A 4Runner Named Patches
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A 4Runner Named Patches

Author: Ann Woodward

Where do I start? With my dad’s 1965 Ford Pickup at the farm with my older Brothers? Or maybe rambling through the woods in his old 4-wheel drive? I had to be about 7 years old when I started to go to the farm with my brothers and into the fields to pull the parts we needed. What a great experience growing up at the farm in Harpursville NY. Old Roadrunners, Buicks, Square Body Chevy’s, Fords, and whatever we wanted to hold on to for parts. Our friends would call all the time throughout my childhood for parts, until my parents sold the farm in the early 2000’s. My brothers and I would use the old tractors to flip cars over and pull out the motors, use them for target practice if they were useless, and even for driving like idiots through the fields. We had 218 acres to play with, and we had so many plans for the land back then: racetrack, off road park, or just our private land. It was the place I learned so much about life and the vehicles that can be driven in all kinds of terrain.

chevy truck

My first off road vehicle was a 1985 Toyota 4Runner, followed by a few FJ80s. I loved them old Toyotas, but my first love was my 77 Chevy Pickup that I drove like I stole it. Mud was the first obsession, and climbing came later in life. That Chevy had a 12” lift and 38” tires with a built 350 under the hood. The sound of that small block still gives me goose bumps. The power behind that pedal I pressed while powering through the mud was awesome. Mud flinging machine, or the big muddy truck as we used to call it. My husband and I did a frame up restore on this truck. The transmission was a 4 speed with granny low, and a 205-transfer case to give it that little bit more torque in the mud. We really pushed this truck to its limits and broke it many times - twisted axles, blown motors, shifted pinion, and broken body mounts from jumping it. There are local places I used to take this beast to: the Endwell trails, Killer Hill, Ladies Land, and some power lines. Endwell was a sloppy mess and right next to the river. The trails were under water whenever the rain got heavy, so there was plenty of mud to sling around. Killer Hill was on top of a mountain with hills and mud. Ladies Land was also on top of a mountain and a crazy hill climb. I had to sell the big muddy truck to help buy my house in 2006, but that was not the end of my off-roading adventures by any means.

In 2015, we purchased Patches, my 1984 Toyota 4Runner TRD 22r manual. I love this truck, but she sure did put us through some tough times getting her trail worthy. When we went to look at her, it was dark, and the 4Runner had a recent inspection, so we assumed it was good. Never assume! The poor girl was just about ready for the scrap yard, but I couldn’t let that happen to this classic off road machine.

I am sure a few of you are thinking, “Why is the 4 Runner loaded that way on the tow dolly?” Well, she had an extremely bad wheel bearing, and this was our solution to get her home in one piece. I’ll tell you this, do not do that. We had a hell of a time keeping her on the road having to switch her around halfway home. By the time we got her home, the bearing burning grease smell was awful, but she was home!

Next was the evaluation of her condition and what would have to be fixed. We were under the impression that a small amount of frame repair was required; however, that was not the case with this old girl! Her frame was shot from behind the front doors all the way back to the tail gate. We just thought the frame repair was going to be minor, now it had become A LOT bigger of a project! We didn’t feel comfortable lifting the vehicle in the air; however, we lifted it and found everything gone - floors, frame, brake lines, and body mounts. Toyotas are great off-roading machines, and we just couldn’t give up on it. Why do we love this old rusted up truck? Well, the platform is amazing; the drive train is easy for us to maintain. We just had to build everything to hold the body and drivetrain together . . . crap!

Husband and wife enjoying time together in the garage with great friends. Maybe that is not normal, but it is to us. We like spending time in the garage just making things, learning new tricks, and designing new parts. We used 2x4 boxed tubing to make the beginning of Patches’ frame. We had a 87 Toyota pickup that we measured for a template. We took the measurements from the mounting points and figured out where the bends had to be. It took us about a week to accomplish the basic layout, and then we cut and welded it all together. We used limited tools to put all this together, but she does ride well on the road with the handmade frame.

Having the determination to stick with a project through all the mounting points, body mounts, bends, cutting, and welding made us second guess our decision to do this. However, we stuck with it together, holding the frame still, measuring on the floor, and hoping it’s going to come out straight. We had made a couple other frames prior to Patches for old hot rods, but this was different. We had to do all of this with the body still on the truck. We created half a frame because the front was in a lot better shape, and the idea was to just slide it in to the existing frame, but who knew the frame was rolled together square over square until it was about the size of a 2x4? All the metal layers in the frame from being folded over itself in the factory had to be removed to slide in the new frame. It took about 4 people to get the new frame slid into place and when it was set, it looked great. We were very happy that she could finally be driven down the road. Next, we had to reinforce the body to the frame with a roll cage. There was no other way it could be secured. The idea was to run the roll cage all the way through the nonexistent floors to the frame. We ordered up the tubing bender to get her solid again. The floors were in extremely bad shape all the way up to the firewalls. When is a project just too much? We came close a couple times during this build, but the key is to stay positive, and to do it with friends. Making it fun helps for sure!

We took Patches to our friend, Scott “Scooter” Schneider, to do the roll cage. My husband has some experience with roll cages from past builds too, so we were all excited to get this next part started. To start, we measured the bends and length of the tubing. The first section went through the front cab area of the 4Runner, bent around the dash and into the floors to the frame. The body was basically a skin and couldn’t be lifted off. So, away we went bending and welding. As you can see in the above picture, the floors weren’t very attached, and the plate steel in the picture was for body reinforcement and to mount the body and the floors together. We did this in eight different locations throughout the truck.

After the roll cage was completed, Patches started to feel a lot more secure. At this point, we felt good about taking her out for a test run for a friend’s birthday party on the trails. We have a great group of friends that share the same interests as us, and it seemed like a great time to give her a whirl! I convinced the husband we wouldn’t get very muddy. Well, when you go to the sloppiest trails in town, there is no avoiding the mud. So, yes, I had a large job ahead of me getting her all cleaned up after we took her down to the Endwell Trails. What a great time we had with our Jeep friends celebrating a birthday in style. We did have to get pulled out a couple times, and heard all about our Toyota getting pulled out by the Jeeps. I don’t mind the jokes if I get pulled out of the mud hole. We had a great time together on the trails and ate some cake, too.

If it’s a Jeep, Toyota, Dodge, Nissans, or any other four-wheel drive vehicle, we have a great time together. It doesn’t matter what you bring, just come out and smile. After the party was all over, we got Patches back to the garage for a cleaning. You can imagine how horrible I felt when we had to scrape all the mud off that the pressure washer couldn’t get. I heard all about that muddy mess for months. “Who thought that was a good idea?”, said my husband, and with my head down, I took it like a champ and started scraping.

On to the floors, which is where things get interesting to say the least. We had a donor truck that was our 1987 Toyota 2WD drift truck that served no purpose other than to get this 4Runner back together again. In this picture, we took the plasma cutter and just started cutting the floor out of the cab. They just about matched up perfectly. The floor was solid, so why not just cut it out and plop it in? Well, it wasn’t just that easy, the old floor of course had to come out of Patches. We couldn’t take an entire floor and fit it through the door. We cut it in half all the way down the middle and put it in side by side. Ow, and on a side note, undercoating and plasma cutters do cause small fires. I was in charge of using the air hose to blow out the flames throughout this process and during welding when it wasn’t my turn. When we cut the floor out of the 4Runner, we had to take it all the way up to the mid firewall. We wanted all of the rusty floor gone, and we were determined to make that happen. She may be over 25 years old, but we want her to last quite a bit longer after we do all this work. For the floors, we used 16 gauge sheet steel with square stock for cross bars. The new floor ran from the firewall all the way back to the tailgate. That’s why we call her patches. The firewall was all reinforced and closed. A couple panels had to be made behind the front fender, too. Our friend, Scooter, helped to bend up our panel and fix some wires that were cut. There are many patches like that throughout this 4Runner. My husband just came home one day and said, “I have a name for the 4Runner. We should call her Patches.”

Is she finished? Projects are never truly completed. However, before we could have her ready for the first event, our dear friend, Scott “Scooter” Schneider, passed away. He helped us with so much on Patches. Patches must stay alive now in memory of Scooter on the trails with us. We all were rushing to get everything ready for the Poker Run at Broome Tioga Sport Center on February 21, 2016. He was going to bring his Jeep, and we all were going to have a great time at Broome. We have been going to Broome for a while, and I was planning this Poker Run. I helped the owner, Tom Hurd, organize it. He said, “I will let you guys do the Poker Run again, but you have to get me the prizes.” A handful of volunteers and I asked the local businesses to donate door prizes. We did make it to the event with a mad rush the week before. We were determined to have Patches ready. I was also asked to take over the Southern Tier Off Road Club by Tom Hurd. STORC is Broome Tioga, and that’s where we all meet when were not all out traveling to different lands.

The first time I was really impressed with what Patches could do, was at Rausch Creek with the Mohawk Valley Mud Crawlers (MVMC). My Brother and I traveled down for the first time in early 2016. He has a 1985 Toyota pickup rock crawler. We got our trailers and headed to meet our new friends from the MVMC. This was, to say the least, an adventure. The trucks that they have are very impressive, and I was not prepared for the obstacles they were going to lead me down. I had never been to Rausch Creek prior to this trip, and my brother and I were in for a treat. We started at V Notch, which is not an easy feat at all! Three of the trucks made it with effort, but my brother and I were not ready to go up yet. So, we stuck to the red trails that we could follow on. I was afraid a couple times, but I was determined to keep up. I have learned a lot since then and feel so much more confident. They helped and encouraged me to at least attempt the impossible. I had not crawled on rocks at all prior to this trip, and there are a lot of rocks at Rausch Creek. My brother’s Toyota spun a bearing, and I had to drag him across half the park, over rocks, through mud holes, and back to camp. After we got back to camp, he jumped in my truck and back to the trails we went.

We drove all over until we got to the rock garden and sheared off the driver side center pin in the front leaf. Of course, when that happened, the front tire shifted back and got caught under the rocker panel and snapped the axle. I was freaking out a little because I didn’t know how we were going to get back to camp. A broken axle and a shifted front axle was not good. Luckily, we had some amazing people with us that never leave a wheeler on the trails. My husband always makes sure I have a lot of tools and supplies in my truck. We all started to combine tools and, thankfully, someone had a breaker bar, and another person had a center pin for the leaf. It wasn’t a factory replacement, but it got us out of the woods. I don’t know what I would have done if my truck was stuck on the trails with no way to get her back. I think being stuck on the trails with no way to get the vehicle out is major fear for a lot of people. Luckily, we have great friends, and the people I wheel with have always helped us out of a bad situation. When we got going again, we could hear the clicking noise in the front driver side of my truck. My brother and I decided it was time to head back to camp to see how bad of shape the truck was in. When we got back to camp, we decided to load up and head home. His truck had a blown motor, and Patches had a broken axle. We didn’t have any spare parts to repair in the parking lot. After that weekend, I was determined to try more difficult trails, and I learned to let my vehicle crawl through them.

Patches is a lot of fun to drive! She loves the forests of Upstate New York and goes just about anywhere I point her. I drive her like she is expected to be run - hard. She has a gusseted front end, Aussie Lockers, 488 gears, 12’ travel shocks, 63’ Chevy springs in the rear, and a 4” lift with 35” Goodyear MTR’s. Have I broken stuff? Absolutely, and my husband took it for a spin and put her on her side. I was just happy he was okay. She has her dents and broken windows, but she never leaves us disappointed.

Author: Ann Woodward