This page, Restore Jeep, is the story of how our 1966 CJ-5 Jeep, the Sand Ship Discovery, went from sitting in dry dock to a bright shiny restored Jeep, ready to complete the Final Mile. It is about our supporters, friends, family, and sponsors who came together to make The Final Mile, Loren’s Last Quixotic Grand Hurrah, a reality. In the summer of 2016, Laurence, Loren's nephew visited Loren and me here in Salmon, Idaho and saw the condition of our well-traveled 1966 CJ-5 Jeep, the Sand Ship Discovery. Then and there Laurence decided to start a project to refurbish the Discovery. Little did Laurence know, he had now opened Pandora’s Box!
Laurence started a GoFundMe account with four goals in mind:
1. Refurbish the Jeep – Restore the Discovery to her per-Darien Gap condition and make her roadworthy
2. Help Loren and Patty return to Israel and Jordan to complete The Final Mile
3. Help find a journalist to write the story of the Sand Ship Discovery
4. Find a fitting and final resting place for the Sand Ship Discovery
In a nutshell, Loren’s goal was to drive ONE AMERICAN-made vehicle around the world on a north/south course – ALL ON LAND, except for the South Atlantic Ocean. Roads end, Arctic Ocean – Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Roads end, Arctic Ocean – Gamvik, Norway via Roads end South America and South Africa. This route included the first all-land crossing of the infamous Darien Gap of Panama and Colombia, as recorded in the 1992 Guinness Book of World Records. Please see A World Odyssey - the Epic Voyage of the Sand Ship Discovery
Human Nature was the adversary in the Middle East. Thirty years ago, when we were in Israel and trying to drive the Sand Ship Discovery to Jordan, we came upon our first insurmountable roadblock, both literally and figuratively. Israel and Jordan did not have diplomatic relations and the border was closed. We tried talking to government officials, United Nations officials, and even tourist agencies to try and get permission to get across the border, all to no avail. At one point, we were even politely escorted away from the border fence by the armed Israeli military. Human Nature won. We had to return to Egypt and take a ferry up the Gulf of Aqaba to Jordan, thus a break in the all-land route.
Mother Nature was the main adversary in the Darien Gap. After reaching the end of the Pan-American Highway in Panama, two rainy seasons caused delays in achieving the goal, an established road in Colombia. Loren and I spent 741 in the Gap to drive and winch the Sand Ship Discovery, the 125 miles to that established road in Colombia. The Discovery crossed rivers but never traveled up or down them to avoid difficult areas. In addition, we did something no other vehicle expeditions through the Darien Gap has done, found a dry land route through the vast Atrato Swamp in Colombia.
Disappointed but determined to push on, we ended the trip at the Sletness Lighthouse, just outside the small fishing village of Gamvik, Norway, on the 4th of July, 1989. After taking one American-made vehicle around the world, we felt it very fitting to end on the most American of American holidays!
And so the Restoration begins for the Final Mile.......
“Mike is pretty OCD when it comes to fixing things right." Laurence said in an email sent January 1, 2018. "He and his dad have been working on cars their whole life. Larry has been building and racing drag cars for 40 years. Mike's dad is actually kind of amazing. He's 68 years old and when he's not working on race cars he's building houses for Habitat for Humanity.”
The following is an account of work performed on the Sand Ship Discovery from about the beginning of November 2017 to the last weekend of January 2018. Larry Merk did the note-taking and was the “gofer” for parts. Laurence, Mike and Larry worked on weekends and what little spare time they had. All three men have full-time jobs, wives, and lives. Laurence was in process of building a new home. All the photos of the work done on the Discovery were taken by including Mike Merk or his wife, Jill or Laurence Upton.
“This past couple of days Mike and his dad pulled the carb off, etc....and got started. Guy here at work (family has a mechanic shop) is rebuilding the carb.” 11/20/17 Email from Laurence Upton
Thank you, Dave Baie for overhauling the carb!
“Replaced the water pump (bearing wobbled) & thermostat. Re-packed the rear wheel bearings & reinstalled the regular rear drive hubs. Found more parts that were wrong, so we're still waiting for a few things to come in this week. Hopefully hit it hard this coming Friday.” 11/27/17 Email from Mike Merk
“Today I crimped all of the plug wires and finished installing all of the tune-up parts.
Moved onto replacing the brake master cylinder, had to make & install a new primary brake line as the old one was kinked at the master cylinder. We then flushed all of the brake lines before installing any new hydraulic parts. We installed a new rear brake hose & wheel cylinders then reassembled the rear brakes as rest of the parts were good. Painted up the drums & hubs since you can see them through the wheels. We also replaced the pinion seals on both differentials, both were leaking, one of them was installed backward.” 12/2/17 Email from Mike Merk
Larry’s notes of 12/9/17
- Pulled gas tank and inspected interior. Removed broken fuel float from the tank.
- Pulled old rubber gas line and installed a new hard line from rear tank to fuel pump.
- Reinstalled gas tank with new filler hose and new connector hose to the hard line.
- Installed new rubber hose from the fuel pump to Racor water separator and carburetor.
- Installed new gas filters.
- Installed new filter in the Racor fuel water separator.
- Removed drain valve from water separator since it was leaking. Installed a plug.
- Filled trans with gear oil. It was over 1.5 quarts low. And it is leaking.
- Repaired throttle linkage for more travel.
- Reinstalled radiator, even though it leaks, so we could start the engine. Added new antifreeze.
- Started engine and adjusted points, timing, and idle speed.
- It runs pretty well, especially after it is warmed up.
- Changed engine oil and filter.
- Drove it to the car wash and washed the engine, drive train, and body.
“Will be pushing it for a paint job. Got a guy Larry knows that does really good work and is fast. Really want to fix bad rust spots in the door, etc...and then paint. Might be tight on money. I’m going to pitch in about $500 of my own money. Figure the paint job will be about $1000 but I want it looking nicer to finish the trip.” 12/15/17 Email from Laurence Upton
“Headers and exhaust are going on today, the radiator is already at the shop, working on wiring….Went to an old racing buddy of Larry's who owns a tire machine and took old tires off and put the new tires on. Took a few hours but better than tire shop charging $20 plus a tire to dismount/mount balance, etc.. Unbolted seats so that we can pull the two front fuels tanks and flush.” 12/16/17 Email from Laurence Upton
Thank you, Firestone!
Thank you, Cal Method for the use of the tire mounting machine!
Larry’s notes, 12/22/17
- Cleaned the area where front gas tanks sit and painted the floor.
- Cleaned front gas tanks and painted them.
- Reinstalled gas tanks; connected fuel and vent lines.
- Reinstalled front seat mount and seats.
-Replaced distributor vacuum advance.
- Reinstalled battery tray and battery.
- Fabricated and installed battery cables.
“Started prepping for paint today. Took off old decals, lights, top rack, cut out a little area for taillight covers, took off propane holders, wooded strip, high lift jack, etc...Put on new copper oil pressure line, didn't like the looks of the old one
Thank you, Ricardo Garcia, for the bodywork and paint job. Personally, I love the paint job, she looks good, but her battle scars that she received during the long and arduous crossing of the Darien Gap are still proudly displayed!
Larry’s notes of 1/9/18
- Leaking between transmission and transfer case.
- Pulled transfer case. Found 2 bolts that were too LONG, and not obvious to the naked eye.
- Installed new gaskets and seal. Re-installed transfer case.
Larry’s notes of 1/10/18
- Received and installed 4 new Rancho shock absorbers.
- New Rancho steering damper will be installed after front steering rebuild.
Thank you, Rancho Suspension!
Larry’s notes of 1/11/18
- Received and unpacked a complete wiring kit, and complete front steering rebuild kit.
- Installed new front parking/turn signal light assemblies.
- Began systematically rewiring the Jeep. Ignition system first.
- Traced and removed a lot of old dead wiring.
- Installed the new fuse panel and basic wire loom.
- Connected ignition wiring and started the engine. Good first day on wiring.
Thank you, Omix-ADA!
The new wiring kit was a great asset, Loren's idea of wiring is to just splice and add more electrical tape. We now have instrument lights and horn, which, to my knowledge, have not worked since long before the Darien Gap crossing. Unfortunately, a great deal of the parts Omix-ADA sent for the steering rebuild would not fit the Sand Ship Discovery. Loren seems to remember something about the steering assembly being from a Hudson?
Larry’s notes 1/12/18
- Filled transfer case and transmission with gear lube. No leaks detected all day. Yahoo.
- Continued wiring on headlights, tail lights, front parking lights, and turn signals. All now work.
- Pulled most of the dashboard instruments. Lots of corrosion. Fixed all instrument dash lights.
- Replaced cigarette lighter with a power port for GPS, tablet, or phone charging.
[my comment: Wow! The Discovery has made it to the 21st century!]
- Replaced all charging system wiring.
- Started engine and tested charging system. The alternator is putting out 15+ volts. Will investigate.
- Rewired brake light switch.
- Began installation of new windshield wiper motors, arms, and blades.
Larry’s notes on 1/13/18
- Not a drop from the transfer case and transmission. We will declare victory over that leak.
- Fixed poor ground on tach affecting some dash lights.
- Connected and tested power port. It works.
- Installed driver side windshield wiper motor and parts.
On February 2-4, 2018, Loren and I drove to Richland, WA, to get our first look at the new and improved Sand Ship Discovery. Laurence had arranged for a reporter, Alex Burch, from KEPRTV, the Tri-Cities local CBS station, to film the event.
Presentation of the Sand Ship Discovery
Shipping the Sand Ship Discovery
On Sunday, February 4, 2018, we turned the Sand Ship Discovery over to a complete stranger, something that has never been an easy or worry-free prospect. However, the land transportation company, OK Auto Carrier out of Federal Way, WA, was very professional. First off, the truck that picked up the Discovery was totally enclosed, which was a great plus! Second, the driver, Tim, responded promptly to phone calls and text messages. He arrived ahead of schedule at the pick-up point. When we arrived with the Discovery, Tim and I did a walk-around so that he could indicate where there were dings and dents on our receipt. Mike pointed out this was rather pointless, “It might be easier to circle the places where there are NO dings or dents.” With the paperwork done, Tim got right to the loading process, with Loren’s close supervision!
Once the Discovery was secured to Loren’s specifications (which, of course, were above and beyond the normal) and securely tucked into the belly of the truck, Tim set off into the sunset for Galveston, Tx.
Tim was kind enough to send us a photo of the Discovery at the Port of Galveston.
“I can't help it, gotta ask....is he pacing a rut into the floor waiting to hear that the Jeep made it to Galveston?” 2/7/18 Email from Mike Merk
This was the last photo of the Discovery until we saw her in Ashdod, Israel, sometime in the middle of April.
On March 1st, the Discovery was loaded on board the Bosporus Highway. We received confirmation from Penbroke Marine Services that she was indeed on board, and the ship had set sail! Dealing with Thomas and Michael at Penbroke Marine was the easiest part of this ordeal. They were informative and helpful.
In the middle of March 2018, the Bosporus Highway was making its way to Barcelona, Spain, via Veracruz, Mexico, and Davisville, MA. She was due to arrive in Barcelona on March 22, 2018. The estimate for its arrival in Ashdod, Israel, was April 18.
Loren and I flew out of LAX on EL AL Airlines on April 8th, arriving the next day in Tel Aviv, Israel. We would be in Israel a good ten days before the Discovery was due to arrive. During that time, we planned to arrange for the Discovery's return trip to Galveston and to do some sightseeing Sightseeing that we did not get to do 30 years ago because of the tight schedule we were on then.
The last quixotic grand hurrah!
Loren and I got to meet and talk extensively with the key people involved in getting the Sand Ship roadworthy. We will always be grateful to Laurence and Lora Upton, Mike and Jill Merk, and Larry Merk for all the time, dedication, and attention to detail they put into the Discovery.
On our entire trip around the world, Loren was always in the driver’s seat – both literally and figuratively. I was always in the passenger seat as a navigator. Due to some of Loren’s health issues, our roles have changed. I will now be driving the Sand Ship Discovery, something I have never done. When we were in Richland, Laurence took me out for a test drive. Eye-opening, to say the very least. There is power-nothing on the Jeep. No power steering, no power brakes. The lack of power steering is reasonable, and I think I will adjust to that, okay. The lack of power brakes is a bit more challenging to overcome; I need to be watching and planning well in advance to brake. When asked what it is like to have no power brakes, my description was to drive your car down the road at about 30 mph, turn off the ignition, then apply the brakes. You feel like you must stand on them with both feet to slow down. But as Loren has always said, we’ll make it work!
“We ordered a new radiator but the one that came in was wrong so we will just re-core what we have. Another guy I work with, Dave, rebuilt the carburetor for us at no cost. He and his dad have a shop in town.” 12/10/17 Email from Laurence Upton
We originally planned to return to Israel sometime in the fall or winter of 2018, thirty years after we were there. However, things began to happen, and most importantly, Greg (Owl Companies, long-time employer and friend) put up the finances for our airfare and the Jeep’s sea transportation to and from Israel! With one stipulation – that we complete the trip during the Spring of 2018. (Greg was concerned about Loren’s health becoming an issue, so the sooner, the better!)
Laurence, with the dedicated help of a good friend, Mike Merk, and his dad, Larry Merk, tore into the Sand Ship Discovery with one goal in mind, GET HER ROADWORTHY! Along with all their spouses, they and many other volunteers devoted countless hours of work to bring the Discovery back from her twenty-five years in dry dock.
The following link is to Aaron Copland’s "Fanfare to the Common Man" It is a stirring piece of music that I'm sure you've heard before but may not remember when or where. And it is the Common Man who made this entire expedition possible, from start to finish. The common man.
The men we hired to be our guides through the Darien Gap, natives who had no clue why we were doing such a “crazy” thing but were nonetheless some of the best men on the planet. The man on the street or in a village who would give us directions. The mechanic who worked late into the night to get the Sand Ship Discovery's brakes working again. The welding shop where the workers welded the rear end of the Discovery after the abuse she received on the rough roads of Tierra del Fuego, for the simple pleasure of being a part of the Expedition! The reporter who wrote a great article about the Darien Gap Crossing that helped us get free transportation across the Atlantic to Africa. The people who gave us a place to stay for a night or two, a week or two, or many months. The man who helped us find gasoline when none of the gas stations had any.
The working government officials who went above and beyond to help rush us through customs to get onboard the ferry. The people who would help us exchange money in some pretty spooky places. Yes, it was the common man who helped a carpenter and a secretary accomplish this expedition.
And once again, it is the common man, Laurence Upton, Mike Merk, his father, Larry Merk, and their spouses who have made this Final Mile a reality. They all are working men and women with jobs, families, and responsibilities, and they gave freely of their time to make the Discovery road worthy. The common man, Loren, and I will always be grateful to all of them. The mere words, Thank You, are not sufficient to express our gratitude. So, when you listen to this beautiful piece of music, think of the common man, the people who make it all work! YOU! And in our opinion, anything but common! Loren and I feel incredibly blessed to have met so many extortionary people who have made our lives complete, and our dreams come true.
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