Home Travel Stories Destinations OOCC CORVETTE TRIP Part 1 Getting There
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Written by Double Dragon
Wednesday, 30 March 2011 11:28

One Owner Collector Car- CORVETTE TRIP Part 1 Getting There

oneownercollectorcar.com

Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown, except quote from "Summer Breeze" copyright Seals and Crofts.

////////  LIFTOFF ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

_____DAY ZERO _______________________________________________________________

Vancouver, BC, Richmond, BC

Air conditioning and semi decent fuel mileage in a car with character suited a cross country trip in summer heat more than my classic cars which suck gas and have no A/C. Rental car agencies in Vancouver didn't have Challengers or Camaros and even the Mustangs were hard to catch.

I rented a Mustang GT convertible for the drive from Vancouver, British Columbia to St. Charles, Illinois. After the Bloomington Gold Corvette and Survivor Collector Car shows Mopar and Ford shows would fill the gap before shooting across to Dayton, Ohio for the GTO Nationals 'Co-Vention'.

The plan vaporized into the void as various cars failed to escape Washington State due to mechanical failure and paperwork snags. The first car; the Mustang GT convertible, barely made it 20 feet before a pudgy manager blocked my path.

Casual conversation about my car shows in the Midwest filtered up through the grapevine reaching the manager which triggered a last minute hassle.

The manager tacked on a ridiculous $4,000.00 'surcharge' because a garden variety Mustang is really some kind of specialty exotic car and the Midwest may as well have been in South America as far as he was concerned. He asserted that everyone in Vancouver who rents a car is heading directly to Disneyland in California with no detours even considered.

I raced out to the airport to pick up another rental Mustang convertible sans surcharge. The car was overdue causing the rental people to offer a Sebring convertible with significant price reduction. I appreciated their great customer service but still wanted a Mustang GT convertible. As the clock roamed towards 4 AM I was willing to take a Mustang GT hardtop due back in the afternoon.

_______DAY ONE_____________________________________________________________

Vancouver, BC/ Blaine, Bellingham, Smokey Point, WA

The original Mustang slated for the night never showed up and the hardtop due in the afternoon didn't appear till 7 PM. When I finally got the car I tore back lost time hammering my way south down Interstate I-5.

Then the world closed down. Sheets of rain slowed traffic to a crawl slogging through a barrier of water. An electrical mystery caused the car to keep shutting off intermittently. After turning around heading north again it died and left me standing in the rain.

I was lucky the way things unfolded. The car died near the off ramp and I glided in on momentum into the Smokey Point, Washington rest area. I have no cell phone and the phone booth is an endangered species but I got lucky: there were 2 phone booths in the rest area. The tow truck deposited me in back of a closed service station.

The torrential rain thrummed down on the roof of the car while I attempted to sleep in a cramped car waiting for morning mechanics to arrive.

_______DAY TWO ______________________________________________________________

Vancouver, BC, Blaine, Bellingham, Smokey Point, Arlington, Marysville, Tulalip, Seattle, Tacoma, Issaqua, Preston, Everett, Lynwood, WA

Next morning the mechanic found nothing wrong with the car. Maybe the car was just really wet. I had just wasted a sleepless night in the back of a cold, damp car.

Rain hampered progress as traffic cautiously sloshed through rivers on the Interstate. After Seattle the rain lightened up each mile further east that I progressed along Interstate 90.

"I'm going to make it in time!"

The car immediately ceased running as it crested the peaks in Issaquah and rolled into Preston, Washington on momentum. It restarted and then intermittently shut down. At the Shell on SE Highpoint way I put in a bit of gas and looked underhood. It wasn't that wet under there. I backtracked.

Trying to snag a new Mustang rental car in the grinding gridlock traffic of Tacoma airport during a hail storm left me stuck in a kaleidoscopic series of rules that blocked me from switching cars. Corporate takeovers resulted in an international chain of car rental offices with the same name in Canada and USA that are actually owned by different parent corporations and have no reciprocal agreements with one another. The no B.S. rental car dude said,

"If I was you I"d just limp that piece of shit back home and get another car."

Pounding along never stopping for gas or food in case the car would not restart I made it back into Vancouver and hurled all my junk out from the Mustang into my Pontiac LeMans. I didn't need the A/C so much as a car that would actually run well. Not paying rental car fees would compensate for the lower gas mileage of the LeMans.

After dumping the rental and trekking back home from the airport it was once more 7 PM on a whole new day. I was leaving in the 3rd car and trying to leave town for the 3rd time. I raced out in the LeMans with the 400 engine screaming out my frustration at the universe.

After clogged up rush hour traffic and border lineups the LeMans came howling down I-5 making terrific time to the Chevron in Bellingham, Washington. As I topped up the tank The Standard Gas Station Conversation began with people quizzing me about the car.

Every time you pull up in a classic car it's a good idea to pass on car lore in the hopes that one of these people will carry the torch of collecting these cars in the future. The friendly girl running the night shift remembered me from the futile departure earlier. I summed up,

"It's going to be a drag to sit in an all black interior without A/C in the Midwest but I'll trade air con for the reliability of this car. I've done a million highway trips in this car and it's dependable."

The LeMans died an hour later.

I was able to coax the bucking and stalling LeMans a few miles off the road. In the Marysville NAPA I bought a new air filter which made no difference in the way the car ran. The NAPA guys directed me to a mechanic who worked from home. No more sleeping in a car all night waiting for garages to open in the morning.

I stood in a muddy field in Arlington, Washington soaked to the skin holding a mechanics light as the shade tree mechanic attempted to decipher the mystery of the ignition system failure. After hooking up a vacuum gauge and checking plugs, spark from cap, and vacuum he found one minor vacuum issue. He fixed a broken connector to the Charcoal emissions canister.

The rain hammered away chilling us to the bone. Vicious wet dogs straining at chains snarled convincingly enough to discourage me from relieving myself behind a tree. Hours of rain and full bladder misery ended when the car finally fired up and idled normally.

Once again the likely explanation was severe wet and damp insinuating itself into everything. The washed out roads with several inches of standing water forced moisture into every crevice underhood.

The timing was taken down to factory spec but it ran weak. Pontiac engines soak up excessive advance better than other motors. We tested the timing adjustments on backroad blasts progressively advancing the timing 36 degrees total.

I ate a dripping greasy mushroom burger and fries in the parking lot of Bob's Burgers and Brew in Tulalip and headed south with my foot down hard.

The LeMans sucked up miles for an hour before it started balking. Ignition or carburetor woes made it surge and buck like a bronco at a rodeo.

Heading back up north all over again I found a nice rest stop in Everett where an old restored steam train was on display. Pulling into a Philips 66 on Alderwood in Lynwood the car seemed OK and i nearly turned back south. Good thing I didn't. Soon it was bucking and choking again on a very slight upgrade.

__________DAY THREE________________________________________________

Vancouver, BC/ Blaine, Bellingham, Cle Elum (Indian John Hill Rest Area), WA

I was right back where I started all over again. The black hole ate up time like it was candy spitting out two brand new Mustang rental cars and a collector car. I was out of time and desperate enough to consider flying. I believe that you should do a roadtrip to get to a car show but I wasn't going to get to the car show at all at the rate I was going so far.

It cost $1,500.00 for a 'direct flight' that wasn't direct. Airport speak for 'direct' is one stopover. And I'd still have to rent a car at the airport anyways to go to the shows.

Then I considered my Chevrolet Corvette. It has a high performance electronic ignition system with a garbage can sized distributor that will fire fouled plugs, old plugs, improperly gapped plugs, or wet plugs. That Vette would probably keep running at the bottom of a lake.

The bad thing about my Corvette is that it is not a long distance car. All of the things that make it such a superb car on a smoothly paved, hilly and winding road are utterly wrong on the long haul.

My Vette isn't one of the well silenced structurally rigid modern Vettes with overdrive, comfortable seats and a trunk purpose-sized to carry golf clubs. My Vette is a C3 Shark with Day Two mods aimed at reversing the small refinements built into Sharks during the 1970s and 1980s.

This is a primitive muscle car that squeaks and creaks and bashes your liver against your rib cage every time you hit a bump. The Vette is oodles of fun for the first hour or two of driving then it beats you to a pulp. The engine howls through a steep axle and loud headers while the engine and transmission blast you with heat.

Aside from the physical endurance event sitting inside that cramped sauna full of booming noise and kidney pounding thrashing promised to be, the main problem was that the Vette was unprepared for a long trek.

'Sunday Driver' status allows small problems to accumulate. The Vette was in desperate need of a new radiator and power steering hoses.

A few calls confirmed that garages wouldn't have time to get the power steering hoses delivered and installed before 5 PM closing time today. The Gymkhana specific radiator outlets are angled differently than the standard radiator outlets to allow the hoses to clear the super fat sway bar. The correct rad would have to be imported from USA. Delivery date corresponded with the end of the Survivor show.

Time to GO.

The month's worth of supplies loaded in my Pontiac LeMans wouldn't fit into the Vette. Camera lights, stands, reflectors, remote flashes and tripods were simply tossed back into the trunk of the Pontiac along with an awkward heavy big red steel tool box and hydraulic floor jack.

shoveled the bare essentials into the Vette. I tossed a large suitcase back into the Pontiac after dumping the formerly neatly folded contents through the open roof of the Vette. I put on the T Tops and hit the ignition.

RHHHHAAAAMMMMMHHH! The engine snarled to life. A few car alarms in the underground parkade sounded in response to the guttural rumble of the Vette throbbing through the air. I charged out of the parkade with the engine growling like a mean dragon yearning to incinerate the miles between me and the car shows.

oocc-trip-1-fullcar

At 7 PM the fourth car set out to break through the rain barrier of Washington State. This was the fourth car and the fourth time I had set out to leave town. Would the car make it?

The OOCC road trip was no longer a purposeful business trip with a keen responsible website owner at the helm. I was just another sleep deprived disheveled drifter riding the hallowed ground of the true random road trip.

Leaving half a week late. Check.

Driving a completely unprepared car. Check.

Useless or non existent tools and supplies in the event of a breakdown. Check.

Heading into several thousand miles of searing heat with a bum radiator. Check.

Chronic steering hose leaks. Check.

No sleep. Check.

Chaotic clutter swirling around the interior. Check.

All plans abandoned. Check.

I was in a similar position to the ROUTE 66 TV show character Tod. I was driving a shiny expensive Vette all over the USA without any funds just like he did; all I was lacking was Buz in the passenger seat.

After a long border wait of mounting anxiety listening to the lumpy cam's sputtering idle becoming progressively more ragged the beast made it across the line without totally fouling the plugs.

I made it!

I jammed the gas pedal down in triumph and the wind began to howl. As the carbon cleaned off the plugs the Vette chewed up the road burning away the miles while cars shrank in the rearview mirror like they were parked. VIPP VIPP VIPP. Cars receded into temporary blips vaporizing over the horizon.

Shooting down Interstate 5 at blinding speed I suddenly remembered the leaky radiator. The temperature gauge was a bit high. Dropping speed into the right lane to pace the traffic allowed me to hear the stereo. An MP3 disc playing the mournful album Random Harvest by Friends of Dean Martinez matched the landscape colored a dark orange and pink of sundown.

The Vette came snarling into the Chevron on Sunset Drive in Bellingham, Washington just before 9 PM. I pulled off the T Tops. Ironically the rain had dried up now that I had a car that could cope with the wet.

The Standard Gas Station Conversation here at the Bellingham Chevron had morphed into a comedic Deja Vu Daily Failure Update.

My repeated appearance at this station in a fleet of cars that broke down or were sucked back into the maw of rental car paperwork hell probably convinced everyone at the station to go buy a new Toyota. The friendly girl at the station greeted me,

"Hey it's you again! You just don't give up, do you? What kind of car is this one?"

I explained the Vette and the fate of the Lemans. She asked,

"Aren't all the shows over by now?"

"Nah. I actually left early to give my self wiggle room. Its almost as if building in time to my schedule for screwups maybe I caused them to happen. Haha."

"Wow, don't you think this trip is maybe, like, jinxed? Will this car make it?"

"Well, its leaking fluids but its a tough car that always starts up right away. I think it'll be OK."

"I thought you said the same thing about the last car?"

Her high school friends hanging at the station were surprised I was planning on visiting Aladdin's Antiques in the basement of a large antique mall called Old Town Antiques. I always go there when in town. They said almost no one from Canada goes anywhere except the big mall Bellis Fair.

oocc-trip-bellingham-aladdins-antiques

The newest generation of kids are retro hip crazy over 'vinyl' and scour antique places for old LPs. I have all the records I could ever possibly listen to. My pilgrimages here are for old car magazines.

Free parking near the courthouse is within walking distance to two large, excellent bookstores: Michaels and Henderson's. A downhill walk takes you along the winding small river that feeds into the sea leaving you on Holly. Cut left on Holly through throngs of street people and beggars and end at the antique mall. It stays open late every day.

Holly is a good spot to begin a meandering scenic drive along the ocean on old Highway 1. Highway 1 leads into Fairhaven, a well preserved old town south of Bellingham. Eclipse Books has some amazing finds. There is also a great Mexican restaurant here. It was dark so I just stayed in Bellingham and ate dinner.

At 10 PM. I crawled under the car in the dark trying to determine the source of a transmission leak which had suddenly appeared as an ominous red pool under the car. It was likely the cooling lines running into the old radiator.

It was nearly 11 PM when I sheepishly returned to the gas station to buy transmission fluid. The friendly girl and her buddies exclaimed,

"Oh no! Now what?!"

I added transmission fluid to the large plastic bucket in the passenger foot well supplied with coolant, distilled water and a gallon jug of power steering fluid. A chorus of good luck wishes from the gas station gang followed the car out to the street. They were probably expecting to see me tomorrow in a new car.

In addition to topping up fluids at each gas up, a stop was required at every rest stop to fill the sieves laughably named reservoirs. The extra time consumed miles of driving time. As the new delays piled up it looked likely that ironically, I was going to miss the Bloomington Gold Corvette show now that I was actually driving a Corvette. Further irony awaited me later when I made an inappropriate appearance at the largest Pontiac gathering in history driving a Chevy.

The Pontiac Trans Am and Chevrolet Corvette did battle right through the 1970s and created some fervent 'believers' on both sides of the fence. However, General Motors interdivision rivalry wasn't the most relevant problem right now. I had to make it to the Midwest in hot weather with a leaking radiator, leaking power steering and now a leaking transmission, too.

Although it was still warm at night, as elevation rose the air got cooler. The Vette pulled well over 100 MPH through the mountains without the temperature gauge spiking too high. The car was in its element here. Interstates are designed to smooth out the hills and chip away tight curves but at high speeds gentle curves and inclines become twisted pretzels that are fun to maneuver on.

As the Vette passed the location of the furthest prior breakdown in Preston, Washington I breathed a sigh of relief. I paused at Indian John Rest Area which was about 5 miles past Cle Elum, WA to top up the fluids.

The engine roared like a Saturn 5 rocket while stars whirled around above the open roof. Up on the mountain top in this gadget filled car it felt as if I was in the cockpit of some space ship perched atop the biggest fire breathing engine imaginable. The wind shrieking merged with the engine noise making it easy to believe there was several hundred feet of volatile fuel burning below me heading to the moon.

__________ DAY FOUR ___________________________________________________________

Moses Lake, Schrag Deal, Ritzville, Sprague Lake, WA/ Smelterville, Kellog, ID/ Alberton, Huson, Clinton, Bearmouth Rest Area, Drummond, Deer Lodge, Bozeman, MT

Interstate 90 snaked down towards a valley full of lights. The smell of hay floated into the car as I passed a dam. A black pool of water reflecting industrial lights upwards in sifting waves looked inky dark and cold. The wind was cold. The T- Tops had to go back on. I stopped at Ernie's Fuel Stop in Moses Lake, Washington just after 1 AM. The booming exhaust cut out abruptly as I killed the engine. The sudden silence left a roaring sound in my ears. Hours of high revs echoed in my mind.

Unwinding out of the car buzzing from hours of high speed driving in dark mountain sky I was suddenly bombarded by the bright gas station lights in a discombobulating blare of incandescent flares. The lights in the station had an unnaturally bright glow and seemed to vibrate through their Hertz cycles like a breathing hyper machine. I was edgy from days of minimal sleep, stretched too thin.

After gassing up, replenishing fluids and reorganizing the car to facilitate re installation of the T- Tops I had been at the station for over an hour. To keep thinking in terms of a schedule at this point was hopeless optimism which then spurred a chafing feeling as time drained away like one of the out of control leaks in the car.

I passed through Schrag Deal, Washington and soon a rest stop appeared as my eyes were getting fuzzy. I passed out an hour before dawn.

oocc gto nats washington rest area vette

Shortly after sunrise I awoke in the Schrag Rest Area looking out across open fields. Warm wind whipped at me. Bright sun kept my inner system running full bore despite no more than 2 hours of sleep last night and about the same the prior nights. An old camper truck covered in travel stickers sat a few spots away. The hippy couple living in it were preparing an elaborate meal on a small gas stove. Turning the other direction there was nothing but a distant horizon.

It was 5 days since the morning I had originally set out in a brand new black Mustang GT convertible rental car. Now I finally made it! Stretching out, I grinned at the open field. It felt great to escape the gravity field of bad luck, now free and heading into wide open spaces.

It was already hot. No need for T- Tops. Reorganizing the contents of the car to make way for the T- Tops followed by the fluid replenishment ritual burnt up an hour and a half. The molasses pace of this fiddling around prompted a brief yearning for that black brand new Mustang GT rental car.

In the modern Mustang GT you unlatch the roof at two points, and then push a button and the power top retracts in seconds. The Vette's glass T-Tops are heavy and awkward to manipulate on and off the roof and in and out of their storage bags. Lacking the trunk and backseat space of the GT, everything in the Vette has to be reshuffled for access.

My Vette has the optional mounting points for the T-Top carrying paraphernalia to attach to the rear of the car but that process is even more of a hassle than just reshuffling stuff in the car to make them fit. Even beyond the T- Top situation most of the ergonomics of the C3 Corvette are abysmal when contrasted to the modern Mustang GT.

C3 Corvettes are infamous for 'hot foot syndrome'. The cramped boiling hot foot wells thrust deep into the engine compartment area. The wells are angled in line with the transmission tunnel which presses your legs into a slightly skewed angle. Mounting the drivetrain back into the cabin achieves 50/50 weight distribution but you pay for it after sitting in the car for a few hours.

The sharply raked seat back angle exists to create a low roofline but becomes ridiculous on long journeys. Additionally, my Vette has heat attracting dark Claret Red full leather seats. To compound the discomfort my Vette includes the incredibly great handling but monumentally harsh optional gymkhana suspension. As you wrestle with the wheel the car darts sideways like a go kart tracking on road imperfections while it magnifies small ripples in the road into pounding impacts that crash through your body with sonic booms.

A racer's axle ratio keeps the Vette engine screaming at highway speeds through loud headers which amplify the racket. Exhaust exits through true 2 1/2 inch dual exhaust, pounding the floor like an empty barrel. The thumping vibration on the floor and mean sound of the car that is so exciting when you fire it up fills your mind with a crashing cacophony that starts to obliterate everything else after a few hundred miles. The heavy metal noise emitting from the Flowmasters makes you fully understand why rock concerts typically only last for 2 hours.

An added bonus of the Mustang GT would have been an absence of fluid leaks... and A/C.... ergonomic seats... overdrive... quiet interior... the ability to hear the music instead of the insistent roar of headers....but the yearning for the modern cars ceased when I stepped on the gas.

Modern cars have come a long way but the old cars have their own appeal.

This savage old musclecar has a loose high performance engine that winds up so easily it practically begs to rev. David Wilcox's savage riff in "Blood Money" blared on the stereo augmenting the savage engine roar. The harsh guitars made me stomp down on the gas blurring the fields into streaks of color. You feel the speed in this car. The Vette wailed down the highway with a sonic boom that eradicated all care about trunks, power tops, stereos or A/C.

This crude Vette directly connects with the original model from 1953 with its primitive 'side curtains' instead of glass. The sports cars of the 1950s had the rambunctious feel of an open air motorcycle. Despite being hailed as a refined GT machine in its final years, the Shark Corvettes share more in common with the 1950s Vette than the modern one.

Mine in particular is a throwback to the 1960s musclecar years with a choppy go kart ride and throbbing loud engine. The plastic body panels barely disguise the fact that you are sitting beside the transmission surrounded by four huge wheels. The landscape stretched into lines of speed. I felt like the astronaut at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey whipping through dimensions...

The first town to pop up was Ritzville, Washington. At 9 AM I bought milk from the Ritz Food Mart and sat at their green plastic picnic table in the parking lot of the Conoco station. Eating cereal in a plastic bowl facing a mini ice cream stand and the Interstate tangle of exits I savored the farm air and the food.

A mud covered battered Ford Taurus with Montana plates pulled up. A cute Asian girl got out and began walking a little dog, circling around the building eyeing me and then the Vette.

“This is your car?”

I nod. She has hot pants and high heels which seem completely out of this world in a small farm community. I was admiring her legs which seemed darkly tan in contrast to her white short shorts when her next statement caught me off guard,

“Beautiful car. Beautiful eyes.”

I grinned widely and began rambling some insane gibberish. Sleep deprivation combined with the morning pulse of testosterone was discombobulating me. I could hear myself speak the ravings of a madman. But I can hold a conversation in any state of mind.

She was from the Midwest and travelling alone with her little dog. When I asked the why and where she merely said,

“Escape.”

She tied the little dog to the leg of the picnic table I was sitting at and plunked down beside me. She rested her head on my shoulder. I stopped eating. Was this some crazy dream? What is this girl dressed like this doing in the middle of Nowheresville farm land alone? She wasn't willing to answer questions. She took off her black 'North Face' hat, brushed her hair away from her profile and looked up for a second locking eyes with me. It seemed like we were going to kiss. She abruptly got up and said,

“Another time, another place.”

She untied her dog and was gone. I resumed eating; thinking that yes, I am now officially on a true road trip. This sort of stuff doesn't happen to people who have an itinerary and everything neatly packed in a suitcase. Once control is dropped and surrender to the rhythm of a trip sinks in you are opened up to currents and streams that flow to drifters.

A big trucker came over. He saw the whole drama unfolding and pressed me,

"What just happened with the little lady? Why'd you let her get away?"

“It was so fast and weird, I don’t know what happened!”

We theorized that she was a runaway mail order bride heading West to blend in with the large Asian population in San Francisco.

I told him about the car shows. He shook his head,

"No way. If you drive straight through you'll make it. But if you're stopping all the time for picnics like this you won't have time, even in that car. Not counting the eating, even before you unpack your stuff you've lost mileage just by pulling your vehicle over to the side of the road. The only way to make mileage is to never stop except for fuel. You need to eat on the road."

He told me about truckers who had gallon piss jugs so they didn't even have to stop driving to piss. There were legends about guys who cut holes in the seat and floor that left a passage straight down to the roadway so that all bodily functions could be accomplished while on the move but he had never seen a truck outfitted like that himself. He gestured to the Vette,

"How big is the tank in this car?"

"About 24 gallons."

Right off the top of his head, the trucker rattled off the Interstate route I would be taking (he was right) and how many times I would have to stop to fill up (also correct),

"You can make it to Milwaukee in two days if you only stop for gas. That's including checking into a hotel and sleeping 8 hours and taking a 15 minute shower. You could pull into your friend's driveway just before bedtime."

I was unwilling to miss meals or eat in the car. Meals alone added an extra day to my ETA thus dooming the Bloomington Gold show as a lost cause. The other issue not factored into his analysis was the slow pace I was running to keep temperatures down plus the million stops required to keep fluids topped up.

The certain knowledge that it was too late relaxed my inner tensions and freed me to take in the world instead of rushing and fretting.

I walked into the cluttered store with stuff on every wall leading to the can. The washroom had a chrome box mounted on the wall that dispensed cologne for 25 cents each. The whole morning seemed like a strange dream.

Where am I, who am I, what date is it, where did I come from, where am I going next… I answered those questions in my mind to connect the impressions and events of the morning.

No longer pushing time I went cruising through Ritzville along Division and onto Adams Road. 'The Whisperin Palms' sign loomed overhead which seemed apt as the wind ruffled my hair and the car stereo played "Summer Breeze" by Seals and Crofts. "...summer breeze makes me feel fine..."

oocc-gto-nats-ritzville-whisperin-palms

In the center of town a restored Northern Pacific Railway station house now contains a museum. Old farm equipment artfully lined the street. Wheat elevators and crisscrossing rail tracks remain as a legacy of early days when the town was the biggest wheat depot on earth. Ritzville's population crested over 2,000 in the early 1960s before subsiding again by the start of the 1970s. Things stagnated when Interstate 90 bypassed the downtown area. The upside is that the slowdown saved the buildings from teardowns.

Ritzville preserves its early small town flavor. I browsed an old antique store searching for old MECHANIX ILLUSTRATED and POPULAR MECHANICS magazines. Antique stores are just about the only places that have them. The Vette idled up the virtually deserted streets. The Ritz movie theater evokes the name of the famous theater in New York while also reflecting the name of this town. The Art Deco style dates back to its establishment Sep 7, 1937. Bjarne Moe was the architect.

oocc-gto-nats-ritzville-theatre

The streets are clean, orderly and quiet. Clocks tell the right time on street corners. No one was around. It almost felt like an empty movie set.

oocc-gto-nats-ritzville-pastme-and-clock

A soft wind whistled through an abandoned auto garage with an equally weathered 1969 Ford Ranchero parked out front. Faded letters on the front of the garage said Weber's Repairs.

OOCC Vette trip ritzville weber garage

The frozen scene with a car that had been awaiting service when time stopped for 40 years can be seen in the story of this 1969 Ford Ranchero in the ALLEY FINDS portion of the CAR STORIES section of this website.

oocc-gto-nats-ranchero-ritzville

I slowly left town, cruising down the Interstate at a leisurely pace. At the Sprague Lake Rest stop replenishing the car’s insatiable appetite for fluids, it felt like I was running in place. True, I had eaten and washed up and dealt with the fluids in the car. I also experienced an existential European travel movie moment with some mysterious girl; but now it was afternoon and I was only about 20 miles east of Ritzville. The trucker was right about stopping. I lost 50 miles of driving everytime a power steering fluid and radiator fluid top up occurred.

I had the radiator overflow reservoir's rate figured to predict when it was down to the add line, thus minimizing my stops. Although the process was streamlined as much as possible my system didn't resemble a pit stop at Indy 500. There is no fast way to put power steering fluid in a Corvette. The unit sits awkwardly directly beneath the alternator. You need a long narrow funnel angled in to reach it. You put a few drops in, pull out the funnel, replace the cap which has the integral dipstick and then repeat until you get to the right level.

Engine temperature sat at 200 degrees F driving a flat 65 MPH in this summer heat which was already up to 80 degrees F. Nudging up to 75 MPH instantly drove the temp gauge needle to the right of 200 which is understandable given the 3.90:1 axle in this car. Settling into a slow easy cruise seemed the wisest approach. Oil pressure was holding at 40 PSI.

The minor transmission leak promoted itself to major and began fiercely spewing out fluid. The lines leading into the radiator reservoir seemed to be leaking from the seam where the line attaches to the threaded ends of the lower radiator tank.

Tightening things accomplished nothing, although it was hard to know if my adjustable cheapo wrench was turning the nut or just sliding overtop of the slippery layer of fluid. I couldn't see what my arm and shoulders were doing squeezed under the 3 inches of clearance between road and front spoiler type lip surround that created a wind spat over the front wheels. That nice hydraulic floor jack that was left behind with the other tools would be really handy right now.

More time was devoted to replenishing fluid levels than pumping gas into the car. Any semblance of a schedule was cut to shreds. Irritation flooded my brain despite an inner dialogue telling me to go with the flow. After spending five minutes futilely trying to wash the oil and transmission fluid off my palms using the hard powdered pink rest stop soap and ice cold water I was pissed off. A car pulled into the rest area and an instant admirer of the car said,

"What a perfect car!"

I wasn't in my usual gregarious 'passing of the torch' Collector Car Ambassador mood,

"Thanks... But looks are deceiving. This is Archie Andrews' jalopy and every Grapes of Wrathmobile rolled into one. This is a modern Okie junker held together with bailing wire riding down old Route 66 blowing steam all the way."

"Beg pardon?"

"It looks OK on the outside, but it's just another overloaded Okie travesty. Its a thirty year old car overflowing with junk which is basically what the Okies drove. It has to be babied down the road because it's leaking everything all the time at a phenomenal rate..."

The guy glanced inside the car at the hurricane of junk and flinched.

"Well, you do have an awful lot of stuff crammed in there. But I think the true equivalent would be some kind of old farm car like a Ford pickup or an old Plymouth four door, not a specialty car like this. Also those guys had wash tubs and beds and all sortsa stuff tied to those cars."

He was right on that score, but the Vette was beating the Okies on fluid consumption. The only thing that wasn't leaking was engine oil. The engine was professionally built by a performance shop a few years prior. It was super clean and ran very strong which made it so silly to have traffic passing me all day long.

Old ladies with blue hair set the cruise control in their 1990 era Buick Centurys at 80 MPH along here. Now that we were in Idaho the official speed limit was 75 MPH (trucks 65). I started pushing along with the traffic. The temp held steady at 210. As the roads emptied out I was cruising at 90 MPH and still holding at 210 degrees. At any speed over 80 the spoilers mash the car into the ground, and it hunkers down holding the road tightly. The steering becomes precise and light as the car begins to fly. It's just so much nicer to drive this car at 90 than 60, so I kept doing it. Corvettes come to life at higher speeds.

The T tops had been off all day. My lack of shirt or hat resulted in a very dark tan. The claret leather seats sealed burning heat on my back, compelling me to drape a towel over the seatback to avoid sticking to the seats.

The car is a different animal when the tops are on and off. Driving less than 40 MPH with the T tops on engine noise is a partially muted savage roar- barely contained. The T tops get noisy as you reach highway speeds because the leading edge of the tops aren't flush with the windshield frame (by design) creating wind noise.

Keeping the T tops off makes you keenly aware of the throbbing engine around town, like some beast on a leash anxious to pounce. At all times you are immersed in the thunder of omnipresent power, even at low speeds. Everything changes at highway speed. With the tops off and side windows rolled up the wind just washes over top of the open roof area, making wind noise quieter than expected at 60 or 70. Once you exceed 80 MPH the wind noise is loud enough to cancel out the music. This Vette is factory equipped with an optional quadraphonic system which actually has very good sound. I missed the music but enjoyed the speed.

Somewhere in the hills a woman in an obviously low miles still new looking 2006 white Chevrolet Impala SS was torching the fast lane. I impulsively followed her. The Vette's cam comes on strong after 3,000 rpm and as it winds out the engine strains to explode right out of the body of the car which is jamming me into the seat with intense pressure. The revs climb very fast and the Vette surged forwards hurtling itself after the Monte Carlo.

It was early afternoon as we both floated on the top of a huge hill providing a view of the strings of the white perfect smooth pavement stretching out forever into a distant valley… and no other traffic.

Despite the Impala SS's high speed advantage via its 0.70 overdrive I stayed with her screaming down the steep long hill at 130 MPH even with the Vette's direct 1:1 final drive and steep rear axle. All you need is serious amounts of horsepower and good aerodynamics to go fast despite a crazy drag racer rear axle.

Zora Arkus-Duntov, the 'godfather' of the Corvette designed his Vettes to handle optimally at 120 MPH. The car tracks and steers perfectly without scary wind lift. As if deferring to Zora's engineering, the Impala SS lady settled into a 120 MPH groove once we hit flat ground again. I kept her in sight as a little white blip in the heat haze waves floating above the hood bulge between the double humps of the front fenders. The temp gauge stayed on 210. The headers transmitted engine roar almost as deafening as a fighter jet wide open.

The Impala took me through almost half the state until I decided to get off the highway to check fluid levels. The car hadn't used anymore fluid at this torrid pace than at any other previous stop. The engine was rumbling contentedly, finally having gotten a good cleanout after years of short Sunday jaunts.

Time can be recaptured blazing along at full speed without fear of the engine overheating. Thus began rationalizations about lengthy sightseeing.

“I can make up the time.”

I took Exit 48 off Interstate 90 and plunged down into a small former mining town named Smelterville, Idaho. I followed the cracked pavement of McKinley Ave W into Kellogg, Idaho. The narrow road led through a bleak landscape named Deadwood Gulch. Signs on the winding road admonished drivers to stay on the highway. No trespassing. "You will be prosecuted". Open holes dot the landscape; remnants of the days when mining was the town industry.

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The population in Kellogg was depleted to a little more than 2,000 people after the mine shut down in 1981. Now resort tourism and a golf course helps prop up Kellogg's economy.

A wooden arch over the road welcomed me to 'Historic Uptown Kellogg'. I parked up top of Main and walked down in hot sun to Rancho Viejo Mexican restaurant at 319 Main Street. A thermometer indicated that it was now 90 degrees F.

Funny murals painted on walls inside the restaurant depicted comical Old West scenes. Prospector/ cowboy type people walking up and down the hill passed by my window seat. One of the waitresses nursed a baby in front of the TV and made jokes with the waiter.

Waiting for my burrito I got my first exposure to the TV show 'SpongeBob'. This TV show was going to become an inescapable part of the OOCC trip later on although I had no premonition of that right now. I ate a good, filling meal and felt well satisfied.

I strolled through town. Some redline driving would make up the lost time. At the base of the hill bronze shutters on a building shot sunlight back at me like a lighthouse beacon.

Inside a huge thrift shop called Pa Pa's Barn all the various stages of thrift store shopping were represented. The upstairs was neatly laid out with each vendor's goods in the pristine glass cases. This upscale refined scene degenerated into chaos downstairs where stuff flowed in every direction. Someone had created a Halloween style fullscale fake mineshaft with skeletons in it. A fountain and stuffed coyote on the rocks around it dominated the room. The basement is best described by the word "jumble shop'.

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Model cars and old license plates and puzzles and old board games piled up everywhere. Ragged holes were cut in walls leading into adjoining stores a bit like secret tunnels. Three formerly separate store fronts were thus connected, ending in a gallery with local artist paintings. Time sucked away as I flipped through old car magazines searching for ones missing from my collection.

After email checks on the computer in the Kellogg air-conditioned library I sauntered to the top of the hill overlooking the town. Hours of lost time hung in a limbo waiting for recapture by the Vette flying along at jet speed compressing time back into the past.

Replacing the T tops would give my sunburn a break. Who cares how much time the T top shuffle was going to waste? I'll just make up the time by pressing the gas pedal down. Stevie Ray Vaughn played "Let the Good Times Roll" on the car stereo as I pinned the speedometer needle.

The border to Montana appeared right at the peak of a mountaintop on Interstate 90. The road dropped down into the new state clicking off miles so quickly it felt like there was plenty of time to check out the former railway town Alberton, Montana (population 370).

Off the Interstate again!

The Vette rolled down exit 77 and up to a park. I was heading to Milwaukee eventually so it was interesting that a Milwaukee synchronicity appeared. A restored old train sat on display alongside a 1908 building named 'The Milwaukee Railway Depot'. The depot had been transformed into a community center. The train carried the name of the now defunct railway system "The Milwaukee Road" on its side. A food bank sign and clothing donation bin nearby was a depressing reminder of the bad economic times all over the USA.

The Montana Valley Bookstore sits beside the Trax Bar on Railway Avenue. Hand written cardboard signs directed me to light switches. The store stayed dark. Lights were used only for the section currently being browsed. I was alone in the long, dark, high shelves. The stock exceeds the 100,000 books claimed on road signage advertisements. Despite hours of combing through everything no owner ever showed up to monitor me. Famed 'small town trust' still exists. To buy a book, I hunted down the owner who turned out to be next door.

oocc-gto-nats-alberton-mt-bookstore.

The two lane highway passes the few buildings in town and loops back to the Interstate. Pounding along at 100 MPH it seemed like the car wasn't using any gas. The gas gauge stays on full plus forever… then it slowly descends to one quarter. The 24 gallon tank creates the impression of infinite resources until the needle touches a quarter tank. Then watch out. Just look away and it’s in the red zone. Then it's suddenly on 'E'.

Unlike a lot of GM cars, when the Vette says 'E', the car stops running, period. No grace.

Looking at that 'E' out in the middle of nowhere suddenly coated my already heat soaked bare torso with a layer of anxiety sweat. It was 6:40 PM and a lot of small town places would already be shut down. 65 MPH is as fast as I dare run in the limitless vista stretching out ahead. I can almost feel the gas tank drying out.

Soon I'm crawling at 50 with my eye glued to the gas gauge as if looking at it every ten seconds is going to have any effect on what happens next. There is less than one mile before the car will stop running.

Then- a gas sign!

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The Exit 85 off ramp leads round a bend to a gravel road ending at Huson Mercantile sitting on 23420 Huson Road in the town of Huson, Montana. The old style gas pumps out front don't work.

The proprietor poked her head out,

"I'm just closing up but I can turn the pump back on for a minute."

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After thanking her, I squint at the faded Sinclair gas pump logo. I hate to seem unappreciative, but I'm a car nut which provokes my question,

"Is it really Sinclair gas? Do you know how fresh it is?"

"Well, it COULD be Sinclair I guess. Those are old pumps. I'm not certain what type of gas it is. I use it in my truck and it seems OK. We haven't had the tanker coming by so often these days, though so it may be a bit stale now."

Without a specific brand assigned to the gas, the tanker might just be adding some generic additive formula or even none at all to the raw gasoline. The way you get a 'brand name' gasoline is from the additive package.

Skeptics will tell you that all gas is the same because the big gas trucks pump the same gasoline into a multitude of varied brand name stations. What the skeptics don't know is that the tanker also pumps in the specific additive package developed by each company into the appropriate stations which makes that raw gas into 'Sunoco', 'Shell', 'Texaco' or 'Chevron'.

I gamble that ten bucks worth will get me far enough to find a Chevron station which is my preferred brand.

Inside Huson Mercantile, a ‘garage sale’ of random stuff lies atop the virtually empty store shelves. The place is in the dying stages of an out of business clearance. Of course my purchase of a mere 10 bucks gas isn't helping the situation. But I'm a car nut- what can I do? If this station had my brand I would have filled up.

The ruins of business have sadly been a common sight as I venture through the USA. One good thing about Canada, despite my complaints about restricted availability of products, inflated prices and miserable weather is the conservative banking policies. This saved Canada from the extreme housing bubble explosion and stock disaster that decimated USA.

Abandoned buildings that were formerly in business not that long ago have been a too common sight. Some of these places were successful for decades prior to this devastating crash. Banks got bailed out. Not these people. Despite years of hard work and through no fault of their own they are thrown to the winds.

I hit the highway again running a conservative 65 MPH. Almost immediately the gas gauge fell back in the red zone forcing speeds back down to 50 in a desperate attempt to stretch the gas through the sunset.

There have been no Chevron stations. I need gas and brand be damned. Clinton, Montana appears up ahead. Off the highway again, down the ramp and over the ubiquitous cattle guard shown below.

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Crossing over a river resplendent with waves and light caught in sunset refraction takes the car onto West Drummond Frontage Road. This road parallels the main highway with a river between us. Perched on a hill a very nice looking light colored wood beam lodge awaits. The old style gas pump is gleaming clean chrome silver devoid of gas brand logos. And like the raggedy old Sinclair pump back in Huson, it is switched off.

Inside the lodge, behind the bar the owner of Jaynare Enterprises says he was told by the truck driver that it is Cenex brand gas. He sells a lot of it so it’s fresh.

I never learn. I decide to gamble again and only put ten bucks gas in. Once more I’m back on the road with a few drops of gas on the hunt for Chevron.

Everyone claims that all gas is the same. ROAD TEST staffers believed there was no difference between brands of gas until the end of 1967 when their article reporting on an extensive analysis of gasoline proved there is a difference. RT used a Chevy 396-325 HP engine on a dynamometer and concluded that some gas really did provide better Miles Per Gallon than others. Back then Union was the MPG winner and Standard (now known as Chevron) the loser. The spread was one MPG. That was decades ago, so the rankings no longer apply, but they do illustrate the real effect caused by variance between formulations.

Gasoline engineers used to agree that quality between major brands is about equal and suggested switching brands regularly in order to control deposits. Drive 3,000 miles using any random national brand of gas and then switch. Each brand's unique formula eradicates the deposits built up from byproducts of the prior brand's anti deposit formulas.

With the introduction of sensitive fuel injection systems and emission check stations everything has changed. Now it seems that the Techron additive in Chevron gives a genuine edge in engine deposit control. Techron additive has a good enough reputation to warrant being sold in bottles over the counter.

My main concern is the longevity of the engine. No one seems to have evidence that one brand is better than another in this regard although Chevron passed the Top Tier gas test before other companies which may or may not have caught up to Chevron by now. Chevron, along with Texaco has resisted the trend towards high ethanol content in their gasoline.

In Canada, the 94 octane Chevron is very desirable, because it has zero ethanol content. Ethanol wreaks havoc with the rubber and plastic pieces used in the fuel systems of older cars. In the USA unfortunately the top octane Chevron available still contains 'up to 10 percent ethanol', but apparently the ethanol content is still less than what is found in other gasoline.

Since USA Chevron doesn't provide freedom from ethanol it shouldn't have mattered to me as much what brand I used in USA, but we all like to stick with the familiar regardless of logic. Maybe the blue logo the marketing guys spent millions working on resonates with some internal psychological bias on my part. Who knows?

The Drummond Frontage Road wound its way along the river until it deposits you into Drummond. On the way there I stopped at the Bearmouth Rest Area to eat and of course to fill up the fluids in the car.

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The Happy Endings Casino in Deer Lodge, Montana is well named. I had fumes left in the tank. The casino conveniently included a Chevron gas station in the parking lot. Multicolor fake palm trees line the grass out front. Appropriately “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is playing on the car stereo to accompany the surreal palms. The windows of the casino are blacked out with a purple plastic covering.

Inside the casino it’s smoky and noisy in purplish darkness. Outside again in bright light of sundown I can’t imagine spending time indoors in this nice weather. It's so perfect outside it's hard to get back into the hot stuffy car after standing outside in a warm breeze pumping gas.

Hunger notifies me that it's past 9 PM and dinner hasn't happened yet. Down Main Street to a Safeway. One of the checkout girls informs me that the local economy relies to a large degree on the Montana State Prison a few miles outside of town. Time to keep moving!

First I devour dinner on the economy plan: fruit and nuts in the virtually empty dark Safeway parking lot. That lasts about 30 seconds before incessant mosquito harassment forces me to break my rule of never eating inside the car. After a slow idle through town to have a look around it was time to hit the highway again. The Vette plunges into the darkness putting distance between me and the Montana State Prison.

I crossed the Continental Divide sometime during the night and stopped at the Bozeman Rest Area which is on N. 19th Avenue on the edge of Bozeman, Montana.

----------DAY FIVE---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Bozeman, Billings, MT/ Sundance, WY/ Sturgis, Presho, SD

At 10 AM in Billings, Montana it is already broiling hot. The Holiday Station on King Avenue East seems vaguely reminiscent of those old 1960s vacation themed gas stations. After draping a clean new towel over the scorching hot leather driver's seat I plunge into the fluid replenishment drill. Comments floating over from neighboring pumps spark several conversations about the Corvette. I hold court for ten minutes as the Friendly Ambassador of Standard Gas Station Classic Car Conversation. Gasoline octanes in this high altitude begin with super low 85.5, followed by 88 as the next step up.

Back on I-90 a big smokestack billowing smoke provided my last sight of Billings. Everyone was flying along this stretch of the interstate and several people were holding a steady 100. I blended in and let the car roll. A large truck crushed some kind of animal lying on the shoulder. It appeared that he swerved perhaps to put it out of its misery.

Despite the uniformity of the exits and franchise buildings lining an Interstate, there is variation. The Interstate surface changes color depending on the region and choice of materials. Sometimes it's clean concrete with the constant bashing of the joints and the whine of tires on the hard surface. Squinting against reflecting blinding heat of the sun shooting into my eyes from the pure white surface was tiring. Sometimes it's a soothing deep dark black goo that gets soft and sticky in the heat pampering me across the miles in a cocoon of silence. I hit a stretch of highway that incorporates ground rocks providing a glimpse of the local geography. The photo below is from a pink stretch of Interstate 90 about 19 miles east of Gillette, Montana.

oocc-gto-nats-19-miles-to-gillette

As I crossed over from Montana into Wyoming a sign said "You are leaving Crow area Indian Reservation." The speed limit remained at 75 mph.

The 24 gallon tank allows nearly 500 miles of driving at a conservative cruise speed before the fuel gauge needle falls into the red 'E' zone. I entered the Black Hills, which I was curious to see. A conflicting desire to just drive forever made me resist the need to pull off the highway. I didn't want to break the driving groove: listening to music, mind wandering all over while miles and time just kept flashing past. But gas is calling.

A long curving off ramp fed into Highway 14 which runs through Sundance, Wyoming. The town name references the sun dance performed by native American Indians. Harry Longabaugh acquired his nickname 'The Sundance Kid' from his stay in the Sundance jail.

After yesterday's fuel hunting I was done fooling around searching for Chevron. Today was not going to be dominated by anxiety. No more driving on fumes and spending the day freaking out in some remote location staring at the 'E' on the gas gauge. Whatever gas presented itself was just fine. In Sundance it was a Rapid Stop. After a fill up I inquired,

"Does this town have any museums related to the Sundance Kid?"

The guys at the gas station directed me to a small visitor center just off Highway 14. It was closed. Rolling through town in search of a NAPA to replenish the supply of car fluids I saw an old baby blue Ford Falcon nearly hidden in waist high grass swaying in the breeze out front of a house. The road curved into a white fluffy storm of pollen blowing in the wind. It looked like a snow storm.

After stocking up on fluids, the Tracy Motor Company NAPA staff members directed me to a museum across the street. I crossed the street through the pollen storm to 309 Cleveland and descended a flight of stairs into The Crook County Museum and Art Gallery.

Sample displays of barbed wire variants and branding iron designs led into dioramas of local cowboy and Indian history. There was some interesting stuff and a pretty comprehensive history of life back 100 years ago. The Sundance Kid served as a good 'draw' to get people in the museum, but frankly the less famed parts of the museum are more interesting. The most fascinating part of the Sundance Kid's career came after his trial and incarceration here. Below is the original jail register with Longabaugh's entry.

oocc-gto-nats-trip-sundance-documents

In the middle of the museum sat the original courtroom where the Sundance Kid was tried. His crime was the theft of a horse, saddle and gun. He served 18 months less one day and was granted a pardon. Shortly after release his association with Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, quickly blossomed into his role as primary player in train robberies. That part of his career has fascinated western history buffs, particularly speculation about his eventual fate in South America.

The museum also profiled "Mr. Mustang" who was born Nov 18, 1890. Until he was age 88 he preserved Spanish Mustangs. I passed by a huge rifle collection and a model of nuclear reactor built nearby.

Back on I-90 the Wyoming landscape darkened into a deep red. Along the highway back hoes digging up red earth in construction zones moved in slow motion. Large long stretches of construction all across the Midwest enforced slow downs which gave me a chance to listen to the stereo which was otherwise blanked out by high speed wind noise. I listened to 'Bad as Me' and 'Real Gone' which were two Tom Waits CDs a friend had given me. The singing at times seemed to be influenced by Howling Wolf and Dr. John.

Half an hour after returning to Interstate 90, afternoon heat pressed me down the off ramp into Sturgis, South Dakota. Motorcycles thrumming about the main street even in the off season supported Sturgis's reputation as Mecca for one of the largest motorcycle runs in the country. The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame attracted a few strolling tourists. A few bikers were at the pawn shops and tattoo places. Some motorcycles were parked in front of barn bars. The town lay dormant awaiting the massive influx of bikers in August. The streets were empty in a still 100 degree F heat stupor.

OOCC Corvette trip gto nats sturgis easy rider

In one of the shops, a recreation of the Captain America 1965 Harley Davidson FL chopper from the 'EASY RIDER' film sat in a display window as a promotional item to entice people to visit the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum up the street. In the far left corner of the window a movie card from EASY RIDER shows Peter Fonda's Captain America bike alongside Dennis Hopper's less radical ride.

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oocc-gto-nats-sturgis-main-st-cycle-shop

With barely a cycle in sight, a scourge of mini vans filled the Sturgis Harley Davidson parking lot. The shop fills a city block. A few stock Harleys sat near the front doors alongside a few choppers. Tourists wearing checkered shorts and baseball caps dragged their kids around buying motorcycle paraphernalia in the form of bandannas and scarves with the HD logo.

In the lineup there were two real deal motorcyclists... a grizzled bearded stringy guy with his 'old lady'. They both had weathered leather skin from years of riding, long grey ponytails and black leather vests. They seemed out of place in this motorcycle Disneyland. He had spotted the Vette and made some conversation with me in the line-up about his old Vette. He had dropped one of his glass T-tops and shattered it back in the day.

At the exit a bike was on display: an original Sturgis model. Harley Davidson released the Sturgis model in the 1980s and again in the early 1990s in honor of the enormous motorcycle rally held here in town every August.

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Backtracking towards the highway, in the Phil Town Restaurant and Lounge I settled into a comfortable leather booth. While eating a steak I was entertained by the antics of would be pickup artists failing to score with fat girls beneath the flashing disco ball lights in the bar to my right.

After dinner back outside, a wall of heat smashed into me. Behind the restaurant the silver polished surface of the railway tracks shone sun onto my calves and wilted the rubber soles of my flip flops. The oil on the railway ties liquefied and permeated the heat waves in the air. The rails parallel the main road named Junction.

On the other side of Junction stood Jacobson Ford; closed for the evening. Their signature Mustang sat outside on display: the Sturgis Mustang Rally. This car is named for the yearly Mustang event in town. To see more about this car, check the story in the DEALERSHIPS section of this site.

2010-mustang-sturgis

A block away down the road a woman's minivan stalled in an intersection. Traffic piled up as she fruitlessly cranked the starter again and again soon yielding only clicking sounds. Horns blared and she started crying,

"It won't start! I can't get it to start!"

A giant bearded motorcycle guy wearing full leather despite the heat strode up to the idiot leaning on his horn in the SUV directly behind the woman's stalled van,

"How is your honking going to restart her car, asshole? Can't you hear her trying to start it up? Why didn't you get out and lend a hand? It's time someone taught you a lesson in manners. Get out of your car!"

The guy desperately hit the power window buttons then started zigzagging backwards in a panic culminating in a screeching U turn out of there. He had a clear path because the other honkers had already driven away backwards weaving around in terror when the biker began his rant.

A few of us walked over and helped the biker push the van out of the intersection. Once we got her out of the flow of traffic, it became apparent that her engine was very hot from a long stint of Interstate driving. The starter couldn't overcome the resistance of heat expanded pistons. The battery was now low enough that the starter just made futile clicking noises. We left the hood up for five minutes which didn't alleviate the heat soak. The biker had an imperial sized set of Snap On sockets in his saddlebag. The bolts on the battery were metric. He bellowed,

"Damned foreign shit! This is AMERICA!"

The woman started blubbering louder and her kids wailed at a fever pitch. I retrieved the three tools I had in the map pocket of my car. The biker shook his head at the pathetic adjustable wrench and the pliers. It was an affront to his good taste in tools,

"That looks like a fifty cent wrench!"

I explained how full the car was and why I had to leave my good tools at home. He looked at me like I was stone crazy and took the wrench while bracing the outer nut with the pliers. He removed the terminals and got some sandpaper from his saddle bag to clean up the surfaces. After replacing the battery terminals the van fired right up. The sobbing shell shocked woman had to yell overtop of the howling kids,

"Oh, thank you thank you! I didn't know what to do. Thank you ever so much!"

Out of earshot the giant biker said,

"I don't know which was worse: the horns or those screaming kids!" We all started laughing.

The biker had spotted me eyeing the SMR Mustang in the Jacobson Ford lot and explained the car,

"That car is named after the Mustang show we have here every September. It's a big show but not too big. We used to enjoy the cycle rally here, but now we let that one go. It's too big and just a hassle for us. Every asshole in the world thinks our town is his private urinal!"

At this point he started getting heated again,

"Half a million people! You can't move, let alone get in a good ride. It's just a big party and I've been there done that. I like to ride my cycle. It's not about the bikes anymore."

I nodded, and he seemed to calm down again just as suddenly although an underlying anger and intensity punctuated his very being,

"We get a steady trickle of people coming to do the Black Hills loop on cycles when it's quiet before the big rally. That's a nice ride, a real ride the way it should be. Then we get the Hell out of Dodge for that madness. Well, I guess it's good for the economy but, shit! I don't want to deal with that at my age! We come back in time for the Mustang Rally. Been doing it the last few years. I've got an older SVT and I like to run the autocross."

I was trying to imagine this giant stuffed into a tight form fitting Recaro seat. It didn't seem possible. He explained that the Mustang show was pretty diverse: drag racing, autocross, show and shine, burnout contest, and a scenic loop through the Black Hills area. A big draw was the professional autocross team Miller's Motorsports. They put on stunt shows and take members of the public out for a hair- raising ride in the racers. We chatted about the car shows I was heading to. After he clapped me on the back farewell he ordered,

"Get yourself some decent tools!"

I left at sunset to put in some miles. It was a hot thick humid night. A constant splattering of bugs on the car nose and windshield creating a counterpoint to wind roar and the stereo.

An hour or two later it was time to get off the Interstate for gas. At the top of a dark winding hill a gas pump covered with a cardboard sign declared, 'Out of gas'. Back down to the highway. The next station in Presho, SD was a Cenex station but was closed due to the late hour. I used the squeegee to clean the bugs off the windshield and headed back onto the Interstate.

__________ DAY SIX _____________________________________________________________

Oacoma, Sioux Falls, SD/ Fairmont, MN/ La Crosse, Wisconsin Dells, Lodi, Milwauki, WI

The gas tank was low when I pulled into Oacoma, South Dakota half an hour after midnight. Miraculously The West Forty gas station was still open. The station location on West Highway 16 left the meaning of 'West Forty' a mystery.

The summer heat lingered on despite the darkness. The station lights were nearly obscured by thick swarms of bugs. The back of the car was teeming with insects. I held the gas pump nozzle above the flip up gas cap and jammed it home like lightning before bugs could invade the tank.

Back on the Interstate after crossing a river the Vette climbed up high to a shelf of flat rock overlooking the lights of the town and the river below. A rest stop conveniently awaited travelers at the crest. I parked with the nose of the car facing the cliff.

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Next morning I strolled around the rest stop overlooking the river. Oacoma, South Dakota was a small hazy blob on the other end of the bridge I crossed last night. Long grass rippling in the strong wind currents was peaceful. A few museum quality displays of stuffed wild animals and teepees explaining local area and wildlife lifted this freshly renovated place up several notches above the typical rest stop.

My good mood faltered when the fluid replenishment routine began. Corvettes save weight and expense by dispensing with springs or prop rods for the hood. A small latch lever holds the light fiberglass hood open. Strong winds repeatedly buffeted the hood and sent it falling down on me. Wind snatched the power steering fluid sideways into a spray before it reached the funnel an inch below. A vicious gust of wind slammed the hood down on me as I was pouring transmission fluid. The hit caused me to dump half the bottle into the funnel in a huge slop.

Mopping up didn't remove the residue of transmission fluid, coolant and power steering fluid coating the previously pristine engine compartment. Any true Obsessive Compulsive car nut would find this situation intolerable and I'm not far removed from that category. I tried to forget the thick bug crust on the nose of the car being melted into the paint by the hot sun. I told myself,

"This is a car and I'm on a road trip. This isn't a super rare unrestored art piece... it's been hotrodded and used before I got it."

On the dashboard there was a reality check from the car's prior history in the form of a radar detector Velcro mount. That visual cue served as a concrete reminder to me that this car had been driven hard and fast before I ever saw it. The guy I bought it off was held up for ransom at the Motor Vehicle Department when he tried to transfer the paperwork to me. They made him pay a speeding ticket close to 500 bucks. So this car was used. And that was what these cars were made for.

Well not that they were meant to be covered in bugs.... damned bugs! Whenever I'm slipping into collector car mentality, I think of a good friend of mine who owns ten collector cars that he doesn't drive.

My definition of a collectible item is something which no longer serves the original purpose it was designed for. Some collectors sacrifice personal enjoyment to preserve history and we should be grateful that they pass on heirlooms for future generations. Unfortunately many collectors deny themselves enjoyment fretting over objects that should provide pleasure. I know a lot of guys who sweat blood for vintage cars which lack true collector status.

Some of the funny responses my friend has provided when I suggest he drive his cars are immortal,

"Yeah, but if I drive it the air is going to oxidize the chrome."

One time when we were discussing a girlfriend of mine who wanted to buy a nice classic car he snorted in disgust,

"But she's just going to use it for TRANSPORTATION."

He emphasized the word transportation as if it was a swear word. To him she was some brutal Heathen unwilling to show proper reverence to the car.

My friend owns fun 'Day Two' muscle cars that he is afraid to drive. None are unrestored originals or super rare or even number one restorations, so there is no historic value to be lost, or devaluation likely to occur. Of course the underlying assumption that minimal driving on a sunny day constitutes destruction of a collector car is a scrambled starting point that leads down convoluted roads.

My friend's car collection causes him anxiety and costs energy and money to store. He can't derive enjoyment out of them. He started out with one nice restored muscle car and a winter beater. Soon the hoarding began as he ceased driving the cars and then gradually purchased related cars and backup cars and back up back up back up parts. I asked why he needed 10 hoods and doors for a car he never drove since the chances of ever getting hit even once was remote IF he actually drove it on a sunny afternoon when the roads were clear. The reality was that he hadn't driven some of the cars he had 10 hoods for nearly 2 decades. His response is the classic,

"You never know..."

The layers got so complex that he became paralyzed by the weight of his collection.

"I just want to get a reasonably modern car that starts right up and runs with no fuss so I can take a girl out on a date."

He went and bought a 1998 Camaro SS which despite being in pristine shape was a mere driver vehicle. For the entire first date my friend fidgeted while watching his car out the window of the restaurant. At one point he left the poor girl at the table while he rushed out to berate some guy who came too close to the car during a sloppy parallel parking maneuver. Eventually that car ended up in storage with all the rest of them.

Whenever I slip into the madness phase of collector car preservation, I remember my friend's anxieties over the burdens these cars create in his mind. He worries about driving the cars. He worries about NOT driving the cars. Each of his cars that he doesn't drive ends up with a dead battery, then the fuel system goes bad, mold forms in the interior and eventually the cars degenerate. Suddenly he is no longer a collector. He is now a hoarder who is destroying nice cars. He feels guilty about that.

He worries about the legitimate hassle of dealing with modern gridlock which makes driving the cars a chore. He knows he 'has' to take the cars out or they will deteriorate but it's complicated coordinating insurance and getting across town to cars getting them started and moved out of tight storage spots. So he puts it off.

Nagging reminders of how long the cars have sat unused weigh on his mind notching up his guilt for every month the cars sit idle heading towards the day that they won't run anymore. It's all stress, guilt and waste.

I want to strike a happy medium. Don't abuse the car, but drive it and enjoy it. I don't drive hard or fast until a car achieves operating temperature. I park at the rear of parking spots to avoid dings and don't park under trees. I avoid rush hour. These simple precautions are sufficient to escape most of the car disasters that destroy daily driver vehicles. I use my cars for errands and find that driving these cars is a lot of fun.

Back on the highway I was all set to make time, but the transmission refused to up shift into third. It hung at 5,600 RPM before it dropped into third with a violent lurch. It was probably coincidence that the incorrect amount of fluid was just dumped in. It was leaking fast enough that it would be back at the normal level in no time anyways.

"This is just another thing I can't do anything about right now. Just enjoy the ride. Be glad it made it into third."

I drove very fast on I- 90 making the most of a functional third gear. It might not make it into high gear again. The Vette passed lines of cars like they were parked. Either the high speed wind pressure or something in the roadway pulled the rubber corner of the front spoiler loose. It was flapping around. The rubber spoiler pieces are brand new replacements following a recent repaint of the car. I got under the car and used a piece of wire to tie it back in place. Now the car really was held together with bailing wire, just like the Okies in the depression era exodus.

In Sioux Falls, South Dakota I stopped for lunch. It was murder driving on the streets during heavy noontime traffic. Pulling out of a light, the car would hang in first gear for an agonizingly long time roaring and howling in protest.

I dropped down into a green vinyl pleated seat in a window booth of a large busy Perkins restaurant. The food was decent with good service and prices. The waitress told me a bit about Sioux Falls,

"Our population here has nearly doubled since the eighties. We used to be an industry town. Instead of drying up like a lot of places did after the boom, we shifted to finance. Then we got bigger than ever. In a way I almost wish we had just stayed a smaller place. I remember the days when the streets were quiet. I guess I shouldn't complain. This lunch hour crowd is paying my rent!"

She told me how to get to the waterfalls for which the city is named.  I would have liked to check out the waterfalls but the transmission situation forced me to skip all unnecessary city driving.

Feeling a little better after a good meal I paused in the parking lot to recheck the front spoiler. The rubber edge was still in place but sagging. I took a look under hood. Fluid was clean at exactly the right level, vacuum lines and modulator were all pristine and snug. I didn't hear the telltale hissing of a vacuum leak at idle. The vacuum activated headlight doors popped open as promptly as possible for a car with such a radical camshaft. Sometimes on idle they simply refuse to open when the headlight switch is pulled until vacuum builds up. Everything seemed great, but the reluctant transmission routine tormented me every inch of the way out of town.

Back on the Interstate I was able to force a shift into third. After a few hours of peaceful driving I dreaded pulling over, but it was time for gas. Pulling into a SuperAmerica in Fairmont, Minnesota around 3 in the afternoon the temperature was very hot and traffic was pretty heavy. Each acceleration from a stop revived the transmission nightmare.

The transmission became progressively more resistant until it simply refused to up shift out of first gear at all. I was crawling along the highway in the slow lane while the engine was screaming at redline in first gear. Finally mercifully it slammed into second gear and shot forward like a scalded cat but it positively would not hit third.

The Vette rode the slow lane with the engine roaring at 60 MPH in second gear until finally reaching the bridge over the Mississippi River which funnels down into La Crosse, Wisconsin.

The home stretch!

My friend Marie's house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was slated to serve as command central while I was in the Midwest. Somehow I just had to drag the Vette roaring at a deafening pitch from one watery edge of Wisconsin to the other. La Crosse is at the extreme western edge of Wisconsin on the Mississippi River. The furthest eastern point of Wisconsin is the city of Milwaukee, perched on Lake Michigan.

Miles ticked off while the engine blasted angrily through second gear. There wasn't going to be a speck of carbon left in this engine when I finally made Milwaukee. In Wisconsin Dells, about halfway through the State of Wisconsin surrender to hunger pulled me off the Interstate.

A secondary highway wound through a nice waterfront resort area with boats, cabins and camping. It was peaceful and scenic until the traffic lights of Wisconsin Dells shattered the calm. A downshift revived the nightmare again. First gear was ridiculous at 30 MPH. The car just wouldn't up shift. Traffic was heavy. The road passed family oriented rides and theme places like Guinness Records, Army Duck rides, and an upside down house. Tanned girls in skimpy beach wear ate ice creams mincing along the hot tarmac. Minivans and boats on trailers packed the streets.

I stopped at a chain restaurant. An empty restaurant during dinner hour in a vacation town should have cued me to leave immediately. Staff bustled about but it took five minutes to get a menu and another ten minutes for someone to come back to take my order. I was the only person in the place. Forty minutes later I was walking out when someone intercepted me at the door,

"Your food is coming out right now, sir!"

The meal was mediocre and they managed to make me wait ten minutes for my change. As they dragged out my time, the tip calculation underwent downward revisions. It was 9 PM when I finally got out of there. The constant heat, pounding and noise of a car with headers stuck in second gear screaming at highway speeds mixed with sleep deprivation and bad service made me into one very cranky guy. The sun was poised to set when I got back in the car.

oocc-gto-nats-wisconsin-dells

Forty five minutes later, it was apparent the gas wouldn't last to Milwaukee. The All Stop Travel Plaza in Lodi, Wisconsin was open. I ate a snack at the pumps and filled up the car. Back on the Interstate, the road joints pounded me through the gymkhana suspension. Brownish black streaks of the oil and rubber from countless summer tourist recreational travelers marked the road where a million tires had etched an actual groove into the pavement. Everyone drove within the parameters of these deep ridges.

It was night when Milwaukee appeared on the horizon.

Marie was trying to put one of her kids to bed when her husband, Tom heard my car coming through the dark streets of Milwaukee bellowing in first gear. He helped me carry my luggage into the house,

"I can't believe how much stuff you fit in this car!"

We lounged in the living room discussing things. He was working a lot of overtime and Marie was putting tons of energy into her home business. Marie came out later. It had been five years since we last saw each other. We had a lot of catching up to do. She worked on her invoices for her business while we chatted. Soon days of no sleep caught me hard and I crashed out.

-------- DAY SEVEN ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Milwaukee, Racine, Sturtevant, WI

I was up bright and early. Despite the most inefficient road trip in history I had made it in time to see the last day of Bloomington Gold. I woke in a great mood after my first real night of sleep.

All my lights, tripods, remote flashes and slave units were left back home due to space constraints. Marie's solution was to loan me her digital camera. Marie sewed a special camera pouch to carry her small digital camera at shows. Marie's little Samsung digital actually used a Leica lens.

I should have been grateful that the fates allowed me to limp the recalcitrant Vette as far as Milwaukee.

Not me. There is no such word as 'enough' in my vocabulary.

I had to push my luck and try to force the Vette all the way to St. Charles, Illinois. Once there I had two days in town for Bloomington Gold and the Survivor show the following day. If need be, I could bring the car into a garage in Illinois before returning. Otherwise I planned to wait until I was back in Milwaukee to deal with the transmission issue.

Heading south the car wouldn't shift out of first gear. In Racine, Wisconsin I decided to switch out the fluid in case it was burned or old. I drove around and finally found a place to do the ATF change just off Highway 20 near the village of Sturtevant. New ATF made no difference at all. I drove back to Milwaukee in first gear on secondary highways. Through some good luck Tom was home early when the car came snarling up the street stuck in first gear. He can fix just about anything and has a logical, methodical mind.

"Pop the hood."

He listened for leaks through the miles of vacuum hoses running all over the place and like me the other day, found nothing. He asked for increases in the revs 500 RPM at a time. Under higher revs he uncovered the problem. Tom discovered a subtle crack in the metal fitting that screwed into the intake manifold. Under pressure, the vacuum line tugged at the inlet piece opening up the hairline crack. On idle the crack was hidden and there were no leaks until the metal separated under acceleration when it began sucking air and preventing up shifts.

We jumped into Tom's van. By dinnertime we had been to several auto supply parts places. The part was out of stock. They suggested junkyards. Tom stopped at an Ace Hardware and said, 

"I have an idea. It's too late to get to junkyards today. I can make this piece myself."

With a few dollars worth of plumbing hardware and thread seal tape Tom worked one of his automotive miracles. Tom created an airtight inlet that screwed right into the intake manifold and allowed the transmission to up shift again. A few minutes later he had the car jacked up and replaced the clamps on the radiator transmission lines, solving one of the leaks. I bought some ATF from Target and topped up. Now the transmission was 100 percent again.

Tom can't stand to see a car leaking and found the correct power steering hose parts for the car online and ordered them for me. The proper radiator for the car was a trickier thing to find. The bottom hose inlet has to clear the larger sway bar installed in gymkhana suspension. A stock suspension spec Corvette radiator won't work. Lots of back and forth with parts counter guys resulted in us placing an order for a radiator coming from New Jersey in a few days.

With the car still jacked up in Tom's garage, I took care of some simpler tasks. I used large washers with ordinary hardware nuts and bolts to cinch up the sagging rubber leading edge of the spoiler. It looked good as new. Oil and transmission fluid changes and a careful cleaning with soapy water to dislodge bugs from the front nose reversed a few things nagging at my mind. The engine compartment was mopped down but not perfect. It needed a steam clean. The car was much improved and all set for the ride to Survivor Car tomorrow.

 

Last Updated ( Monday, 13 March 2017 23:51 )