Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Crosley Cruise: 2015 West Coast Crosley Club Meet - Part 2

I headed over for the Crosley Cruise kickoff at Thomi's Cafe on Sunday morning.  As luck would have it, my station wagon had developed a slight water pump leak over the weekend - I greased the zerk fitting and kept my eye on the temp gauge.  Luckily I'd brought a jug of water just in case, and borrowed another from Mike Blackburn who had decided at the last minute not to do the tour.  Mike's water jug sprung a leak as soon as I loaded it in the car.  So far, so good.

Traditionally, the Sunday breakfast is the official end of the annual meet - this was the first time we'd ever tried a full two-day meet, and with the date change due to the fire we'd lost a few members who couldn't make one day, let alone two.  I had no idea what to expect, but hoped I wouldn't be going it alone. In the end, we got five Crosleys signed on for the Cruise - not as many as I'd hoped, but still the largest contingent of Crosleys to make a long-distance endurance run in decades.

We had two wagons (mine and Orv and LeAnn Madden's), two roadsters (Gary Cochrane's Super Sports and Mark Beauchamp driving Don Rauch's Hot Shot, and Gary Loomer in his roundside pickup, plus Marty in his 1969 Porsche, Chuck Latty in his Ford Panel Wagon, and - maybe most important - Mike Kathan and Jen Moe driving the 'breakdown' truck and trailer in case anyone had a problem on the road and needed to be hauled home.  Liv and a few other members followed along in appliance cars.
As hoped, we also had a few members who weren't able to drive their Crosleys join us as passengers. New member Pam Wunderlich started the trip riding shotgun with me, excited to be part of the fun.  Pam proved the rule about the "small world" of Crosley ownership - she and her husband are restoring a CC wagon that I'd hauled out of a shed after 50 years of storage in Oakland in 2002.  I'd eventually sold the car to Dean, and then he sold it to the Wunderliches earlier this year when he bought the wagon I'd picked up in Denver.  Service Motors is probably finishing up the motor for them as I type this.

The original plan had been for me to lead the way and set the pace, but since Marty was the only one who knew the route by heart he had to be the pace car.  I told him to shoot for about 35MPH and that I'd honk if he needed to go faster.  We crossed 49, passed our hotel and wound through old town Jackson, drawing looks and pointing fingers the whole way.  At the end of Main Street we veered to the right, cutting off into a neighborhood of century-old homes that eventually gave way to more rural country.  We passed a big hillside graveyard guarded by the 1894 St. Sava Serbian Church, the first Serbian church built in North America.

A bit past the church Marty pulled into the parking lot of the Kennedy Tailing Wheels Park so we could check them out. The tailing wheels are massive water wheel-looking machines built to haul mine waste - two of the original four wheels have been preserved.  Marty gave us the historical background and we took a short break to enjoy the site.   I greased the water pump.
Pam traded off for Gary's truck and then we headed for Martell, where we hopped on 49 for a brief stint, cutting off toward Pine Grove. Pine Grove is a tiny town with two notable establishments: Giannini's Italian Dinners, one of my favorite destinations in the whole region, and Munnerlyn's Ice Cream - a gourmet ice cream shop that was a hit on our first Gold Country meet.  Neither spot was on the menu today, however - we cruised past and turned on to Pine Grove-Volcano Road, a wonderful winding two-laner through the woods where we encountered the first real hills of the day.

We wound through a beautiful dappled forest setting, sometimes dropping into second gear for some of the steeper hills.  I kept my eye on the cars in my rear view mirror, but no one seemed to be having any troubles.  The wagon sounded good and the temperature gauge stayed right in the pocket, much to my relief.

We started a series of downhill grades as we made the approach to Volcano.  Marty, mindful that the Crosleys had been lagging a bit on the uphill climbs, had dutifully cut his speed.  Unfortunately, he was keeping it equally slow on the downgrade, and I was getting ever closer.  As my following distance declined, I tapped the horn a few times to signal Marty to speed up.  As soon as I hit the horn Marty's brake lights went on and he slowed down even more!  I honked more and employed frantic hand signals and Marty zoomed ahead, message clear. When we pulled into Volcano Marty said, "I thought you told me to slow down if you honked?"
Volcano is like most Gold Country towns: tiny, quaint and old.  Our convoy filled the main street and the tourists wandered over to check out the cars.  I checked the water in my overflow tank and monitored the drip at the water pump: slow but sure. Gary walked over and said we could be going a bit faster, but I told him that I thought we were doing OK.  Marty and Sheri pointed out an amazing bakery on Main Street, but since we'd all just eaten we just looked at the treats - Liv and I made a note to include a stop next time we were in the area.

After a quick leg stretch and pit stop we hopped back in and looped through town to pick up the road for Sutter Creek. I followed Marty, and then watched in my rear view mirror as both Mark and Gary missed a turn and drove straight on down the street.  We pulled over at the edge of town, waiting for them to turn around and catch up with us.  A few minutes later we grouped up and took off on Sutter Creek-Volcano Road.

This stretch of the Cruise was one of the only parts saved from our pre-fire route plan - it's a perfect backcountry two lane mountain road, twisting through the woods, following Sutter Creek the whole way from Volcano to the town of Sutter Creek.  The elevation drops 1200 feet over the twelve mile trip, so we just bombed along, often coasting for long stretches.  The wagon was running perfectly and the scenery was out of a storybook.

I was humming along happily when I started to worry that that I hadn't seen many Crosleys in my rearview mirror  lately.  Gary Loomer was tucked in tight behind me, but I hadn't seen Orv's wagon or the two roadsters in about five minutes.  The road was extremely twisty, and hugged the edge of a canyon, so I couldn't see that far behind me, but it seemed like I should have seen them on some of the less twisty passages.  I looked for a spot to pull over and wait, but since we were driving alongside a sheer mountainside, there weren't many options on my side of the road. After another four or five minutes I found a clearing a pulled over.  The crew caught up in a couple of minutes and we got back on the road for Sutter Creek.

We cruised through old town Sutter Creek, a familiar spot since we had the 2012 and 2013 meets there.  At the edge of town we zigged left and zagged right, and Marty led us off on an unmarked rural road that made me very glad he was leading the way.

We quickly found ourselves in golden rolling hills dotted with old oaks - classic California country.  The road got smaller and smaller and we were soon down to a single lane.  We meandered through the countryside, passing grazing cows, crossing dry creek beds that will be gushing with runoff in the rainy season.  The whole day was amazing, but the herd of us buzzing along on this seemingly secret passage was really hard to top.

We pulled into Amador City about 12:30 and broke for lunch.  Though the whole town is only about a block long with a population of 150 people, there were plenty of dining options.  Most of us ended up at the Buffalo Emporium, a lunch-counter type place with a soda fountain and fresh pie.  The conversation ran heavily toward Crosley - club member Paula Whitney was a convertible convert after getting her first ride in a roadster that day!

Gary decided to head back to the hotel after lunch - his home in Perris is a long haul from Jackson - but before he left we got all the Crosleys lined up for a photo in front of the Imperial Hotel, built in 1879.
From Amador we hopped on 49 and drove north though Plymouth and then cut off on Shenandoah Road, humming along on five miles of smooth country road that took us into the Shenandoah Valley wine country. Meadows gave way to vineyards and the Gold Country vibe started to take on a Napa Valley flavor.  Marty pulled off on the last stop on our tour - the Amador Flower Farm.

The Flower Farm is a big (14 acre) site, with nursery, demonstration gardens, picnic area, and of course, a gift shop.  They were doing a bustling business, and the lot was packed - lucky for us, we managed to fit two Crosleys into a little stone corral area that would have only held one full size car.  The Lattys and a few others did a little sightseeing while the rest of us chatted.  Marty shared some stories about the Butte Fire - just awful.  Hard to believe that the whole region had been under emergency conditions less than a month ago.
I had a passenger for the ride back to Jackson - Pam's husband Al Wunderlich hopped in, eager to see how a stock wagon handled the hills. They live at the top of a long hill, and they still weren't 100% sure that a Crosley would make the climb.

The ride back was altogether different from the trip from Jackson.  We'd really tried to avoid main highways when planning the trip, but unless we'd wanted to simply backtrack over the same roads we'd taken earlier, or take a very long detour, there was no choice but to take Highway 49, which is the main highway in the Gold Country.  I'd taken this stretch of 49 on my trip from Sacramento so I knew my car could do it - I hoped the other cars wouldn't have any troubles.

Al and I chatted as we cruised along.  He's a really interesting guy - he and Pam are both artists and he had worked as an art professor at a great school (the Rhode Island School of Design) for many years.  Liv and I both graduated from art school at UC Davis, and it turned out that he knows a few of the professors there.

Al went to school at Cooper Union, a storied university in New York, where his best friend was another art student named Tony Cox.  I recognized that name immediately - Tony Cox was married to Yoko Ono before she met John Lennon, and had a daughter, Kyoko, with him.  They had collaborated on art projects in the early sixties, and Al had been part of their circle. He'd helped publish Grapefruit, Yoko's first book, and had had a brief fling with her when she and Cox separated. I was spellbound listening to the stories - I'm a pretty big art history nut, and am a huge fan of Yoko's early artwork - in fact, I'd almost packed my Yoko-inspired "this is not here" t shirt for the trip.  My worlds were colliding!
All the while, the Crosley just chugged along on 49.  I'd expected the addition of a passenger to slow me down, but the Crosley putted up the hills at the same speed it had on Friday afternoon when it had been just me. The trip convinced Al that a Crosley could take on his hometown hill easily.  The rest of the Crosleys seemed to be doing just as well - Orv, Mark and Gary Cochrane were spread out behind me, taking the hills at their own pace.  Marty split off for home as we passed through Sutter Creek and I led the troops back to the hotel in Jackson.

All told, we covered 60.2 miles from start to finish, covering rugged hillcountry that ranged from 646 feet to 2100 feet in elevation.  No breakdowns, no emergencies, no real problems at all.  Orv thought we could have taken the Sutter Creek-Volcano Road section more slowly, and I agree - while it was great fun to barrel down that mountain road, it did feel a bit more like a road rally than a cruise.  But, not bad for our first try.  Marty really did a great job putting the route together under very trying circumstances, and I think that anyone who didn't go really missed out. I hope there's enthusiasm to try again next year!

Jen and Mike toted Dean's wagon from Sacto and also followed the Cruise with trailer in case any one broke down - no one did! 


Anonymous said...

Great commentary and pictures. The Chases....

Ol' Man Foster said...

Thanks - and thanks for your help with the BBQ etc!

Anonymous said...

::: Sorry for the intrusion - but you are the only Crosley post that appears active. Just wanted to find a place to sell an old Crosley differential...please advise. Thx. Mark (