Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Road Trip Day 4

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I wanted to make it home on this day but I knew we were still deep in the heart of the USA. It's Saturday August 22, 2009.

Bryan and I got moving pretty early. I wanted to leave Oshkosh in the dust along with all the troubles in tribulations of the day before.

We hit Scottsbluff by 9:10 in the morning, an hour and a bit in and we had 79 miles under our belt.

It was a beautiful morning and I had the NPR going on the Satellite radio. Car Talk with Click and Clack seemed appropriate. It was just a nice Saturday morning drive.

By noon we were in Casper, Wyoming. I was now so relaxed we had a sit-down lunch at a Carl's Jr. Not something we get in Canada. Bryan then dragged me around looking for diet Cherry Coke.

By 3:30 we crossed into Montana. Here I saw a truck with a wheel off, a motor home that had caught fire and other vehicles broken down on the side of the road. I was praying that we weren't going to be one of these people. The air condition in Dad's truck is gone so we had to suffer through some 30 degrees Celsius temps. If that was to be the worse part of the day I would be fine.

We reached Billings by 4:45 pm. Between Billings and Great Falls the decision was made to take a different route then the one through Lewistown that claimed our time on the drive down. We went further west then north at about Bozeman.

This route took us through some grand vistas. There were long stretches of roads were you could see in mile on both sides. After a while it began to tighten up and we headed through a mountainous area similar to interior BC. As the Sun went down we were among long stretches of cabins and lodges. It was a beautiful route.

By 9:00PM we in Great Falls once again. I decided to push onward to get across the border as I was concerned that whether the documentation had made it there.

It was a long dark trip north of Great Falls. Night had fallen and it was pitch black. We stopped in Shelby, Montana to check the rigging and it was good that we did because the chains had loosened and the chaining point on the front of car had broken off. The car could have come off the trailer again. I bought two cases of Coors for spoils. Bryan was concerned as with his case and these two we could be over our limit at the border.

The easiest part of crossing the border was dealing with the American side to get my paperwork to import the car. I had sent everything ahead correctly and it was a snap. We then reached the Canadian side.

Even now sometime later it's still hard to remember back to this:

I presented Canadian customs with my documents and they asked me inside. I parked.

It's important to point out here that there is an import tax on non-domestic cars.; even ones that are 36 years -old. It's also important to point out that I am idiot.

When I purchased the TR from Craig we did the bill of sale and signed the title over for 1000 dollars. In essences we committed fraud. The actual price of the car was about 3600 dollars. By doing this I was to save about 400 dollars in taxation at the border.

What I didn't know was that Canadian customs can query Ebay to see what I paid. I got busted and I got busted hard. I was out-smarted by a customs agent. Granted I was tired and could think well on my feet after driving 18 hours but no excuse - I got busted.

When the gig was up they said that were seizing the car and if they found anything in the truck (remember: three cases of Coors) they were going to seize the truck. I was royally screwed.

"Take a seat."

All I could think now was that I was going home with nothing after all this. It's the closest I have come to crying in a long time. I was beaten... destroyed - and it was all my fault.

There were three border guards handling this. -a punk that seemed to be about 25, a middle-aged dude and a fat chick who seem to be new . They were walking the trainee through my various infractions. It was quite a production.

After about an hour of abuse - and it was abuse - the punk was power tripping and kept asking me if I thought he was stupid. I answered no but I actually did think he was stupid. Working knowledge of whatever ebay tracking software they trained him on didn't make me think he was particularly smart.

But the truth is that I was stupid or naive. I underestimated the technology that boarder program puts into protecting a lucrative revenue stream. This hero in a vest was a tax cop and had just protected the Canadian government from being screwed out of 400 dollars.

In the end I had to pay a massive fine. It was a ridiculous fine. But they didn't take the car or check the truck for that matter. I could have had tow kilo's of Coke strapped to the steering column.

I think I'm on a list now.

We arrived in Lethbridge, AB at 2:30 in the morning. I felt destroyed - defeated and not great. We checked into a motel on Mayor Megrath. I had a restless sleep watching the car through a slit in the courtains as I was sure something was going to happen to it.

I was glad to be back in Alberta.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Road Trip Day 3 - Part 2

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We had the truck back in our hands at about 2pm. Quickly we ran over to the Foreign Car Enterprise to meet Craig the car guy. His shop was in a neighbourhood. We expected an industrial park but not so much – it was a shotgun garage with overhead doors on both ends. There seemed to be about 4 cars in varying stages of repair in the shop. Only the green Spitfire and the black and white Morris Miner stick out in my memory now.

After a quick tour Craig had us follow him to another part of town where our 6 was being stored. I didn’t think it was possible but Craig seemed to be taking to a worse part of town then where his shop was located.

Our Six was in a storage building which was inside a chain link and barbwire fence. Surrounding the building were the carcasses of British sports cars most of which were sixes. It looked as if some giant beast inside the building fed on Triumphs and tossed away parts that were hard to digest : subframes, chassis.

Just inside the overhead the door was the focus of this misguided mission. The little red 1974 TR6 was as described and Craig quickly reached inside and started without choke or pedal. It had a throaty rumble. It was a special moment for me as the orange one had been silent as long as I remember. I was two years old when Dad’s last was in motion so I had not heard one run or could recall hearing one run. It was cool to hear that motor for the first time.

Craig pulled it out of the garage and offered me to take it for a spin but I couldn’t. I haven’t revealed this yet but I am missing most of my right leg below my knee. I get around by the use of a prosthetic leg. I can drive most standard transmissions even with this condition but with each new vehicle there is a learning curve to get the movement and feel right (the feel is in my knee). Craig took me for a quick ride and it was fun. I think there was more man then car as we were pouring out of the cockpit of the little car – one word: perma-smile.

We arrived back at the shop and Craig showed me through his MG, Triumphs and Lotuses. He had a really cool TR4A that belonged to his dad that was on his own resto list. See the pictures it was a pretty cool place.

We had Craig drive the car up onto the trailer and as he went back to handle some things around his garage. Bryan and I took to tying the car down. I had both 6” nylon flat straps and chains but as the TR6 is more refined then a bobcat or lawn tractor I decided to go with the straps.

I was untangling the straps standing between the truck and trailer on the driver’s side of the truck, slightly out in traffic on a relatively sleepy industrial/residential street (KC might not have zoning laws). Bryan was across the trailer hitch from me exactly between the truck and trailer on the passenger side trying to find a strapping point on the front of the car.

It was just at that moment I heard a bang sound from in front of a truck. Before I could even look up I heard a zip noise going past my head. I instinctively jumped over the trailer hitch away from the road and crouched behind Craig’s car which was between our truck and the fenced yard. Bryan took a beat and followed me as we laid there behind this car we heard a truck squeal by seemingly coming from where the bang originated

Basically what I am labouring to say is that we were shot at! Someone shot at us! Someone freaking shot at us!!

After a minute we got back up bewildered and decided that no one seemed to be around other than us. I quickly assisted Bryan in getting the straps on. We were now in shock and just wanted to get out of there. Craig came wandering over unaware of what just happened. I asked him if he had a problem with guns down here.
His reply was less then reassuring, “Not if you’re carrying one. Didn’t you boys bring one?”

“No.” I said realizing we were at one of those nuances that separate Canadians from Americans. “I’m not saying this is a bad neighbourhood...”
“Ha –ha, I’m not saying it isn’t.” he replied.

Craig left us shaking hands and we quickly got into the truck ready to get anywhere that wasn’t here. The car was strapped the best we could figure as it was fairly uncooperative in yielding strapping points. We had agreed to shakedown the rigging at our first stop.

We got on the freeway and set the GPS to make sure we were going in the right direction. The GPS, continuing its disappointing misdirection, dragged us right back off the freeway and through a real sketchy neighbourhood. Finally we got back on the freeway and headed north – out of town.

Soon I noticed that the rear strapped had loosened up and was flapping in the breeze. I started to look for an off ramp. I soon found one and was stopped at the light at the top of the ramp. As I pulled away from the light the car rolled off the trailer backwards. It rolled off the trailer backwards into traffic. For the first time in my life a car rolled off a trailer backwards into traffic.

I couldn’t believe the day I was having… what the hell else could go wrong?
I instructed Bryan to drive and I ran back to rescue the car. The parking brake wasn’t strong enough to keep the car on the trailer but it was strong enough to keep it from rolling down the ramp. It just sat there defiantly sitting in the middle of the road.

I jump in the TR and this moment was the first time I drove a Triumph TR6 – on an off ramp in Kansas City. It was a tight fit, uncomfortable and awkward. I pushed in the clutch and turned the key – also awkward. She started right up as advertised and I was able to get the car out of harm’s way.

We got the car back up on the trailer but not without destroying the exhaust system – it wasn’t in that great of shape to begin with. I then chained the car down like it was King Kong on a road trip. I boomed it so tight that it looked like it was a low rider.

We were finally on our way. For the next hour all I could think about how the car could come off the trailer. Other then the exhaust and a small dent on the top of the fender it came out rather unscathed.
Believe it or not we made it through the next 541 miles (871 KMs) unscathed. The path home led north to Lincoln, Nebraska and from there west to Oshkosh, Nebraska. We arrived in Oshkosh at 11:20PM, check into a motel and to bed. I was glad to see this day end.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Road Trip Day 3 - Part 1

I awoke excited – very excited. We checked out of our motel and packed up the truck to make the run to Restoration shop in KC were the TR6 sat waiting. We got back on the freeway cranked the tunes rolled down the windows and basked in the Missouri morning sun – life is good.

It wasn’t long before that ominous grinding sound from under the truck was back. In fact it was louder, scarier and was effecting the steering… life is not good. We clunked off the freeway and pulled over in a neighbourhood. Upon inspection we found that the passenger’s side front wheel was at 70 degree angle to the ground. There were metal shavings inside the rim and on the ground. I didn’t know it right away but after pulling the wheel off we found that the hub was absolutely pulverized. All the barrel-type bearings were gone and the wheel hub and collar were sitting on each other. The only thing holding the wheel on the truck was the disc brake. It was a bloody-bloody mess. We had probably stopped just short of having the wheel come right off the truck.

I phone AMA for a tow truck and had to lie about the Gross weight of the truck so they wouldn’t charge me above what AMA would cover. What’s an extra 500 pounds to a tilt deck anyway? They did however ding me for towing the trailer also. I really need to upgrade to AMA RV service.

The tow truck driver took us to the best place to have the truck fixed but they were too busy so we just dropped the trailer there and headed to the second best place to have the truck fixed. They said they could get too it right around lunch and we were now honing in on 11 am. We contemplated renting a car but settled on going for a nice lunch at a homestyle sitdown place. I think we were the only two not having the biscuits and gravy. I ordered a pork sandwich and it was – of course- battered and fried.

After lunch we could see up the hill were the truck was and it was still sitting out on the repair shop lot so we did a walk around tour of our immediate area. We toured a pet shop then a pawn shop and walked by a giant fireworks store that looked to be a former funeral home.

As we walked back up the hill we could see the truck going into the shop finally – it was now about ten to one in the afternoon. Not only were we now not up one TR6, we were down one truck – that’s bad car math.

We waited in the office of the car shop for about an hour and a half and listen to a financial call-in show. It was interesting because the callers would call in and bounce finance questions off the host. It was made more interesting by the fact that half the callers debt problems were because of hospital/health care bills. This was a fairly foreign concept to two Albertans. Before too long we were told that the truck was done and that the damage was contained to the hub… and the disc brake. Both had to be replaced but I was fairly impressed with the cost. I am convinced this would be an 1,300 dollar repair at my local Dodge dealership and at this very clean, very well run shop it came to 700 dollars and change. Even with the exchange it wasn’t a bad deal. The name of the place was Leibrand’s Riverside Automotive Repair if I may drop a plug… I’m not sure I have plug clout yet.

To be continued...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Road Trip Day 2

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It’s a really exciting to wake up in a strange city – even more exciting when you know how you got there. Bryan and I were in Rapid City, South Dakota. I was out of bed at 6 AM. I wanted to get to the truck before the rush into downtown. The truck and trailer were parked illegally across four parking stalls at the top of parking garage down the road.

It was cool to see the morning sun through the window in the shower – hell it was cool to have a window in the shower. The claim to fame of the Alex Johnson is that Nixon slept there once. From the d├ęcor I think his stay must have been during the 1960 campaign.

After showering and loading up, Bryan and I headed to Mount Rushmore. We had to stop in you can’t go through South Dakota without checking that out. It felt good to be on the road. I was alert and excited to be in day two and to be this far into the USA. Yesterday was long but we were back on track.

Mount Rushmore sits above a tourist town staged in the fashion of a frontier town would look like. From there you go on a bit of a drive up the mountain to get to the monument.

Rushmore lives up to the hype. It is very powerful to see. The scale seems right – like it looked on Bugs Bunny cartoons and other TV and movie exposure. We saw it at the right time. We were there at about 8 AM and they say that’s the best light for pictures. I would agree –see picture.

We did the tourist thing and then went down to the town and did the buffet breakfast. We even tried the biscuits and gravy – heart stopping.

Back on the road I was feeling wiped – the quick energy of the early morning was now gone (might have been the energy zapping process of digesting biscuits and gravy). I decided to try Bryan’s Red Bull Cola – he bought two the night before and there was still one taunting us from the cup holder. I have to admit I had about an hour of insta-power. I knew there would be a crash but I would get us that much farther down the road and I then let Bryan take the wheel.

I-90 through South Dakota is one of the least interesting roads I’ve travelled. It’s damn straight and to make it even better summer road construction season was in full effect. Every 20KMs we were reduced to one lane and slowed. It made for a long trip.
We noticed by the travel rag Bryan picked up and the roadside billboards that Kevin Costner is a demi-god in South Dakota. They really like him there.

All this day was, was a damn long day of driving. We reached Sioux Falls, SD by 3:30 in the afternoon with only one short gas stop. I wanted this trip to go like today was going– it was boring but uneventful. It was just what the doctor order.
Just before 5:00 PM we pulled into Sioux City, Iowa for dinner. We stopped into a strip mall bar called Cheers and sat with the happy hour crowd and watched what looked like “Little house” or the “Waltons” I’m not sure. Bryan had a burger and I had a pizza burger. I thought a pizza burger would be a beef burger patty with cheese and pizza sauce. Not so, my burger was something fried in a bun?? I’m not sure what it was but it was neither pizza nor burger and not good – not good at all.

I realize this is pretty boring detail. I know it was but I see it as the best day on the road. Lets continue to bask in the detail of this gloriously boring day.
After dinner we drove another 2.5 hours south on I-29. When we reached Omaha, Nebraska we got pulled off the interstate by a misguided GPS that didn’t understand the concept of a ring road. About the time we reached the interstate again and after a flash rainstorm the instruments kicked on an “ABS” light that would not go away. I tried the brakes and they seemed fine but I didn’t feel good about it.

We drove another 2.5 hours and reached the outskirts of Kansas City, Missouri at about 11pm. Unfortunately we could now here a distinct grumble coming from the front end of the truck. We pulled into the first Econo Lodge we saw. Bryan got out and I drove around a bit to see if we could pinpoint the noise. No luck and we chalked it up to being punchy and delusional from being on the road for 15 hours. We were wrong.

We checked into and after a pizza order and some really bad Jimmy Fallon we went to sleep.

Day two down and another 1200KMs on the road. We got to bed at a decent hour and tomorrow we would pick up the car. I was excited - little did I know this was the high point of the trip.

To be continued……

Note: Recently decided to do a nut and bolt restoration instead of a body-off unless I run into a tonne of rust.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Road Trip Day 1

I will never travel this far for a car ever again (repeat).

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There are few things in life worth this much bother. We took my father’s truck as it is a 2003 Dodge Diesel 2500. We married that a tandem axle bobcat trailer. I would have thought the trailer was the weak point of the rig. It has been manhandled a bit throughout its life and doesn’t have a spare tire. I had 2100 dollars worth of service performed on the truck the day before we left. By far the most expensive service, I’ve experienced, performed on a vehicle not covered by an employer.

I also took my close friend Bryan. Even through Bryan has been stranded far from home before (Vancouver 2001 ’89 Le Barren Convertible – Starter issue) on one of my misguided adventures – he was game for this trip.

We left Red Deer, Alberta at 5:30 AM on Wednesday, August 19. We crossed the border into the USA at Sweet Grass crossing, Montana at 11:30 AM. We were eating lunch in Great Falls by 12:30pm. So far, so good.

It wasn’t until about 10 Miles outside of Lewistown, Montana that the trouble began. Apparently when they rebuild a highway in Montana – they don’t mess around. We travelled 10 miles on semi-crushed pit-run which was spread over the old roadway. I don’t completely understand the methodology behind this process.

As we pulled into Lewistown, the end of the bad road, we could hear a noise coming from the rear of the truck. After pulling over and investigating we found the rear driver’s side tire was flat. It was very flat and quite messed up.

It was during the process of removing the lug nuts I noticed the lock lug nut on one of the studs. We pulled the entire truck apart looking for the key to no avail. We then borrowed a pair of vice grips from the highway patrol maintenance shop 50 feet from where we stopped. That didn’t work at all.

At this point there was a friendly local in a pickup at hand. He volunteered to give me a ride to the Chrysler dealership down the road. No relief there as they apparently don’t use wheel locks in the states or maybe just this state. They two guys at the parts desk were the worst type of parts desk guys. They were the type that had resigned to saying no and giving up years ago as an effective coping strategy and now could do so without even a hint of remorse or concern.

I then had the Lewistown Samaritan drive me to the local tire shop in hopes of a mobile tire truck with a key or at least air tools. That’s what I hoped for, what I got was an air tank and instructions to get the truck into their shop. I wasn’t in love with this idea as I was hoping the tire was still repairable but there was little else I could do.

I got a ride back to the truck, helped Bryan gather up the spare and other tools and pumped the air into the wounded wheel. Quickly we made it back to the tire place without issue but the tire was already too far gone. The side wall looked like it was corrugated.

One of the shop guys used an air chisel to remove the locking lug – he was so effective we had him do all of them – there was one on each wheel. We figured there was a good chance we might still have to drop the spare as we were barely 600 KMs into this 5000 KM trip.

With a new 200 US dollar tire and four new lugs we were off again. We had lost 2.5 hours messing around in Lewistown. I hoped that this was to be the challenge of the trip – that it was to be smooth sailing now.

Bryan and I ate dinner at a Subway restaurant in Billings at around 7pm and made it to our hotel in Rapid City South Dakota at around 1:30AM. The last 375 KM between Billings and Rapid City was gruelling but uneventful. Around 20 hours of travel time but we were now in the heart of the USA.

We crashed at the historic Hotel Alex Johnson in Rapid City. I had booked it on Hotwire the night before and then found it had fairly terrible reviews. We found it not too bad – although Bryan and both agreed that our better halves wouldn’t have stayed there.

Day one 1600+ KMs and one flat 21 hours on the road – makes me tired now even as I remember.

To be Continued...