This and the story of the
18 wheeler rescue is what lead me to the idea of the FSJ logo!
It also lead to the inclusion of Old Blue and john in a
Chrysler video for the WJ launch in 1999l!
Date: Sat, 28 Dec 1996
From: john at wagoneers.com © 1996
Copyright © 1996 John Meister - All rights reserved.
Subject: escape from Clearview
cabin fever had set in...
The misplaced snow storm, surely scheduled for Chicago or maybe Indianapolis,
had settled into the Pacific Northwest and deposited at least 14 inches of
fluffy white stuff and prevented my escape...
Snohomish, Washington, was more accustomed to rain than anything below freezing.
The normally green countryside has a beautiful strangeness when coated in white.
The "snow" event is considered a holiday, normal activity ceases and emergency crews
are dispatched for power lines that have fallen under fallen trees. After
almost 15 years in the Northwest I'm still amazed at two things: one, how
incredibly fast trees, especially alders, grow here; and two, why the
utilities don't get placed under ground. Every year you hear how many millions
are spent in crew overtime, line repair, not to mention the unquantifiable
expenses and loss to the multitude of powerless residents.
Cabin fever... thoughts of freedom... the challenge of leaving our
snowbound Snohomish residence, whatever the motivation, I wanted to escape.
No particular place to go, the need to take my daughter to work in town had
long passed with a message left on an answering machine. My consulting work
continued in my office. We are fortunate, living near the main power
distribution for our region we almost always have power, except it seems during
earthquakes with epicenters 15 miles or so from our house, but that's a different
story. For now, escape was unnecessary, but something still compelled me forward.
The challenge. That's it, nothing more, a male kind of thing, no, more a male Jeep
nut kind of thing. Although I'm quite certain that this afflication could be
contracted by someone of female persuasion, it's happened, don't ask me to provide
proof, but it can't be just a guy thing... it's gotta be a Jeep thing...
Off the state highway, on the side of a 600 foot ridge that runs along the south
side of the Snohomish River valley, our home situated some 350 feet above sea
level, is about halfway up that ridge. The highway is almost 200 feet west of us,
and some 40 feet higher than the house.
The driveway has caused little old ladies to panic, truck drivers to
have nightmares, tow truck operators to make money, and a normally docile
full-size jeep to become a picket fence eating monster...
The driveway generates substanial small talk from first time guests. Comments
like,"I knew that you could get down there, I saw cars, but I couldn't see the
driveway over the hood..." and the standard questions about how you get out
in the winter. That usually produces a grin on my face with the retort, "I drive
a Jeep. A full-size Jeep."
In the two winters we've lived here, my various four wheel drive vehicles have
provided for a challenging, but eventual escape...
until Friday, December 26, 1996.
My finest ever FSJ (Full-Size Jeep), affectionately referred to as Old Blue,
a 1981 Wagoneer Limited, dark blue with artificial wood paneling sides, a thirsty
360 cubic inch V-8 carb type motor, an automatic transmission, full time four wheel
drive, every power option known to man, save the power antenna thing. This
5,000 pound luxury cruiser even as a moon roof and leather seats. Luxurious
air conditioned seating comfort while hurling mud, snow or smaller vehicles off to
the sides as it rolls along impervious to road or trail conditions. Here was a
vehicle built by the people that symbolized off road expertise that had yet to
meet a challenge that he couldn't handle...
My neighbor in the house behind and to the southeast of mine, also has a large
4x4, a Chevy Blazer. One of my 4x4's had been a GMC Jimmy with the 6.2L Diesel.
It made it out with a little effort, without chains, in previous winters.
When I came out to survey the scene that snowy Friday morning I immediately
noticed that my cowboy boots were getting snow in them... Oh, yeah, I guess
I should have put my pants OVER the boots... You figured I'd remember that
after growing up in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. My first clue
that this was a different snow event. Curiosity pushed me over to the
carport where I found a yard stick. I pushed it into the snow in a level
area, 14". Hmmm. About ten inches more than the most we've seen at one time.
If we had wind here like in the midwest this thing might have been called a
blizzard. Glancing around the yard I noticed my neighbor's Blazer nestled
alongside my other neighbor's bush. I could see Al working with cardboard
and shovel to extricate the beast before it attacked the plant. Al's driveway
was longer, straighter and more gradual at first than ours. The fact that
Al was stuck there did not register in my mind as significant, he's been
I wandered over to the thermometer and noticed a reading of 22 degrees,
way cool... (pun intended). Decided to check the oil and add a quart
of tranny fluid before lighting Old Blue off. Oil level checked fine,
unusual, I hadn't checked it for some time and these old AMC 360's
just love to piddle their oil all over the place, like a male dog
marking their territory. I added a quart of ATF because while playing
in the snow in the mountains (where it belongs) on Christmas day I
had noticed a little delay when shifting from reverse to drive, Old
Blue's indicator that he was low on cherry juice.
OLD BLUE AWAKENED
Fluids covered, I hopped into Old Blue, pumped the gas pedal a few
times, cranked it, stupid carb, pumped the pedal a couple of more
times, and cranked it to life. Old Blue sat there stumbling at first
and belching his usual black smoke into the carport. Not being fond
of gas engines I decided to roll him out into the open so I didn't
smell like him. Dropped the NP219 full time quadratrac transfer
case into low range, slipped the Torqueflite into drive and rolled
into the snow. Pulled him next to the little wagoneer, an 88
wagoneer limited built on the XJ, or downsized chassis, my daily
commuter for economic reasons. I went into my office and checked
my internet email. My daughter came to my office and reminded me
that we actually had a reason for leaving.
So we jumped into Old Blue, nicely warmed up, heated and raring to
go. My neighbor was still stuck, but getting closer to escape. I
decided to avoid using the main driveway for fear of sliding backward
down the hill into my neighbor's parked and snow covered new Saturn at
the very bottom of our shared driveway. So we made a run at the
grassy slope that runs to the north of our fenced upper field.
Old Blue did valiantly, but couldn't quite get all the way to the top.
So I decided to make an attempt with the "little wagoneer", my 88 xj.
While it is a respectable vehicle, and most certainly a Jeep, it could
not make it as far as Old Blue did. In fact, in making several runs
at the hill, it became mildly impaled and needed to be shoveled out in order
to get back down the hill. After a few attempts I figured that we'd
have a better shot at escaping in Old Blue.
the little wagoneer "rests" from an attempt...
FAILURE and CHEATING
So we came down and made for the real driveway. The neighbor's
Blazer was now extricated from the shrubbery and had retreated to
the lower part of the driveway. I first attempted the drive by
maintaining a steady speed and carefully navigating the hard right
directly at the base of the incline. I didn't slide into the
neighbor's rockery or into their yard, but I also didn't make it
very far up the drive. So I carefully backed down alongside the snow
ladened Saturn, and carefully accelerated up the drive. Old Blue
could only make it about 1/2 way up the drive, and that after
looking DOWN the challenge...
By now my daughter had surrendered and had called into work.
I watched the Blazer make several running passes
at his drive. There he went, screaming up the drive in low range,
a third of the way, then halfway, then three quarters... Then
I noticed something. HE WAS CHEATING!!!! He had tire chains on...
He kept making runs, each time making it a little further. Tire
chains, I used to own some, so I surveyed my shop, remembering
that they even had a box... Then I vaguely remember giving them
away this summer. Besides, using tire chains is cheating, and a pain.
My daughter reported that it was ok, no need to go. So I returned
to my office and began working. But the tension continued to build.
Freedom, escape, the open road... It didn't matter that I had
absolutely NO place to go. The challenge remained and gnawed at me.
I couldn't concentrate, I couldn't work. I had to meet the challenge.
I looked out the window in time to see the Blazer finally crest the
top of the drive and then struggle with the last 75 feet of driveway
to the highway. Sideways this way, sideways that way, but finally,
up and out. The Blazer was gone. Sure, he'd cheated, used chains.
But he was out there. The highway was his. Old Blue, how could you
embarrass me this way, you're a Jeep, a full-size Jeep at that.
To let a Blazer escape, such shame. My interest in vindicating my
FSJ sufficiently renewed, I surveyed my resources and the problem.
THE FINAL ANALYSIS
The problem was that the snow in some place was over Old Blue's front
bumper, over 24 inches... Sure, I had measured 14 inches before, but
the snow wasn't evenly distributed. That got me to thinking, I need
to clear the driveway a little bit so Old Blue isn't pushing his
5,000 pounds plus AND a snow pile at the same time. Ok, let's see,
a shovel, that should do it. Found the long handled flat blade spade.
Wandered over to the driveway and started shoveling. Sheesh, this
shovel is heavy, guess it wasn't designed for snow... "My kingdom
for a snow shovel", the thought crossed my mind. Now I understand
why we had snow shovels back home. Ok, this idea has a major flaw,
it's called a lot of unnecessary work. Ok, how do I get the snow at
least down to a foot so my faithful FSJ can claw his way to the top?
Wait, what is that snow covered mound at the top of the property?
Yes, my wife's Buick! The one they had abandoned at the top last
night out of fear of wiping out the remains of the picket fence while
sliding down on the one or two inches of snow that was present then.
The Buick should clear the snow nicely, stopping shouldn't be a problem,
the snow seemed to bind and pack nicely, indicating I'd have some
control. If nothing else, my wife would get the new fence she's been
after me for.
THE BUICK SOLUTION
So I walked up, I had the plan, bring the Buick DOWN the drive to clear
it. Armed with the push broom, I waded through the snow. I brushed
away the snow from the driver's door and reached inside, placed the
key in the ignition and turned it. The fuel-injected Buick Regal easily
jumped to life. I cleared the windshield and rear window while warming
it up, I didn't want to hurt the poor thing. Then I got in, selected reverse
and feed it a little bit of fuel, it moved about .25 inches back and
then stopped. I tried to go forward, instead it moved downhill and to
the right with the front end only. This might have worked, had it not been
for the log laid across the top of this turnaround to prevent runaway
vehicles from finding that picket fence. So now the right front tire
is in about 18 inches of snow... It'll keep till "spring", I thought
as I removed the keys and walked back down the hill. But as I walked,
slipped, down the driveway, another brain episode occurred, why not make
a little trail just about where Old Blue's right tires would go?
So I stumbled down toward that target, I mean picket fence.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUE
By now I was nearly in state of total obsession. I HAD to drive that
Jeep out now or suffer some imagined loss of credibility. I mean after all,
we're talking about a Jeep, not just any Jeep, but a Wagoneer, a full-sized,
leather equipped top of the line full time four wheel drive. And not
just this particular Jeep, but the entire 50 plus year history of Jeep
was at stake here. Old Blue HAD to make it out. Too much was at stake
to surrender. The thought of cheating and using chains was sacrilegious,
almost as low as deflating tires to do better on the Ramp Travel Index.
We're talking about a combination of world class engineering and just
the right amount of driver skill. The use of chains was also ruled out
because they had been given away this summer.
I walked over to Old Blue, kicked the snow off of my boots, pants
OVER them now. I opened the door and fired him up. I made a run
at the grass hill, made it a little farther than I had on previous
attempts, but still couldn't make the crest, and if I made the crest
it wasn't looking too good to make the hard left between the fence
posts and then navigate the mud hole in the field. So I backed down
the grassy slope and drove with determination to the driveway. I
slowly backed up alongside the snow heap containing the new Saturn,
aimed Old Blue's nose in the general direction of the driveway, rolled
slowly forward until clear of said snow heap and nailed it... The
transfer case was screaming, snow was flying out of the fender wells,
a slight snow wake rolled from the front of the big Jeep, as I pushed
him he made it up to the end of the pavement, almost all the way to
the top... I just kept my foot in the carb and rowed the front wheels
back and forth, snow flying out of the wheel wells in rooster tails.
I MADE IT, almost! Still have to make a left turn and go up a slight
slope about fifty more feet, then make a sharp right hand turn, and
proceed another 75 feet to the highway.
Dennis, the neighbor who lived at the top of the driveway, had shoveled
some of the snow at the top so he could try to get his Dakota out of the
garage, this gave Old Blue the break he needed as he clawed his way over
the top and into the clearing. I cranked the wheel hard to the left and
jabbed the gas enough to make him rotate to the left. I kept the power
on as I broke through fresh snow. I moved forward, Old Blue was back to
normal as we pushed snow aside with his bumper. I wonder if I would have
made it had I not given him a couple of inches of lift... My thoughts
quickly turned to the challenge of making a hard right uphill turn before
I met a barbed wire fence decorated with blackberry bramble.
halfway toward the blackberries...
I timed it just right, I made the sharp turn with a couple of feet to
spare, but in making the turn I had cut power about 5 feet from the
fence/blackberries and lost all forward momentum. Old Blue had shifted
sideways, and even though I had gotten back on the power as quickly as
he had turned, I wasn't going anywhere...
BETWEEN A TREE AND A SKI SLOPE
The hump on the inside of the right turn was there to divert water from
our driveway and to protect my wife's picket fence. Now it was causing
me to slide toward Kraig's tree. If I kept power on I'd be rototilling
Kraig's lawn and possibly end up in his living room. If I abandon ship
Al won't be able to get home, and could quite possibly rearrange Old Blue's
appearances if he couldn't stop his Blazer. Watching Al descend the
drive with that Blazer was always a fascinating event, unfortunately I
would not actually be able to see him crash into his garage if he couldn't
stop, but I would be able to hear it. Al pointed out that before he got
to the bottom he usually would run off into one of Kraig's trees or into
the other neighbor's barbed wire fence. I guess his theory is valid,
my kids seemed to sled into Kraig's tree while going down this hill.
Guess it's not sloped quite right. Comforting thought as I sit in a
5,000 pound plus sled that is not cooperating in my plans for freedom.
THE DILEMMA, THE DECISION
So there I sat knowing if I backed up where I was I'd end up in Kraig's
yard or down Al's driveway, neither option very good. Both are pretty
much at the same level that I had started at. So I tried to back up a
little and then go forward. When I moved I slid down Al's drive with my
back end heading for Kraig's tree. How come both bad things are happening
at the same time I wondered? Here I am, free of my driveway and getting
stuck when I should be launching chunks of snow from the back of the Jeep
as I sail on to the highway and freedom. While the tree would keep
me from sliding down Kraig's yard and into his house, sliding into the
tree would also keep me from going down Al's driveway and making another
run up the hill in a straight shot. I kept rowing back and forth trying
now to back back down from whence I came, with Old Blue sliding closer
to the tree. This is not going well. I thought the hard part was over.
OK, Old Blue, let's go forward, sliding DOWN Al's driveway, now I'm mostly
nose down at the top of Al's driveway, but still kinda sideways, the side
of Old Blue is slapping branches of the tree around. Cease fire, someone
stop the world, I want to get off... Another brain episode occurs and
I decide to try the air down thing, sure it's sort of like cheating, but
hey, I don't want to tear up a tree AND Old Blue. So I try to back up,
no luck. Ok, let's see just how difficult Al's driveway is to get out of.
We rolled on down the hill to Al's house, I carefully and lightly kept the
brakes on, knowing if I locked the tires I'd make little mounds that might
keep me down HERE until spring, or worse yet, find this Blazer and sled eating
tree I'd heard so much about. I MAKE IT TO THE BOTTOM!!! I find a nice
easy turn around and back gently up to his garage.
THINGS ARE LOOKING UP
I look staight ahead, I see a nice LONG straight up hill run, about 1/2
the angle of my drive at the beginning. For effect I give Old Blue a few
jabs on the throttle. Then DROP THE HAMMER and go screaming up in low range,
snow flying everywhere. I crest the top of Al's drive, continue on past the
place where we'd just been hung up and pressed on.
THE LAST LEG
We were rolling, but our momentum was decreasing. I noticed that Al had
struggle mightily through this remaining 75 feet of gentle slope toward the
highway. I could see his zig zag ruts running all the way to the highway.
Now I'm concerned that these ruts will distract Old Blue and he'll want to
take a side trip. I keep the power on and head for the highway.
FREEDOM IN SIGHT
We press on toward FREEDOM. As we approach the highway I figured I might
slow down so my freedom isn't from this life... Then I saw it, the ridge
from the snow plow. Then I noticed traffic. They'd be upset if I altered
their course seeing as how they were 350 feet into a 600 foot elevation change.
I roll slowly along and look as far as I can to see if someone is coming.
CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF
I see that the highway is ours and plow through the ridge. I crank the
wheel hard to the left and nail it. Old Blue responds with a wide cookie (donut)
and we head back in to the drive after our victory roll.
We head on back down toward home. Still facing some challenges, like stopping
at the bottom. But right now, we are victorious!!! Old Blue did it, WITHOUT
the chains I couldn't find.
Ah, sweet freedom. Now, if I actually had any place to go.
We plowed our way across the top of the field. Sheesh, that stuff was deep
up there, it was coming up over the top of the bumper into the grille. Old
Blue sure did great on level ground. We made the turn to the right, nose
pointed down the grassy hill that we couldn't make it up before. Slowly we
walked our way down the slope. When we got to the bottom we turned around
and tried to go back up. We made it about 5 feet further this time, but still
almost twenty feet from the fence opening.
Old Blue rounds the corner at the top of the field Saturday afternoon...
This has been the worst snow I've ever seen in the eleven years
we've lived here. I measured 14 to 15 inches, but in some places
it was closer to 24 inches, which explains why Old Blue had a
Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
By the way, the little wagoneer did make it out after Old Blue
had established a clear path. But it became readily apparent
that the Full-Size Wagoneer, even with open axles fore and aft,
was a much better snowmobile than the downsized (XJ) version.
81(SJ)&88(XJ) Wagoneer Ltd
Snohomish, WA -where jeeps don't rust, they mold.