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Article by: Harry Wagner - Photos by: Harry Wagner/Mike Fox

---New Hampshire---------------------------------

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Yankee Toys Fall Gathering- September 21-23, 2001

Mike Fox climbs a muddy ledge Paul gets a wheel up Henry goes for a dip in the mud

For the 3rd year in a row, the Yankee Toys have celebrated the coming of fall with a weekend full of camping, camaraderie, and four wheeling. Trails for the weekend varied from mild dirt roads for stock vehicles to rock infested trails for the courageous and well prepared. To call the Fall Gathering an "event" is a bit of a misnomer, as it is really more of assemblage of old (and new) friends. There are no raffles or live bands at the Gathering; it is deliberately kept small and relatively informal by the Yankee Toys. Do not confuse "informal", with disorganized though. The weekend was well planned with several trail rides of varying size and difficulty going out every day. Over 60 vehicles and 100 people turned out for this year's activities, hailing from as far away as Ottawa and Virginia.

Logistics for the 2001 Fall Gathering were a bit different than in past years. Due to the closure of the majority of the trails in New Hampshire, rock junkies were forced to choose between a 2+ hour drive (one way) to the challenging trails or camping apart from the other attendees. It may sound startling, but NONE of the trails that were run at the inaugural Fall Gathering are still open to motorized traffic. This is a problem that faces us all as recreationalists, particularly in New England. Many hours of hard work were put in by David Beattie, Nick Jennings, Randy Elkin, Todd Zulauf and Joe Mylie in oder to organize the weekend and find trails that would please all the participants of the Fall Gathering. Ultimately, there were two separate groups for the first two days of wheeling, hardcore up north and the rest down south.

Climbing a steep incline

On Friday our group was led by John Billings of the EZ Wheelers through an area they refer to as "Mt. Madness". Although his 4Runner is currently undergoing repairs, John did not want to miss out on an opportunity to wheel and led the group in a Jeep Cherokee that he had purchased the night before for $300. The only modifications to the Cherokee where reworked fenders (courtesy of Sawzall), 34" TSL Swampers, and a welded rear differential (courtesy of Lincoln). The normally difficult trail was made near impassable by wet weather inundating northern New Hampshire.

Despite the poor weather, fourteen vehicles lined up to run Mt. Madness. Our group was dominated by FJ-40s, most of which were running tall, narrow Super Swampers. The aggressive tires were a definite asset when we came to the first major obstacle of the day; two deep, soupy mud holes. Hours were spent trying to navigate the vehicles through the quagmire. Most everyone needed a pull to get across the mud, most notably Henry Cubillan in his huge FJ-62 import. Henry's wagon became hopelessly stuck between a tree stump and a dirt berm in the middle of the second mud hole. To make matters worse, his winch was not working properly and the CJ-7 that was enlisted to help threw a belt while trying to winch out the much heavier Cruiser. In the interest of time, several vehicles at the back of the group bypassed the mud altogether as Henry was finally excavated.

Oops!

The next major obstacle we encountered on the trail was a steep hill comprised of loose rock and mud, with a two-foot shelf three quarters of the way up the hill. The hill was so loose that it was hazardous to even walk on, and no amount of gear reduction would allow you to crawl up gracefully. Everyone made a valiant attempt at the hill, but very few made it without the hook. Carnage included a blown hub on the CJ-7 and a broken rear pinion on Dave and Katherine Meredith's FJ-40. While Ken Flesher and Nick Jennings helped the Merediths disassemble their rear differential, the trail leader helped get the rest of the vehicles up the trail. It was now late into the afternoon and sunlight was fading. The good news was that the sun had finally come out, allowing us a glimpse at the breath taking views from the top of Mt. Madness. Unfortunately our trip was a few weeks early to see the changing color of the leaves.

Saturday we headed back to Mt. Madness under clear skies with a smaller group of vehicles. The vehicle piloted by our trail leader for the day foreshadowed the seriousness of the trail to come. His bobbed Scrambler sported full one-ton running gear, including a 454 big block, SM465, NP205, and narrowed Dana 60 and Corporate 14 Bolt. The carnage commenced right from the start with a narrow squeeze next to a huge boulder. More than one vehicle in our group left some paint behind in this spot. Our troubles were just beginning though, as the trail continued up the side of steep, rutted mountain for at least a quarter mile. Traction was nonexistent and everyone in our run group had to pull cable at least once, and more often than not several times. The parts toll was high, but we took solace in the cool weather and spectacular views. The count for the day included lots of body damage, a toasted winch, a valve stem, a tire carrier, and a couple of hubs.

Winching over the slimy rocks

These setbacks contributed to another long day on the trail, but luckily things were not worse because we were scheduled to rendezvous with the rest of the Yankee Toys at the Field & Forest Recreation Area. We arrived after dark on Saturday evening, but fortunately there were still plenty of hamburgers and sausages waiting for us. Ken "Cookie" Flesher's barbeque dinners have become a tradition at the Fall Gathering. In addition to the food, we were also greeted by old friends recounting tales of their adventures earlier in the day on the "Miller Time" and "Northfield" trails.

Sunday morning we awoke to more beautiful weather and got to witness the beauty of the area for the first time in natural light. Birch, oak, and maple trees envelope the Field & Forest Recreation Area and provide a wonderful refuge and staging area. A number of people headed home Sunday morning, while others made the most of the weekend and took the opportunity to run one more trail. I went with a small group of friends to Beacon, where Mike Fox was nice enough to let me drive his 4Runner after two days of being relegated to the passenger seat. I really appreciated the opportunity to get behind the wheel, as many of the modifications to Mike's rig mirror what I plan to do to my own truck. I spent much of the day experimenting with the dual electric lockers and available crawl ratios to find what worked best in different terrain.

The view from high above

I don't want you to think that the whole day turned into a science experiment though. I spent plenty of time sweating and staring at the sky. Large shelves of rock and deeply rutted holes forced everyone to pull cable at least once on Beacon. Carnage in our small group was limited to a blown bead, a torn valve stem, and a broken winch. With only four vehicles we were able to run all of the difficult sections of the trail in only a few hours before heading home for the weekend.

Although Toyotas dominated the event, the Fall Gathering (and Yankee Toys membership for that matter) is open to all makes and models. The one distinguishing characteristic that all present possessed was a good attitude and love for the outdoors. If you are interested in attending next year's Fall Gathering or other future Yankee Toys events, please visit the Yankee Toys website.

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