2020 Lewis & Clark Rally. Getting there.

Yes, I know I never finished last year’s story about the rally, sorry. We finished Third in Class (again, for a “ThreePeat”).

Now for this Pandemic Year things are different. Linda decided to skip it, and both my other family navigators passed as well, so I’m training a new Navigator, Stewart Ross (Linda’s kid, though hardly a kid as he’s in his twenties.) We’re driving the 320i again, as it is the most reliable of my vintage cars at the moment. I’ve taken it on several shake down drives this spring and it has performed flawlessly. The E24M has a bad power steering pump, and the 65E needs a float replaced in the SUs. Both items are on my to-do list.

I spent most of yesterday being a tow driver for Linda and the farm, hauling a horse, and a hay rake home, so I didn’t have much time for packing. I’d prepped the car a few days earlier in the week, but early this morning I went to the shop and tossed a few tools, such as a jump starting battery, a lightweight floor jack, and such into the trunk. I eyed my multi-meter sitting atop the toolbox in the shop twice as I was walking by and kept asking myself “should I grab that?” eventually deciding “nope” and carrying on.

In the storytelling game, that’s called “foreshadowing”…

I had printed out an old rally route book from over a decade ago that my father & I ran in the Jaguar in Central Oregon. It has a great TSD segment near the town of Culver with multiple traps, including a “toward” an “ITIS”, and two undeclared route choices that are non-obvious. I’ve used it to successfully train two novice Navigators, Kyle Murray and Linda. So after we were packed Stew and I head up to Culver to test run the segment before heading over the mountains to Portland.

Electrical troubleshooting without any electrical test equipment.

We head to the start area of the segment, and the speed limit sign where it starts seems to be wrong from my memory. We run it and find that it is clearly wrong as it’s a slow (25mph) average speed but our time is way off when we get to the first instruction. So we back-track to try again, and Stew spots a broken signpost laying in the sagebrush at the right spot. I find a spot to turn around and we pull over at the broken sign and I turn the car off. Then it won’t start. Very odd. We bump-start it and it runs okay. We run our segment and I talk Stew through the process and once we reach the point where I feel comfy that he’s good, we turn and start making our way. I watch the car and note a few oddities. Namely the Tach waves around randomly every once in a while. Nothing super odd, and not often, but curious. I had done an ignition tune up on the car late last summer (check plugs, new points, condenser, & distributor cap) and it has otherwise been awesome. We arrive in Madras and I decide to fill the tank before we leave civilization and the availability of no-ethanol gasoline. We stop and fill up and again the car will not start. Looking at the coil I note some frayed wires and the coil itself looking almost as old at the car. There is a parts store literally across the street so I send Stew over to grab one. I clean up some connections while he’s over there and look around to see if anything else might be amiss. Alternator belt is there and connections are good there. Stew comes back, I install the new coil and boom! The car starts right up. We continue on seemingly fine and in Warm Springs we stop for a bathroom break (the gas station in Madras has their restrooms closed) and when I go to start the car it won’t. Frustrated I decide to head home and get back to the shop to work out what might be going wrong. Stew reminds me that we have the jump start battery in the trunk so we try that and it starts the car. I email the rally organizer to let him know what’s going on in case I need to cancel.

Stew settles in with his headphones on and I ponder what might be going on. We can bump and jump start, but not start unassisted. I had ruled out a bad battery since I seem to recall buying a new battery for this car at the AutoZone in Prineville soon after I bought it. I also keep it on a battery tender when it is parked in the shop.

But my logical brain keeps telling me “It’s the battery stupid”… so I decide to stop at the Napa in Madras and have the battery tested. Sure enough they tell me it’s only at about 25%. I went to Napa because they carry Optima batteries and those have never let me down. Sadly, they don’t make one that will fit this car (the terminals are reversed on the right sized one.) So I buy a regular battery and install it in the car. Along the way I find a loose ground connection as well and tighten that. Car starts up and we’re on our way! In hindsight I remember that I had NOT bought a new battery for this car in 2015, it was for the Subaru that I gave to Nick when he graduated from OSU.

The drive up the mountain to Government Camp is uneventful and refreshingly cool compared to the heat in Madras and Warm Springs. The only oddity was a big bump in the road that caused the car to stumble and the tach to wave around like it had before. We pull off at the rest area at Mt. Hood for a pee break for Stew and for me to return a phone call from my sister Cathy. Phone call complete, I go to start the car and… nothing. Literally nothing. No crank, no lights. Silence.


Pop the hood, I tell Stewart to grab the jump start kit and as I raise the bonnet the obvious stares me back. The negative terminal has come off! We reattach everything, and double-check tightness everywhere. Car starts fine.

The rest of the drive is uneventful, though hot, and we make it to our hotel and rally check-in. We’re car #27, which will be the last car in the TSD competition. This should be interesting.