Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Just a great car story to start the year - Part 2

I find it funny that ill-conceived adventures never start out seeming like they’re ill-conceived. Looking back now I can see the mistakes that were made. The major one was trying to do too much in too little time.

It’s a little hard to remember now but I believe Derek and I left Halkirk, Alberta at around nine in the morning. It looked to be a rather long and not very interesting drive but to spice it up a little bit I had planned to try and get a gander at the set of the Canadian TV show “Corner Gas” just south of Regina. This wasn’t a big draw but it was something to break the trip up a bit.

I wasn’t surprised that Derek and I traveled easy together. Both of us have plenty of stories and an innate curiosity about the world in which we live. The one bit of conversation stands out more than any other is him relating that 3D printers and prototyping technology was going to emerge as a game-changer over the next few years. I look back that only two years later and have to see that comment as relevant as the “Plastics” line from The Graduate. From Local Motors to Jay Leno’s Garage - 3D printing has played a big part of the car hobby – let alone the decentralization of car manufacturing and emerging small business in tech and other sectors.

It was a cold day, hovering around -15 Celsius but the roads were clear and the sun was bright. At about four in the afternoon we pulled into Rouleau, Saskatchewan, which was about 40 minutes south of Regina. This was our first stop in six hours of driving so we both we in dire need of public facilities. Derek occupied the one washroom in town and complained of a slightly upset stomach so I looked around for other arrangements to clear my bladder.

Being that Rouleau is the fictional “Dog River” from the marginal ( but slightly annoying after repeated viewings) Canadian show “Corner Gas” I decided to relieve myself on the service road alongside the highway so I could always point out where I peed when someone was watching the show. Other than a mockup of the gas station and Café there was little marking the town as Dog River but still neat to see.

By Six PM we pulled into a place called “Johnny Fox’s Restaurant and Pub” on the south side of Regina for dinner. A couple beers and burgs and we were back out on the road.

Although the road was now dark, and both Derek and I a bit weary, we were able to negotiate the last three and a half hours without incident. At about 11 in the evening we pulled into the Russell Motel of storied lore. Of course it was named “The Jolly Lodger” and didn’t fail to be every bit the dive I expected it to be.

We made sure the big Diesel was plugged in as we didn’t want to make that mistake. Russell was still suffering from an unrelenting cold snap. It had been a week since Derek and his fiancé had their adventure in Russell but still very cold.

We spent an uneventful night in the motel and awoke early to get some quick breakfast and headed out to the acreage where the Ford had been stashed for the last week.

The acreage wasn’t far out of town and when we arrived it became very obvious that the fellow that owned the place had a little car addiction of his own. The only thing that sticks out in my mind two years later is a 1964 4-door Chrysler Saratoga. The trip to California to fetch the ’64 New Yorker with Dad and my brother had only been eight months earlier. I asked the guy about it and he informed me that he picked up in Fort McMurray, Alberta in the seventies. He said it was the car he drove when he left that place for good. Apparently he stuck a drum of gasoline in the trunk, piped it into the fuel system and drove all the way home without filling up once. That would be a twelve hundred Kilometers or there about so maybe he could have done it. I didn’t do a close inspection of the car so I don’t know for sure.

Derek’s truck had been sitting in front of a garage for a week, out in the elements, so it was fairly unrealistic that it would start but we tried anyway. No go. In the ended we pushed the truck most of the way on to the trailer using a quite-taxed Chevy S10 pickup. When it looked like the Ford was about to slip off the bumper of the S10 and put a Ford-sized kink in the tailgate we cinched up the come-a-long and tugged it the rest of the way. It was a heavy beast.

With the truck cinched down with the come-a-long, a couple of chains and boomers and a 4 inch flat strap – we were on the road. And hell, it was only ten-thirty in the AM.

We were in Yorkton by noon. I stopped at a Canadian Tire for some big zip-ties and wire to make sure everything stayed connected – that and I think it’s a law in Saskatchewan now that boomer handles need to be wired in. We grabbed a quick burger at the local Burger King and we were off again making great time home.

Although it was very cold out, the weather was clear as was highway 16 headed west. By Three thirty we were in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We were eating up Kilometers like nothing. A coke and some diesel and we were back on the road again for the final Stretch – 400 KM directly west into Halkirk, Alberta. If we kept our pace we could be having a late dinner at Derek’s fiancé’s family farm by eight-thirty.

After another easy 100 Kilometers the wind started to kick up and there was a bit of blowing snow. A nother 50 KM after that it was downright nasty. When the sun went down Saskatchewan’s hospitality disappeared. By time we hit Kerrobert it was a full-blown winter storm.

I remembered as we drove down the main strip in Kerrobert there was a Chinese restaurant that looked so warm and inviting but we had to push on.

After Kerrobert visibility came and went. We had periods that we had to stop and wait for the wind to die down for a moment before we could see the road and we had times when the road would change directions and we could see everything fine.

After about an hour of crawling along when the wind would allow finally everything disappeared. There was nothing. I approximate we were only about 20 Kilometers outside of Kerrobert but we could see nothing.

Even thinking about it now I get dizzy. There was a whiteout but on top of that there were big fluffy snowflakes coming straight at the truck. So many that they were hypnotizing. You really couldn’t focus. We were practically stopped in our tracks.

After a bit of sitting we finally decided to try and follow the lines in the road. I stuck my head out my window and Derek his and both looked closely at the road like we were trying to spot a contact lens. This strategy yielded very little other than frozen ears. Eventually we were completely disoriented. Derek yelled something about correcting my way (towards the middle of the road). I did and I did again and then I could feel the whole truck slide down embankment on the driver’s side. We hadn’t even realized we were over the center line – let alone the wrong lane. Everything was leaning towards me. Derek was higher than I was. We were in the ditch.

After a couple attempts I realized we were also very, very stuck.

You would think that I might have been very disappointed to be in this situation - stuck in a ditch, in a whiteout, somewhere in western Saskatchewan – but all I could really feel was relieved. After what felt like an hour of driving in whiteout conditions I was glad to be at least done with that. I was spent.

Derek had bought a mickey of Rye sometime the night before to drink when we reached Russell but we’d forgotten about it. He offered it to me now to take the edge off the moment and I took big slug.

I was content to sit there and wait out the storm while getting plastered. Barring that I thought maybe we could get a ride back to Kerrobert and get slammed in a Chinese Restaurant. I could not have perceived what actually happened but if I could have it would still have been in third place to my first two thoughts.

After about three minutes in the snow-filled ditch a fellow in a Jeep Liberty pulled up and offered us a ride. “Chinese Restaurant here I come,” I thought.

As I stepped out of the truck the wind grabbed my glasses and blew them off my face. They landed somewhere in the snow between my legs. I instinctively plunged my hand into the snow after them and came up lucky. I grabbed my overnight bag and made scrambled for the road. The snow was thigh deep and it was hard to see through the blowing snow and my wet glasses.

When I got up on the road there was a second vehicle along with the Jeep. There was on old boy in there with his wife and he was yelling something about getting in and also telling the Jeep driver to follow him to his farm.

I crawled into the back of the SUV with Derek and was glad to shut the door behind me. I looked down at my hand and realized I pocket-dialed my mom at one point during my escape. I quickly explained the situation to her and told her I’d let her know when I knew more.

The couple that picked us up seemed very nice but the road situation hadn’t changed since the time I entered the ditch and, to add an extra element to danger, I believe our driver had a few cocktails in him. For awhile it was really touch and go.

Eventually, after a couple of false turns and corrections, which I had no idea how he was even doing that well as there was nothing to see from the back seat, we pulled into a farm.

I can’t for the life of me remember the couple’s name but by looking around it was clear that they had grown kids and grandchildren. They set Derek and me up in a room off their kitchen which had a pair of twin beds made up for their grandkids. With the snowstorm the way it was I could overlook the fact that my foot and most of my ankle was going to hang off the end.

After we settled in and caught a little of the Golden Globes award ceremony on the TV we were fed a dinner of toast, blood sausage and milk. I was glad for the hospitality but couldn’t help but think about how nice a short tumbler of rye would feel in my hand and some greezy Chinese food in my belly.

After dinner we retired to the living room to some more Golden Globes.

I’m not sure how I haven’t mentioned this until now but the guy from the Jeep was shacked up with us also. He really didn’t want to be there but our hosts insisted. It was a while before we got it out of him but he was just out of the army and was trekking from Toronto to Vancouver. He must have been pretty pissed to be stuck in what he must have looked at as a fly-over province. I’m not sure what it was but I found him creepy and was glad he was going to be sleeping in the basement.

At one point, after dinner but before bed, the husband installed himself into a contraption that looked like a very large gerbil wheel with the treads missing and rotated until he was upside down. I guess it’s what is known as an inversion machine. All he said to mark this was “don’t mind me boys” and just hung there until I eventually got creeped out enough to arc off to bed. I believe it took Derek another thirty minutes to get that creeped out.

I remember being up at six the next morning and being told that the fellow from the Jeep had already left. Without breakfast (which was alright with me as I didn’t want to know what followed a dinner like the one we had the night before) we (Derek and I) were loaded into a Toyota pickup with the farmer – who, luckily for us, was now right-side up. From the contents inside his truck it became clear to me that on top of being a farmer he was also contracted to operate the wells in the area.

The farmer had called the local tow truck and, although it wasn’t a tow truck that arrived on the scene, it was a large Chevy Duramax Diesel dually with a long rope – which was good enough for me and eventually good enough to free the Dodge, Ford and the trailer (Enter anecdotal-ly evident Chevy vs Dodge vs Ford remark here).

After being freed from the ditch and we did a shakedown on our rig we arced in to Major, Saskatchewan to settle up for our tow and to get some breakfast. It is because of this story and the trip to KC chronicled earlier in this blog that I no longer have an AMA card but now have an AMA Plus RV card. Not that I ever drive an RV but it seems anytime I need help I have a trailer on behind me. They phoned in the card in at the garage and dinged me for the trailer.

Derek and I were then directed to the only restaurant in town – the “OK KAFE”. The restaurant turned out to be a converted mobile home. There was very little to distinguish it from other mobile homes other than a sign that said “OK KAFE”. We had a good meal there although the choices were rather limited. This place had the menu from the diner in the movie My Cousin Vinnie. The one that simply said: Breakfast… Lunch… Dinner. We went with the breakfast and were happy we did. A couple cokes for the road and we were off again.

Only two hours to eat up that Monday morning and it was smooth sailing the rest of the way to Halkirk. After a quick lunch at Derek’s fiancé’s family farm, where we regaled them with tales of Saskatchewan, I was off to Red Deer to drop the Dodge and trailer then home to Calgary and bed for the rest of the day.

Looking back on it now it was a good trip. I had a lot of fun. I think it’s noteworthy to point out that the Ford has done very little since being in the province. It might be in the same spot we put it when we off loaded it two years ago. I believe it might be retired now. And if so what’s better for an ugly old truck that’s been all over American and a tour of middle Canada then to live out its last days on an Alberta farm.

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