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Fred Beach and his Indestructible Land Rover

When my roommate Fred Beach got his inheritance, he knew right away it was going for a Land Rover. He had somehow gotten the idea that these were indestructible vehicles, and he was out to prove it.

Within a few days of getting it, he was taking it over the motorcycle jump. Great fun. I went over it a couple times as a passenger, and he got all four wheels well off the ground. The third time, I rode in the back with a massive toolbox. During that short period over the jump, the toolbox and I went up in the air, and I came down first, and the toolbox came down on top of me.

One full moon night around 2 AM we had just finished off bowls of the industrial-strength green chili at the P & T Cafe, and I just wanted to go back to the dorm and crash, but Fred wanted to go drive on the riverbed. This was a standard place to have a party.

We drove over the dike and stopped just at the gap between the trees. Fred got out and stomped around right by the door and found firm sand. Meanwhile I was eyeing a scarcely noticeable discontinuity in the riverbed about two feet ahead of the bumper; it seemed that the sand dropped about an inch and turned slightly darker. I should have known that a color change in the sand that can be seen by moonlight is a pretty big change in the sand condition, but I knew nothing about the Rio Grande riverbed, and apparently Fred didn't either. Neither of us thought much about whether the river had run anytime recently.

Fred pronounced the sand entirely safe and drove over that slight discontinuity. Beyond the sand was about as solid as chocolate pudding; we immediately sank up to the axles.

``No problem. I'll just put it in four-wheel drive.''

I knew we were stuck, but Fred didn't know it until he put it in four-wheel and spun the tires for a minute. The car didn't even rock when he did that.

We walked back to the firehouse and woke up T. Cash Rhodes, who had a yellow Scout. Those who knew T. Cash in his later days would be amazed to hear that Fred persuaded him to come out to the river at 3 AM and try to pull us out. Fortunately for him, he didn't drive into the pudding, but even back on the ``dry'' sand he almost got stuck.

I wasn't there for the actual removal, but it took not only Gary Sower's monster Dodge truck plus the winch on the Dodge tied to a tree, but it took Fred's engine in four-wheel drive as well to get back over the lip. Good thing, too, because the river ran a couple of days later, and probably would have floated the Land Rover down the river a ways.

One Saturday morning not long after that, I just wanted to sleep in, but Fred prevailed on me to help him get the Land Rover back from someplace called the Rienhardt Ranch way out south of town and west of the highway.

Fred worked for Charlie Moore's thunderstorm research crew at the time, and apparently a tethered balloon had torn loose and Fred had torn after it. The balloon had a trash can hanging from it containing several thousand dollars' worth of instruments, and Fred was going to be a hero and catch it.

Blasting across open range at full speed, Fred managed to destroy a tire. Did that stop him? No, he had a good spare. Not even slowing down much, he continued until a second tire died. That stopped him, and he walked to the Rienhardt Ranch from there.

The plan was that he would borrow Stirling's Jeep and use the spare off the Jeep for one flat and the Land Rover's spare for the other, and I was along to drive the Jeep back to town. This plan was doomed for two reasons: the number of lug holes was different on the Jeep's spare; and a third tire had gone flat after he left the ranch.

As we cruised out along the ranch roads, I asked Fred if he knew where he was going. ``Of course,'' he said, ``I was here only a couple of days ago.''

After a while we came up to a ranch.

``Is this the Rienhardt Ranch?''

``I think so.''

It wasn't. Typically for a ranch that far out of town, the front door was open, but no one seemed to be home. After shouting for a while, eventually Fred found somebody who told him that the Rienhardt Ranch was about five miles south of there along a rough track that led besides a couple of cow tanks and feeding stations.

Fred took off down this track at full speed, not realizing that this was just a track and not a fully maintained county road. We came to a long downgrade, and between it and a long upgrade there was a nearly invisible washout about six inches wide and about six inches deep, quite square in cross-section.

Fred saw the washout from about ten feet away and hit it going at least 30. WHAM. Thump.

The Jeep landed with the motor dead and the wheels skidding. Fred pushed the starter button and got a click, but no more.

We pushed the Jeep up the hill a ways, then let it roll down so Fred could try to start it. A curious thing happened: every time he engaged the clutch, the back wheels locked up. After pushing the thing up the hill three times and watching this phenomenon, we decided it was time to hoof it.

After a walk of a couple of miles we came to another ranch.

``Is this it?''

``No.''

But it had water---it was a hot summer day, and we drank our fill out at the water tank. Again, the ranch house was unlocked, and some music was playing inside, but no one was home. Fred told me to stay put and he would walk west along the wash to the Rienhardt place, which was another couple or three miles up the wash.

I stuck around there for a couple of hours, then got bored and decided to walk after Fred along the road. I got good and sunburned and tired and thirsty and made it to within a mile of the Rienhardt place when I saw a pickup coming to get me, containing Mrs. Rienhardt, Fred, and one of the hands. They brought water and, miracle of miracles, my favorite food in the universe, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, possibly the best tasting one I've ever had considering the situation.

(Note from May 2016: while birding in the Magdalenas I met two ladies who were related to the Rienhardts, and they were able to tell me that my benefactor's name was Faye.)

We went back to put the Jeep under tow and bring it back to the ranch. People who worked for Charlie Moore were always screwing up out there and getting the Rienhardts to pull them out; they didn't mind, and Charlie was always generous to the Rienhardts in return.

The wash had some pretty big stones in it, and while the Rienhardt's pickup had no trouble getting across, it was having some trouble pulling the dead weight of Colgate's Jeep. They told me to get out and jump up and down in the pickup bed, an old off-roader's trick, and it worked---with a little rocking, we got the Jeep to the road and towed it back to the ranch.

There was no way the Land Rover was going back to town this trip, with three destroyed tires. The Jeep fared better: when it hit the washout, one of the two bolts that holds the starter to the block had sheared off and a chunk of it had wedged in between the flywheel and the starter cog. To fix it, they just took off the other starter bolt and we push-started the Jeep and went back to town with a full load of tires.

Fred had a lot less success convincing me to join him on his adventures after that.


It is my sad duty to report that Fred passed on in January 2005. Please see his wife's memorial page.


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John W. Shipman, john@nmt.edu
Last updated: 2005/01/18 23:44:26
URL: http://www.nmt.edu/~shipman/write/fred.html