Monday, June 17, 2013

Up Around the Bend

Catch a ride to the end of the highway
And we'll meet
by the big red tree,
There's a place up ahead and I'm going,
Come along, come along with me.
--Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Goin' Up Around the Bend"
Click here to hear CCR on YouTube.
It's summer, and an old fart's fancy turns to the thought of heading out on the open road in a convertible.  And lo and behold, I have three convertibles, what luck.  Of course the 1976 Triumph Spitfire hasn't been driven in years and needs a complete overhaul, not to mention a new top and interior.  The 1996 Saab is a wonderful car, and drives beautifully, but for now, the top doesn't drop.  That's right, it's a convertible that doesn't convert.  That leaves my 1980 Triumph TR7 drop-head coupe, to give it its proper British name.
Looks like a fast car, doesn't it?  Last time I drove it, I went with the Garden City Rods & Customs club on a day trip around western Montana.  We left Missoula, drove in a round-about way to Helena, then on to Butte, and from Butte back home to Missoula.  At least that's what everybody else did.  There I was in the middle of the pack, surrounded by 1937 Chevrolets, Fords, etc.  and I couldn't keep up with them.  Now in all fairness, those 1937 Chevrolets were stock only in so far as their bodies looked authentic.  Underneath the sheet metal, they were anything but.  As we drove up and over MacDonald Pass on US Highway 12 (elevation 6,312), crossing the Continental Divide, I lost all power and quickly fell to the rear of the pack.  Once across the pass and headed down into Montana's capital city, I was able to catch back up, but my car was not happy climbing that hill.

South of Helena, we once again crossed the Continental Divide at Elk Park Pass (elevation 6,352) and once again, I lost power.  This time the leader of the pack was keeping me under his watchful eye, and I slowed the whole caravan down to a crawl from my position in 3rd place.  After a tasty lunch in Butte, we drove on to Deer Lodge where we stopped in the shade of the old prison walls for ice cream cones.  After this break, I could not get the car to even turn over, let alone run.  I told the gang to go on without me and I would get home on my own.  Reluctantly, they agreed.  Once I got the car running again, I made it roughly fifty miles before I limped off I-90 and pulled into the parking lot at Beavertail Pond.  And there I sat for at least two hours before I could get the car cooled down and running again.

As I said, that was the last time I had driven the car, and that was back in the summer of 2012.  But hope springs eternal, as they say, and I was determined to triumph over my Triumph.  When we moved to Plains, Kevin and our friend Michael put both Triumphs on Kevin's fifth-wheel flatbed trailer, and carried them to their new home.  Until last week, neither car had been moved from where we left them once we unloaded them from the trailer.  But now it's summer, and I NEED a convertible. So...

Dog Lake, AKA Rainbow Lake
Alongside MT Highway 28
Sanders County, MT

Last week I was able to get the 1948 Frazer to run.  It has no brakes, so running consists of turning the key, pressing the button on the dash, and letting the engine idle for 15 or 20 minutes.  Having crossed that off my list, I turned my attention to the TR7.  Leaving the battery on the charger over night allowed me to listen to the sound of the engine trying to turn over.  It wouldn't catch, unfortunately.  Mike was visiting, so he and Kevin left me watching Jeopardy and when they returned, the TR7 was running.  Idling roughly, but running none the less.  I moved it up to the garage.  Yesterday, I took it down to pick up the paper. (Ok, our driveway is over a 1/4 mile long, and it's another 1/2 mile to the paper drop.  I can walk there in 20 minutes and it takes me 25 to walk back.)  This was an excuse to see if the TR7 would settle down.  It did, having run out of gas about a mile from home.  Lesson learned:  Do not leave home to test drive an old car if your cell phone is sitting on the bedside table.  Once I had walked home in the summer heat, Kevin drove me back to the car with a five-gallon can full of gas.  Gee, once it had something in its belly, it started right up and let me drive it back home.

Later yesterday afternoon, I was working on the internet and got a Skype call from my dear friend Reneé who told me that her 84 year old mother has a dream.  She wants to arrive at this summer's family reunion at the wheel of a bright red sports car.  Well, the TR7 isn't red, it's brown, and not a particularly bright brown at that, but I offered it up just in case and suggested I'd drive it to Kalispell so that momma can check it out and see if she'll be able to drive it.  Trying to find a time when both my schedule and Reneé's match, I agreed to drive to Kalispell (90 miles one way) on Tuesday, June 18th.  Yes, that's tomorrow.  Before I can drive that far, I have to make sure the car will get me around town, so that brings us to this morning's drive.

First stop once leaving home was at NAPA, Plains Auto Parts.  A couple of years ago the gas cap on the car broke, and I bought a replacement locally.    Victoria British, where I order most everything I need for my Triumphs, ran out of OEM gas caps two years ago, so that wasn't an option. The replacement looked good, but didn't really fit and wouldn't allow any kind of vacuum to form in the gas line.  It was time to do something about that.  Sam at NAPA was very helpful, but it still took one hour and two calls to other stores to find a cap that would actually fit and seal.  While I was at it, I bought a new fuel filter, ordered an oil filter, and got some rubbing compound and (very expensive) wax to see if I can't bring back the shine,  Once done at NAPA, I crossed the street to Town Pump where $34 put 9.4 gallons of gas in the car, filling the tank.  Now it was time for a real test.

View to the East from MT 28
Looking toward the Camas Prairie
and the Mission Mountains beyond
Sanders County, Montana

Montana Highway 28 is a short cut route for people coming from the west and heading to Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, Kalispell, and all points in between.  It's southern (or western) terminus is Plains, from whence it climbs steeply for close to eight miles before crossing into the Flathead Indian Reservation.  Shortly after crossing the Reservation boundary, it passes alongside Dog Lake which is also known as Rainbow Lake, and which requires a Tribal Recreation Permit to enjoy the waters.  Beyond Dog Lake, the scenery opens up for a view across the Camas Prairie, and then, after a final climb, there is a 6% grade drop toward the town of Hot Springs.  Before you reach Hot Springs, however, there is a junction with Montana Secondary 387 which leads back down to connect up with MT 200 at Perma.  Downshifting to 2nd, I turned onto 387 and headed back down the mountain.

The Camas Prairie School
The grandparents of my good friend Doc Reynolds
taught here once upon a time
Sanders County, Montana

On the way south, I passed the Camas Prairie School and the assorted ranches that house the local population, and in no time at all I was crossing the Flathead River and turning right onto MT 200 to make the final leg of my test drive.  I love the drive along the Flathead, even the Perma Curves where a series of tight twists slow traffic considerably on this beautiful section of road.  Being able to make the drive with the top down was just the best.  This is a section of highway I would like to take by bicycle, and indeed on today's drive, I met a group of bike tourists right in the Perma Curves.  I waved to each and every one of the dozen or so riders, but they were concentrating heavily on the road and the lack of shoulder space through the curves so didn't wave back.  I wasn't hurt by that.

Out of the curves, the road straightens and widens as it passes the junction with MT 135, the road that connects us to Interstate 90 some 21 miles southwest of the junction.  Three miles beyond that junction is the town of Paradise, and seven miles beyond Paradise is Plains.  The car didn't give me any problems on my drive, and handled the mountain roads with aplomb, not losing power or cutting out once.  I did notice that between the speeds of 45 and 55 there was a lot of shimmy in the steering wheel.  It smoothed out above 55, but this was definitely something I needed to look into.  One of the first businesses you meet entering Plains from the east is Baldy Mountain Tire.  I stopped there and they agreed to check all four tires for air pressure and balance.  As a reminder of how bad the economy is around here, the manager offered to check just the front two tires, as their charge was $8 per tire.  I assured him that my life was worth more than $32, and please, check all four.  The good news is that there is lots of tread left on the tires.  The bad news is that there is enough dry rot to warrant replacing all the tires with new ones.  I will do that anon, but not today.  One tire in particular, the right front, was badly out of balance and had worn in an uneven manner.  That was probably the cause of my shimmy.  As a precaution, the good people at Baldy Mountain rotated my tires as well, and I'm happy to say that the shimmy seems to have disappeared.

One last stop on my way home was to see when Gary's AutoBody and Glass could change my oil.  How about tomorrow at 8?  Great, that will get the oil changed (and I'll have them replace the fuel filter at the same time), and will allow me to be on the road in time to have lunch with Reneé and her partner Linda in Kalispell.  I can hardly wait.  Now--if the thunderstorms in the forecast will just hold off till I get there and back...  More to come.

The Clark Fork River east of Plains, Montana
(Note the bighorn sheep in the lower right corner)

By the way.  This was a day for a test drive, not photography.  All the pictures shown above were taken over the past few months as I've driven around the area.  The picture of the TR7 was taken this afternoon in my driveway at 12 Kay Wood Drive, Plains.

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