as it worked on the lower ball joint, so that was a plus. However the bolts holding the old joint on was rusted and stubborn to remove, add in the difficult angle (it really wants you to access from below rather than the side or the top) and so this portion of the replacement was put on hold. Figured when I mess with the suspension and control arms down the road, I’ll just replace them then. Fiddling around with the LBJ cost me some time on the passenger side, however the driver side was done in 30 minutes. Truly amazing how quick this can go with the right tools.

So once the cotter pin and bolt is removed. Use “The Tool” to separate the joint. You will notice how bad your inner tie-rod is at this moment if it drops quickly. Loosen the finger clamp on the boot and push it back to gain access to the outer tie-rod. Since I was replacing the whole piece, I was hoping to just take it all off at once. I ended up cutting the boot clamps off at the steering rack, and then compressing it towards the outer to gain access to the inner tie-rod. Using a plumbers wrench, I loosened the tie-rod and removed it. I had to use my table clamp to separate the inner and the outer, as the locking nut that came with the new parts didn’t fit. Not sure why it was different. I used the old locking nut though. I also used the old inner washer, as these already had the nice indentions on them. If you use the new, you have to use a ball pein hammer to indent the washer around the new inner. I’m not too crazy hammering on sensitive parts, and since I couldn’t get under the vehicle for accurate swings, this was a better method for me. I put the inner into the steering rack end, and then screwed the outer to the measurement I took earlier. Make sure to put the boot on before you screw the outer on. Slide the joint together and used the wrench to tighten up. Used a new cotter pin, and put the tire back on. Since I cut the old clamps, put new ones on.

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Finally, the joint has been separated!

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New inner tie-rod. Notice how it holds itself up and is stiff. Worn out ones would flop down from it’s own weight.

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Everything going back together, joint secured again.

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Cotter pin and nut tightened. Nice new gasket ready to be filled with grease.

Now I just need to fix the steering rack bushing, but I already noticed a big difference in the steering. The shake and vibration is already noticeable much less than before. This truly was an easy replacement with the right tools. I would recommend having a plumber’s wrench, 27 MM wrench, Tie-rod tool, wire cutters, and of course “The Tool” in addition to your normal tire removal and jacks.

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“The Tool” that I wish I had from the beginning. This thing makes this job super easy.

4Runner – Timing Belt & Water Pump

4Runner – Timing Belt & Water Pump

Started 8.16.2015, finished 8.20.2015

The 4Runner has some miles on it, a little over 180,000, and so I want to make sure that I’m doing some preventive maintenance.  This rig was very well taken care of before, but I enjoy knowing everything that has been replaced.  Gives me piece of mind. It is recommended to check the timing belt after 60,000, and replace at 90,000.  I believe we were pushing the latter on the current belt, so I am replacing it.  While in there, might as well take care of some of the other items that tend to have similar life expectancy, such as the water pump, and other belts.  It was recommended to change out the thermostat, but I didn’t read that till after tear down begun.

There are a ton of posts on forums (www.t4r.org and www.yotatech.com to name a couple, though I’m sure there are many other forums that have this as well) and plenty of videos on YouTube.  I found this post most useful though:


I also referenced this video on YouTube more than the others.


Because there is so much already posted on doing this work, I don’t want to provide a step by step, but did want to mention a few hardships and tricks we figured out.

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Getting to the spark plugs and wires.

Before we launched into the timing belt and water pump, we changed out the spark plugs and spark plug wires.  This is just part of the maintenance that I wanted to do, and has nothing to do with the other project.  I picked up some NGK Iridiums and NGK wires.  I’m a bit partial to NGK, but that may have to do with me being an Amsoil dealer and NGK having a past relationship.  I’ve also used them in my motorcycles and are pretty happy with their performance. Toyota recommends the use of double electrode plugs, but after reading through a bunch of threads, figured the single Iridium would be fine.  There is also a bunch of discussion on using a mix of Denzo and NGK, as that is how it came stock.  However, there is a bunch of evidence pushing towards this theory, that the engine each half of the engine was manufactured in a different factory, and each factory had its own preference.  I pulled all Denzos out, so obviously the previous spark plug change by a Toyota dealership didn’t warrant a mix.  This change was fairly easy, the passenger side especially.  The driver side required a little wiggling of parts out of the way, but wasn’t an issue either.  We cleaned up the coils and added some dielectric grease.

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Plugs and wires all done, nice and clean.

My dad was in town for my son’s first birthday, so I luckily had a helping hand to tackle this. The tear down to get to the timing belt and water pump started easy enough.  Drain the radiator, remove fan shroud, fan, hoses, radiator, belts, timing belt covers, etc (the link above has a nice step by step).  The part that got us was the crank nut.  In posts and videos alike, there is a reference to a specialty tool.  I have yet to see a manufactured tool though, and many look like some welded scrap metal put together.  This tool is supposed to hold the crank pulley while the nut is loosened.  This nut requires 250 pounds of torque, so it’s on there pretty good.  We of course didn’t have the tool, or scrap metal and a welder to make our own.  My pneumatic impact wrench couldn’t shake it, and we bent many screw drivers and allen wrenches trying to hold the pulley while using the breaker bar.  My friend Will came over to see if he could help, but it wasn’t budging.  After speaking to another friend of mine Jazz, who was a mechanic back in the day, he recommended isolating the flywheel.  I’m chicken when it comes to sticking screwdrivers into flywheels, or many other parts of vehicles that screwdrivers are not supposed to be stuck in. So the project grounded to a halt.   Sadly, my dad had to fly back home and couldn’t help me finish this project.

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Removing the fan and belts.

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Removing the covers and exposing the timing belt.

The next day, Jazz was able to stop by.  We first tried to access the flywheel by going through the transmission access plate.  However, he wasn’t able to get a good enough angle.  So he took the starter off.  My shop is a bit limited on tools, so we headed to the auto store to pick up something a bit more substantial.  He was able to jam a tie rod separator tool (think hefty tuning fork) into the flywheel.  It was amazing how little effort it took now to get the nut loose.  With the nut and pulley off, Jazz had to head home.  It was already late, and I spent the majority of what little time was left in the evening putting the starter and access plate back.  Apparently, putting the rig in 5th gear and e-break on helps loosen it too.  I can’t say that it would have worked, as I didn’t see that till later, but worth a shot.

With the nut now off, the following day saw a lot of progress to some degree.  With everything off, it was easy to remove the old water pump and replace it with the new one.  I changed the o-ring seal for the thermostat and cleaned up the hose connections.  I made sure to scrap off the old gasket.  It was recommended to use a 400 grit sand paper.  I did so, but also used a razor, as it was a pain to get your hand in there to scrap.  Carefully putting the water pump back on as to not mess up the gasket and sealant.  One note here, when putting the thermostat back in, make sure you have the little whole at the top, in the “noon” position.

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Water pump removal.

With the water pump done, it was time for the timing belt. I removed the idyler pulleys, timing belt, and covers.  Comparing the timing belts, I realized that the new one didn’t have the marks to align TDC.  After I slight freak out and some research, this apparently isn’t an issue.  I also noticed that one of my cam pulleys had shifted and was no longer aligned.  I was able to adjust it back into place.  If you have the “special tool”, you can use it for that adjustment as well, but since I didn’t, I just used a ratchet.  I’ve heard that’s not the best thing to do as you can loosen the pulley if you aren’t careful, but I didn’t have many other options.  Once aligned, I tried to put the belt on.  This was near impossible, as I couldn’t slip it over all of the pulleys.  I tried to sneak it through with the top idyler pulley off, but it just wasn’t budging.  Looking back at the instructions I posted, I remembered that a bunch of other items needed to be removed to make this easy.  I was hesitant, as some of the posts and videos I saw, showed people doing the whole operation without removing all these additional parts and pieces.  Looking back, I should have just followed his very thorough instructions.  Not sure how some of those other peopled pulled it off, but I’m obviously not them.  In order to loosen the tensioner idyler pulley, I had to reduce the tension.  In order to get there, I had to unbolt the power steering pulley and the AC pulley, and remove a few other plates to gain access.  Using budgee cords to hold some of these parts in place so that tubing and other connections wouldn’t stretch or deform.  With the tension low, I was able to get the timing belt on, aligned correctly, and ready to go.  After putting all that I just had to take off back on, it was late again and time to call it quits for the day.

150816 - Timing - 06

Releasing the tension.

Now going into my fifth day of this project, which some say was a three hour job, I was happy that this was just a finishing day.  Time to put everything back together.  This was the least crazy day, as it was just bolting everything back in, adding coolant, and reconnecting everything.  While the radiator was out, we made sure to spray it with water to clean it.  There was a significant amount of dirt build up, so a good idea if you wheel with your vehicle.  We also used a brillo pad to clean the hose connections, since you want a nice tight seal for those areas.  Once all back together, I crossed my fingers and started her up.  So far she is running well.  I have had a couple of Check Engine Lights (CEL) come and go, but she had that issue before hand (the O2 sensors are playing games with me at the moment, and I’m steadily changing them out as well).  The only thing that I have noticed so far is the power steering belt squeaks.  It’s pretty tight, so need to look into that a bit more.

150816 - Timing - 07

All put back together and clean.

150816 - Timing - 08


It was great to get to know my rig more by doing this process.  Luckily I’ve bought myself 90,000 more miles before having to do it again.  I’m sure doing it a second time will be easier, but hopefully that will be a while.  If you aren’t very handy and haven’t done any work on a vehicle, I would definitely recommend you take this somewhere to be done.  There were a few moments where I found myself severely concerned about having messed up the engine (if the timing is off, things can go very bad).  I would also do the water pump, thermostat, and belts while in there.  Glad that’s done, so now onto the next thing.

4Runner – Snorkel

4Runner – Snorkel

After much debate and research, I decided it was time to add a snorkel.  Even when I had a Jeep Wrangler I always wanted a snorkel.  Looking back now, I realize that had I had this piece of equipment on that Jeep, I probably would still have it.  There was an incident in a deep puddle near the beaches of Corolla, North Carolina that changed that stock engine.  It was never the same after that.

Now many people like to debate on whether or not you need a snorkel.  Some feel that you shouldn’t be driving through water that deep.  And a snorkel alone won’t save everything if you do.  This is true, some other steps are needed to cover more of the waterproofing if you plan on river crossing a lot.  However, a snorkel does save you a bit if you tip in too deep by accident.  Take that puddle in Corolla for instance.  It was deeper than the air intake was happy about, and so there was plenty of water in the engine afterwards.  I firmly believe that a snorkel would have saved me that day.  Also, snorkels are not only for water.  Believe it or not, they provide better quality cool air.  The current location of the air intake is in the fender, where dust and water can get into, but heat and minimal air circulation are prevalent as well.  Having a snorkel allows for a cooler, cleaner air to be introduced into your engine.  Depending on the head you use (I have picked up the Ram Air head for now) it also forces more air in.  There are many who have documented an increase in gas mileage after they added their snorkel.  Anyway, some food for thought.

One big thing about snorkels is that they are a bit of a pricey mod.  The second issue for my 4Runner in particular is that there is no direct model made for it anymore.  There was a Safari Snorkel, but that was discontinued.  The ARB one that a lot of guys are installing, is actually a retrofitted Tacoma version.  Luckily I was able to find on the forums a thread that showed the installation of a Hilux 167 Snorkel that works for 3rd Generation 4Runners.  To top it off, you could get it on Amazon for around $130.00.  Pretty good compared to a lot of those other name brand snorkels.  This snorkel actually reminded me a lot of the Safari one in the look and not requiring a bunch of retrofitting to make work (supposedly made harder if you want to keep your automatic stock radio antenna).

The snorkel was delivered faster than expected and noted in the transaction.  Not sure who packaged it, but it was a box completely covered in packaging tape.  The protection inside was a bunch of styrofoam sheets broken up and placed inside.  So of course I quickly made sure I had all the parts and pieces and there was no damage.  Time to get to work.

20150718 - Snorkel Packaging


For easier access, it was recommended to take off the tire.  This allows access from the wheel well.  I second this action, as it’s going to be tight as it is, and coming from below is a definitely.  Removal of the fender may have helped this process, but I wanted to make sure everything lined up.  I added the flimsy template and cut my big hole.  I used a 3 1/2″ hole saw and then I believe a 3/8″ bit for the main holes.  This template isn’t the greatest, and it doesn’t align exactly.  I lined mine up with the top, and looking at it now, the alignment with the edge of the door may have been the primary alignment.  In addition, once you cut the main hole, it is best to locate your drill holes on the template yourself.  The ones provided don’t line up for some reason.  Many suggested this is the scariest part.  Yeah, cutting a big hole in the side of your truck is scary and it will never be the same.  But it is fixable, so other than it being super hot, I wasn’t sweating the cuts.

20150718 - Snorkel - Template

Template alignment and cutting holes.

The thread on the forum recommended to buy some screws for the windshield attachment and to use black chalk.  After I drilled my holes, I cleaned up the edges with a dremel and then added some clear coat to eliminate any rust.  Honestly, I never figured out where he put the chalk, but I used it in the holes as well and along the edges to provide some protection to rubbing for the snorkel, and additional protection against rust.  I’ll keep an eye on it to make sure.  The rubber hose that attaches to the hard plastic is a pain in the butt.  It was really hard to stretch over the air box connection and even tougher inside the fender for the snorkel.  I’ve also read that this hose compresses during high RPMs, so I plan on making an adjustment there.  The bracket for the “A” pillar came with rivets.  Apparently the thread writer than know that, hence the buying of extra screws.  I picked up a cheap rivet gun ahead of time and popped those in there.  The screws that attached the bracket to the snorkel were definitely cheap as one replier mentioned and are already rusting a bit.  I wanted to pick up some stainless replacements, but metric bolts are not my nearby Home Depot’s forte.  I added a bit of sticky weather stripping to the front, as there is a bit of a gap (seems the Hilux and 4Runner don’t have all the same curves).  Once installed, I went ahead and closed everything back up.

20150718 - Snorkel - Before


20150718 - Snorkel - After


20150718 - Snorkel - After Side

After – Side View

I’m pretty happy with the overall construction of the snorkel.  I haven’t been able to test it out yet, or driven it long enough to really report any gains.  I’m just happy that it is there. The 4Runner has a high air intake as it is, but this is just additional insurance for that engine to keep running.

Recovery Gear Tool Box

Recovery Gear Tool Box

20150705 - Recovery Gear Box


Previously I had a big plastic foot locker that was from my college days that I would cram a bunch of random camping and recovery gear in.  It wasn’t very organized, and was kind of a catchall for any off-road trips that I may have been headed on.  With the addition of the winch, picking up a tree saver (had the tow strap already) and a couple of other items, I decided it was time to have a tool box that would cover the recovery and tool basics.  I didn’t want to pick up one of the very pricey options that you can find all over the place, and after searching Home Depot and Lowes, finally settled on a box that I saw for sale at Lowes.  It’s pretty sturdy, has a gasket to protect the interior from water infiltration, has a nice handle, and was a decent size.

At the moment, here is what I packed into it:

  • Tow strap
  • Tree saver strap
  • Camo tarp
  • Bear Grylls Gerber knife w/ fire flint
  • Gloves
  • Entrenching tool for shoveling needs
  • Axe/Machete sharpener
  • Knife sharpener
  • Head lamp
  • D-Ring
  • Safety glasses
  • Winch remote
  • Machete
  • Survival waterproof bag (has more fire starting material, 550 paracord, and other survival odds and ends)
  • Bundle of rope
  • Carabiners and other fasteners
  • High calorie nutritious snacks
  • Not Pictured – allan wrenches, screw drivers, and some other tools

I think over time, some of this will grow and develop further.  Some of these items may end up finding other homes, but for now, I felt that this covered at least a decent amount of  my recovery and tool concern for the time being.  Wasn’t able to add some of my other camping gear, and I’ll have to find a temporary home for the growler cooler. I’m planning on adding a drawer system and some other storage components that will help down the road.  Still think this is a good start none the less.