Bessy the Rock Rod - A Crawler Built in Stages


Doing things a bit differently
Supporting Member
Jun 1, 2021
Hi everyone! I'm Kyle and this is my Jeep. I am pretty new to this forum but I've been in the hobby since 2009 when I originally brought this TJ home. I have another build thread over on Jeepforum that I started years ago but traffic has really slowed down over there so I wanted to post a condensed version here for anyone interested.

I initially bought this Jeep as a daily driver as I headed out to Colorado for college. Once I was out west, I quickly found my way off of pavement and spent several years wheeling. In 2014 I moved home to Minnesota and the Jeep became a second vehicle as life settled down. I had it in storage for a number of years. Last year I decided to take it back out.

I'm finally getting back into the hobby!

I started out with this: a '98 base model-— 2.5L AX5 231 Dana 30/Dana 35


Over the years it has turned into this: a stretched, no lift trail rig on 39" tires

Follow along as I bring you up to speed!
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After lots of wheeling, the dana 35 had twisted shafts and broken spider gears, and bent control arms. I knew I wanted an axle swap and wheelbase stretch but I was a broke college kid at the time. I came across a very cheap, Canadian Dana 44 rear axle and some cherokee leaf springs. I also bought a used Genright stretch tank, some gears, some 12" travel shocks, and a used air locker. I began to concoct a simple, albeit crude plan to put these parts to use.




Here is the super high tech CAD file for the rear suspension design.






I also installed a CJ tailgate around this time.

This project was an unconventional, economical way to repair and upgrade the rear end. I ended up with a 98" wheelbase (about a 5" stretch). I simply cut the wheel well longer, then cut and slid the fender flares back as far as I could.
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With the vehicle fully operational once again, it was time to get back to wheeling!




Next, I installed a motor mount lift, slip yoke eliminator for the transfer case, and an Undercover Fab ultra high clearance skid plate.

With all the rocky trails we did, I was in serious need of lower gearing. I saved up my pennies and got a TeraLow 4:1 reduction kit that I installed into the NP231 transfer case. I also swapped my very old, hard, and cracked 35" M/Ts for some newer 35" M/T KM2s on JK Moab 17" wheels. The JK wheels had lots of backspacing so I fit them with some 2.25" wheel spacers.

Somewhere along the way, I also picked up an Eaton electronic locker for the Dana 30 front axle.

I of course then did quite a bit more wheeling!!









Between having selectable lockers front and rear, light wheels, newer (softer) tires, and the 4:1 transfer case---this thing worked unbelievably well.

Looking back, I had so much fun at this stage of the build. The Jeep just plain worked! It was surprisingly impressive with a stock~ish appearance and a number of tricks up it's sleeve.

I was however, pushing the limits of the vehicle at the expense of the front axle shafts, rear corners, rockers, and windshield frame.






I eventually covered up the extensive body damage with some new full corner and rocker armor from Stout Fabrication (formerly Moab Fab). They offered custom designed corners fit to your needs which was a really cool concept! I ordered mine for a 5" stretch, Cj tailgate, and flush tail lights.



Once again, I proceeded to wheel!




The Jeep had a balance between form and function. It was the right blend of stock and crawler. This was my all time favorite "look".
By about 2014, I had graduated college and moved back to Minnesota.

I knew I would miss all of the trails, mountains, and scenery of the west but I had felt the need to head home to where I was raised.

My 35" BFG KM2s were worn out from all the daily miles and hard wheeling. I swapped them out for some Goodyears.


The front fenders had taken a fair amount of abuse. For years I'd bump them into rocks, bent them, and do my best to straighten them back out. I got some Undercover Fab rock fenders and had them painted.


....and then I did some wheeling. In Northern Minnesota this time!
My JK wheels were scratched, chipped, and one was cracked. The logical next step at the time was an upgrade to bead lock wheels. I found an awesome deal on some Champion alloy beadlocks. They were 17x9, 5x5.5, 4.75" backspacing beadlocks for $400. I mounted them with some 1.25" wheel spacers.




While daily driving the Jeep in Minnesota, I got pulled over a lot. I was hassled for the lack of tire coverage, doors, turn signals, plate light---one officer even gave me grief over the bead locks. What was commonplace in Colorado wasn't popular here.

I got discouraged and parked the Jeep in storage.

I went on to buy a pickup truck to daily drive, bought a house, met a girl (who is now my wife), and stepped away from the hobby and into other interests.

Fast forward from 2014 to 2020.

After a long 6 years, I had an itch that only a Jeep could scratch. I went out to my father in-law's barn, put a new battery in the Jeep, and she fired right up! As it turns out, my wife enjoys wheeling! Also, one of my best buddies from out west moved near by and brought his rock crawling Ford Ranger with him.


I was back in the hobby and back on the trail! We got some local wheeling trips in. I broke both the front E locker and a front axle shaft.

Locally, I sourced a narrowed Ford high pinion Dana 44 with TJ brackets and some 37" BFG DOT Krawler tires. The axle was installed with a new Yukon air locker, chromo shafts, Yukon super joints, Warn premium locking hubs, 4.88 gears, new adjustable control arms, track bar and mount, DOM/heim steering, and a steering box and hydraulic assist ram from West Texas Offroad. I also trimmed the front and rear wheel openings to fit the 37s.

With the new front axle in and adjusted, the wheelbase now sits at just over 100"




I then did some wheeling! We made a trip down to Indiana for some wet late fall fun.


More carnage!




So far, this Dana 44 front axle takes a beat down. With the Dana 44 front all set, it was time to turn my attention to the rear axle. Back in 2013 my rear air locker imploded on itself and I swapped in an open differential. This spring, I installed an ARB air locker in the rear Dana 44 and upgraded to 35 spline axle shafts.


With a new rear air locker and 35 spline shafts installed this spring, I was excited for the season. On memorial weekend we went to a local event across the river in Dresser Wisconsin. We had a great weekend but after some high RPM climbs, the transfer case was becoming abnormally loud. These TeraLow 4:1 kits had a reputation for failure especially due to high RPM use in low range.

Sure enough, on a climb near the end of the trail I heard a snap, crackle, and pop! The transfer case was now completely bound up and forward or reverse was burning the clutch. We ended up pulling the rear driveshaft and unlocking the front hubs so my buddy could tow us out of the park.



Here is a picture of the damage to the planetary gears. Not shown are all of the metal chunks from throughout the case.
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With the TeraLow 231 4:1 transfer case kaput, I needed to come up with a new plan for gear reduction. The TeraLow served me very well through the years but it has since been discontinued. I kicked around the idea of building a 231/231 doubler but ultimately scrapped that plan due to concerns about durability and feasibility in a 100" wheelbase rig. Instead, I placed an order in June with a well known manufacturer of high quality transfer cases.

Fast forward to December 2021 and my low range solution has finally arrived!




I went with an Advance Adapters Atlas 2 speed 5:1 transfer case. I am super excited about it! This thing is a beast and should hopefully hold up for years to come. I feel the 5:1 reduction is the best option for a 4 cylinder Jeep that sees mostly technical wheeling. I am stoked to enjoy the benefits of a twin stick case, including front digs!

This past weekend, I pulled the Jeep out storage and started mocking up the Atlas for install. My goal is to ditch my Undercover Fab skid and design a totally flat skid plate (preferably skinned in UHMW). I will also run a separate transmission crossmember independent from the skid plate.

One challenge with the atlas is the overall size of it. I began cutting the floor to accommodate the new case but will need to cut quite a bit more to get it to actually fit with a flat skid. It will need room in all directions to account for flex and vibration.

This is where I'm at so far but I expect to do more cutting next time I have a chance to work on it. I'm expecting to do plenty of floor patching and possibly different seats and brackets to make it all fit. I will update as I go!
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