Back in 1995 I was given a Land Rover to drive as part of my job escorting and supporting trucks taking food relief into Southern Sudan. The roads and conditions were extremely poor to say the least. The trucks, although 6×6 ex military AEC, were having a problem getting through especially in the rainy season.
The Land Rover was a Series II Forward Control immediately christened Katie after the ambulance in “Ice Cold in Alex”. She had started life as a fire tender, then went on to towing steam engines. When we got hold of Katie, the back was just a normal pick up with a frame and tilt, which suited our needs. She was still fire engine red so a paint job was in order. After painting her the fleet colours, cream with zebra striped bumpers, she and I were put to work.
Although I had been driving Land Cruisers for 4 years, I hadn’t fully understood the importance of engaging and driving in 4wd. This was soon to change for, as anybody who has driven a series II Land Rover knows, the half shafts are extremely delicate.
After breaking two half shafts and having to repair them in remote areas, I began driving Katie in a way so as to avoid any further damage! BTW, it was amazing that I could find half shafts, for I was carrying no spares at the time; you can find any second hand spare for series Land Rovers just about anywhere. On one occasion when I broke a half shaft, we approached a trader who was using his Land Rover for transporting anything and everything to and from Uganda to what was then Zaire.
After some negotiation he took out his half shaft. Yes, that’s right he took it off his vehicle and sold it to us. When we asked what he would do in the event of getting stuck, for he was now travelling on the front axle only, he replied that his next cargo was people – so they could get out and push if required!! Upon seeing him about two months later, I asked him how he had got on. He replied, that he got to where he was going and had found another shaft there.
By this time, I had gotten used to Katie and had discovered the full potential of 4L the hard way. On one occasion, I had slightly overloaded her – I had a 15kva generator, a motorbike, 200lts of engine oil, 80lts of gearbox oil and other servicing materials for servicing the trucks in the field. The route I was taking took us up quite steep hills and low range was definitely needed as I found out after burning the clutch out. Again, changing a clutch in a forward control is not very easy when you are stuck in the bush! Lesson learnt.
Katie had a 2.25 petrol engine fitted. Not the greatest for engine braking!! Coming down a steep hill in 1st H isn’t effective with such a load. So as the brakes started to fade, I stopped and engaged L4 number one and low and behold came down much slower without having to use the brakes so much. Lesson learnt and without any remote bush repairs.
Another lesson learnt the hard way brings us back to half shafts; the ability to read the road or no road in some cases. Looking ahead and planning the route over particularly uneven terrain enabled Katie and myself to keep the axles as level as possible, therefore, trying to eliminate the possibility of one or more wheels leaving the ground. By doing this combined with L4 made it possible to crawl slowly and, in our case, eliminate the risk of breaking more half shafts and springs.
Katie and I traveled together for about one year and it was from her that my love for Land Rovers and their capabilities, when used correctly, began. One of our last jobs together was transporting some people from Northern Uganda to Southern Sudan. The organisation we were working for had to use SsangYong Korando as a stipulation for getting funding. Unfortunately, these vehicles, which are a poor imitation of the Willy’s Jeep, could not handle some of the roads. So Katie’s and my services were called upon.
We found ourselves travelling through some exceptionally bad roads and fording rivers. Now, Katie was just plain standard and I was amazed and so were our passengers just at how much water we could go through. Being an electrician by trade and aware that electrics and water do not mix, was in the habit of carrying a tin of WD40. Actually, this was from my days of driving Minis on a motorway in a rainstorm in the UK! So armed with that, some silicon sealer and a tub of grease, I would waterproof the electrics BEFORE entering the water. Also checking the depth, which on one particular instance was just above the tyres. By taking it slowly in L4 and creating a slight bow wave, we were able to keep the water around the vehicle at an acceptable limit. I had already seen the effects of water entering into the engine through the air filter on one of another organisation’s trucks. Very expensive it was too!!
Katie was built in 1960, the same year that I was born and to my knowledge is still working at the same job in Northern Uganda /Southern Sudan. One day I should try and get her back to put her to more gentler work helping me teach others to correctly use their 4X4s.