Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The First Fifty Clicks

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It’s noteworthy to point out that last Wednesday, September 15th, marked two years since my father’s passing. Miss you dad.

One of the things that I am still struggling with is that I now do a lot of things on my own, things we used to do together. It’s simple and obvious but surprisingly difficult to come to terms with this fact.

Long drives and mornings are very lonely. To cope I have developed a rather significant addiction to podcasts over the last year. I think I have logged more hours listening to “This American Life” and “On the Media” then tenured professors. I should send a cheque to NPR.

Saturday was no different. I was up and on the road to Red Deer by 7AM – later than I wanted but still early. We have been having some absolutely brutal weather this year in Alberta and last week was a good example. I left Calgary in a fog both literally and figuratively.

It didn’t rain on the drive and I even had the morning sun in passenger’s side window for a while just around Bowden.

When I arrived at the acreage the morning sun was still shining. I immediately grabbed the keys for the car, opened both garage doors, reconnected the negative cable to the battery and checked the oil. After that I hopped in, pulled the choke, pumped the gas once and she immediately rumbled to life. I waited a few beats, feathered the throttle a bit and pushed the choke in.

It was after a few minutes of letting her warm up that I did something strange. I let the parking brake off and pushed her out of the garage as she still idled. My mother was intrigued by this, as was I. All I could think or say was “force of habit.”

My first task Saturday was to get new tires put on the little car. Thirty-one-year-old tires weren’t going to cut it for my first drive. It’s important to mention that I had the car added to my insurance for the next two weeks (at which point they are going to be itching for an inspection). Let’s not go into the details of registration at this point.

I took the “mountain-to-Mohammed” approach to getting tires mounted. I jacked up the car and removed all the wheels and tossed them into the back of “Roge the Dodge”. While I waited for the tires my mother treated me to a nice breakfast out. It was a good opportunity to catch up as I have been pretty busy since even before the wedding.

I had 205/70-15 Firestones mounted on the car as I wanted to keep the driving characteristics of this car as close to original as possible for my first experience. That and they were pretty much my only option at that size (locally). Having mounted the outboard rear shock towers on this car I have limited myself a bit on tire size possibilities. Not that I have any problem with that as, like most enthusiast of this cars, believe that they look better with more rubber vertical up than horizontal. I also made sure I kept the one Good Year Red Line we found in the trunk when dad pulled it out of storage in December of 2007 and we mounted on the car to replace the one tire that wouldn’t hold air.

There were some grumblings at the Don’s Tire about reverse drop mounts and greasing the piss out of them but they looked great when I got them back.

After remounting the new tires my next task was to figure out the rear lights so I wasn’t an obvious hazard out on the road. Len Drake sent me a list of all the bulbs I would need and I dutifully purchased them.

After mounting the rear light lenses and installing all the new bulbs – had no lights to speak of and I lost the fuel gauge.

I pulled the hazards and I had hazards lights – that was a start. It was time to investigate the fuse box. There are four spots for fuses but the car uses only three. Three fuses for the whole car? And two were busted. But there were two spares in the box! This might not be significant to most but your car, the one outside, has somewhere between twelve and twenty fuses. The TR6 has three – and it has electronic overdrive.

Replacing the two fuses seemed to straighten the entire situation out. I have to give the assist to Haynes on this one. Dad’s Haynes manual on Triumph TR6s had everything I needed to know about fuses.

With the lights figured out I remounted the cardboard tranny cover (the one thing that TR6s and vans have in common) and set the radio/gear shift panel in place. Lastly I got something white, red, numbered and borrowed of Roge the Dodge and I was ready.

My mother had gone somewhere but was back now and I made sure I had my phone on me. I climbed in, backed the car out of the garage and at about 1:30 in the afternoon I headed out, top down, on my first ever drive in a car I have been staring at for almost my entire life.

By this time the sun was long gone and a wind had kicked up. I had learned a bit from driving the red one last fall but still driving this car with a prosthetic leg is a little difficult. Obviously you can’t tip your foot like you would normally to push the clutch all the way in so you have to do the best you can.

Both the speedo and the tach are not working – suspect cables but I only knew about the tach until now. I guess I could have grabbed a GPS but who thinks of these things.

When I first shifted into third I felt the overdrive kick in – which was cool. I knew from reading that it had a lock-out in first, second and reverse. But what I was unclear on was what position was the off position. It was the opposite of what I expected. I believe I thought moving the switch up engaged the overdrive, and if I remember correctly, moving down engaged it. So it was in the engaged position when I set out.

There is some debate on how to engage it: to clutch or not clutch. It seemed awkward to me to clutch so when engaging it I just let off the throttle for a moment so the driveline wouldn’t be under load.

I worked my way over to a road named the “Freedom Road” behind the Nova Chemicals Plant as it gets less traffic than HWY 11. Before it was paved my dad and I had used to drive it every morning when we first moved out to the acreage.

That was back in the fall of 1993. We had lived in Blackfalds for the last eight years and we moved right before my grade 9 year – which would have been my last year at Blackfalds School before having to attend high school in Lacombe.

Now that we lived in Red Deer County I was attending Saint Thomas Aquinas Junior High in Red Deer and hating every second of it. I was fourteen, emotional and quite depressed. Eventually I convinced my parents to let me finish out Blackfalds and eventually they submitted to my request.

So every morning my dad and I would go to work together and take this road. Being that I was an hour and half early for school every morning I got a job at the Blackfalds Gas’n Wash to bide my time before school.

I remember hearing Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo sing “Diamonds on the souls of her shoes” on the radio during one of those drives. It may not have been the first time I heard it but it’s the time I think about when I hear it now.

We also won a morning radio show contest guessing the title to “Oh, The Good Life” the Tony Bennett song one morning on radio 1060 I believe. We also had great chats on those drives.

Like I said since then the road had been paved. I’ve been told it’s called the freedom road because a guy responsible for the crew paving it stated often that it was his ‘last road before he retired, it was his freedom road”.

I was a little unprepared for how stiff the suspension is – you really feel everything that happens. That’s a little tough to get used to moving from modern cars. It’s not a bad thing but different.

From the Freedom road I went a couple KMs west over to the Prentiss road. This is where the Dow Prentiss Polyethylene plant is located. Ten years ago it was still, just barely, owed by Union Carbide and I worked there in the rail yard as a switcher. I had taken the job after working there as labourer on the construction of Low Pressure Polyethylene portion of the plant.

I was involved in an accident there on December 4th, 2000 where I fell under a train and had my ankle and hand crushed. I must have mentioned that in here before but that’s where it happened.

One of the things I remember most from that time is the next day, in the hospital that my mother, my Aunt Shirley and my then girlfriend, Heather were there. I wasn’t participating as I was pretty knocked out on drugs but at one point my dad arrived. I remember his big hands on grabbing the front of my gown and teasingly shaking me out my half asleep state until I smiled and said, “quit it, I’m alright dad.” To which he replied “Hey Figgy.”

After Prentiss I turned east on the Lake Sargent road and back on 815 then 11. According to Google I did 48 KM. It felt like less than that – I even reported as little as 30 that night on Facebook.

It was a beautiful drive. I barely touched the brake as it was music to hear the tranny gear down for an intersection. It was a little cold on the face and at one point I had to jam my hat down between my legs to keep from losing it. I chased a Ford Edge for a while and had pretty good closing speed but didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself by passing.

My mother was just relieved to see me arrive back at home. Uncle Jim and Jer of mystarcollectorcar.com fame showed up shortly after the ride and we visited for a bit. After that I took a nap and around six PM awoke with a migraine, severe stomach pain and the trots. Not fun at all. I’m thinking it was the breakfast out. I slept the rest of Saturday evening away.

Sunday I felt a little better but my head much rather be horizontal than any other position and I needed to be very close to porcelain at all times throughout the day. I mustered some strength to install the wood steering wheel my mechanic Mike sent me for accidentally charging me for my clutch slave – which I bought and he had mistakenly included on the bill as I hadn’t installed it. It was a grand gesture as the wheel goes for about 300 clams and the slave almost a third of that. I was unsure about it as it’s not original to that car but seeing it with that gearshift knob sealed it for me. I love it. And it’s not like I’m going to throw away the original.

I got that done and spent a couple hours getting the TR6 room back into shape. In my scramble to get the car west in June its condition had been neglected.

The plan was to shoot some video of the car driving on Sunday but it poured rain all day. So that will have to wait until next weekend – sorry. But it was neat to drive the car – a big milestone is behind me.

Stay tuned…

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