Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Denver or Bust: Part 2, There and back again

Continued from Part 1...

Leaving Minden, Tim's Transit cruised across Nevada like it was on rails, and we couldn't even feel the extra weight of the trailer.  We'd opted for Highway 50, the Loneliest Highway, since it had more stuff to look at along the way, and we made it to Eureka, Nevada (population 610) that night.  As luck would have it, Tim had a friend who owned a house there, and though he wasn't home, he was happy to let us stay - the key was under the mat.  We were out the door by 6:30 the next morning, and wonder of wonders, found a tiny coffee hut on the main drag that, A) was open; and, B) served fresh-brewed espresso!

We made great time across Utah and Colorado, although we did start to feel the trailer as we crossed the Rockies.  We hoped the addition of a 1300 pound Crosley, plus assorted spares wouldn't slow us down too much on the way back.  Even with a stop at a junk shop somewhere in nowheresville, Utah, we still made it to Denver while the sun was up.
Suzy and her fiance Sean had a nice little brick house in an old part of Denver - tree-lined streets, with lots of little cafes and such in walking distance.  Not that we were doing much walking - Suzy had just had foot surgery, so she was on crutches, with orders to take it easy - ironic given that she is one of the most athletic people I know.  We made it as far as a local bar for an after dinner tipple.

The next morning was the big day: time to pick up the Crosley!  The owner lived about 30 minutes out in Aurora, a more rural area, a perfect place to pile up weird old vehicles - which he did.  We pulled up to the address and the Crosley was parked in front of a big shop building, which was jammed full of projects.
There is always something strange about seeing a car in person after obsessing about it online.  I've never done internet dating, but I imagine it's something like that.  Just never quite what you expected.

At first glance I was a little disappointed that the body had more dings than I'd been expecting.  There were also a few deep scratches that had been sloppily spray-painted - kind of a bummer given that the car had largely original paint.  The battery box was rusted out, and one of the cables was nowhere to be seen.  But the longer I looked, the more I saw.
Nearly everything was original. The seats and all interior panels were all there, if needing attention.  The headliner was intact and shiny.  The original under-dash turn signal switch - totally unobtainable for decades - worked smoothly.  The front windshield had a Colorado inspection sticker - from 1969! What Brian had assumed was white paint on the back panels turned out to be the original "basket weave" decals, so faded that there was only a hint of the original design. And while there were plenty of door dings and small dents, overall, the car was really solid and straight.  The rust in the battery box appeared to be the only cancer in the whole car. I wished the spare motor hadn't been leaning on the interior panels in the cargo bay, but it didn't appear to have wreaked too much havoc.
Brian, the owner, seemed happy to have the car go to someone who appreciated it. He was older than I'd expected, and more of an oddball. Talking to him on the phone I'd pictured a younger hotrod/biker dude who picked up the Crosley on a whim because it was kinda neat. Looking over the projects in his shop it was clear that he wasn't just a Harley and hotrod guy - he proudly showed off the bizarro '80s three wheeler that he had restored... I can't remember the name of it, but it was very Battlestar Galactica.  Yes, you drive it without a windshield.
After a suitable amount of ogling we rolled the Crosley up onto Dale's trailer - WHAT a change from the tiny, janky $50 trailer I've used for every other Crosley-hauling excursion. Where a Crosley barely fit on my Harbor Freight Special, I had what seemed like acres of room on this one.   And, welded-on tiedown anchors liberally sprinkled the sides. This was livin'!  We waved goodbye to Brian and headed back toward Denver with our precious cargo.

We got about a mile when all hell broke loose.

As soon as we hit a big road and got up to about 50 mph, the trailer started to buck.  We pulled over to make sure the tiedowns were correct, tightened everything a bit more, and cautiously headed down the road.  And again, as soon as we got close to 50, the trailer started acting like it was trying to lose us. It bucked up and down and wobbled side to side - for one second I thought it was going to flip.  We couldn't slam on the brakes, so we had to cut speed slowly... the longest 10 seconds of my life.

A further exam of the trailer and load and I thought I had identified the problem: the trailer hitch was too high, and the Crosley was too far back on the trailer, with most of the weight behind the wheels.  I'd never given any thought to where to load a Crosley on my own tiny trailer - it only fit on one way - and luckily the cars had always ridden OK.  We didn't have a way to secure the trailer while we adjusted the hitch, so we decided to head slowly back to Denver on surface streets and sort out the trouble at Suzy and Sean's.  Twenty-five miles of stop signs and bumper to bumper traffic later we pulled up across from their house, sweating from our private remake of Wages of Fear.  The good news is that the diagnosis was correct, and once we lowered the hitch and moved the Crosley a foot forward it rode perfectly.
We celebrated that night over at another friend's house - he had moved out to Denver not long after Suzy - and he and his wife had a good chuckle at the idea of us driving all the way out there for what sounded to them like a glorified go kart.
Sunday dawned and it was time to head back toward Sacramento.  We hustled since we weren't sure how the Transit would handle the load over the Rockies; we wanted to build in plenty of time for the passing lane, just in case.  Turned out that our worries were unfounded- the Transit went over the Rockies under a full load pretty much the way it had with the empty trailer.

We hit a light rain as we started into the mountains.  I had a moment of horror as I realized that this was the first time the car had seen rain in nearly a half century... and then I remembered that it was, after all, a car. We pulled in for a pit stop and I was surprised to see that the rain was bringing out the original basket weave pattern!  I made a mental note to see if I could bring it back somehow when I got home.
We stopped for the night in Ely, Nevada, a bustling metropolis of 4255, not far over the line from Utah.  Ely's downtown was full of historic brick buildings, mostly hotels and bars.  We had our pick of cheapie vintage motels so we went for the Grand Central Motel, which had a great sign and a good safe parking spot.  We had a late dinner at the Hotel Nevada, built in 1929, and at six stories, the tallest building in the state until the forties.  We poked around the town a bit, with Tim taking pictures of old signs and such, a couple of which he turned into paintings after we got home.
The next day was a breeze.  Other than deciding which of the 30,000 songs Tim had loaded onto his iPod to play, we just drove. Each of us had a specific DJ style: Tim would hit "shuffle," let the song play a few seconds and say, "nah" and forward it til he found something he wanted to hear.  I just found all the Bo Diddley records and hit "play." Nevada flew by, and we crossed into California in the afternoon. Unfortunately for us we hit holiday traffic as we came down the hill, meaning that it took us as long to get from Lake Tahoe to Sacramento as it had for us to cross half the state of Nevada.

Finally, five days and 2300 miles after we left, we pulled up in front of my house, Crosley in tow.  I unloaded all of my gear and unhooked the trailer from Tim's Transit.  If we hadn't been so fried it probably would have been an emotional moment - it had been a great trip, and a chance to revisit old friendships that had gotten a little off track.  Tim turned around down the street and honked as he drove past on his way home. I grabbed my sleeping bag and started up the stairs.

No comments: