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October 8, 2009

Not the Cannonball, Day 3: The Midwest.

Filed under: Cars,Not the Cannonball — chuck goolsbee @ 9:48 pm

Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota.

I love to explore new places, and re-explore places I’ve been before. For navigation in these sorts of situations I prefer to follow my nose and my whims. Today however we follow the nagging voice of some bitch named “Garmin”. She’s demanding. She’s heartless. She sends you on wild goose chases with no reward.

The 450sl is like the E-type in one way: It is deceptively small, while appearing large. Here it is in the hotel parking lot in Indiana.
The 450sl is like the E-type in one way: It is deceptively small, while appearing large. Here it is in the hotel parking lot in Indiana.

Dad has a GPS unit and fiddles with the damn thing all the time. I actually had a GPS back in the 1990s. It had no UI, just a serial cable to my old PowerBook, and fed data into a mapping program. It was a cool toy to play with, but I threw it away after a short while as it only served to distract me from the ENJOYMENT of exploration. I have chosen to go old-school… just an atlas, my innate sense of direction, and my whims. My father would rather trust Mrs. Garmin though.

We leave Elkhart, Indiana with me at the wheel and find our way around Chicago, all the while changing routes to avoid traffic as morning rush hour is in full swing. The cars are thick and the frequent toll booths are annoying as hell, but we finally break free from Chicagoland and rocket northwest towards Wisconsin. All of this navigation was done on the fly. Mrs. Garmin wanted to send us right into the teeth of several traffic jams. Dad used his years of living in the area (my entire childhood was spent in the suburbs of Chicago) and his atlas to direct me around the metropolitan area. Once in Wisconsin we switch drivers and dad takes the wheel…

The interior of the 450sl with the removable hard top installed. Amazing visibility in all directions.
The interior of the 450sl with the removable hard top installed. Amazing visibility in all directions.

The trees are beginning to put on their autumn colors, and the terrain is very pleasant on the eye. We choose to stop in Eau Claire for lunch. Dad has me ask Mrs. Garmin what there is to eat in Eau Claire. I’m hoping for Brats (when in Rome!) but Dad decides he wants an Olive Garden salad when Mrs. Garmin says there’s one just off the freeway. She sends us north towards Chippewa Falls, then up an off-ramp towards a shopping center. I say ‘It must be in that shopping center on the left.’ Dad agrees, but Mrs. Garmin sends us past it, then into a residential area, where she directs us left, and right, and left, and right, weaving like a drunk. Finally she has us come out of the subdivision at the back side of the shopping center and she directs us out of it and says “turn right into destination”… which is a freeway on ramp! There is no Olive Garden in sight… anywhere. We’re heading off towards Chippewa Falls again! Dad dead-reckons his way back towards the Interstate, ignoring Mrs. Garmin’s admonitions and endless “recalculating”s and right as we approach the freeway I say “hey look Dad, a Red Robin.” If there is a place my dad likes more than Olive Garden, it is Red Robin. We pull in and enjoy a nice lunch, while Mrs. Garmin sits in the car grumbling about having to recalculate.

The Red Robin in Eau Claire. The complaining you hear is the Garmin GPS endlessly recalculating... or me NOT having a bratwurst
The Red Robin in Eau Claire. The complaining you hear is the Garmin GPS endlessly recalculating... or me NOT having a bratwurst

After lunch, with Dad at the wheel, we haul ass towards Minneapolis with the hope of bypassing it before the afternoon rush hour. Despite the left lane loafers that seemed to be camping out all around the twin cities we manage to get by it before 3pm. We gas up and swap seats in St. Cloud, and we make it to Fargo (doncha know!) around sundown.

A bit subtle of autumn color in western Minnesota.
A bit subtle of autumn color in western Minnesota.

In addition to Mrs. Garmin’s useless directions, another troubling noise comes from the car: a grinding noise from the right rear. I think it could be a small stone lodged between the brake shield and the rotor. Dad demurs on my offer to pull off the wheel and have a look and after we check into the hotel Dad scours the phone book for a brake shop that opens early.

Following a nice dinner in a steakhouse close to the hotel, I spend too much time troubleshooting crappy hotel wifi… before giving up and going to bed.

Another parallel to the 1999 event? Car trouble in the Midwest? Read on for the replay of the 1999 Cannonball Classic:

Wed, Sept. 29th, 1999: St. Louis, MO to Lincoln, NB.

We get some heavy fuel for breakfast at the hotel. Dad packs bags and I go out back to bring the car around. The thing is cold, and I forget to set the choke and of course can’t get it started. Dad finally shows up and points out my error, so now I’m feeling like a total idiot. I have parked it in such a way that we would have to push it back uphill a bit before trying to roll-start it. I head off to find the mechanics and see if we can get a jump. I find Brock Yates Jr., and Barry Brown and they come back and try to get it started. We try starting, rolling, everything, but it won’t turn over. At this point I’m feeling about as low as an ant in Death Valley for, I assume, ruining the car. They drop into troubleshooting mode and start discovering minor problems… spark plugs that are cracked (probably from getting real hot then getting a cold bath from the rain), a coil wire that is burned up, etc. They keep eliminating problems until only one remains: the igniter in the distributor. It is a Mallory Distributor, and MSD coil (can’t even blame the usual “Prince of Darkness” suspect!) so they think we should be able to find one in a performance parts store, so they leave us to catch up with the rest of the group. We head back to the room, and start scouring the yellow pages for the part. We get nowhere for a while… until dad finally finds a store way the hell on the other side of the city with one. He calls a cab and I stay to do some writing and maybe catch a nap. I’ll postpone writing about dinner until later….

Above: Brock Yates Jr. & Barry Brown trying to revive the Jag in St. Louis.

As of 11am Central time we are still here, but if we can get going before 1pm we can probably make Lincoln and catch the rest of the group before nightfall. Wish us luck!

Update: noon…

Above: Chuck installs the new trigger in the distributor.

Above: More Roadkill.

We got the part, and I put it in but we’re still not turning over. Dad calls a guy in St. Louis at a shop called "British Cars of America, Inc." and asks if we could get a "housecall."

"The thought of finishing this event in a Dodge Neon is just not acceptable." –Charles Goolsbee Sr.

Charlie Key, the president of British Cars of America, and his sidekick Ed show up in a van about 20 minutes after dad called them. He spends about 10 minutes diagnosing the situation and determines that the coil is dead. I suspect that an earlier pyrotechnic incident during the troubleshooting phase with the rally mechanics blew the coil. A quick run back to the shop for a coil and:

Presto, the CAT GROWLS AGAIN!!!

I tell my dad that he’ll have to name his first born son after this guy. Heh, consider it done.

Above: The guys from British Cars of America arrive at the scene.

Above: After the cat is growing again, Charlie and Charlie exchange financial information.

I have to say that Charlie Key of British Cars of America saved our butts. Without his quick action and excellent abilities (at a very reasonable cost too!) I’d be writing this update from St. Louis, rather than Lincoln! If you have a British car, and you are anywhere near St. Louis, give Charlie a call for your restoration or repair needs:
British Cars of America,
2338 North Lindbergh,
St. Louis, MO, 63114,
(314) 426-5357.

Tell them Charlie and Chuck sent you!

We grab a quick bite for lunch and hit the road going west. We leave St. Louis at 2pm. Rather than follow the rally route, we stick to the Interstates to make time. West on I-70 to KC, then north and west to Lincoln. As usual we switch drivers every couple of hours, but unlike usual we are leaving the top up today. I am about an inch and a half too tall to fit in the car with the top up, so driving is uncomfortable… but the combination of lower temps and a bright sun make keeping in the shade practical. We are going to get a few days of hard sun as we go further west into the Rockies, Great Basin and the desert southwest, so we are saving our skins today.

I have a couple of close calls:
I am flying along at our usual 85/95mph pace… I crest a hill and there in the hollow down below is a Missouri State Patrolman. As soon as I see him I brake down to exactly 70mph (great brakes on this machine!) just as I glance back up from the speedometer the radar detector practically jumps out of the car with a full-on, Ka-Band, head-to-toe paint job. Since he was down in that hole we had ZERO warning of his presence as he was painting every car that went by with electrons but the steep hill kept us from getting any of his signal. Bastard.
Heh, my reflexes and this car’s brakes beat his "instant on" to the punch! All he can do is wait for someone with a lesser combo.

Later, I am cruising in the fast lane at about 85, when an 18-wheeler about 85 meters ahead of me swerves quite suddenly into my path. My instant reaction is to change into the lane that he just vacated. I see that he is not avoiding a collision, just moving to pass a Ford Fiesta poking along. I am doing 85, the truck is doing 65/70, the econo-box is going 55. The gap between them is about 50 meters wide and closing. I drop into 4th and punch it, which wakes my dad up from his dozing reverie to see me slipping at about 110mph into the gap which has shrunk to about 25 meters… Needless to say the rude awakening rattles him a bit, and honestly it rattled me a bit too but I don’t think it bothered the trucker, and I think the lady in her fiesta wasn’t even paying attention. I bet dad has a fresh pair of undies in his bag anyway.

Proof of babe-magnetism: At every fuel stop today the cashiers (all women) practically drool real spit over the car. Of course they are all ugly as sin… but, I’m looking forward to SoCal with optimism.

Above: All those years in Art school add up to something…

As we are flying up the Missouri river’s unique landscape where Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa meet, at sunset I watch with fascination as our shadow plays on the corn, wheat and grass along the side of the road. I shoot as many pics as memory permits in my circa 1994 digital camera… hoping that it can capture just a glimpse of this magic. Did it? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

We come into Lincoln, NB about an hour too late for the scheduled dinner, but given the fact we gave them all a seven-hour head-start it is not too shabby. Damn this cat kicks ass! (when it runs)

Rather than head for the museum to grab the buffet leavings, we detour to the hotel grill and enjoy the best Nebraska has to offer: a couple of enormous steaks and some garlic mashed potatoes. Mmmmmmmm. Dad and I have a great dinner to end a great (or at least adventurous) day.

Roadkill Tally for Wednesday: 1 Dog, 2 cracked spark plugs, 4 Raccoons, 1 Mallory Ignition Trigger, 1 Gopher, 1 MSD Coil and Mallory Coil/Dist Wire, 6 indistinguishable piles of flesh guts and fur/feathers.

Americana: 1 Super-stretch, shiny black, Hummer Limo between St. Louis & Kansas City. That must be the handbasket this country is riding in to hell.

Tomorrow we’re heading for my old climbing days stomping grounds, Estes Park. I doubt we can get the jag up the slabs of the Pear or the cracks of the Twin Owls, but it will be nice to see these old friends. See you there!



1 Comment

  1. Chuck, you ever make your way back to Wisconsin, I can not only recommend some places to eat, I can also recommend a few nice driving roads if you have the time…

    Comment by hammen — October 8, 2009 @ 11:30 pm

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