Route 66: Flagstaff, AZ to Santa Rosa, NM

September 9, 2015 Categories Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 438.3

I managed to drive almost twice as far today in the rental car as I normally did in the van. Being able to go more than 65 mph was a big help with that. I’m also loving how cheap it is to fill up the rental car, as it only has a 10 gallon tank and gets 350 miles per tank. By comparison, the van had a 31 gallon tank and maybe got about 240 miles per tank. It’s insane how different those numbers are.

Since I’m on a more limited timeline now, I’m trying to stop less and focus on the places I know I want to see. The first stop today was at the well known Jack Rabbit Trading Post near Joseph City, Arizona.

I pushed on to Holbrook to stop at the Wigwam Motel, which is probably the stop I looked forward to the most in Arizona. I think the rooms are insanely cool and they have an awesome display of old cars around the parking lot. There’s another one back in San Bernardino, California, and I think there is (or was) a third one somewhere else, but the one in Arizona is the one I wanted to see. The others are just imitations.

Most of New Mexico’s Route 66 is basically the “frontage” road that parallels I-40. Not a lot of excitement along the way. There were plenty of cool signs in some of the towns, but the only one I stopped and took a picture of was Grants Cafe in the town of Grants. It’s just a sign in a parking lot; there’s no building associated with it that I could tell.

I got slowed down by traffic going through Albuquerque and then hammered by a hail storm shortly after passing through Moriarty. I had to pull off the highway because it got to the point that it was impossible to even see the road anymore. It reminded me of the white-out rains during summer in Pensacola, except this was hail/rain mixed. Eventually it let up enough that I pushed on to end the day in Santa Rosa, staying at an old school Route 66 motel that has metal keys on plastic tags for the rooms. It’s, like, legit.

Route 66: Kingman, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ

September 8, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: ~200
Engines exploded: 1

Today was interesting. I’ll begin at the end, because that’s how all stories are told, right? No? Well, too bad. Around 1pm I was driving on I-40, as Route 66 in Arizona jumps on and off the Interstate for a good portion of the state. I was about 40 miles past Flagstaff and I hear this clinking sound. I had my music on, so I didn’t even notice it at first, but I did think the van felt a little sluggish getting up to speed. Once I noticed the noise, I paused my music and listened to try to figure out what it was. You see, the van is kinda beat up from when I got it, so there’s some metal around the driver’s wheel well that I thought may be rubbing on the tire or something. It’s done it before and I just hammered it back in place, so that was my first thought as to what was happening. Then I thought, “I hope that’s not a piston misfiring or something”, at which point my engine light started blinking, a loud noise happened, and smoke was everywhere. Luckily I was able to steer the van off the road and it promptly died.

Now, I may have said a couple words of profanity immediately after I got off the road. I got out of the van, opened the hood to a waft of smoke and oil smell, and then looked underneath to see oil spilling everywhere, including a massive trail of oil behind the van where I got off the road. Upon a closer inspection, I saw what appeared to be a complete piston rod sitting on the cross-member and a massive hole blown through the oil pan.

I’m not sure exactly how a piston rod exploded through the motor or what caused it, but I can only imagine the amount of damage that it caused and know that the motor is essentially non-repairable. I have to imagine that the camshaft and/or crankshaft are destroyed and the cylinder that piston rod shot out of probably has gouges torn into the sides. The cost of a new (or used) motor and to pay for someone to install it would be more than the cost of a cheap used car, and probably more than what I paid for the van to begin with, so I decided to abandon it and take whatever little cash a junkyard would give me for it. During the hour I waited for the tow truck to arrive, I started ripping out what I could.

I talked to the junkyard people to make sure they didn’t start “picking” through the van as I went to the nearest rental car place and got a vehicle to come back and load up as much as I could. Anything that was attached to the van I chalked up as a loss and basically grabbed all my personal stuff, which is worth quite a lot. I had almost my entire tool collection in the van (about $2k worth), all my backpacking/camping equipment ($4-5k), my camera gear ($4k), and my laptop ($2k), among other things. I was gonna rip out what I could from the electrical system, but the rental car I got was pretty packed from everything else and it would have been a lot of work to take the electrical system apart, as I built the bed around the bulk components.

Surprisingly, I found the van exploding to be more funny than upsetting. Yes, it sucks I just spent a lot to fix the cooling system, but that’s part of what makes it so funny. If it exploded three or four days ago, I would have saved a lot of money, but of course it had to wait until today to do it. On top of that, just three months ago I bought brand new tires and had the radiator and transmission flushed. Oh, and I got an oil change five days ago. I mean, come on, how funny is that? I have to laugh; there’s just not much else to do about it.

On another plus side, if I build another van, I know what I used and didn’t use in this one that would just be a waste to do again. For example, I pretty much never used the stove, the fridge, the microwave, or the water heater. I enjoyed having running water, electricity, and a large bed. I loved the “cabin” feel inside the van, but I realize that it made the van weight a lot. In fact, the van weighed in at 7,800 lbs on the junkyard scale, and the base weight is only 4,816, so all the stuff I added weighed a ton and a half! Even though I loved the “cabin”, I wouldn’t do it again; that way it would weigh a lot less. Regardless of what I decide to do next, the van was a fun project and I enjoyed building it and learning from it.

Ok, now that the end is covered, lets go back to the beginning, before things went bad. My first stop was at the Hackberry General Store not too far North (66 East) of Kingman. It’s a pretty cool store with a lot of old Route 66 collectibles, old fuel pumps, and old cars on display. I was looking at some Route 66 photos yesterday that were taken in Arizona and wondering where they were taken at specifically, and today I immediately realized it was the Hackberry General Store. Definitely a place worth stopping at.

I kept driving until I saw the Grand Canyon Caverns and the giant metal dinosaurs out front that were one of the things featured on my Arizona Route 66 map. I’m glad I stopped. Other than the metal dinosaurs, they have a bunch of old cars on display and a lot of it is modeled after Radiator Springs from the movie Cars. Coolest thing there is definitely Herbie, the #53 Bug. Makes me wanna watch some of the old Herbie movies.

One of the last things I got to see today was the Twin Arrows Trading Post. It’s no longer functioning and there isn’t even an area you can “legally” stop to see it and get pictures. Something like this is too awesome to not get pictures, so I parked anyway (directly in front of a No Parking sign) and did my best to hurry. I won’t tell if you won’t.

Not too long after that is when I started hearing the clinking sound and the van engine exploded.

All things considered, today was still a pretty good day. Sure, the van exploded, but I got to see some cool stuff. I was hoping to make it to New Mexico today, but oh well. A huge chunk of Route 66 is on I-40 for a lot of Arizona, so I don’t think it’ll take that long to get there. I only rented a car for the next seven days, so I may have to be picky about where I stop and how often if I want to make it to Wisconsin within that timeframe. I already have a feeling I’m gonna extend the rental by a couple days.

For sure I wanna stop at the WigWam Motel in Holbrook, AZ; Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX; the midpoint sign in Adrian, TX; the Route 66 Museum in Tulsa, OK; the Golden Driller of Tulsa; the Blue Whale of Catoosa, OK; Pops in Arcadia, OK (largest soda selection anywhere); Springfield, MO to see someone awesome; St. Louis, MO for the Arch; the Gemini Giant Muffler Man in Wilmington, IL; and Tall Paul, the Muffler man in Atlanta, IL. Other than that, I’m just gonna stop when I can.

Hoover Dam, Nevada

September 7, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 231.6

Today I made a little side adventure back to Vegas, but only because that’s the closest Midas and the work I got done the other day on the van is all under warranty there. I’m glad I made the trip because the leak I saw yesterday was because they didn’t tighten a hose completely. It sucked that Vegas was the closest Midas, but at the same time it was cool because I stopped by the Hoover Dam on the way.

I’ve been to Vegas a few times now and had never made the short trip over to the dam before. It’s quite massive (that’s what she said).

I’m back in Kingman, Arizona again tonight so I can head back out onto Route 66 tomorrow where I left off yesterday. To make it a little easier, I backtracked through town a little tonight so I wouldn’t have to do it in the morning, as there was a short section of 66 that I skipped and was gonna do later… and now later has arrived. I really like the Mr. Magoo thing.

Route 66: Barstow, CA to Kingman, AZ

September 6, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 242.3

So, I didn’t drive yesterday. I took the van to a shop and had them check things out. I was right, the thermostat was shot. On top of that, the water pump was leaking and so was the intake gasket. The leaks are obviously why the coolant was low, and it’s probably because the coolant was low that the thermostat became damaged. While they were fixing things, they said my ignition coil was also damaged, which wasn’t honestly a surprise to me. I had them fix everything. I spent more money in one day getting everything fixed than I spent for the first two months of traveling. Frankly, I wasn’t happy about it, but I have a long drive to make and don’t want to get stranded.

Today began perfectly; I wish I could say it ended that way. The drive East from Barstow was my ideal Route 66 experience – simple road, vast landscapes, and almost no traffic. In fact, I only saw four cars in the first three hours of driving today. It was beautiful. It wasn’t until I reached Amboy (about two-thirds of the way through California) that traffic started to pick up, but even then it was only a handful of cars at a time.

Due to a road closure, I missed a pretty large chunk of the Route today not too long after Amboy. I didn’t get to drive through the towns of Chambless, Summit, Danby, or Essex and instead had to take I-40. I think I missed 20 or 30 miles of the road because of that closure.

The weirdest part of today was driving through Oatman, Arizona, as the streets were completely filled with people and donkeys. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. There were jackasses everywhere – some on four legs and some on two. There were too many people there and I didn’t wanna stop. I took a picture, but it was almost out of town and most of the people had cleared away.

The first section of Route 66 in Arizona wasn’t the most fun to drive. It’s apparently the original Route and wasn’t used after the 50s; lots of sharp curves, narrow road, and slow going. It was nice scenery, though.

It was close to 50 miles before I reached Kingman and stopped for gas, at which point I noticed coolant below the engine. I stopped a few times during the day and hadn’t noticed anything prior to that. After spending so much money yesterday getting it “fixed”, I’m not that happy today to see another possible problem. I’m pretty concerned because of how rusty/murky the coolant looks, especially since it’s only a day old. It’s too dark now to get a good look, but I’m gonna check the oil in the morning to see if it looks like there’s any coolant mixing in there and vice versa. I swear if I have a blown head gasket, I’m just gonna set the van on fire. Things are not going my way.