Cape York

Troopy Update : Boots, Brakes & Various Outakes

Old Ghan Trail


Yo – Dave here.


After our radiator dramas and a weeklong visit to Country Diesel Maintenance in Alice Springs, the Troopy was running great.  But what fun would it be if nothing ever went wrong? 


By the time we rolled into Cairns, we’d done some great four-wheel driving up at Cape York, but it didn’t go without any hitches.  One of the front spring mounts snapped and the brake booster shat itself just before we got to Iron Range National Park.  Also, at some point we started leaking fuel and the Troopy kept stalling and was hard to start.


On the other hand, our new tyres copped a beating on the dirt roads of the outback and are going great.  The new mozzie screens on all the windows have been perfect on the hot nights – with more windows open we get better airflow through the Troopy.  The roof-top wind deflector that I installed in Alice Springs is working a treat and looks fantastic.


Cape York


Snazzy new boots

TroopyBefore leaving Alice Springs, we got the Troopy a brand new set of boots.  The all-terrain tyres we bought 50,000km ago turned out to be rubbish and I was keen to upgrade to a mud-terrain tyre, so after a great chat with the staff at the tyre store, I ended up going with a set of Maxxis Bighorns 764.  We paid $350 per tyre and that included fitting, balancing and a wheel-alignment.


We’ve done over 2,000km on them so far – about 50% on bitumen, 50% on dirt/sand/rock.  Compared to our old set of tyres, they’re definitely more aggressive, a little louder and make the Troopy about 5cm taller, which is noticeable when we climb into the back at night.  Driving along corrugated dirt road is definitely more comfortable and the steering even feels a bit lighter.  The extra traction on sand is really obvious and I’ve found I don’t have to let the tyre pressure down as much as I would have with the old tyres.  Considering the amount of driving on rocky roads we’ve done, the tyres have held up well – no punctures or major damage – and the amount of wear is acceptable.


Over all, I’m really happy with the Maxxis.  The price fit our budget and the performance has been great.  Also, by the look of them after 2,000km, I reckon they’ll get us all the way back to Melbourne no worries.


Cape York


Custom-built checker-plate roof-top wind deflector

While we were in Alice, we did a HelpX job for two guys who run a steel yard called DnA Steel Direct, so I had access to steel as well as all the necessary equipment to fabricate a customised wind deflector for the top of the Troopy.


With a rough sketch on a notepad, I found a piece of checkerplate that was big enough and thick enough for what I needed.  I used the industrial steel bending machine to bend the sheet, then I cut the taper with a grinder.  I made templates for the two side pieces, cut them and bent them.  Then one of the guys quickly welded the sides on, as well as the hinges and latches before I bolted the whole thing on and gave it a lick of black paint.  The final touch was some small chains to limit how far the deflector opens.  I reckon it came up a treat.  A huge thanks goes out to DnA Steel Direct for letting me use their machinery.


Cape York


You break it, you fix it!

If you’re a four-wheel driving fan, go to Cape York and do the Old Telegraph Track.  Juz and I loved it and even though I broke the Troopy a bit – check out that story here.


The next day, after doing the Five Beaches Track along the eastern coast of the Tip, I noticed that one of the Troopy’s front spring mounts was broken in half.  We carefully limped the next 20km to Bamaga and went straight to the wreckers.  Lucky for us, they had what I needed and I had it changed over in less than half an hour.



Stuck between a rock and broken brakes

As we were making our way along Frenchmans Track towards Iron Range National Park, we got hung up on a rock on the descent into a creek crossing.  While Juz stuck her foot on the brake pedal, I got out to have a look.  All of a sudden, there was a psssshh sound as the brake pedal pushed up.  I initially thought a hose had come off, but I couldn’t see any leaks or abnormalities.  We managed to get the Troopy off the rock and through the creek, but the brake pedal was really stiff and stopping in any hurry wasn’t an option.


Cape York


When we got to Cooktown, I did some research and diagnosed a busted brake booster, but the nearest replacement was in Cairns.  So, our plan to take the CREB track from Wujal Wujal was changed to a gingerly drive down the Bloomfield track instead.  There were a few steep downhill sections that were a little hairy because of our reduced braking ability, but otherwise it was quite a nice drive.


Cape Trib


The Troopy takes a leak

Somewhere up in Cape York the Troopy decided to start leaking fuel.  While we were in Cooktown, I traced the leak back to a tiny hole in the primary fuel filter casing.  Unfortunately, I’d have to wait until Cairns to get a new one.


In the meantime, our timing belt light had been on for about 3,000km so I finally got around to changing it.  If you’ve ever changed a timing belt then you’ll know that the fiddliest bit is getting the tensioning spring back on.  After wrestling with that for a while, I got it back on and shouldn’t have to worry about the timing belt for another 100,000km.


Cairns – Let’s get wrecked!

Once we got to Cairns, I spent the first available Saturday doing the rounds at the wreckers.  I needed a few things, but my main priorities were finding a brake booster and a fuel filter.  After visiting two wreckers, I picked up a fuel filter for $50, a battery tray and bump stop for $50 and a brake booster for just $80 – SCORE!


Changing the brake booster was a piece of cake and took all of about half an hour.  The battery tray was also easy but the battery bracket was a bit more fiddly because of a broken bolt head.  In the end I just drilled a new hole for it and everything was sorted.


After buying a complete primary fuel filter from the wreckers, I picked up a new cartridge for the secondary fuel filter.  I took the old parts out and they were filthy and full of sludge.  I blew out the fuel lines (mmm… delicious diesel!) and cleaned up the bits that were going back in.  After installing the new filters, the Troopy instantly began running smoother and starting more easily.


Go Troopy!!


Cape York


Troopy bits

Cooling Down in Alice Springs

Heating Up in Hermannsburg – Part 2


We arrived back in Alice Springs after our amazing visit to Uluru and Kata Tjuta, and I got to work as soon as possible.  The first few days were spent fiddling with the Troopy to try and figure out why the engine was overheating.


I flushed the cooling system and changed the bottom radiator hose before getting some advice from a local mechanic, who suggested lubing up the fan clutch.  After doing that, I took the Troopy for a short test drive and it seemed successful, but the best way to check was to go on a long distance drive.


The next day, we drove the Troopy down to Rainbow Valley, about 100km south of Alice Springs.  Unfortunately, once we were over 80kmph, the temp gauge moved towards the red.  Back to the drawing board…


Rainbow Valley


The next day, I called the mechanic and booked the Troopy in so that they could have a look.  I dropped the Troopy off the following week, and got a phone call later that day from the mechanic, asking if I had time to come by the workshop.  The Troopy was up on the hoist and the mechanic said that they hadn’t even taken it for a test drive because they didn’t want to risk driving it anywhere – the front wheel bearings were gone.


He went through a list of things that needed to be repaired urgently, before we had another long chat about the why cooling system might be playing up.  He explained that the air in Alice Springs is really dry and therefore isn’t as effective at cooling the radiator, and he also recommended getting rid of the fly-screen mesh from the grill, as it can severely restrict air flow at 80-110kp/h.


Looking at the list of required repairs, there was no way I could do all that myself so I booked the Troopy in for a proper session.  Unfortunately, they were so busy, the next available time was the week after, so I took the Troopy home, went through the list, and did what I could myself.  I replaced the leaky brake proportioning valve, ripped off the fly-screen from the grill and picked up a few less urgent bits and pieces to swap later.  A week later, I took the Troopy back to the mechanic so they could do the rest. For the next week, we were lucky enough to borrow a shitty Ford Falcon with a cracked windscreen, no windows and ripped up interior to get around town.


The main repairs the mechanics did for us were:

  • Swivel hubs and bearings
  • Three brake discs
  • Handbrake shoes
  • Uni joints
  • Rear pinion seal
  • Steering – drag link ends and tie rod ends


Troopy bits


A week later, and over $4000 out of pocket, we were reunited with a new and improved Troopy, minus all the squeaks, grinds and clunks.  The Troopy was feeling strong and we were filled with excitement when we finally left Alice Springs to continue our journey south.  These days, the Troopy still heats up a little sometimes, but it’s only when it’s worked hard for a while.






Dave with Will

Troopy Report : Bungle Bungled Troopy Saga

We’d had some issues with our brakes for a while, but they were starting to get really spongy as we were driving through the Kimberley.  Then, on our way to the Bungle Bungles, an NQR noise started coming from the front wheel.  Dave got out and had a look but it just looked like the tyre needed to be adjusted.  It wasn’t until he got the tyre off that he could see that the brake disc was all wonky.


It was early in the morning and people were heading into the Bungle Bungles.  A few cars stopped to ask if they could help but once they established that they couldn’t they moved on.  Then, some familiar faces turned up!  Paddy and his crew, who we met at Adcock Gorge, stopped and advised us that our wheel bearings were buggered.  He happened to have a spare set, lent us some tools and provided instructions on how to replace them before wishing us luck.



As we were replacing the bearings, another guy showed up.  He was a mechanic and noticed that our stub axel had split. He dished out the bad news that we’re definitely not going anywhere until we got it replaced.  The lock nuts were also stuffed…


We sat around for a bit after that, wondering what to do, until Juz suggested that Dave set forth to find the part while she held the fort.  Just as Dave agreed, a DEC vehicle turned up and that’s when we met Greg.  He offered to take Dave out to the highway and we accepted.  As Juz made Dave a substantial snack of rice, chicken and soy sauce, we agreed to send word whenever we could, and at 10am Dave set off with some cash and 2 litres of water.


Dave’s Story

I jumped in the car with Greg and as we made our way along the corrugated dirt road towards the highway, we chatted about travelling, camping and cool places to check out around Australia.


About 10kms before we hit the highway, Greg said, “Hmmm, my steering just got really heavy”.


We jumped out and found power-steering fluid dripping everywhere.  We couldn’t find the source of the leak, so Greg said we may as well just keep moving and the new car warranty could deal with it when he got to Kununurra.  I figured that I must be some kind of jinx, and hoped that any other cars I hitched a ride in didn’t break too!


We stopped in at the caravan park just before the highway to get some information.  I called the Turkey Creek Roadhouse and they said my best bet would be to find the mechanic called “Chook” in Warmun.  Greg offered to take me there and as we were pulling out of the caravan park, I saw some people letting their tyres down in preparation for the road into Purnululu NP.  I asked them if they could tell the girl in the broken down Troopy that I was heading to Warmun to find Chook.


Once we got to the Turkey Creek Roadhouse, I asked the staff where I could find Chook.  A helpful lady from the Warmun aboriginal community pointed me in the right direction and Greg gave me a lift down the road to Warmun.  For the first time in my life, I was inside a closed aboriginal community – it was definitely a strange feeling and I wasn’t sure if my being there was going to upset people or, even worse, make them angry.  I walked into the shop and saw a fairly even mix of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal folks, which made me feel like I stood out a little less.  I asked where I could find Chook.  The lady behind the counter motioned toward the ute coming towards the shop and said, “That’s Chook coming now”.


I made eye contact with the driver, who took one look at me then growled, “I DON’T ‘AVE ANY!!”


It’s fair to say that I all but shit myself.


Chook stepped out of his ute and I sized up the man who would probably determine whether we get the Troopy going or not.  Well over six feet tall and well built, he wore a bandanna, dark sunnies, long white Santa Claus beard, and had four mean-looking dogs at his heels.  Before addressing me, he took a few moments to remind his dogs to behave, or risk the chance of a flogging.  The mean-looking dogs all but shit themselves.


It’s fair to say that I all but shit myself again.


When he asked me what I needed, I managed to squeak out the words “Stub axle”.  He growled something along the lines of “I ‘spose you need someone to come out and fit it too?”.


I quickly assured him that all I needed was the part and that I didn’t want to take up too much of time.  “Hmmm, stub axle? I might ‘ave one. Meet me at the roadhouse in an hour.”

His emphasis on the word ‘might’ suggested he did have one, providing I was willing to part with the necessary funds.  This was about to get expensive.

On the walk back to the roadhouse, I finally breathed out and started to relax a bit.  In less than an hour, Chook rocked up and presented the stub axle complete with lock nuts.  I asked him how much it was worth and I prepared to shit myself.

“$100” he says.


As a wave of relief flowed over me. “Geez, that’s alright!”


“Oh, in that case, maybe it’s $150…”


I laughed nervously and quickly handed him $100 cash.


He asked me if I knew how to install the stub axle and repack wheel bearings.  I told him I’d never done it before, but I had the service manual to follow.  He spent the next 20 minutes explaining everything I needed to know.  We ended up chatting about university, apprenticeships, food, his kids, life in the sticks and more.  Chook is by far the most interesting character I’ve met so far while we’ve been on the road.


It was well after 1pm now and I had to find a ride for the 75km trip back to the Troopy.  More importantly, I had to eat something.  I grabbed a steak sanga with bacon, egg and cheese from the roadhouse.  The steak was freshly cooked to juicy perfection, the bread was soft and gummy and bacon always makes everything even better.  Even Juz wouldn’t have had time to take a photo of it because I inhaled it in about two minutes!


Next, I needed to work on the issue of how to get back to Juz and the Troopy.  If I didn’t find a ride, where was I going to sleep?  All I had was a water bottle and a stub axle – neither of which are particularly good blankets.  And would Juz be ok by herself in the middle of nowhere?


I figured my best bet for a ride would be travellers in a campervan.  I didn’t have to wait long.


“Excuse me, my car’s broken down.  If you’re going south, would you be able to give me a ride?”


My new best mate, Boris from France said, “Of course! This is no worries!”


After being introduced to Constance (Boris’s girlfriend from Germany), I jumped in the back of their van and we set off.  We chatted and shared travel stories all the way down the highway, and once we got to the turn off for the Bungle Bungles, I told them they could just leave me there and I would find another ride for the rest of the way.


“But we are going to the Bungle Bungles…”  RIDE SORTED!!


We were about to continue our journey when a 4WD pulled up behind us.  The people jumped out and came up to us smiling and waving.  Turns out it was a German couple that we’d met near Wyndham a few days earlier.


“Dave!  We just passed you guys on the highway and when saw your beard, we knew it was you!  We’ve just come out of the Bungle Bungles and we saw Juz and the Troopy.  We were coming to pick you up from Warmun!”


I thanked them for being offering to travel 150km out of their way to collect me but told them that Boris and Constance were going to take me the rest of the way.


We started the slow, bumpy, noisy drive along the dirt road towards Juz and the Troopy.  We were about 15 minutes away when a tattooed bloke with a long, grey goatee in a Hilux coming the other way got us to pull over.


“Are you Dave?” said Will (my other new best mate), “I’ve just seen Juz.  Your stub axle’s definitely stuffed.  Did you manage to get one?”


I told him I did and he asked if I wanted a hand fitting it.  I said I’d love a hand if he wasn’t doing anything.  He turned around and followed us back.  We got back to Juz and the Troopy a bit after 3pm.  When I jumped out of the van, Juz’s face lit up and she came running over to smother me with hugs and kisses.


Juz’s Story

Nowhere near as action packed as Dave’s day…


I had maintained my cool during the breakdown – from when we heard the noise to when the mechanic guy said that we were stuffed.  I even kept my cool while telling Dave to leave me to get the part, and that I may have to camp out there, in the middle of nowhere, on my own.  The only time I lost my cool was when Dave kissed me goodbye, got into Greg’s car and disappeared in a cloud of dust over the hill.


Once he was gone, it sunk in – I may be by myself for a while.  I shifted into stealth mode and started preparing for the day.  I put the windscreen sun visor up, covered the windows to keep the Troopy cool, and put the tool box and gear under the shade of the Troopy.  I then positioned weapons around the Troopy – just in case – a metal pole here, a Bowie knife there, my Leatherman pocketknife close by (as always).  When I was satisfied, I created a small patch of shade with my sarong over the back doors and sat down to read.


There was no opportunity to get lonely because the traffic to and from the Bungle Bungles was frequent.  Many people smiled, waved and drove by without stopping, but most would stop, either out of curiosity or concern.  There was only one couple that stopped and said, “Your friend told us to tell you that he was heading to Warmun”.  If someone gave me a good vibe, I would stand up and talk to them, ask them which direction they were heading and if they would pass a message on for me to a hairy, bearded Italian guy in a shirt and leather hat in Warmun; mainly that I’m ok and I haven’t been torn apart by a swarm of bees… yet.


Boredom was a little harder to keep away.  After reading for an hour or two, I started to get hungry.  I made myself some cheese and salmon on rice cakes and chased it with a pear.  Satisfied, I sat down again with the guitar and smashed out two songs in as many hours.  One is called Find A Way and it’s about hoping that Dave comes back safely with the part so we can get the Troopy fixed.  The other is called Plight, and it’s a conversational song with a series of verses made up of all the things I repeated to all the people who stopped to ask if I was alright.


Later in the day, a German couple that we met a few nights earlier passed by and after I told them what was happening, they offered to go to Warmun, find Dave and bring him back.  I was so grateful; it had been a few hours since Dave had left and I was worried about spending the night alone.  Not long afterwards, a tattooed bloke with a long, grey goatee pulled up in his 4WD ute to find out what was going on.  My initial apprehension was based purely on looks, but all he wanted to do was suss out the damage and make sure Dave was getting the right part.  After a brief chat, I found out he was from the same neck of the woods as Dave and I – the northern suburbs of Melbourne! So I gave Will a description of Dave and he went off to find him.


At about 3pm, Paddy and his crew had returned from the Bungle Bungles and I was still on my own.  Paddy started preparing the hub by fitting a new seal while the girls gave me some glossy trash mags to keep me entertained until Dave got back.  It wasn’t long before a blue van rocked up with two backpackers and Dave, followed by Will in the 4WD ute.  It was happy faces all round, and I don’t think I’ve been happier to see Dave.


Break down party!



It must have looked like a roadside party.  Surrounding the Troopy was Paddy’s lot with their two 4WDs, the European couple in their van and Will in his Hilux .  After a few minutes of celebration, Paddy told Dave and Will what he’d done with the seal and bearings and wished us luck before setting off for camp with his crew.  Juz and the Europeans looked on as Dave and Will worked double time to get the stub axle fitted and just before sunset, they too wished us luck and headed for camp in the Bungle Bungles.


Boris and Constance look on


There was barely any light left by the time the job was done.  The three of us worked together to make sure all the parts were put back in the right order, and found out that there was another piece of the puzzle that was stuffed – a bit from inside the free-wheeling hub – but we could go on without it until we got to a mechanic in Kununurra.


We got it all sorted just after the sun disappeared over the horizon and darkness set in.  We thanked Will profusely as he got cleaned up then headed off to his camp.  Dave and Juz packed up all the tools, got cleaned up, climbed in to the back of the Troopy and passed out by 7pm.


Dave with Will


Thank You

To all the people who stopped to see if we were alright, and offer help, a ride, advice, food, water, tools and parts – thank you so much for your time and concern.  It’s you folks that make up the heart and soul of the bush – the true, naked Australia.