This is bad. I’ve got three weeks to turn a rusty carcass into an off-road beast, and there’s just no way in hell. Not after what happened this past weekend.

I wanted this Moab build update to be a positive one, as even I’m getting tired of reading my own whiny articles about how junky this Jeep I bought from a farm is, and that my whole project of getting it to Moab is doomed. So I invited over some reinforcements, gave everyone a project, and got started bright and early on Saturday morning.

But it didn’t take long for reality to strike; all four of us failed our projects, and we quickly found that this Jeep is 1,000 times worse than any of us could ever have expected.

The Transmission From Hell

Our first job involved mating up the transfer case to the transmission, and then bolting it all into the Jeep. My friend brandon tapped the new transmission output shaft bearing on (see image above), installed a gasket, and bolted on the T-case.

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From there, we installed some new transmission mounts, bolted the trans and T-case to the transmission crossmember, and slowly jacked the whole thing up as an assembly. After installing the transfer case shift levers, we simply bolted up the crossmember to the frame, and the transmission was in place. We were off to a great start on Saturday morning.

But then Brandon went to shift the trans, and realized that it wouldn’t go into second or third gears. After doing a bunch of research, we determined that something was binding, and we had to drop the transmission out again, and disconnect it from the transfer case.

After being confused about what exactly was causing the issue, we eventually surmised that our replacement transmission output shaft bearing had the wrong inner diameter, causing everything to bind up.

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Our fix: we put in the old bearing (which may or may not be 69 years old), re-attached the transfer case, bolted it all back to the crossmember, lifted the assembly, installed the transfer case shift levers, and then fastened the crossmember to the frame.

That bad bearing cost us about four hours, and now—if I somehow miraculously get this Jeep to drive—I’ll be worried about that old bearing the whole time.

The Differential From Hell

The next project was an easy one, so I delegated it out to a totally random Jalopnik reader named Taylor, who had messaged me earlier that day saying he wanted to wrench and potentially kill me and harvest my organs. (OK, he didn’t explicitly say that last part.) After nervously asking a few questions, and determining that his thirst for my liver could be tamed, I gave him a 9/16-inch wrench and a bucket, and sent him to the rear diff.

All he had to do was undo the ten differential cover bolts, brake-clean out all the nasty gunk, slather on some RTV onto the cover, and bolt it all back up—an easy job that he would have had no trouble accomplishing.

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But he didn’t finish the job, because this is what I saw when I got down on the floor and took a look at the diff he’d just cleaned:

If you look closely at the picture above, do you notice anything missing? Let’s look a little closer:

Aw, shit. There are three bolts broken off into the ring gear. Three of them! In the front differential, there had been one broken, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if it were only one or two, but three of them? I may have cried a bit upon seeing this.

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What’s worse is, have a look at the orientation of that ring gear: it’s sitting crooked—there’s a gap at the bottom of the gear near the three broken bolts, whereas the gear is tight up against the carrier near the top.

Hopefully I’ll be able to drill those bolts out without issue like I did with the front ring gear bolts, but who knows how long this diff is going to last after that ring gear sat so crookedly for who knows how long.

This thing could be a ticking time-bomb.

The Steering Box From Hell

OK, so the differential job didn’t work out so hot, but I figured at least I could fix my steering box, whose sector shaft had a disconcerting amount of play. All I had to do was undo six bolts holding the fender to the frame and body, and I’d have easy access to the box.

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Before I got started, my friend Brandon chirped “Good luck not breaking those bolts,” worse that set off my inner ego, as I fancy myself a bit of an expert when it comes to extracting rusty bolts. So, confident that I’d make brandon eat his words, I had everyone put down a bet for how many of the six I’d break.

Brandon said two, Taylor said one, and I told them they were all full of crap: I was going to get them all out without any trouble, thanks to my handy dandy torch, and my patented “poor man’s impact” rusty bolt extraction method, whereby I strategically tap on the end of a ratchet wrench with a hammer, and gently coax the bolts from their holes.

After heating up the first bolt cherry red, I put my socket wrench on, and started twisting. It was moving! “See, told you guys! I yelled,” as the bolt spun out of its weld-nut. Probably a second after my boast, the bolt made a loud “SNAP!”

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So then I tried the second bolt, and it broke, too. Then the third. Then the fourth. And then the fifth.

The sixth bolt was the one I could not afford to break, and I was going to do everything I could to make up for embarrassing myself on the first five. Unlike those others, though, there was no access to the backside of the sixth bolt, as it sat in a fully-boxed section of frame. “Do not break that bolt,” by friend pleaded.

I slid my wrench on it, and delicately twisted. It came off with barely any force! “Must be because the back side is blocked off from the elements,” I convinced myself, as I twisted away at that bolt, using very little force.

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Then it broke off. But I wasn’t too worried, as there was plenty of shank showing, and I hadn’t used my number one ally: heat. If it was that willing to come out without a torch, I should be able to twist the rest out easily once it’s red-hot. So I hit it with a torch, and then put a set of vice grips on.

No problem. The bolt was twisting out just fine. I heated it up, twisted it, heated it, twisted. Like a well-oiled machine, my vice grips and I were taking care of business. I had managed not to break the most important bolt!

Or so I thought. Just as the bolt was nearly out, it snapped. And so, I think, did something in my brain. Because by that point, it was 1 A.M., my friends and I had been wrenching all day, and we had failed every damn task up to that point. And then, in my last bit of wrenching for the night, I had a chance to score one little victory, but I managed to break that same damn bolt twice! Now the shank is stuck in my frame, and I’ll have to drill it out.

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But whatever, I’ll deal with the broken bolts later. The next day, I had the fender off, and I could access my steering box. So I loosened the four bolts holding the cover off and, well, my weekend got worse:

And worse:

The Rear Main Seal From Hell

Then, in a bout of stupidity, I decided I wanted to replace the rear main seal. I figured that, since I had cut off the two rubber dowels in the bearing cap while scraping off my oil pan gasket, and my replacements had come with a rear main seal, I might as well use it.

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That turned out to be a bad idea, since the rear main seal on a 1948 Willys CJ-2A is just a piece of rope, and trying to push a rope out of a groove is impossible, as the rope just bunches up underneath the crankshaft.

So at that point, instead of having my engine all bolted back up, I had to unbolt my main bearings, take off my crankshaft pulley, remove the timing gear cover, and lift up the crank a bit to remove the old seal. From there, I’d just put it all back together and hope I don’t screw up the timing.

But I didn’t have the enormous socket I needed to take off the crankshaft pulley, and all tool stores were closed by that time. Ef.

Any Sane Person Would Have Given up

When I first laid eyes on my 1948 Willys CJ-2A, I thought it was a handsome little bugger: that seven slot grille, those flat fenders, that upright windshield, and those swoopy door openings. It was love at first sight. Sadly, I quickly learned that the Willys was nothing more than a Siren, luring me and my hard-earned cash towards disaster. Now, after nine months of toiling, that disaster has struck.

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My diff is broken, all my fender bolts are broken, my rear main seal is stuck, by steering box looks like a slimy alien inside, my transmission took far too long to install thanks to a faulty bearing, and I still have a broken exhaust stud to fix, a generator that doesn’t work, no body mounts that hold the body to the frame, zero electrical system whatsoever, a rusty fuel tank...The list is long.

Every day I go to bed covered in grease, dead tired, and hopeless, as the Jeep continues to batter me like a rag-doll. This Jeep wants to die, and off-road into the junkyard in the sky. But I’m not giving up, even if everything in my body tells me that I should. Car gods, please help me. The bolts, they just keep breaking!