Gibson Desert - Pushing west and proof that sticks and radiators don't mix!

Friday, Jun 11, 2010 at 00:00

Mick O

Radiator Range (ominous), Gibson Desert WA

It was an early start into a cool and heavily overcast day. More tyre chores immediately as I had been unable to reseat the quad tyre the previous evening, out came the butane once again. This was followed by replacing both trailer and quad tyres with the original and now repaired tyres. Breakfast. During the examination of his quad the previous evening, Scotty identified that they had damaged two boots and that the quad could not be ridden until they had been repaired and/or replaced hence the quad was loaded back onto their trailer. We were just about to head off and on checking the quad tyres I found that Al had torn off an entire boot on the back left axle. Thankfully it was the outer boot and not the inner but it meant that the quad would have to be loaded never the less prompting another delay to the days start. I was a bit grumpy by this time.

As we wound our way cautiously out of the out of the scrubby creek we found ourselves on the top of a high series of bluffs. While this provided an imposing view towards the Hickeys, it also meant that we would have to negotiate a route down to the lower floor to continue onwards. This we managed in a wide gully that rose to the top of the range, one of the few that did not cut into the range precipitously. Continuing north, we came across the remains of an old track. Despite our route turning to a more westerly direction at this point, we decided to continue north for a bit making for a conical hill we had spied from the top of the previous ridge. Our track only lasted for a few hundred meters before we were into the thick, old growth spinifex again. The increased water flowing across this area from the surrounding ridges and hills meant a bit more erosion in places but also prompted the growth of a few eucalypts which were a pleasant surprise and a change from the open desert spaces.

Our conical hill prompted a quick climb, cairn building and photo opportunity. It also gave us a good view of our intended route west and it wasn’t inspiring let me assure you. A low rocky range that we had descended from stretched to our south west ending a good few kilometres away and country then opening into a vast expanse of sand hill and spinifex that stretched off as far as the eye could see into the distance. We have some work ahead of us to be sure.

After messing about in the biting wind atop the cone, we scrambled down and back-tracked across the creek and then turned sharp west towards Nipper Pinnacle some 70 kilometres distant. The country side was predominantly the sand and spinifex we had viewed from the hill interspaced with some rough rocky patches and the odd soak area. At one point we crossed a low clay pan in the middle of which was a pool of scummy water that had attracted its fair share of camels. I marked it with the Garmin as we twisted our way through the scrub. On several occasions we were lucky enough to have some wide plains on which a low spinifex grew. This wasn’t new growth of the plant, rather a different dwarf variety in its own right. It made for much easier going that’s for sure. Regardless I had to take extra care due to the excess weight of the quad on the trailer and on the vehicle overall.

Towards 2:00 p.m., we had drifted into a wide swale that headed in more of a south westerly direction and headed towards a small range. It was here that Scotty informed the convoy of a puncture in a trailer tyre. Still having his splits(rims) on the trailer, this was going to entail a wheel change rather than a plug. Riding 2nd from the rear, I did a U –turn and headed back to help just as our fearless leader Al Mc indicated he had an overheating problem with his ute. Apparently the needle had moved a millimetre which is something it hadn’t done in the previous 5 years (which often prompting the old joke that Toyota blue-tac the needles into position). Thankfully Al was so closely attuned to his vehicle because when he got out to check he found a 40 cm piece of mulga had penetrated through the bottom guard and through both cores of the radiator. The hole was only a few centimetres above the bottom tank so water was escaping rapidly. The GDEC crew swung into action, pushing Al clear of all impending danger and commenced fighting as to who would get under the bonnet first. Thankfully Scotty was still engrossed in getting his spare changed so it only took a few seconds for the decision to be made. It took us 15 minutes to get the tyre changed out and on reaching the Fair Maid some 300 metres further on, we found that that John and Michael J almost had the radiator out of the vehicle. No messing about here. Al Mc was under the vehicle with a screwdriver and bucket letting off clamps and catching the last of the coolant.

The radiator was retired to the back of Johns vehicle and some analysis done. Both cores had in fact been ruptured so debate ensued as to the best way forward. It began with the removal of the side veins using a fine screwdriver and pliers to pick them out. This exposed the main tubes which were about 2.5 cm wide and 3 mm high in the centre. To get clear edges to plug, the tubes were trimmed a couple of centimetres either side of the damage. This was effected with a hacksaw blade with gaffer tape wrapped around one end for a handle. Once this was cleared the cut ends were opened to about 5 mm to allow enough of the metal putty to penetrate and harden. The first attempt used a role of knead-able putty used for fuel tank repairs. It failed to solidify as well as we would have liked so we pulled it out and tried with the remainder. The catalyst seemed to work better the second time round and while being left to set for an hour, the group theorised on how to jury rig a pressure testing device to ensure our repairs would hold. The solution called for many hands.

The putty dried hard and solid. To effect the pressure test the smaller holes were stopped using gaffer tape. Hands were then used to block all other outlets and the pressure hose with trigger gun from johns compressor squeezed between the fingers of one set of hands somewhere. Suzette then got the job of spraying the wounded areas with soapy water. Air was applied and the pressure tester worked well….unfortunately indicating that one of the plugs was leaking, bleep ! Obviously the putty was still a bit dodgy. As it was now getting late and the biting wind was sweeping down the swale behind us, it was mooted that we locate a camp site for the night and commence operations there. This meant that Al's vehicle would have to be towed so a site as close as possible would be preferable. I grabbed a quad and went looking while the rest stowed and secured the vehicles. Some distance further, I located a suitable site, a gibber/clay pan area sheltered between two hills. There was a slight climb entailed to getting there but it provided a clear flat area, shelter and plenty of dead timber about for a fire.

The tuck truck led the procession in to camp as we formed the wagons into a protective circle. Wood was soon gathered and the fire underway. Radiator repairs commenced once again with a fresh set of putty, Scotty kneading well and declaring himself satisfied that both putty and catalyst had combined well (heat give off from the reaction being the indicator) and rammed as much of the stuff as he could into the ends of the broken tube using our smallest blade type screwdriver. While that was left to cure, everyone was attending to chores. Scotty had a split to crack and tube to mend, boots on two quads had to be inspected, re-greased and repaired and as the boot on my quad was totally missing so it was nothing short of full replacement.

Scotty and I got the wheels of both quads to facilitate boot repairs. When it came to mine, we could not muster enough strength to undo the 34 mm main hub nut. It just wouldn’t budge. On getting the manual out, we found it had been torqued down with 200 lbs (yes 200 pounds) of foot pressure meaning we were going to have a hell of a time. We could not provide enough strength and leverage without moving the quad thus we had to fabricate a jig to attach to the wheel nuts that gave us sufficient room to apply a wrench. This was achieved by drilling out a 4 mm section of bar to act against the force applied to turn the hub nut. What a bunch of mechanical wizards I travel with. As a result of the jig and a bar extension, the recalcitrant nut was soon undone and access gained to the axle to fit the new boot. That too was a whole new experience for us all. There was a bit of disappointment as one boot split. The silence from the surrounding crowd was palatable as the boot let go, bugger! The second attempt built upon the experience of the first and as a result of careful work and the judicious application of Lanotec. It was soon in place, greased and clamped.Big red was back in action.

Everyone was fairly exhausted after the days activities. The bitter wind also added to the fatigue. I crawled into bed just after nine.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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