Wednesday, February 15, 2017

(6) PREPARATIONS - the Car

Downtown Truckee Ca.
Summer 2009

The single most important piece of equipment in ensuring a successful road trip across the country is the car. We are driving a 1959 Ford Ranchero, which we purchased in 2007. Perhaps not the wisest choice to assure success. I didn't purchase the Ranchero for the purpose of driving across the country rather, I bought it because I wanted a first generation Ranchero. I greatly admire the 1957 and the 1959 Rancheros. (The 1958 looks like it was designed by a committee.)

1950s American automobiles get a bum rap. They are often mocked for the excessive chrome and tail fins. The 1959 Ford has tail fins, but they are restrained. And as for the chrome, I like it. It seems to me that our modern cars have gone to the other extreme, they have no style and all resemble jellybeans. No manufacturer has unique colors, and it is difficult to tell a Ford from a Toyota, or a Honda from a Chevy. Modern cars have all the style statement of a refrigerator. The Prius (or "Pius") most resembles the tape dispenser that sat on my office desk before I retired. I hated that tape dispenser.

Painting the Ranchero, Summer 2008
A beautiful but crowded Engine bay
This would  be a much easier trip if we drove one of our newer cars. I have never owned a new car,(and if the truth be told I have never even owned a current decade automobile) but, a newer car would have made this a worry free journey. It is not simply the age of the car that causes me worries it is the fact that the engine is really too big for the car's engine bay. I consistently have some problems with the car running hot in the summer.

I spent 10 years getting to know this car and I believe that the real cause of the problem is a 1950s engine bay stuffed with a more modern engine that would be more at home in full sized car of the 1960s or 1970's. The engine is a Ford big block, an FE which stands for Ford Edsel. The engine was first introduced in 1958 and was really a more modern than earlier engines of the 1950's. It is a great engine, used by the Ford Motor Company up to the late 1970s, perhaps even into the early 1980s. But my theory is that it is not at home in this old car. There is simply not enough space for air to circulate around the engine. High operating temperatures do not develop at highway speeds. Only around town is there cause for concern. I believe I have done everything possible to alleviate this problem, but it still nags me.

Linda has been a good sport about this Ranchero and about my automobile hobby in general. We bought the Ranchero in 2007 on the weekend of our 30th wedding anniversary. We spent the weekend in romantic Prineville Oregon, and the night at the City Center Motel which looks exactly the way it sounds. There is a memorable picture of us sitting on the tailgate of the Ranchero drinking champagne from Styrofoam cups in front of our motel room. I have done my best to make amends for my transgression.

30th Wedding Anniversary, Prineville Oregon
June 17, 2007
After purchasing the car in 2007, I first replaced the suspension. I then installed disc brakes because it's more important that a car be able to stop that it is for it to be able to go. After that I repainted the car and redid the interior. Over the past 15 months I have upgraded the engine with a modern fuel injection system, aluminum heads, and a new cam. Earlier I replaced the intake manifold with an aluminum intake. I have probably succeeded in reducing the weight of the car by 125 to 150 pounds.
Stripped down engine ready for upgrades
The fuel injection system and the engine are still getting to know one another. The Holley fuel injection system is a 21st-century system on a 59-year-old car. It senses the exhaust and makes changes in the fuel mixture on an ongoing basis. It's getting much better every drive, but to tell the truth I had really hoped for better economy. I took the advice of some of my car friends on the cam and I believe that they were probably more interested performance and less is interested in highway fuel economy than I am. I anticipate that pulling the trailer I will average between 14 to 15 miles to the gallon. I had hoped for 18.

New Cooling Fans
To address the cooling problem I  installed high capacity electric fans that assist with the airflow. The fans are only needed around town, but I believe that part of the airflow problem is also caused by the air being unable to exit the engine compartment. I will address this by "popping the hood" whenever we come to a town. Not a great solution, but at this late date it is all I can think of. I don't know if my proposed solution is correct, but I remember my father doing the same thing with our 1959 Ford Ranch Wagon with the same engine block. Ford hoods of the late 1950s hinged in the front and opened from the rear. This was considered a safety feature to prevent a hood from popping up on the highway and obstructing a driver's view. I will be popping the hood to try and extract some additional air from the engine compartment to cool the engine. I hope the theory proves correct. The hood will be latched down again as we get back on the highway.

The cooling issue also modified our proposed route. Originally I planned to start in the northwest and take the Yellowstone Trail east. However, we will take the Lincoln east in the early summer and do most of my driving in the morning to early afternoon. The northern tier should stay cooler late into June and this should help the cooling problems. Maybe a prayer or two will help as well.

A final project on the car was to civilize it a bit. The exhaust system was modified and quieter mufflers in stalled. Don't get me wrong, I loved the sound. It was what I would politely call a "don't mess with me sound." But even I would admit it was a 3 hour exhaust system. After 3 hours on the highway the drone of the exhaust began to eat at one's nerves. Linda would agree with all of this except the 3 hour part. She would probably describe it as a 30 minute exhaust system. Anyway, it is much quieter now.

I will see how this trip goes before I try again to do across country trip in a vintage car.

Under the old Reno Arch
Hot August Nights, August, 2010

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

(5) PREPARATION - Knowledge

A cure for insomnia!

As background for this trip I read everything I could find concerning the Lincoln Highway, the Yellowstone Trail and auto travel in general. Many of the sources were quite helpful, but a few did not contribute to my knowledge of the Lincoln Highway, the Yellowstone Trail nor to my preparation. Many of the sources I read were historical in nature, but several were contemporary. Most were about automobile travel, but some were not. Rinker Buck's book "The Oregon Trail" is neither about the Lincoln Highway, the Yellowstone Trail nor about automobiles. It was about his trek across the United States in a covered wagon. Nonetheless, the book is thought-provoking, well-written and a good lesson on being prepared for the journey ahead. One small book I read was Ford Motor Company's book "Station Wagon Living", a fun nostalgic read about camping in the late 1950's. It contributed a greatly to my enjoyment, but contained little of use to this journey.
Ford Motor Co Photo
From Station Wagon Living (1958)

Historical accounts give an appreciation of what early travelers endured on the Lincoln Highway and on the Yellowstone Trail. These early accounts remind us how easy we have it. Also I enjoy reading about the colorful personalities involved with both the Lincoln Highway and the Yellowstone Trail. Some of the early books list supplies to be taken along. Some items, such as a block and tackle, a slab of bacon and tire chains might have been useful 100 years ago but would be little help to me now for a 2017 summertime trip.

Brian Butko's books and travel guides on the Lincoln Highway are invaluable. Likewise Denny Gibson's book "By Mopar to the Golden Gate" was both enjoyable and helpful. Some of Denny's writings on the web and in particular advice he gave me on using a GPS to plan a trip will be of great assistance. Denny Gibson's book and Brian Butko's books deal with the Lincoln Highway. Most of the books I read, both historic and contemporary are about the Lincoln Highway. The Yellowstone Trail is not as widely known. Finding information concerning the Yellowstone Trail takes a bit more digging. While the information is not as widespread, what information exists is well researched and well written.

I was really only able to find three books of note concerning the Yellowstone Trail. The first book is Dorothy Dowling Prichard's book "We Blazed The Trail" about Michael Dowling's early trips on the Yellowstone Trail. Dowling was a remarkable man who nearly died in the great blizzard of 1880. He lost both feet and one hand to frostbite. Despite this he had a successful career in Minnesota state politics and was an advocate for the Yellowstone Trail. He traveled the Yellowstone from Minnesota to Yellowstone National Park and from Minnesota to Plymouth Rock in the very early days of the trail. The other 2 books I read were "Introducing the Yellowstone Trail" by John and Alice Ridge and "On the Road to Yellowstone" by Harold Meeks. These books describe how the Yellowstone Trail Association turned an apparent weakness into a strength which assured the Yellowstone Trail a place amongst the great coast-to-coast named highways of the early 20th century. The Association used its grassroots organization to successfully lobby county commissions and state road departments on a local level in a way that could not be done by a large national organization.

John Steinbeck's book "Travels with Charlie" reminded me of the importance of getting out of the car and talking to people. This may be hard for me at times, but it is something I hope to do. Linda will remind me.

Perhaps the best book on the history of highways in the United States is Earl Swift's: "The Big Roads." Likewise an article the June 1974 edition of American Heritage magazine by Joe McCarthy is a good source for historical material. One interesting thing about that article is it credits Carl Fisher with coming up with the name of the Lincoln Highway. More recent scholars credit Henry joy with coming up with the name. Whoever came up with the name, it's clearly a winner.
Having a background for this trip gives a deeper appreciation for the Lincoln Highway, it's founders and the individuals who first traveled it. The trip can be made without this knowledge but I don't think our sense of appreciation would be as great.

Ford Motor Company Photo