Thursday, May 29, 2008

The $500 Volvo Mule

1982 Volvo 245GLT, Turbo, Intercooler, 4spd+OD M46, Open Diff', 148K miles.

As explained in an earlier post, this car was purchased with this trip in mind. I may be tempting fate with it though. Just last week I had to park it because the alternator bit the big one; shorted diode(s). I spent the better part of the day on Friday trying to get another alternator. I ended up driving my 1966 Volvo to Houston for work. I wasn't able to source a replacement until Monday evening when I got home. That cost me $164+core. But I upgraded to the 80 amp version.

So far, Tyler helped me replace the engine and transmission mounts. Tony, my mechanic, removed the A/C hose that had blown apart and I took it to Tyler (the town, not the man) to have it repaired. Tony installed it, pulled a vacuum, and recharged the system. Total cost was $125.

I have purchased several bits, pieces, parts, and service items for the car from IPD and other sources. So far, with the A/C and alternator repairs my $500 car has cost me an additional $500. I am right at the dollar amount I set for myself when I started searching for a used Volvo wagon to make this trip. But, wait a minute. The expenditures may just be beginning...

As I was replacing the alternator this past Tuesday I gave the underside of the car a good look for the first time. All the bushings in the suspension are shot. I knew that. The inner ball joints on the steering arms are shot. I didn't know that, only that the steering had a "dead spot" on center and a mild vibration at speed. The oil cooler for the turbo has been contacting the left side tank of the radiator for some period of time unknown. The result has been a deep gouge in the tank. I don't know how much metal is left in the gouged out area. It is definitely something I must watch closely, like at every gas stop, for signs of leakage. I won't bother Tyler with that information; he tends to worry about little things like loosing all the coolant in the middle of nowhere. ;-)

The car is pushing a bit of oil from it's seams. I will clean the tube rising up from the side of the block for the PCV system but I think the problem may be the dreaded blow-by failure mode. Even if the engine is gasping it's last, it should last the summer.

The turbo is, I think, dying. It whines a bit more than it did when I picked up the car. I noticed a bit of oil seeping out of the housing at start up after I replaced the alternator. I have never owned a turbocharged car before so I am making an undereducated guess about the life left in the turbo; maybe 10,000 miles? I hope so. If it flings it's innards on the trip I will have to source another one on the road. That could get to be expensive and time consuming. Que serĂ¡.

The transmission constantly pisses fluid out of both ends. I made arrangements with a fellow in Calgary to supply me with another M46. I will bring it home to do the swap. In fact, I may have my mechanic do it for it me; that is just how lazy I am getting in my old age, I would rather pay someone else than do it myself 99% of the time. I could legitimately blame my aversion to lifting transmissions under cars on jack stands on my back problem. Truth told, I would probably pay Tony to do it regardless of this nagging backache.

There are several more little worn out items that won't stop the car but will present interesting problem solving exercises should they fail. Rest assured I will share all in this trip journal should the need arise. ;-)

The countdown continues: Five days to departure.

Stay tuned. More to come...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Yellowknife, Third Post

Preparations continue. Time is contracting.

This time next week I will awaken Tyler, my travelling companion, to begin our journey. Besides my wife Marsha, I have never travelled any appreciable distance with anyone along for the ride. (Well, there was my first wife but that was a lifetime ago.) This will be a new and different trip. Tyler is in charge of documenting the trip with text and pictures to be posted here. He has a Blackberry and a laptop so we should be able to provide regular updates about the places, people, and things we encounter along the way.

With the recent escalation of fuel prices I gave serious consideration to abandoning the trip. It is, after all, a useless trip to a place where I have no family, no business interests, no reason to visit other than my selfish desire to do something most people will never.

Marsha had to adjust the family budget to accommodate me. I estimated fuel cost for the trip at $5/gal. Assuming the 245 returns 24MPG for the 6000 miles, I will generate a fuel bill of $1250 in just three weeks on the road. We won't be impoverished by the expenditures but some things could have been done at home that will now have to wait awhile. Make that a long while. If I spent the money on airfare I could visit London or Dublin or Gothenburg.

Those places will have to wait. Besides, they are not on my list of places to visit before I die. Yellowknife is. As are New Zeland, New Foundland during the Targa event (September), and Guanajuato Mexico. (BTW, I had a "bucket list" long before the movie was ever even an idea. ;-)

Enough whining about expense. On with the trip...

Itinerary: There isn't one. Well, there is a general plan. Depart Jacksonville early Tuesday, June 3rd. Arrive Calgary sometime after church hours on the following Sunday. The miles between those two places should offer vistas and life experiences worth having. The general goal right now is to depart Alberta Monday morning to make Yellowknife by Wednesday night. That is three days to cover more than a thousand miles (by my planned mountain route) so there won't be much in the way of touristy things on the "to do" list. Departure from Yellowknife will most likely be sometime on Saturday, maybe Sunday. After a quick stop again in Calgary to pickup Volvo parts, the next destination is the VCOA MidSommar Festival in Lindsborg, KS, on the weekend of June 21 & 22. We will leave there Sunday afternoon, putting down a couple of hundred miles before we bed down for the night. We should be back in Jacksonville late on the 23rd. That's the outline. The particulars of the trip I will leave to Karma and happenstance.

Lodging: We will camp two nights out of three. My back will not allow me to sleep on the ground for three consecutive nights. Plus, having done my share of it, I have no intention whatsoever of sleeping outside during a major storm. If the weather is nasty we will find a building to sleep in.

Free camping is good. The National Forest system is one way to sleep free. You are supposed to check in with the rangers but since we will be staying only long enough to sleep, I am not going to bother to find the ranger stations first.

I have made no reservations. If we end up sleeping in the car, so be it. In all my years and at least a couple million miles of travel I have seldom made reservations. The notable exceptions have been business trips. When I travel for pleasure I prefer the catch-as-catch-can lodging. I also prefer independent, locally owned, establishments over even the best of the chain motels. The local establishments seldom offer wireless internet. Sometimes TV reception is a problem. Linens are usually well worn but clean. I will not stay in a motel if I see vagrants or whores standing about the premises; that is just an invitation for trouble. Such places are seldom found in small towns so I avoid metropolitan areas if at all possible to do so.

Sightseeing: So far, the only places I want to make sure we see are Cadillac Ranch, Taos, Durango, Silverton, Dinosaur National Monument, Yellowstone, and Going to the Sun Highway. On the way to Lindsborg I would like to see Mt. Rushmore. That is the entire list I have. I reckon Tyler has a list too. And, I am sure other things that we "can't miss" will present themselves. I have never been one to stop at tourist traps but I may make an exception for this trip if something looks particularly odd or entertaining.

We are about ready. I have to install an alternator today. I need to get some minor essentials for the trip. I need to air my tent and sleeping bag, and pack. I get off work Monday night and Tyler and I will come to my house for sleep and we will depart early on Tuesday.

Stay tuned. More to come...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Yellowknife Post 2

How it came to pass that this trip will be made in a Volvo.

And so it was that I was not meant to ride on two wheels to Yellowknife. Days and life experiences happened. I was diagnosed with coronary artery disease. I had a triple bypass in January of 1997. I was discharged from the hospital on my 41st birthday. Damn. It will eventually take my life. Modern medicine can keep me around for at another couple of decades so I am not quite ready to lay down yet. But the knowledge of it makes everything seem just a bit more urgent. If I want to do something I really need to move on it. You never know what tomorrow will bring.

It was with that sense of urgency that I started looking for a 1964 Plymouth Barracuda. I had one when I was a teenager and I wanted another one. I think what I really wanted was my youth. Short of that, a Barracuda would do, eh?

The plan was to build a rally spec car. I started hitting various internet web sites and I found one on the Edmund's web site. The price was $2800 and it was up near Tulsa. I serviced my old Chevy pickup, borrowed a tow bar, and drove to Tulsa with nothing but a phone conversation with the owner as a reassurance that it was a complete car just needing paint.

I had $2500 cash with me, intending to buy the car if it was complete and if I could get the man to come down on his price a bit. It was in pieces. The glass was removed and the trim was in a pile in the back of it. The upholstery was shot. It was not running. But it seemed to be all there. The engine was wrong; the '64 was never sold with a 318. I pointed that out to the fellow, that it wasn't original and therefore not as valuable to me nor any other collector. He seemed indignant. I pointed out a couple of rust spots and the very rough interior. The dash board had been cut for a radio. These are all things that, in my mind, made this car a #4 rather than a #3. The car was not worth the $2500 I had in my pocket, let alone the $2800 he was asking. But, I offered him $2000. He said no. I thought about it and allowed that as all the glass was present I reckon I could go to $2400. He said no. I asked what his lowest price would be. He said he posted it on Edmund's for $2800 and that is what he would take. I apologized for wasting his time and drove the six hours home.

I told you that story to tell you this one. My search for a Barracuda continued. One late night I was on eBay and was searching through all the 1964 through 1966 cars listed. One of those cars was a 1966 Volvo 122S. An Amazon. Now, I was not looking for a Volvo. I had never considered a Volvo at all. But the photograph on that eBay auction captured my attention and my imagination. The bidding was coming to a close at $1200. With no more thought than if I was buying a pair of shoes I bid $1225. The car was mine. Good-bye Barracudas. Good-bye recaptured youth.

The car did not run when I got it. I lost my job shortly after I acquired it and I thought that would be the end of any possibility of continuing the restoration on it. Since I had time on my hands, I straightened a bit of body damage on it and got it running but it was far from roadworthy. The restoration of the car is an entirely different subject that would take us too far away from the main point of the narrative; Yellowknife.

Fast Forward...
Eventually I ended up working in Houston. I talked to my wife and told her that one of the things I wanted to come of this job was to have the Volvo restored. She agreed. The resurrection of that car was long and expensive. But, eventually it became my daily driver making weekly trips between Jacksonville and Houston; 500 miles round trip. Meanwhile, my clock is ticking. I am now 52. I have burned up a decade of the few alotted to me. I want to go to Yellowknife. It is one of the few things I will ever do that has no reason other than I want to. So I started planning.

I layed out the general path I would take. I have not seen most of the Rocky Mountains. I will next month. The path meanders through the mountains in Colorado. I figured that the Dinosaur parks of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming would be worth a peek too. I will pass through Yellowstone but I don't know if I can deal with the huge influx of summer visitors long enough to actually see Old Faithful. It would be a real shame to miss it though. The planned entry into Canada will be at Glacier International Park, after traversing the Going to the Sun Highway.

It was at this point in the planning that Tyler Horne signed on for the trip. Tyler is a young man that jumped into old Volvos in a big way and needed some help to get them running. For the past year and a half I've been stopping by his place most Sunday nights to spend an hour or two work on some piddling thing or another. When he learned of my plans he all but begged to come along. I was happy to have someone to share the experience (and the expenses) with.

It was Tyler who brought up the question of what to do if the car broke really bad. Would I leave it where it was? I had thought about this but really had not dwelled on the subject. Tyler's question brought up the rather unpleasant idea of having to abandon the car that I had spent so much time, money, and effort to get back on the road. I opted for Plan B, Rev. 2: I would look for another car to use on the trip. The ideal candidate would be a Volvo wagon for less than $1000. The added space of a wagon meant that I would not have to take a trailer. A purchase price of less than $1000 meant that I could walk away from it if necessary without looking back. So, I started looking for a wagon.

Within days I found one. A 1982 Volvo 245GLT Turbo. The man was asking $500. I drove down to Clute, Texas and looked the car over. I bought it. That was six weeks ago. I have already put 3000 miles on it. It will make the trip.

There you have it. From a 1971 Harley Police Special to a 1966 Volvo 122S to 1982 Volvo wagon. The important thing all along has been the trip, not the vehicle. I would make this trip in my 1970 Chevy pickup if necessary. I would not want to; it gets about 15 MPG and gas prices continue to close in on $4/gal. I fully expect that we will pay at least $5/gal in northern Canada, maybe more.

Stay tuned. More to come.