We’ve spent the last 36 hours or so in the wonderfully small and wonderfully nice town of Murdo, SD and if there’s anyplace else on earth it reminds us of, it’s Millinocket, ME.
Granted, Millinocket is approximately 29 times larger in area than Murdo, and has about 10 times the number of people, but that’s only because the 482 residents of Murdo are bounded by just more than half a square mile. But what the two towns have in common is that you can’t get there from here.
Long-time readers of ours may recall that yesterday we broke a crankshaft on the ’11 T. While not a normal event, and certainly not one to be wished upon anyone traveling through the more remote roads of America’s heartland, we were fortunate that this event occurred only 19 miles from Interstate 90 and all of the accoutrements associated with modern, high-speed travel. Had this happened in the more remote regions of, say, the Nevada desert where even we weren’t sure where we were, the younger, more veal-like travelers among us would certainly have had cause to be nervous.
After having a chance to regroup here in Murdo and evaluate the situation, we came up with the following options:
- Find a new engine and transmission assembly to swap out with the old one. This would be the most simple repair.
- Find a new engine and replace just the broken engine. This actually requires a little more work than the first option above.
- Find a new crankshaft. This would require us to match the old engine bearings to the new crankshaft, which isn’t easy. It also assumes there was no bearing damage when the crank let go.
- Ship both the ’10 and ’11 home and continue the tour at a later date.
- Ship just the ’11 home, and continue the tour with the ’10 but with only two people.
With those options in mind, we started making phone calls. Per usual, the Model T community responded with vigor and generosity, with one kind soul offering up a 1927 engine and transmission assembly, delivered. After some additional discussion and research, we decided that the ’27 engine, the last year of production of the Model T, required just enough modifications to the engine and chassis in order to fit into the ’11 that it wouldn’t make sense to pursue. Any engine prior to 1926 should have dropped in just fine, but the ’26 and ’27 had some relatively major design changes that would make it more difficult to fit.
So, with time running out we opted to plan on shipping the ’11 home but to continue the tour with the ’10. The only question was which of the travelers would continue on, and which would go home. Had one of the younger travelers really wanted to stay on, we would have considered it but ultimately we decided two of the more seasoned travelers should press on. Now we had a plan…three people and a car go home, two continue on.
It may be useful to know that in smaller towns, and possibly in larger towns, car dealerships will sometimes rent a car to people for local use. This was important to us since we weren’t sure how long we’d be in town and what we’d need, plus the next closest national-brand rental car agency was 58 miles away in the capital of South Dakota, Pierre, which we learned is pronounced like “peer” rather than a Frenchman.
Now, having decided that three people were going to go home, it made sense that the easiest way was to fly and that we could do that out of Pierre, except there aren’t very many flights out of that city each week.
The next closest airport is two hours away in Rapid City, back towards Mount Rushmore. But what we quickly learned was that the asking price for a one-way ticket to the east coast is about $700 each, undoubtedly due to the exorbitant price professional airline pilots command while “working”.
Now less interested in flying home than just renting a car and driving home, we felt it made sense to use our local-only rental car as a springboard to get a national-brand rental car. However, apparently in south central South Dakota it has been decided that there is no sound business case for renting cars one-way. We’ve been told the locals adapt to the -30°F winters so that’s not why, but whatever the reason the national brand rental car headquarters have not been made aware of this decision. This becomes relevant when, say, one makes travel arrangements using an online reservation system but the clerk at the rental car agency is not interested in renting you a one-way car despite having been presented a copy of the confirmation number. This would have undoubtedly stung more had we been charged the advertised online price of $350 to rent a car to Virginia, but the additional drop-off fee of $900 allowed us to walk away feeling like we had avoided a fleecing.
Just as we were giving up hope of departing Murdo any time soon, the initial estimates for the cost to ship the ’11 home started coming in and we redoubled our efforts, this time thinking about bringing the ’11 with us. That is when we had a “Eureka!” moment and started calling U-Haul.
A March of 2018 Associated Press report noted that South Dakota gained about 8,000 residents in 2017. At about the same time, a July of 2018 phone survey found that U-Haul had nothing to do with their arrivals since not a single available car trailer could be found within 200 miles of the survey point. The one trailer which was found 200 miles away did not have a tow vehicle available with which to pull it.
Grasping for straws we started scanning license plates in our hotel parking lot, looking for states close to Virginia but most people seemed more intent on enjoying their summer vacation than giving us a ride home. It was at the local gas station when we were filling up our local-only rental when it appeared our luck would change. With a keen eye, we spotted a pickup truck with a trailer attached, and the trailer had all the markings of being empty (we just know these things). Approaching the driver, who we noted kept one hand under his shirt behind his back, he confirmed for us his trailer was empty but that he was headed westbound.
So, out of luck and running out of time, we’ll be headed to Rapid City early Saturday morning to drop off three of our fellow travelers with no other expectations than the airplane will take-off, and land, on time. The other two will then return the local-only rental car and start off in the ’10 again, with sights still set on Virginia. The ’11 should be getting picked up in about a week, and may possibly beat the ’10 home.
More to follow…..