Snow Fun with Vintage Land Cruisers

Snow Fun with Vintage Land Cruisers

Get Toyota Cruisers & Trucks Magazine on the Google Play Store!Get Toyota Cruisers & Trucks Magazine on the App StoreSnow wheeling in the San Juan Mountains of south western Colorado in autumn is about as good as it gets. In late October the fall colors and early snowfall make for a visually stunning and technically challenging off-road route. There is an old military road that follows the East Fork of the San Juan River near Pagosa Springs that is steep, rocky and narrow as it ascends towards the Continental Divide. I hooked up with a couple of local Toyota Land Cruiser enthusiasts in an attempt tackle the snow covered Elwood Pass(11,875 ft.) trail in two vintage rigs, a FJ40 and a FJ45-P. The adventure that followed proved to be far more difficult that we imagined.


In the late 1800’s, a road into southwestern Colorado was needed as settlers and miners began to move into the area. The military also needed a road connecting Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley and the soon to be built Fort Lewis in Pagosa Springs to help protect these people. Construction of a wagon road over Elwood Pass and down the East Fork of the San Juan River began by the Army in spring of 1879 for an appropriated cost of $10,000. However, before the wagon road was completed, the Army abandoned it and had moved Fort Lewis from Pagosa Springs to a location west of Durango,called Hesperus. Today, the East Fork Road allows people access to a variety of jeep trails, forest access roads, and ghost towns. This is one of the few remaining hardcore off-road routes that crest the Continental Divide in the area.

I was anxiously awaiting their arrival when Don and Mark rolled into the Hometown Market parking lot in their vintage Land Cruisers. I had met with Don a few weeks earlier at Wolfcreek Rodworks, a Land Cruiser restoration and build shop, to plan an off-road adventure in the San Juan Mountains. To my surprise, Don was driving a rare FJ40 and Mark was in a show worthy FJ45-P. It was late in the year and our goal was to head up the East Fork Road as far as possible in an attempt to drive over Elwood Pass. It had snowed a couple of days before and we were unsure if the pass was open or not. Earlier, I went on the US Forest Service website which said that it was closed. I discussed this with the guys and we decided to go as far as we could knowing that this part of Colorado statistically gets the most snow fall in the state. Off-roading in the high country is usually limited due to forest service closing the gates for the winter. We agreed that we were up for a challenge and headed east out of Pagosa on Highway 160 towards the junction of FS Rd 667 (East Fork Road).

We aired down at the entrance of the old wagon road in preparation of what was to come. Knowing that Wolf Creek Pass had received two feet of snow in recent days, we hoped that Elwood would be passable. The pair of capable rigs left the pavement and confidently headed up the winding snow packed road with Don in the lead in his FJ40. Mark and I felt comfortable with him in the front and happy that he would be breaking trail once we got to the deep snow.

As we continued up the valley, the road paralleled the river, then wound through large open pastures inhabited by curious cattle that occasionally blocked the road. A simple blaring of the horn usually motivated them to move out of our way. When the horn wasn’t enough to spook the bovine...Don just stepped on the accelerator and hoped for the best. His 1965 FJ40 Toyota Land Cruiser was powered by GM small block 350 motor with throttle body injection coupled to a SM 420 transmission. As we moved up into the higher elevations, the steep and rocky road became less noticeable and Donhad to break through 12-inches of fresh powder. Since his rig sits on 37-inchTrxus M/T tires aired down to 12lbs of pressure, he made quick work of navigating through the white stuff. The FJ60 differentials with 4:56 gears and ARB air-lockers front and rear helped keep Don on track as his rig slipped on the ice near the 200- foot ravine bordering the trail.

We kept a steady pace upward and passed through huge forest of ponderosa pines. We could see the pass in the distance as we neared the Continental Divide. Not sure what lay around the next bend, Don continued to plow through the deep snow.

Mark and I followed Don up the white canyon in his 1965 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-45P, SWB (short wheelbase) with a removable top. This rare and well-built Cruiser wasn’t short on power and it muscled its way through the deep snow that we encountered along the way. I was impressed with its performance and couldn’t wait to take a closer look to see what she was made of. During our lunch break, I gazed under the hood and noticed a 350 Crate motor with mild RV cam mated to a serpentine belt system, a 200-amp alternator, and ceramic-coated headers. A Howell throttle body fed from a bed-mounted stainless steel 34 gal fuel tank provided the juice. Underneath, a very capable drivetrain consisted of a 5-speed NV4500 tranny; 4 to 1 Orion transfer case and 4.56 gearing in the diffs for a 103 to 1 crawl ratio. Now I understood how we had motored up the snow-packed trail with such ease. After lunch we drove the pair of vintage rigs very near to the summit where we came to an unexpected stop at a lock gate. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to continue but were thrilled that we had made it this far in the extreme conditions. We reluctantly found a place to turn our rigs around to head backdown and paused for a short time to take in the awesome views of the San Juan Mountains and valley below. As we drove back on the same route, we encountered a huge herd of elk that crossed the trail in front of us. These mighty creatures were an amazing site, as viewed them in silence in their high-country habitat. We followed our tracks for time and decided to take aside trail that Don noticed. It turned out to be a fun adventure as we broke trail once again through fresh snow in an area that hadn’t seen any vehicles so far. With Don in the lead once again, we followed him through a couple of small water crossings that made for some really cool photo –ops. Afterwards,we found a spot to turn around and retraced are tracks to the main trail.

All in all, we agreed that the old wagon road leading to Elwood Pass was quite a good adventure. The recent snowfall made the trail technically challenging and the scenery at this time of year is unbelievable stunning. Atthe car wash back in Pagosa Springs, we made plans to get together in the spring after the snowmelt and complete the trip over Elwood Pass. One thingis for certain: A Toyota Land Cruiser excursion up the East Fork Valley of theSan Juan is a worth while adventure in any season.


Owner: Don Haywood

1965 FJ 40 Land Cruiser

Engine: GM Small Block 350, throttle body Injection

Radiator: Griffin aluminum cross flow, 2 inch, 19 in by 27 in core.

Powersteering cooler.

Power Steering; FJ 60 box

Overdrive: Ranger OD mounted between bell housing and Transmission

Transmission: SM 420

Transfer Case: Toyota case from Three Speed Transmission, beefed up nosecone (Twin Stick)

Axles; FJ 60, sprung over, outboarded leafs.OEM front leafs, FJ 55 Rear Leafs. Spring hangers moved forward/rearward as far as possible. Wheelbase plus three inches

Differentials: Toyota FJ 60, 4:56 gears,

ARB front and Rear

Brakes: 4W Disc Brakes

Batteries: Dual Optima Yellow tops

Radios: CB and Ham Radio 2 meters

Tire Carrier: Manafre

Tires: 37 inch Trxus M/T

Seats: Summit Racing

Dash: Custom Switching with Contura switches

Cage: 2 in Dom with frame ties.

Owner: Mark Delaney 1965 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ-45P, SWB (short wheelbase)/removable top

Engine and Drivetrain-350 Crate motor with mild RV cam mated to a serpentine belt system, 200-amp alternator, and ceramic-coated headers; 5-speed NV4500 tranny; 4 to 1

Orion transfer case and 4.56 gearing in the diffs for a 103 to 1 crawl ratio;Howell throttle body fed from a bed-mounted stainless steel 34 gal fuel tank.

Chassis/Suspension-SOA (spring over axle) with FJ-45 stock springs and ‘78 FJ40 axles, Chromoly up front; ARB air lockers front and rear; Bilstein shocks all around; Howe hydraulic assist power steering system.

Brakes-Discs all around with V6 4-Runner caliper swap up front, FJ-40 dual diaphragm brake booster, and large bore master cylinder.

Wheels and rubber-Budnik 17 x 9 inch wheels with custom 3 inch backspacing, loaded up with 37 x 12.50/17 BF Goodrich KM2’s.

Interior-One-off carbon fiber and epoxy steering wheel by the owner’s brother, molded from an ’89 Toyota pickup wheel yet incorporating the original wheel’s hub and spokes; reproduction stainless steel roof latches hand-made by owner’s brother; Mastercraft Baja RS heated seats with lumbar support; frame-tied roll bar; Vintage Air heat/AC unit; Autometer gauge cluster.


Bed-mounted ARB 50-quart fridge/freezer

Extreme Outback Magnum on-board air

Custom front and rear bumpers

Warn 8274 winch

Custom full bed cage

Autohome Columbus rooftop tent

National Luna dual battery isolator

Credits: Wolf Creek Rod Works

329 Park Ave.Pagosa Springs, CO 81147

Tel: (970) 731-3838

Michael Rudd Bio:

Michael Rudd is a photographer, writer, adventurer, explorer and Land Cruiser enthusiast. His career as a photo journalist began in 1999 as the Features editor for Four-Wheeler Magazine. He quickly established a niche inthe industry by covering off-road races, expeditions and adventures in some of of the most remote places on earth. His exploits have taken him from the heights of Khardung La, a mountain pass in northern India at 17,582 feet to Ushuaia Tierra Del Fuego, the southern most city in the world. Michael’s work has been published in Overland Journal, Four-Wheeler, Truck Trends, 4x4 Asia, Hawaii and Nevada Magazines.

Michael Rudd

Michael Rudd

Rudd fotos

Expedition Adventure Photjournalist

838 Cloud Cap Ave.Pagosa Springs , Co 81147


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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