X-Bull Recovery Board Mounting System

Gunship with the X-Bull recovery boards mounted on the Sherpa Equipment Co. Crestone roof rack.

My son gave me some X-Bull Recovery Boards (also known as Recovery Tracks) for Christmas, and I was very happy and grateful to receive them. I plan on doing a lot of four-wheeling and overlanding, and I want to be prepared for soft ground. Recovery boards help get you unstuck quickly. The problem with these recovery boards, however, is that it’s impossible to find any mounting system for them. There are lots of folks online who have found ways to make their own mounts, but they are, frankly, not nearly as professional looking or sturdy as I’d like for my vehicle.

I was talking to my son about the lack of mounting solutions when he remembered that his best friend from junior high school’s family owned a hot rod custom shop nearby. He contacted his friend who told us to come on by.

Some of Bruce’s private collection of classic hot rods.

We drove to Bruce’s Rod Shop in Spring, TX where we met with Danny who gave us a tour of the shop, the showroom, and the facilities. We got to see many really net hot rods including one that was stolen by Bonnie and Clyde during their robbery spree through East Texas.

This Ford was stolen by Bonnie and Clyde and used in a bank robbery.

After the tour, Danny asked me what exactly I was looking for. I showed him the X-Bull recovery boards and the mounting holes. I showed him the mount that I purchased that turned out to not work due to the bolts not lining up with the holes in the board, and he said, “Give me a few minutes.” He disappeared into his office and within about 5 minutes came back out with a sheet of paper with a printed image of a mount on it. “Will this do?” I said, “Absolutely!” He told me to come back Monday afternoon and he’d have them done for me.

Monday afternoon came, and I drove over to Bruce’s Rod Shop. Danny was just finishing up the first mount. It was amazing. I then got to watch the second mount being made in the CNC machine, milled from a solid piece of half-inch thick aluminum. Once he was done with both, I paid for mine and went home to mount it to my Sherpa Equipment Co. Crestone rack.

I ended up mounting them on the driver’s side rear portion of the roof rack. In this location, it will be easy to get to by standing on the Shrockworks rock slider and up onto the driver’s side rear tire. They screwed in very easily and the boards mounted flawlessly. They are on the rack very solidly, and I have no worries about them moving or coming loose. Oh, and they look great, too!

Danny at Bruce’s Rod Shop told me that he can make these for anyone interested. He can customize it as necessary for different boards, different bolts, etc. Give him a call at 281-376-5932. Please tell him E.J. (me) sent you.


How to Up Your Grocery Game with Rago Fabrications and S-Biners

When I installed the Rago Fabrications shelf into the back of my 4Runner, I wanted to find something to replicate the functionality of the grocery hooks I had in the back of my Audi and VW Passat before it. These hooks would pop out of the top of the trunk and hold bags to keep them from rolling around on the way home from the store.

The cargo area of my 4Runner with the Rago Fabrication panels and shelf installed.

The Rago Fabrications shelf is a great item to organize the back area of the 4Runner, and it attaches easily to the Rago Storage panels on either side of the cargo area. I attached my shelf a little lower than the instructions specify, but that’s the beauty of the system; you can raise or lower the shelf as needed (it’s not a quick process, but it is relatively easy). However, I didn’t want to install the shelf so low that it would negatively impact the usable space of the cargo area, but I wanted to have some kind of hook to hang grocery bags from.

The S-Biner.

I thought of using carabiners, but settled on the S-Biner. The S-Biner is a perfect fit for easily putting plastic bags onto while hanging from the Rago shelf. It keeps the bags from rolling around, while leaving the floor of the cargo area available for the heavier items that won’t roll around or be damaged if they do.

Provisions for two weeks fit in nicely with S-Biners and the Rago Fabrications storage system.

We kid about our “Mall crawlers,” but most vehicles are used as daily drivers, only going off-road for 10% of their operational time (or less). Most of us will find ourselves getting groceries more often than on a trail, and while it’s cool to make our vehicles more capable off-road, it’s also important to make our vehicles more capable of their daily duties. This is one small modification that improves our vehicles for daily use as well as Overlanding. The S-Biners can be used for hanging other small bags and items from the Rago Fabrications shelf. They are quick and easy to use, and they are very strong.

The one down-side of using S-Biners with plastic shopping bags, however, is that there is a small indentation on the inside of the body of the S-Biner which allows the clip to lock in which always catches on the plastic bag handles when I try to remove them. I think that if these were solid, it would make taking bags off the clips much easier, but I do understand why they are designed this way. I may modify my S-Biners to get rid of these cuts, but I haven’t thought much yet about how I will do this.

All in all, the Rago Fabrications shelf coupled with the S-Biners makes for an ultra-useful modification to the cargo area of any 4Runner.


Sherpa Equipment Co. Crestone Roof Rack

It finally happened: the Crestone roof rack I ordered from Sherpa Equipment Co. arrived on Monday! I put it mostly together (front, middle, and rear cross bars only to make it easier to lift and maneuver) and with my son’s help, we got it mounted to the roof of my 4Runner.

Gunship on the grass for a beauty shot.

The build itself was very easy and straight-forward. The directions (available at Sherpa Equipment Co.’s website) are easily downloaded and printed, and as long as you follow the directions, it will assemble quickly and easily.

If you’re like me, however, and gloss over some key points that are clearly made in the directions, you will make mounting it more difficult on yourself. You see, I missed an important note about the front and back mounts being different, and I had reversed them on one side. I stood there scratching my head wondering what was wrong when my son asked me if I was sure I put the right mounts in the right location. He read the directions and wanted to make sure I read them, too. I told him that I did read them, but he was incredulous that I paid attention when reading, so he double-checked my work and found the error. Once corrected, the rack was mounted to the roof of Gunship within 5 minutes.

After the rack was mounted on the roof, I installed the remaining cross bars evenly spaced and left the cross bar that would be placed over the moon roof off until I need it. It wouldn’t hinder the operation of the moon roof at all, but I just prefer the clearer view.

My 4Runner, “Gunship,” with the awning mounted firmly.

Two days later, the awning mounts from Sherpa Equipment Co. arrived, and I quickly mounted my Yakima Slim Shady awning to the passenger side of Gunship. My wife, who has been somewhat skeptical about how fun this 4Runner could be, immediately said we should go for a picnic this weekend under the awning somewhere out in the country where we can be socially distanced and out in the open. She also said she likes the look of the rack on Gunship better than the OEM roof rack. I can’t agree more.

From the front. Such a pretty rig.

The Crestone rack is made specifically for 5th Generation 4Runners, and is all-aluminum with stainless steel hardware. I opted for the all-black bolts and hardware, and I really like how it looks. The construction is very sturdy. The cuts are clean, and the powder coating of the side and front wind deflector is very good.

Why the Sherpa Equipment Co. Crestone Roof Rack?

There are lots of other roof racks to consider, and I spent weeks researching all the available options out there and settled on the Sherpa Equipment Co. Crestone for the following reasons:

  • Quality and reputation. Everything I’ve read, seen, and heard about Sherpa Equipment Co. praised the craftsmanship and quality of their product.
  • Configurable mounting via slots for mounting cross bars. This is unique to the Crestone from Sherpa Equipment Co., and was actually a very strong selling point for me.
  • Solid construction. The sides are thicker than most, and even has handles cut into the sides to help climb up on the rock sliders or rear tire to get stuff on or off the rack.
  • No-drill full rack. There are no modifications necessary to the vehicle, and it uses the factory mounting points.
  • Rubber mounting to the roof has better waterproofing than alternatives.
  • Upgradeable. If I decide to get a light bar or lights later, it’s very easy to add a different wind deflector with cut-outs available from Sherpa Equipment Co.

Final Thoughts

Of all the racks available on the market, I personally believe that the Crestone roof rack from Sherpa Equipment Co. is an excellent value, is structurally well-designed, well-built, and looks great. It’s configurability and modularity makes it adapt to any load situation you can throw at it without having to make painful and permanent modifications to your rig. While I didn’t factor cost into my decision, it’s reasonably priced, and in-line with the competition. However, with it’s superior features, I feel that it’s a bargain at its price.

I hate shooting photos on cloudy days. The sky looks so boring.


From Sherpa Equipment Co.‘s website:



Accessorizing the 4Runner

My 2020 Army Green 4Runner TRD Pro in the driveway.

I realized today that while some of the changes I’m making to the Gunship can be considered mods, most are just accessories. So, in a sense, I’m accessorizing.

I ordered a ladder from Baja Racks, and it will arrive next week. I will be out of town, so the mounting of it will have to wait until next weekend. I also received a bottle jack last night which promptly went into the back of the rig.

As I was putting the bottle jack in, I realized just how many accessories I’ve purchased for the Gunship and I haven’t listed, so I’m in the process of creating a page on my blog where I will list all the mods, accessories, and supplies that I’ve purchased and links to them. I might even get creative and make an image map with clickable locations (like on the rock sliders, the hatch ladder, roof rack, etc).

So, what accessories are on your 4Runner or off-roader? What accessories are you looking at getting?


Ordered More Parts

Sherpa Equipment Co. awning mounting brackets

I was thinking about how I’m going to mount items to my Sherpa Equipment Company roof rack when it arrives (in a few months… ugh!), and I realized that the mounting hardware for my awning is made for round tubes. I needed to get an attaching mount for the Sherpa, so I went to their website and found accessories for the roof rack.


I also ended up purchasing two sets of “Smileys” which can be used to attach slings and straps to keep cargo tied down, and I also purchased two accessory boards with aid in attaching Rotopax and recovery boards (of which I have both).

Accessory boards. These will allow easy mounting of additional stuff.

The hilarious part is that the accessories will likely arrive far before the roof rack does. That’s okay; at least I’ll be completely ready to go to assemble my roof layout before putting it on my Gunship which will make it easier to try different layouts.

Overlanding isn’t cheap, but I’m adopting the mindset of, “Buy once, cry once.” Everything I’ve been buying so far has been high-quality and made to last, most of which have lifetime warranties. I can’t wait to start putting this stuff to good use!


Jacks, Jack Stands, and Lifting

Jack stands aren’t visible here due to lighting.

I went to Harbor Freight to purchase a jack and jack stand last night. Sure, I could have ordered on Amazon, and I could have bought some brand name stuff (which, in some cases, I absolutely prefer), but I’ve come to respect the higher-end tools and equipment Harbor Freight sells based on reviews, and personal experience.

I picked out a jack and jack stands based on features and price, and got them home. My son looked at the jack and jack stands and started smiling. “Umm, I don’t think these will work for your rig,” he said. I looked at the stuff I bought, and I looked over at my 4Runner, and I knew exactly what he was talking about. The jack stands were too short, and the jack would likely be unable to lift a tire off the ground lifting from the frame.

We tested the jack; sure enough, it didn’t lift high enough. I had to take the jack back and exchange it for the most expensive jack they had which lifted to 24”. When I got it home, we tested it, and sure enough, it can get the tires off the ground. I wanted to get a new jack stand, but they were all out. I’ll likely pick up a pair on Amazon. As for the jack stands I bought, my son kept them and paid me for them. He needed a set for his project car, and the set I bought are really nice and light-weight.

When purchasing jacks and jack stands for 4WD vehicles, you have to take into consideration not only the weight and lifting method (frame, jack point, etc), but also the height of your vehicle prior to lifting. You should make sure that the jack has enough lifting ability to get your vehicle off the ground enough to change a tire.

As for any jack operations, you should always use wheel chocks and jack stands. NEVER go under any vehicle without a jack stand. Hydraulic and mechanical jacks can fail with fatal consequences. Jack stands should be rated for the weight of the vehicle, at a minimum, and more is always better than less.


Today’s Motivation


I went out and took this photo today in an open field near my home. I took my fancy DSLR to get some really high-res photos, but the lens wasn’t cooperating. Either that, or the camera body isn’t recognizing aperture changes on the lens. Either way, I had to revert to using my iPhone 11 Pro, and while the DSLR takes better photos, these ended up really nice.


Apex Overland Recovery Points

My “Gunship” with Apex Overland Recovery Points mounted (visible at the sides of the TRD skid plate)

This afternoon, I finally had a chance to mount my Apex Overland recovery points onto my 2020 4Runner TRD Pro. The process was pretty simple once I figured out how to make the anti-sway bar fall way from the frame.

This is the first mod I actually purchased for my 4Runner back in December, three months before I took delivery of the Gunship. I knew I wanted them, as I plan on going off-road, and I knew that the factory tie-down points were not strong enough to safely recover the vehicle if necessary. These are a great option for those who don’t want to mount a full or partial steel bumper onto their vehicles. Since I don’t intend to put an aftermarket bumper on my 4Runner anytime soon, these will fit the bill nicely.

Mounting them was easy.

1. Place wheel chocks in front of and behind a wheel to keep the vehicle from rolling.
2. Loosen the bolts that hold the anti-sway bar mount in-place.
3. Jack up the vehicle, but only enough to allow there to be a 1/2” gap between the sway bar and the frame.
4. Remove the bolt from a bracket above the factory tie-down point.
5. Remove sticker over a threaded hole in the frame directly above the factory tie-down point.
6. Place the Apex Overland recovery point and thread in a bolt to hold it in place.
7. Thread all bolts in but do not tighten completely.
8. Lower vehicle and tighten all bolts.

Repeat for the opposite side (exactly the same process).

All in all, it’s a very easy mod, and one that can make the difference between a successful recovery and damaging your vehicle. More importantly, the chances of the recovery point coming away from the vehicle is far less than the chances of the factory tie-down coming off the frame which can result in serious bodily harm or death.


My Love for Overlanding Started Early

As a child, I had a subscription to National Geographic. I was a voracious reader from the time I was 5, and my parents subscribed to magazines and periodicals to sate my appetite for knowledge. Of all the things I read, nothing captured my attention more than Dr. Louis Leakey and his wife, Mary Leakey.

I was fascinated not only with their archeology and paleontology, but with their life in the field. The pictures of their camp showed Land Rovers, tents, tables, and a very austere lifestyle out in the wilds. I imagined myself out there with them, and when I played in the forest and fields around my home, I pretended to be Dr. Leakey, pulling a wagon behind my bicycle (which in my head was a Land Rover) filled with supplies like water, shovels, brushes, and a notepad to take notes with. The most I ever found was possible arrow heads and a few fossils, but I loved my time outdoors.

My grandparents would often take me camping which solidified my love of the outdoors and of camping. Each weekend spent with my grandparents was another adventure, and my grandparents, being as thrifty as anyone who lived through WWII and a revolution, always found incredibly fun things to do on a budget. Most of these things involved state or national parks, and almost always involved the outdoors.

Throughout my time in the Marines, I did spend time in the field, but not as often as someone assigned to the Division. I was an “Air Winger,” and only had to go on field exercises once or twice a year. While I was on active duty, however, I did take my kids camping as often as I could in the national parks around Southern California. We had a blast, and while I didn’t get a chance to go camping after leaving Southern California for nearly 20 years, my joining the National Guard in 2017 once again acquainted me with the outdoors.

Soon after enlisting in the Army National Guard, I went on my first field exercise. Going as a Field Artilleryman was a lot different than going to the field as a Marine Military Policeman in the Air Wing. We lived in little 1-man tents, and the field was literally a field. I setup my tent under a forested area, and there I lived for two weeks. It was hot, but it was glorious. I really enjoyed it. Over the next three years, we would go to the field 3-4 times a year, and each time, even when it was cold and rainy out, was fun.

Now, I’m getting back to camping and finally adding overlanding to the mix. Camping for fun will be different in some ways from being in the field in the military, but there’s so much overlap that I’m sure it’ll be as fun, if not more fun. Sure, I won’t be able to guide 155mm howitzers while overlanding, but I’ll be able to have bonfires and have a nip of scotch if I’d like.

It started as a child and continues 50 years later. I look forward to having grandchildren and introducing them to camping the same way my grandparents introduced it to me.


Ordered More Items for Gunship

The day I received Gunship, I ordered a trailer hitch receiver-mounted swing-out spare tire carrier from Detours of Maine. This device will attach a swing-out arm that holds a spare tire into the trailer hitch receiver. I’ve read reviews about it, and the unanimous consensus is that these are pretty solid and don’t make noise or wobble when mounted. The reason I ordered this is to get the spare tire out from under the vehicle to make changing a tire on the trail easier. I will have to have it powder coated when it arrives, but I plan on having it on Gunship shortly afterward. My wait is going to be about another 3-4 weeks, unfortunately, but well worth it.

To that end, I also ordered an extra TRD Pro wheel. It will arrive tomorrow, and I’ll go to Discount Tire and have a Nitto Grappler tire mounted to it (to match the 4 factory tires). That way, I can rotate the fifth tire among the other 4 to lengthen the duration I can run these tires by 1/5th.

Additionally, I ordered a new roof rack from Sherpa Equipment Co. in Ft. Collins, CO. Among all the roof racks, I recently learned about Sherpa, but I like their design the best. It is adjustable, and appears to be solid and well-made. All the reviews I’ve read were very positive, whereas reviews of my previous choice in roof racks has taken a hit due to quality of late. The last thing I need is to fight quality on an item I want to mount once and use often. The Sherpa is poised to fit that bill nicely, and I’m looking forward to receiving it in 3-6 weeks.

I will end this post with a funny. I decided to mount a shovel to my current factory roof rack, but I forgot that the right side of Gunship is reserved for the awning. I spent 30 minutes attaching the grips before I realized I just mounted them where the awning mounts. So I had to spend another 10 minutes removing them.


At least it looked good for a few minutes while it was on there.

I think I might paint the black parts of the shovel green.