“I tend to travel alone with an Irish Wolfhound, good books and a camera. I’m prone towards a gypsy style of travel where destinations are optional and not necessarily desirable.” – Teriann Wakeman – first of her name, mother of Land Rovers and a bonafide encyclopedia on off-roading, truck maintenance and living the good life beyond the reaches of paved urbanization.
Teriann resurrected her current rig from a place the Princess Bride’s Miracle Max would call ‘mostly dead’ and has kept it running trails for over four decades doing almost all the upkeep and conversions herself.
In addition to the wealth of first hand knowledge on her website covering everything from Land Rover history, rig conversions, camping recipes, and trail etiquette to a detailed listing of classic Land Rover colors from 1958 through 1974; she has self-published 2 books: A Girl and Her Land Rover An Auto-Biography and The Essential Guide to Overland Travel In the United States and Canada.
Despite the endless tire tracks she’s left across remote stretches of North America, At 73 she avoids calling any of them ‘trip of a lifetime.’ A defining characteristic of those who know their greatest adventures are still ahead deep in the terra incognita.
Year, Make, Model?
1960 Land Rover Dormobile 109 that started life as a 109 regular.
What is the vehicle’s nickname?
In the beginning I owned two trucks, a Red Land Rover that I drove while trying to get my Green Rover functional. So I called the Green Rover the Green Rover.
I purchased the truck in March 1978, 41 years ago. Bonus answer: I’m 73 and intend to keep traveling in my Land Rover for as long as they let me keep my driver’s license, I can push the pedals and climb into the top bunk. Being out exploring new primitive scenic locations is my passion in life and I will continue pursuing it as best I can for as long as I can.
The Rover found you as much as you found it didn’t it?
One day in 1978 I decided to go for a morning drive along forest roads to enjoy the sun and fresh scents of the redwoods. As I rounded a corner I saw an early Series II 109 pickup that had obviously been sitting under the trees for a while and it appeared to have seen occasional use as a children’s playground. She appeared to have originally been painted white, then gray primer, then finally rattle can sprayed Hunter Green. The flaking of the green and gray paint left a mostly green tricolored Land Rover.
It had all the markings of a Land Rover that had seen long distance expedition style travel. There was a homemade front brush guard that had holders for two jerry cans laid on their backsides, one on each side of a massive electric winch. There were jerry can holders in the rear as well. She was sitting on an old set of mostly worn 12 ply Michelin off-road tires. A quick look underneath showed that she had an axillary fuel tank and a badly rusted exhaust system. The frame looked solid which was a good sign that there could still be life left in the truck.
It appeared that at one time this sad derelict Land Rover had been a hard-working long-range overland vehicle that carried some sort of camper on her back. A truck that had taken her owner along trails less traveled to explore new distant horizons. Who, through long miles and serious neglect, had reached the end of her travels and was only awaiting the time when she would be towed off to a wrecking yard to be stripped, cut into jagged chunks of aluminum and steel by workers who could never truly understand what she was or what she could be again. She deserved better, not to die in her sleep after years of neglect.
Growing up in the 1950s, daytime TV had a number of travelogues to faraway places. And invariably the vehicle that took the people to those places was a long wheelbase Series Land Rover. From a very young age, I associated long wheelbase Land Rovers as the vehicle that could safely take you on long duration trips into the distant blank spaces of the map where it reads: “Here be dragons.”
I returned a few days later and met the owner of the Land Rover. The owner told me the truck was a 1960 Series II 109. He had inherited the Land Rover from an uncle. He didn’t know much about cars and didn’t know that Land Rovers needed oil any place other than the engine. He drove the truck until the rear differential broke then put it into four-wheel drive and continued driving it in front wheel drive until either the transfer case or gearbox broke. And there she sat for almost three years. So, $350 changed hands and I towed this derelict home. Thus began a relationship that has lasted for four decades and counting.”
For 14 years she worked as a farm vehicle before the wanderlust set in. What were the conversions necessary to make her a reliable adventure vehicle?
At first a new transfer case, replacing the entire brake system including the hard lines, replacing missing light assemblies, the seats that had more duct tape than upholstery, the steering box, the tie rod ends, all the U joints, the leaf springs, the wheel bearings and seals and the broken differential. I replaced all the bushings in the truck and tightened down a lot of loose fixings. Later I replaced the stock rear axle assembly with a Salisbury rear axle assembly, ARB locking differential and MaxiDrive axles after breaking my seventh rear axle. Then, after breaking a front axle replacing that with 24 spline front axles and a Trutrac limited slip up front. My basic philosophy is if a part wears out, replace it with a new one, if a part breaks, replace it with something stronger.
I replaced both leaking front fuel tanks and added a rear 109 rear fuel tank with D110 high capacity pickup filler. I added a custom made 15-gallon stainless steel drinking water tank that sits inside the body side bench on the left side over the forward rear spring hanger (Opposite the horizontal 5-gallon propane tank in the same place on the right side). I added an air compressor to the right rear inside corner for the air locker and to be able to air up tires. As part of the air system, I added a long narrow air tank under the truck.
I had been sleeping inside the truck and making my day camp and kitchen outside the truck alongside the built-in propane tank. During a
accidental fire trying to set up camp at night during heavy rains with gale force winds I decided that I wanted to modify the interior so I could move my camp inside the truck and started researching different ways to accomplish this.
One of the big conversions was the Dormobile (a van/truck conversion kit popular in Britain) added in September of 1995. How much of a game changer was that?
The list of Dormobile Freedoms was published by Martin-Walters to help sell their Dormobiles. All I did was Americanize them. It was encapsulated by this one: FREEDOM to relax, in your mobile home, away from the everyday routine and stress of modern life.
I purchased an entire Dormobile kit, clear down to the badges and Martin-Walters commission ID plate, that came from a wrecked Land Rover Dormobile. I had the roof rebuilt, and refinished the Dormobile kitchen unit, spice rack, top bunks, and wardrobe. The stock location of the wardrobe would not allow you to be comfortable while cooking, so I moved it up to the right front just behind the front seat and added a single side facing folding jump seat opposite the cooker. This greatly improved the cooking arrangements.
The game changer is that camping is comfortable and dry in any weather and I can go from driving to camp set up and dinner started within 5 minutes. No fumbling around in the dark to set up camp, protection from storms, and being able to camp comfortably without leaving a campsite trace beyond my tire tracks.
You discuss expanding your driving limits and her mechanical limits over the course of your relationship. What have been some of the key lessons?
If something wears out replace it with the best quality part available, if something breaks, replace it with something stronger than stock. Never take a truck out on the trail that is not in top condition. The trail is no place to perform neglected maintenance. Practice polite trail etiquette when traveling with others. Learn how your actions might affect the local ecology and do what you can to travel in harmony with nature and leaving no trace behind other than your tire tracks. And those on an established trail. Don’t be afraid to walk a section of trail first and think about how best to navigate an obstacle. If you are in a group and worried about making it through, let others go first and closely observe how they fare. You can learn a lot by just observing and thinking about what you see.
You had some really interesting insights into water crossings. How to modify your vehicle to make it more capable and how to judge water by sight to see if it’s safely passable. I enjoyed hearing about that and I’m sure anyone with an off-road rig would too.
Where I grew up there was a creek running through the back yard. I spent a lot of time walking up and down that creek. I learned how to identify where underwater rocks were, how deep the water was by looking at the surface, what the bottom was by walking through it and how water carves the creek bed on curves. Crossing water in a truck is common sense if you take the time to think about it. If the vehicle is moving it pushes up a bow wave and the water is lower inside the engine bay. An engine fan sprays water all over the place if part of its rotation is in the water. Your distributor doesn’t work when wet, nor your generator/alternator. Your vehicle is a leaky boat so as long as the water level inside is low it will float or at least have a reduced ground weight when you make a deep water crossing. If the current is strong enough and your truck’s body is in the water the current will push the vehicle. If the current is too fast (as in a flood) stay out of the water, if you cross with the truck’s body partially in the water pointing the vehicle diagonally downstream lets the current help get you across. A plastic sheet laid across the trucks radiator opening keeps the water level lower inside the engine compartment. Having the engine air intake high and pointed away from the radiator is a very good idea. Remounting electrical stuff higher always helps.
If the vehicle stops during a crossing the water inside the engine bay quickly rises to the level outside. If the vehicle stops during a deep crossing or you think it might be about to enter your engine air intake, immediately turn off the engine and get towed out. Water does not compress and you could easily need a new engine if you do not. Clear water is always deeper than it looks. When in doubt, walk the crossing first. If it appears too dangerous to cross on foot it is too dangerous to drive.
You live freely and beautifully. You don’t pursue destinations. What pulls you toward your next adventure?
Itchy feet, and a yearning to see new places. Or you can call it cabin fever, and the need to get away. Then I’ll see a picture of a place and think that’s something I would like to see in person. If I have gas money, I’ll load the truck and go.
Standout memorable location or moments in the Green Rover?
Things that stand out the most are when things go wrong. I do have a favorite breakdown that I fondly recall. Just before this trip, I purchased a limited slip differential from a closeout sale. I didn’t have time to install it so made arrangements for a shop to install it in the front differential while I was on my trip. The ring and pinion gears were set up by the shop owner but much of the reassembly work was done by an apprentice, who didn’t know to set the steering stops and the shop owner missed that when he inspected the work. All was fine during most of the trip. I was on a trail inside Arches National park when trouble struck.
There was a section of trail that had a steep slick rock drop into a narrow sandy dry wash. As I hit the sand the front suspension compressed and I turned the steering full lock to align the truck up with the wash. At that instant, the right front tire caught the bottom edge of the inner fender panel and pulled it up over the top of the tire. I was immobilized until I could get the inner fender off the tire. Just as I resigned myself to removing the tire, a French couple showed up in a rented Jeep. She spoke English and he didn’t. He immediately got out and started trying to lever the inner fender panel off the tire. As he was working an older Jeep Wagoner pulled up behind the rented Jeep. This vehicle contained an elderly couple with a male friend on vacation from Texas. We had a nice talk as the inner fender was moved and I refastened it with a spare bolt and a couple of big fender washers. When the work was done a cold watermelon was brought out of the Wagoner’s cooler, sliced up, and we all shared cold watermelon on a hot day before going on our ways. It really impressed me about how friendly chance meetings can be and how willing strangers are to help when you are in trouble. I’m sure we all fondly remember that meeting and the watermelon.
The longest you’ve stayed on the road was three months. What is the trajectory of a trip like that in terms of pre and post planning?
I usually have one place in mind and a general direction for after that and play the rest by whim. In this case, I wanted to go along
the coast, north into Canada and play it completely by ear from there. During the three month trip I had had five weeks of vacation time built up, plus I was due a five-week paid sabbatical, and there were a few paid holidays during that time. All of which meant full pay during almost all of the trip. Pre planning consisted of bringing the truck into top condition with fresh fluids, packing my gear, and groceries. I’m not one for schedules or organized routes. Minimal planning gives me a feeling of freedom. On that trip, I went North along the coast, toured the Vancouver Island backcountry, then back on the mainland headed northeast. Fall comes early in Canada. When the water in my tea kettle started forming an inch or so of ice inside the truck during the night, I decided it was time to go South into Glacier National Park, then farther south hitting all the national parks along the way, spending time driving in Moab, turning west through Death Valley then North again once I hit the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, up into the White Mountains, then turned West at Lake Mono into Yosemite… then home. That ended up being a big loop.
Post planning? I cleaned out the truck, power washed the underside, and went back to work.