Preston Stevens, Director of Conservation/Land Use MAFWDA, organized and led this great adventure in Garrett County Maryland. Preston made this happen through his professional relationship with the good folks at the Savage River State Forest and The Casselman Inn in Grantsville, Maryland. Access to the trails was by exception and special permission granted by the Savage River State Forest Manager for this particular event only. The majority of the participants lodged at The Casselman Inn.
Are we “Normal” or “Nuts”? And the survey says?!! “Normal”.
- Preston and Pam Stevens and daughter Emily – Green Jeep XJ
- Robert Rixham and Shelley Fitch – Silver Toyota 4Runner
- Mike and Katie DeChristopher and family– Michigan Yellow Willys CJ-3A (The Tank)
- John Tabor and daughter – Green Jeep YJ
- John Tabor Jr and son Little John – Red Jeep JK
- Larry and Berna Pope – Blue Jeep JK
- Andrew and Cherie Taylor – Silver Nissan Xterra Pro-4X
- Erik and Dani Ramseth – White Jeep Patriot
- Ben and Courtney Paolucci – Blue Subaru Outback
Berna and I headed west Friday around noon, temperature was 45 degrees and clear sky. The past couple of days we suffered the snow and ice storm that had moved through. We received about 18 inches of snow however, Western Maryland, specifically Garrett County, received about two feet of new snow. Yes, new snow as they already had around two foot on the ground. Our trip west was without incident and the roads were clear and dry.
We pulled up to The Casselman Inn, where we would be staying, at 3 pm. The thermometer was reading 32 degrees and wind blowing that cut straight through you. Daniel Grant, an English engineer and owner of the famous Fountain Inn in Baltimore whom Grantsville derives its name, was the original owner of a piece of land called Cornucopia. The parcel included much of today’s Grantsville, at an elevation of 2,300 feet, and one thousand acres around town. The Casselman Inn was opened in 1842 by Solomon Sterner and was one of several inns on the National Trail providing lodging and meals for the stage coaches, covered wagons, drovers, and riders which made the Old Pike the busiest thoroughfare crossing the mountains of Western Maryland. In the 172 year history of the inn it has been called Sterner House, Drovers’ Inn, Farmers’ Hotel, Dorsey’s Hotel, and The Casselman Hotel and Restaurant. Sterner built the Casselman of brick which was handmade and burnt on the land. A fireplace was built in each room to furnish heat and cooking facilities for the original building.
The Dorsey’s added a kitchen in 1903 during their ownership. The Miller family assumed ownership in 1964. Business soon outgrew the facilities and a antique shop, bake shop, 40 room motel, and new 125 seat dining room were added in 1973. The Casselman is a second-generation ownership and operation and is one of the most historic landmarks in Western Maryland. And in my opinion has the best homemade food in that part of the county.
Saturday morning we found it had snowed another 8 to 10 inches overnight. After breakfast, and what a breakfast (mmm good!), everyone lined up their rigs on the road behind the motel. Preston conducted a drivers meeting and laid out the “plan” for the day. When this was complete we headed west on Alternate US Route 40 (Main Street) to the trail head Preston had decided to use the night before. US 40 is the most historic road crossing over the Appalachian Mountains. The road was originally an Indian trail known as Nemacolin’s Path, it then became a military road built by the troops of British General Braddock. Called Braddock’s Road, the General and his troops marched west in 1755 from Fort Cumberland on their way to the ill-fated expedition to Fort Duquesue during the French and Indian War. For the next 25 years the rough military road was the main thoroughfare connecting the East with the Ohio Valley. Known for years as The Old National Trail, it was later designated as US Route 40. US 40 skirts Grantsville by following I-68; but the National Road runs right through town as Main Street and Alt US 40. Presidents-elect Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor all traveled to Washington, DC via the National Road.
The line of rigs arrived at the trail head in no time since it was a short 5 miles from town. The fun began as soon as Preston entered the trail, out came the recovery strap and winch cable. We all eventually got off the road onto the trail. The snow was deep; how deep you ask? Well, deep. I’ll have to refer you to the photos but I would guess at least 3 feet and maybe 4 in places. Plus it snowed most of the time we were on the trail. The temperature never got above 27 degrees. Everyone was making good headway with Preston blazing the trail ahead of us in his XJ. When we got to one point, a bend in the trail, the fun really started. Three of us got stuck and stuck deep. Mike finally had enough and pulled out the tire chains and put them on the CJ-3A. He never got stuck again and had become the official recovery dude along with John Jr.
As we continued, inch by inch, foot by foot, further into the forest we noticed a Green ¾ ton Dodge Ram had joined us. No one knew who this guy was and he sure was not part of our group. He came up to us with his rig and then decided he would blaze his own route around our line of rigs. He wasn’t very successful other than digging ruts in and on the side of the trail. The only reason I am writing about this idiot is to show there are individuals out there with built up rigs that don’t have a clue how to drive on a trail. It’s irresponsible people like this guy that ruins it for our hobby and the off-road community as a whole. With that said he was reported to the MD DNR and hopefully they catch him one day. OK enough about that guy.
As it turns out as we got further down the trail everyone eventually got stuck in the snow. Well, with the exception of John in his YJ. He was a recovery guy also. It was at this point where I was attempting to extract Robert’s 4Runner from the deep snow when there was this loud sound of something exploding under my rig. Mike and I at the same time said “what was that? We soon found out; I just exploded the left front axle U Joint and yoke on both ends of the axle shaft. It was ugly. Only one itty bitty piece of the U Joint was found, it had totally disintegrated. So I am toast at this point and can’t go any further on the trail. Mike put a bungee cord around the axle end so we could get the JK turned around on the trail without causing much more damage. Plus it helped showing the damage a little better for those taking pictures. Mike went on ahead of us to see how the trail looked and how much deeper the snow may be. Preston and I were considering leaving the JK there and Berna and I ride with someone else for the rest of the day. We would pick it up on the way out, hopefully. Mike returned and said the snow got deeper plus the trail began going downhill meaning we would have to go uphill on the return trip. Hmmm, uphill and deep snow and it has taken us 4 hours to cover ¾ mile of trail as it was. Get everyone turned around and head back to the trail head was the decision. We did have fun getting to the point where we were. As Preston said we weren’t going to let some sour lemons spoil the fun. We eventually got everyone turned around and made it back to the road. John Jr hooked a recovery strap to me and pulled me since I only had two wheel drive and in case we encountered more deep snow going out.
Preston kept a slow pace so I could nurse the JK back to the motel without causing further damage. We went off-roading in three or more feet of snow. Are we “Normal” or “Nuts”? And the survey says?!! “Normal”. Once we were back folks headed for The Casselman for lunch except me and John. John gave me a ride to the CARQUEST store in town to see if they might have an axle shaft assembly. Nope. Neither did the NAPA store. John said he had an idea. We went to the True Value hardware store to look for a plumbing test plug. We found them so I bought a 1½ inch and a 2 inch plug because we weren’t sure of the actual diameter of the axle housing tube. These plugs have a metal circular flange on top with rubber below the flange and a bolt with wing nut running through the middle. Place the plug in an open end of a pipe and turn the wing nut to expand the rubber to make a seal and plug the pipe. Ingenious, but will it work? We returned to the motel and John went to get something to eat. Preston planned to take everyone on a tour of the back roads of the county after lunch. So Berna I jumped in Robert’s rig with him and Shelley for the afternoon ride. It was a nice ride but not as nice as it could have been driving my own rig. No offense Robert and Shelley. We headed down MD Rt. 495, through Swanton, MD to a road that lead through Deer Park, MD. Yes, where the Deer Park bottled water comes from. The logo on the bottle was the original logo of the once famous Deer Park Hotel. Several presidents and famous people would frequent there. The hotel was lost to a fire.
We continued down the often snow covered back roads of Garrett County to the access road of the Potomac State Forest, where a local farmer had cut a path through the snow, just about as wide as a Jeep, or so it seemed. It went to a point to where the road forks, where we all turned around. In the process, Preston and John Jr. managed to get hung up in the deep snow. That just added to the fun. We went out by going through the historic mining town of Steyer, MD that is right along the upper Potomac River. The scenery was awesome.
We returned to the motel around 6 and we all planned to meet at Casselman’s for dinner. After dinner everyone was going to meet in the common area of the motel and have a social gathering and talk about the day’s adventure or some other fish story. I don’t know what time the party broke up because my happy butt left at 9:00. I was wore out and worried if the JK was fixable to get home. John and John Tabor Jr, I really don’t know if he is a junior I call him that because it makes writing this easier, said they would help with the fix at 9:30 Sunday morning.
Sunday morning was cold, 17 degrees, and right on time John and John Jr pull up. I was anxious to see if the fix for the axle John had designed would actually work. If you haven’t been paying attention so far now is the time to start because here comes a temp fix for a busted axle so you can get home. Some may already know this trick but I didn’t and to me John was thinking outside the box on this one. After the guys had pulled the front tire and hub assembly off, the axle just simply slid out. John then inserted the 1½ inch test plug into the axle housing, tightened the wing nut, and the axle tube was sealed. This fix allows the wheel end of the axle shaft assembly to spin freely and keeps the differential fluid in the pumpkin. It only took about 30 minutes for the entire process.
After all was said and done everyone had a great time even if only going ¾ of mile on the trail in four hours. Off-roading is about having fun, being with friends or making new friends, and being responsible while doing it. Not like the jerk with the Dodge. It’s like meeting someone for the first time on a ride and they help whoever needs help. I offered to pay John and John Jr for doing the work for the temporary fix. Naturally being the good people they are, denied any payment. All they asked was that I “pay it forward”. That I will do and without hesitation. So if you are ever on a trail ride and I am along and you explode a front axle shaft U Joint and yoke on a Jeep, I’ll help you fix it. I now have four plumbing Test Plugs in my tool bag just in case. We made the 170 mile trip home Sunday just fine with no problems at all. Not bad for a $5 plug. I think we took the lemons Preston referred to and made lemonade. It was fun and I hope we get to do another snow run next year.
Historical information provided by The Casselman Inn and the Greater Grantsville Business Association, Inc.
Trail report written by Larry Pope. Pictures courtesy of Berna Pope, Cherie Taylor, and Mike and Katie DeChristopher.