"You’re getting what to the gallon?” I asked Matt when he told me the Jeep had at least another 450km of range. Here I am refuelling Milo – again – and Matt and Rod were off ordering lunch. “About 9.5L per 100km,” he responded, “which is maybe twice as much as you?”
I’d figured it was about twice as much, maybe even more. Milo’s got a 3.4L four cylinder engine and runs small with 3.7 diff ratios that, combined with the big tyres, means it’s pulling a tad under 2000 revs at 100 km/h. I’m happy that she does about 15 miles per gallon in the old coin with a dose of FlashLube to keep that up. That’s not bad for an old 4WD. But it translates to about 20L per 100km, meaning the old girl chews exactly twice the amount of fuel. Now, I know my old truck’s got the aerodynamics of a house brick but surely there’s more to it than sleek lines?
The first couple of days, we poured on the miles. The plan was simple. A couple of friends getting married in Darwin, a wife who wanted to go, a whole lot of demand for more Roothy and Milo DVDs and a film crew who needed some wheels. We had a couple of weeks to get there and back which’d be easy if you stuck to the most direct route but that’d make a boring film wouldn’t it? Nah, we needed plenty of dirt and I had a whole swag of map that hadn’t been explored yet.
That meant making some huge miles early in the piece so, for the first couple of days, we averaged a tad over 1000km a day while still stopping for a bit of filming along the way.
The film guys would blast off in front of the convoy in the Jeep, make enough distance to give the guys time to set up cameras before the two older trucks came romping through, and then floor it to catch up.
I shouldn’t say ‘floor it’, because I wasn’t there but, somehow, I can’t imagine the lads taking it easy. Would you? In a borrowed rocket ship? And it’s not even you who borrowed it?
Every time the camera crew stepped out of their ride after 14-hour days looking all fresh and full of it, Karen and I were falling out of Milo looking like we’d lost a few rounds with a dusty bunyip.
Day three, we turned off the highway on to some old mining tracks between Cloncurry and Mount Isa. Although there’s a tourist route through here, a lot of the back trails are almost lost in regrowth because they rarely get used. Our whole focus was on finding a bunch of old mine and town sites that were occupied around the time of World War I, so we weren’t taking it easy.
A little historical aside here. Most of the mining around this region was for copper and zinc, even though later on the Mary Kathleen uranium mine got most of the press. Indeed, they’re still mining for copper in a few places nearby, but I kept wondering about the time frame. There are the remains of some incredible infrastructure buried in the back blocks, whole tunnels carved through rock to take tram lines to get the ore to the processing plants, and plenty of concrete blocks that used to hold big machinery too. But it mostly kicked off around 1914 and people were leaving by the 1920s.
It wasn’t until I picked up a handful of old 303 shells that it made sense. Artillery and bullets use brass shells and brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. World War I saw nations chewing through their stocks of shells in the first few days of the big assaults. The demand for brass must have been ferocious until after the war and then the Wall Street crash during the late 1920s would have killed off investment, too.
More than once, our trails petered out completely and we had to turn around and try something else. At one stage, I was rocking Milo up a hard scrabble steep slope with both diffs locked and taking every advantage of her low gearing and high clearance. I’d figured the Grand Cherokee was not going to do it without damage, so I called back over the radio and asked the lads to stay behind.
My thinking was, if anyone was going to damage the Jeep, it’d better be me. Anyway, I was keen to see how far it’d go before blowing retreat, so I stumbled back down the hill and climbed in.
It took a bit of mucking around to work out the traction control settings but, for a bloke who’s more used to swinging off a little lever, I was surprised how it all made sense. What surprised me more was how easily it found traction once I’d got it buttoned down. It was pretty deceptive actually, only needing careful wheel placement to grab the high points and keep the undercarriage off the rocks.
I don’t have a lot of confidence in stuff I don’t understand and computers are right up there in the 'leave it alone' bracket for me. But times have changed, computers in vehicles can’t be avoided and once a bloke accepts that, the only thing left is to test their reliability.
Not much does that like a couple of weeks of outback touring with plenty of dirt thrown in!