The Allegory of the Axel Shaft

No matter how good the surface looks, the real story is told underneath


About 8 years ago I purchased a 1992 Chevy pickup truck in order to take care of the need at my business to make larger deliveries, pick up loads of paper and supplies, and more.  It served in this capacity well for a good 5 years.  But as our family grew, and some financial goals were met, the opportunity to upgrade to a newer, more comfortable truck, with better hauling and towing capabilities, became a reality.

So the newer truck was purchased by my business to fill that need, leaving me with the older Chevy to use for my own personal needs.  I loved that truck.  It was red and dark, dark grey.  The paint and body were both in very good condition making it quite the looker for an ‘older’ truck.  It had a 5-speed manual transmission, with a V8 venting through a throaty exhaust.

The plan was to use it for the more dirty and rough type of work and keep the newer truck protected from these mundane and hazardous tasks.  You know; hauling garbage to the dump, getting wood, hunting and recreating outdoors, that kind of stuff.  But what I realized was that it was just too good of a truck to sit and deteriorate while it waited for it’s turn to play.  I was using my newer truck for most of these things anyways as it would pull a trailer much better and my family could fit in it more comfortably.  So we decided to put it up for sale and let someone else enjoy it.

Because it was such a nice truck for it’s age, it sold quick (almost too quick making me think I asked too little for it).  And suddenly I had a chunk of money burning a hole in my pocket.  First, I did the responsible thing by paying off a small debt we owed.  Then, well, I fulfilled one of my childhood dreams.

You see, growing up in the hills around my hometown with my dad doing photography, naturally led me towards an interest, and love, for the four-wheel-drive vehicle and the adventure of ‘the ride’.  Just as my older brother was turning 16 the purchase of a 1960

My with Lil’ Red the Jeep CJ5 and my dog Shadow

Willys CJ5 Jeep was made.  It was pretty much stock, but with a little lift and some bigger tires, that machine could go anywhere.  This was what most of my driving training was based on.


As a result of these experiences, I developed a bit of a distant crush on the Suzuki Samurai.  They are just like the Jeeps, but completely different.  They are a hair smaller, weigh less, skinnier, and more modern than the old CJ’s I was used to.  This translated into a heater for the winter, 5 forward gears instead of only 3, power steering and a paved road-worthiness that also translated into off-road capabilities.  In contrast, the CJ5 that we called Lil’ Red maxed out on the pavement at about 50mph  and  that was after you built up some courage.

And so the search was on.  My excitement and anticipation grew as I envisioned great excursions filled with miles and miles of road, mixed between paved and dirt, seeking out new and exciting things to see and places to go.

That’s when I found it.  There it was in all of it’s caution orange glory on the classifieds page.  It was a 1988 Suzuki Samurai.  It had been upgraded with a 1.6 liter fuel injected motor over the smaller 1.3 carbureted engine they came stock with.  It was lifted, with big tires, home-made-suspension, and other modifications to make it an off-road machine.  The body was dented and mashed in at places, with a cracked windshield.  The interior was weather-worn and dirty from being outside with no top on for many seasons.  Switches and gauges didn’t work, and a rats-nest of wires dangled from underneath the dash.

I honestly was looking for something a bit cleaner, and closer to stock.  But after looking it over, and taking it for a rickety, somewhat un-safe feeling test drive, I paid the man, loaded it on my flat bed trailer, and proudly took it home.  My goals changed from a stock, daily driver, cute little rig to a big, burly off-road machine.  It had the potential for that, and I knew it!

Well, what came next was a series of fix-ups, modifications, and beatifications to make it, albeit somewhat in a shady manner, pass inspection to be licensed as road-worthy.  But also to look the part of a serious off-roader.

Now here is where I will start to get to the point:  Part of the process of making this Samurai the machine I imagined in my head as a 17 year old boy wanting to turn the heads of all the cheerleaders and show up all the jocks at the amateur hill climb contest, was that it needed the transfer case re-built and the tires were all miss-matched and so old the rubber was hard enough to be used as steam rolling cylinders.

The rig came with a locker in the rear axle which forced both rear tires to turn all the time versus an open axle that most vehicles are stock with that allows one tire to spin faster than the other, or transfers all the power to one side leaving the other side standing still.  So it was already more capable in 2-wheel drive than most SUVs in 4-wheel drive.  But with the drive to make this the coolest looking rig on the trail and wanting to use the best of the best parts so I could brag about name brands, and gear ratios to all the cool kids, I opened up my wallet and started buying parts.

First came the gears for the transfer case:  I went with an extra low set of gears, making first gear in low range as slow as a snail climbing up a frozen glacier.  Because that’s what the cool guys out on the rocks have.

Then came the big, meaty tires.  The old tires had no grip, so these big, beefy mud tires would make the rig even more capable but also it made the Samurai look the part.

Next came the rear shocks that allowed the rear suspension to flex extra far allowing one wheel to be perched up on a big rock, tucked deep into the fender and the other to drop way down to the ground.  This helped with traction on uneven terrain, but also looked cool so I could show off in pictures that I could share with my friends on Facebook.

I touched up the exterior with some cool looking fender flares, some new paint here and there, and moved the side mirror from the door to the body of the rig so I could take the doors off, ’cause that’s cool too.

I also put in some new seats, washed out all the dirt and mud, and tied the rats-nest of wires up under the dash so they were out of sight.

Finally I got a custom orange camo vinyl wrap to put on the hood, adding some very stylish flare to the rig if I do say so myself. I also added some fancy new LED off-road style lights to replace the old fashioned, boring looking, lights that the Samurai came with.  This did utilize one of the inside switches that were non-functional when it was purchased.

And TADA!!!!!  I had one mean, and very cool, looking Samurai that I could show off to everyone!  So what was the first thing I did to prove how cool my 4×4 was?  Well, what any boy would do; I proceeded to make it climb a tree!  Well, a tree-stump to be precise.

We had an old cottonwood tree that had died a few years prior and was cut down leaving a stump that was about 36 inches in diameter and stood about 40 inches tall.  The idea was to make some sort of a bench or something neat out of the remaining trunk.  But how cool would it look if I could drive the Samurai up and pose it with on tire on the very top of that trunk?!?!  Can you see it in your head?  Well, I could, and I knew it would make me a superstar in the local off-road community.

I put the Samurai in first gear and rolled over in front of the stump positioning myself with my passenger side front tire up against the base of the stump.  I shifted the transfer case into four-wheel-drive and then into low range.  I then shifted the transmission into first gear and brought the rev’s up as I began to slowly let the clutch out.

The Samurai began to move forward, and to my delight, upwards.  The passenger side front wheel began to climb the stump just as I had hoped.  About half way up the stump the rear tires began to spin and slide to the side.  So in went the clutch and down came the tire.

I was now more excited then ever to get that perfect pose I was framing in my mind.  So I re positioned myself, and gave it even more throttle as I did my best to force that tire up on top of the stump.  About 3/4 of the way up, it happened:  SNAP!!!

Any off-roader knows that sound all too well.  It is the sound of a large, and very solid piece of steel breaking because it was the weak link in a group effort of mechanical parts all trying to fulfill their captains orders at that moment.

Well, down came the tire, and as I backed away from the tree I could hear clanging, grinding, and mashing.  I knew something had broken, but wasn’t sure what.  So I began to drive towards the shop where I could investigate further.  The Samurai drug itself along with it’s front tires, the rear tires dragging like a wounded animal trying to flee a predator.

After a bit of investigating, it was confirmed.  I had broken the rear axle shaft.  All of the upgrades, time and energy spent was sitting in my shop completely useless because even though the Samurai would start, shift into gear, and run; it could not drive.  All the

Broken axle shaft after being removed and cleaned up

power and potential was brought to a complete halt by something that was completely hidden to me through the entire process of making the Samurai look the way I wanted it to.

I discovered that the bigger engine, combined with the lower gears and bigger, grippier tires, created more torque which in turn put so much more pressure and responsibility on the weak, stock, axle shaft.  After years of use, rather than being supported and strengthened to stand up to the task ahead of it.  It was broken easily, and laid there helpless, bleeding out gear oil.

What followed was only what I could define as a soul searching experience.  Humiliated by the fact that my Samurai broke so easily in my own front yard in an attempt to preform a silly publicity stunt and realizing the potential it had to strand me in a compromising situation had I been out in the hills, miles away from anybody or anything, suddenly motivated me to look at it as a whole machine; not just what could be seen by onlookers or what I expected it to look like.

I looked deeper, searching out the weaknesses.  This was not an attempt to degrade it, or play down it’s capabilities; but only in order to build upon it’s strengths and to improve it’s chances for success.

As I did this, I realized that I had spent so much time and resources on the surface upgrades that I had nothing left to mend the real problems.  The problems that should have been addressed first as to create a foundation that would stand the test of time, and of my right foot.

After visiting with my wife, and confessing my reckless errors, she allotted me a budget so I could start bringing the Samurai to life.  I was not able to strengthen every weakness in that moment, there are still many more that need to be addressed.  But Sami, (as my family affectionately refers to it now) the Samurai is stronger than it ever has been.

Sami has become a member of our family now because of the progress that has been made.  Sami and I have conquered many, many local trails without incident and earlier this year, Sami even conquered the off-roading mecca of Moab during an unforgettable trip my brother and I went on.

Sami at Moab, Utah

By setting positive, obtainable goals and being patient with the process, OFTEN looking back to remind myself how far we’ve come; Sami has become the machine I had hoped for.  But had I pushed everything at once I fear it would be parked up under an old tree, with brand new parts sparkling in the sunlight as the engine sat lifeless.  Abandoned because too many weak links had surfaced and as an overwhelming feeling settled in, a white flag of failure raised.

I love this quote by Russell M. Nelson.  He says: “Don’t demand things that are unreasonable, but demand of yourself improvement.”  Too often I feel that as a business owner/boss, a husband, a father, and a person well known in our community that I am not allowed to have weaknesses.  I have to be the perfect robot that sets the standard for all others to follow.  But as I try to follow this rigorous process of ‘being the ideal’ I find myself wearing down, and burning out.

The joy and excitement of the life I have chosen to live starts to deteriorate leaving broken dreams and a feeling of exhaustion as I try to live up to a standard that no one, but myself, has set for me.

By ignoring the things that I know deep down inside need improvement; I only set myself up for failure because they can’t withstand the burden up the upgrades, and pressure of new parts, and responsibilities I am forcing on.

So what to do?  Well, I PICKED A PARTNER.  Someone who loves me, and not only wants me to succeed, but depends on me to succeed.  That would be my wife.  That was the first step, and the somewhat easy step.  This could be a trusted co-worker, a good friend, parent, mentor, even a therapist.  Just someone who you trust, who you know cares about you, and who you would be willing to help.

The second is much harder, especially if you are built the way I am.  That step was to ASK FOR HELP.  A lot of times I don’t really need her to do much other than just to share the burden, and to act as a reminder for me.  For instance, I have learned that if I read before I go to bed, rather than watching YouTube or surfing the net, it not only allows me to sleep better, but also effects the next day in a positive manner.  I also find that I waste too much time on Facebook or YouTube or other (I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying this) meaningless entertainment.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for everything*.  But when that starts to encroach on my time with kids, or extends my mid-morning bathroom break to 25minutes……  Well, you get the point.  Often I just need her to remind me that I want to try and spend less time with those things.  Or remind me when I get in bed to put the phone down and pick up the book.  Because the prior was habit, and I am trying to form a new habit.

So to have someone simply remind me, and partner with me on these things is HUGE.  Not only is the burden shared, but the task of improving becomes magically more manageable because you have a helping hand and support.

I should also take this a step further and say that professional help may be needed as well depending on the struggles or weaknesses you face.  Most of the struggles I am facing are laziness, lack of motivation,  and maybe some mild effects of depression.  But if you are struggling with addictions, low self-esteem, etc.  You may need professional help.  Again, this is where your partner can come in and help you determine how much, or how little is needed.

When I was working on Sami, I had a ‘professional’ I called and communicated with often on the larger decisions and remedies.  I was timid at first to admit that I couldn’t manage the repairs and changes on my own.  But the professional help wasn’t demeaning or crude, but was understanding and monumental to not only helping me with the process, but helping me become self-sufficient as future hurdles appeared.

What was next?  Well, I SET PRIORITIES.  I won’t spend too much time on this, I shared much of my thoughts in my last installment entitled the The Allegory of the Hammer.  But basically I sat back and re-evaluated where I was going and pitted that against where I wanted to go when I started.  I think we often get confused about what is important, and in what order we should set our priorities.  If you take the time to really ponder on these I think you’ll find that maybe you need to re-arrange your steps in order to complete the staircase successfully and safely.  I would also add that once you have set these priorities, share them with your partner.  That way they can hold you accountable, but again, they share the burden of change.

That leads me to BEING SELFISH IS NOT BEING SELFISHOkay, I know that totally looks like a typo.  But it’s exactly what I mean.  As a father I’m supposed to want to spend every minute I can with my kids.  As a boss I should set the example and be the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave.  As a family man I should plan and execute trips based on my family and what would be best for them.  As a business owner I should attend all of the county and city planning meetings and be involved in on every aspect of the local economy.

Because if I put these things off in order to do something for MYSELF I’m being SELFISH….right???  Well the short answer is: wrong.  The long answer was presented to me by my wife.  That is why I say pick a partner.  She helped me realize that I was literally burning myself out.  I needed ‘ME TIME’ in order to re-charge, and re-evaluate my daily processes and plans.  She helped me feel okay about leaving my family and going on an adventure that I needed, but that was too difficult or just wouldn’t be fun as a family event.  She helped me realize that, yes, it’s important for me to be at work consistently, but that I didn’t need to stay longer than was needed.  I could leave when I was done and do something for ME that would help me start the next day or the next week with a new fire and sense of purpose rather than exhaustion and drudgery.

When I go to purchase a vehicle I intentionally try to ignore the glamor and beauty of what can easily be seen.  To me a few cosmetic issues are weighted very lightly in that decision.  I look under the chassis, check the oil, examine the tires for uneven wear, listen for inconsistent noises; I check the things that can be hidden or blurred by the beauty of the outward appearance.  Because the hidden things are what make the foundation of a lasting, dependable rig.

We are built the same way.  The world demands a sense of perfection in our lives.  It tells us that the ‘ideal’ is everywhere but in the mirror we face every morning.  I will not mix words when I say it is all a lie.  I will also not mix words when I say that we have potential far beyond what we can imagine.  If we ASK FOR HELP from a PARTNER, SET OUR PRIORITIES, and try to realize that you are NOT BEING SELFISH when you take some ‘me time’.  You can demand, and achieve, improvement without breaking.

An adventure last week in Sami with my daughter and my pup, Izzy


* I really like this post written by dadding depressed.  It’s called Why You Shouldn’t Give A Double Tap.  I also really enjoyed Quick Tip: Know The ‘Why’ Of Social Media and FOMO: What it is And What To Do both by the same author.

5 thoughts on “The Allegory of the Axel Shaft

  1. I really enjoyed the way you related the power-train of the vehicle with our need for constant looking within! It’s so easy to get busy in life and neglect focusing on the self-care and the relationships that keep us strong. Awesome points!


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