Well, the "couple weeks" I thought this project would take, turned into half a year owing to several things- money, studying, weather, and so on...
But I am glad to finally note that as of yesterday I finalized configuration of the crossmembers, testfitted everything, and am ready to finalize the fitment by way of MIG welding it all together.
Long story short- the crossmember that was sold to me years ago was not the correct one I ended up needing- *my* fault on that one, as I changed plans in the intervening years. The crossmember was built for use of YJ springs and Dana 30 - and I ended up going with doubled S10 springs and a Wagoneer (fullsize Jeep, circa 82) Dana 44. So my spring perches ended up moving out about 1"- just enough to bugger the works.
Of course I forgot this when Iw as planning the final build so it ended up putting me behind by a month, as I had to find time to source the materials, while making very little money on my 6-month "audition" at the new facility, and time to actually measure, cut, weld, etc- during which time my chop saw died (another $100 to replace), and nevermind that my plasma cutter died after only 2 hours' total runtime.. and just out of warranty. I will NOT buy anything made by Hobart, ever again, for the record...
.. and let's not even start about the "daylight savings" thing I forgot to take into account. I'd been making great progress when I could come home from work and still have 4 hours' daylight... now it's dark when I go to work and dark when I get home. Not so fun, that.
I'd intended to do the finish welding today- did the trial fitment yesterday, which required no small amount of hammering, grinding, levering the piece back out from between the framerails, pressing it back up, lather, rinse, repeat. Sure, it only weighs about 30 pounds- but when you're laying downhill on a 15 degree grade, head down with a pounding headache, and you've been holding the damn thing while trying to adjust it and yet keep it from slamming into your face- yeah, gets a bit tiring! To say nothing of trying to keep a snug fit for a good weldment, and to facilitate NOT having to hold it in place while you snug the spring hanger beneath it. Iritating, much? But it's done. All bolted together, truck doesn't have a jackstand under it now for the first time in 6 months. I was a tad concerned when I noted the rear end was still 3" higher than the front- something I'd have been ok with on a longbed truck, but this is a mid-length SUV- but then I remembered long ago I put in a set of those el-cheapo 8" long lift shackles, and I recently acquired a couple pair of stock shackles when I bought the springs for the front. Swapped those out (my 60" hilift was JUST long enough to get enough tension off the hanger bolts, almost)and now there's about a 1/2" difference in favor of the front. I won't worry about it just yet- there's going to be a bumper and winch mounted up front, as well as a 50 pound hilift jack- so I may well find that I'm a quarter inch low when all is said and done- I'd be fine with that. I still have a set of main leafs from the second pack I worked in, with the eyes cut off- they should do nicely as an add-a-leaf lift if need be.
Anyway- I'd intended to finish weld this all today- but apparently my tendency to operate on 4 hours' sleep a night decided to catch up with me this weekend. I slept from 1930 Friday to 0800 Saturday, and much the same last night and part of today- and am feeling a bit "off" - probably fighting off the cold bug my wife and son brought home. Yay.
Things remaining to do:
-bolt up the rear shocks, brake hose, breather hose. This has been staring me in the face for 5 months, I've been lazy about it, saying again and again I was going to address it this weekend. Luckily I never did- it would have been wasted effort now that the read end is 3" lower. I may yet have to relocate the parking brake lines and the brake hose- I'll determine that once I take it to a loading dock that's abandoned around the corner and measure for shocks and bumpstops
-drop front springs one last time, drill a hole 2" forward of the present spring pin hole to move the axle 2" forward- it's not drivable now primarily due to interference with the back of the wheelwell (which is actually the floorboard of the passenger compartment, else I'd cut and flare).
-relocate brake hardline-to-softline demarc point, welding a piece of angle to the frame as the new point aft of the shock. Use stock (new replacement) brake hoses, backwards- left on right, etc- to get to the wheel calipers.
-install hydroboost brake system, power steering pulley and filter, purge and flush. I've retrofitted a 97 Astro power steering/braking system, complete. Hydroboost brakes, more pressure and flow, everything in one fell swoop. This was to address an anticipated issue- the Dana 44 brakes are easily 75% larger volume at the wheel cylinders- my stock bits wouldn't have worked well at all. Also, I intend to go diesel in the near future, so vacuum boosting would have been problematic.
-measure for, fabricate and install shocks and bumpstops up front. On my old XJ, I never got around to fabbing proper bumpstops, partially due to the unibody construction. Poor excuse! This beat the hell out of my suspension, and I was noticing last time I looked at that truck it needs a serious going through. I want to particularly take note of a way to make a combination bumpstop mount and trackbar mount for the driver's side. My present plan is to use poly bumpstops from Daystar, but I've been told to check out stock Chevy fullsize bumps, too. I'll have to look into it. I'd appreciate paying $8 per bump instead of $30 (guessing at prices, but Daystar is PROUD of their stuff. I may even buy a stock Chevy bump, pull a plaster mold, and get some two-part poly and make my own. Could be a cottage industry!
-mount draglink to steering box. I may be swapping in an Astro steering box due to the forward location of the axle. This will require cutting out the factory crossmember in the front of the frame, relocating the passenger side brake hardline, and installation of a new front frame crossmember- which I've already done. Remember the 30 pound crossmember between the framerails I was complaining about- I learned to plan ahead. :) Actually it was partly concern for my welds- I'm not yet ready to weld up a Space Shuttle pressure vessel (luckily, this ain't one ;P ) so in order to not have to wory about the front end, ever, I decided to overbuild it. Thus the front frame crossmember atop the spring hanger crossmember. Frame member welded to the frame, spring hanger welded to both of those- equals no worries! A couple of Adel clamps, careful bending of the factory hardline and securing to the new crossmember and I ought to be ok. As well, the new crossmember provides a handy location for the engine bypass filter, and the power steering filter. Thinking ahead!
-general grinding and painting. I need to cut off the passenger side suspension mounts for the old suspension, grind the driver's side down flush instead of just "good enough", wirebrush the front axle and the frame wherever I've disturbed the factory coating, and hit it all with rustoleum Hammered finish. Once the entire build is done, I'm going to herculine everything from the beltline to the frame. The entire point of this build was to build a truck I can drive for quite some time to come, with off-the-shelf parts. To that end- corrosion protection is a concern. I'll be bedlining a lot of the steel underneath the truck, and applying Kroil or comparable protection to anything I can't reach (like the interior of the framerails).
-related, but not crucial: fabricate rock rails, modify the front bumper mounting points- by way of cutting them off, plating the framerails closed, and putting angle-iron mounts "wherever the hell I need 'em" for whatever bumper I source- I'm looking at a TJM bullbar from Australia that a friend pulled off an old Land Rover Defender 90. It's about a $1000 bar- he paid $80. Gonna show up with $200 cash and 3 gallons of homebrew and see what we can come up with. ;)
I'm sure there's other things, but I can't think of them at present. One thing that will need to be done is to figure out where in the heck I can keep all my tools. Apparently they once went in my garage, but at present they're all crammed in the project truck wherever they'll fit!
One thing that was nice to find out, and that got me fueled back up for the project- when I removed the cheapo lift shackles, replaced them with the stock bits- the truck was 3" shorter in the rear- which meant the tailgate and rear end no longer required a jump to get in (I am NOT short... ok, not THAT short...) and my truck wasn't getting "stupid big". As it sits now, I question whether the average person observing my truck will even realize it's highly modified. Also, I am 1.5" within the bumper height laws of my state now, instead of the other side of them- so no worries from Johnny Law. I respect them, but given recent events I find that I don't TRUST them... another discussion, for another venue. Suffice to say I haven't had problems, but I know a few law-abiding citizens who have.