EXPERIENCE IS ONE OF the most valuable assets one can have,and it doesn’t come overnight.
Operating outback caravan tours over 24 years, plus the years of 4WDing which preceded that, we were sometimes pushed to make do with what we could access in remote places, just to keep the wheels turning. With that experience behind us, we have been able to lend a hand in situations people had thought to be irretrievable.
While the solution can only be regarded as temporary, bush repairs will ideally be enough to get you to a place which has more resources and facilities, where a proper repair can be made. We carry bits and pieces in a couple of 1-gallon paint tins, and this ‘just in case’ collection has served us well over the years.
BOLT FOR BOLT
Making do with what’s available is one aspect of bush repairs. Travelling along the Birdsville Track one year, I could see an object in the distance that looked quite out of place. We crossed a cattle grid and I noticed some odd marks scratched into the earth, and then spotted a bit of wire cable, a brake shoe, and a few other items. When we drew near we found a Nissan wagon with both back wheels missing, the rear of the wagon on the ground.
The chap inside was cranky as anything: he had been there for hours and nobody had answered his CB radio calls. (Point to note – never depend on your CB radio to reach further than 5km.)
Our folks fanned out and retrieved the rear wheels. Every wheel stud had been sheared off. We went to our ‘just in case’ tins, found several strong bolts with nuts and washers. We knocked out the broken studs and inserted our replacement bolts. There weren’t quite enough, so we raided the front end of his car and removed two of the six bolts from each. With these in the rear wheels, plus our couple of extras, he was again mobile. The brake line to the rear was crimped so he had only front axle brakes. With an admonition to drive slowly, off he went.
FRUIT TIN RESCUE
There must be a thousand sizes and shapes of radiator hoses on the market. We carry a couple of the more common size lengths of flexi-hose for emergencies. But they don’t cover all needs.
In one case, a client’s top hose developed a split, and that made travel impossible. The usual simple repairs of gaffer tape around the hose didn’t work, so we searched for anything that could help. Eventually we found exactly what was needed. After doing some measuring, we emptied the contents from a small tin of passionfruit, cut out both ends, and inserted it in the hose. With some handy wire (a must for all outback travels) to crimp it, it stayed in place for months after the chap got home.
TRIP TO THE TIP
Springs can give trouble, and they are important parts of cars and caravans. When a caravan started to travel sideways like a crab, we knew it had a problem. The main leaf had broken, and the axle slewed diagonally.
At Burketown there’s not a big selection of springs, and you might wait two or three weeks for one to arrive. I scoured the local tip, tapemeasure in hand. Remarkably, two cars had just what was needed: the rears prings of an EK wagon were identical to the van springs. with the help of a council truck winch to drag the EK out from under a pile of wrecks, we removed and transferred the main leaf to the Evernew, and it’s still running around on that leaf.
An extremely heavy van that broke its independent suspension at a creek crossing began to tilt sideways. To get to a town we jacked the body up and wired blocks of wood cut from a tree between the chassis and the subframe. It took hours to cover some 60km through Queensland scrub to a nearby town.
In another case, the owners of a new caravan complained that their van door often opened as they travelled. Upon inspection, we discovered that the door frame was poorly fitted, and on the striker side was not attached to any framing, allowing the door to widen on bumps. We found a fairly straight length of branch, slipped it inside the wall and secured it into place, then secured the door frame to it. Somewhere in Australia there’s a van that still has a branch inside the wall, holding the doorway in place.
The biggest challenge occurred when a firewall-mounted battery tumbled from its cradle onto the distributor of the 4WD International D1310 we used to run. With luck, it only dislodged the distributor cap, but it smashed the rotor button. There wasn’t a spare. Suddenly, it was a matter of sitting down and carefully whittling two pieces of wood cut from a shrub to replicate the rotor button. When the sizing was right, the two pieces were wrapped together with copper wire stolen from the vehicle’s electrical system,then covered with epoxy (another essential for outback travel). The rotor conductor was also epoxied on top, and the timing adjusted a bit by bending the wire. It took an afternoon to do all this, but I got home without trouble.
‘JUST IN CASE’ CHECKLIST
Assorted bolts with nuts
Assorted metal washers
Self-thread and panel screws
WORDS Lloyd Junor