We aimed for another early start today, and at 10:30 we finally got underway. We’re confident we’ll crack this nut but may need a few more days to figure it out. The good news is we changed our oil and got ourselves a tire pump.
As previously discussed, we drove into O’Neill, Nebraska last night just before the end of nautical twilight. Having the headlights and taillights on the car gives us comfort, but we’re more concerned about traffic coming up behind us than oncoming traffic.
Our first planned event today is to drive by 306 S. 13th Street in Norfolk, NE. After that we’ll continue south (but really east) on US route 275, which we joined at its northern terminus in O’Neill, until Wisner, NE, and then head straight to Decatur, NE, where we’ll finally cross the longest river in North America, which we promised to do several days ago before metallurgical considerations changed our plans.
If you happen to be in the area feel free to drive along side but please don’t honk….we’re a little jumpy about sudden, loud noises.
Those of you familiar with aviation may have heard of “get home-itis”. Usually it’s associated with poor decision-making in an attempt to get home when normally that attempt would not be made if you weren’t trying to get home. Something is overlooked or normal procedures are rushed and before you know it, something unplanned happens. But by being aware of “get home-itis”, it’s highly preventable and keeps you out of trouble.
We have a flat tire and our air pump is in the other car.
Fortunately, we’re only 3 miles outside Bonesteel, SD and we’ve had threefour five different people stop by to ask if they could assist, including Deputy Renken of the Gregory County Sheriff’s Department. But Tim, the first person to stop was headed into Bonesteel to surprise his wife, Julie, for dinner and took the time to run one of us into town with the entire wheel, where a new tube and tire was installed and inflated before running us back out to the car. In the meantime, the other of us inspected the other tires, looked over other fluids and components of the car, and listened to the wind and birds and occasional car drive by.
The first lesson is we didn’t clearly communicate with each other which essential tools and supplies we should have taken from the other car. We grabbed a lot of stuff, including extra tire tubes, blocks of wood and tire irons to change tires with, but the air pump got left behind. We felt a little hurried as we didn’t want to hold up our hosts whose garage we’re keeping the ’11 in so we hurriedly grabbed stuff and transferred it over to the ’10.
The second lesson is that people like Tim and Julie, who own Peppel Farm and Seed in St. Charles, have shown us once more how incredibly helpful, caring, kind and unselfish Americans are in the heartland. Tim and Julie missed their dinner because of us (the grill closed by the time we were done) and instead of being upset they gave us both a nice set of leather work gloves to remember them by. Truly remarkable people.
We’ve still got daylight to make it to O’Neill, NE where we had just called a hotel to make reservations before the flat occurred, but once again we expect to be rolling in at dusk.
We’re making decent time heading south east today in the ’10, although it’s pretty warm and we’re fighting a southern wind blowing at 20 mph, gusting to 30. The bad news is we’re skirting along the northern edges of all the freshly manured fields. We also spent some time getting to know each other and it turns out we both grew up in the same town.
Our route had us taking a few more dirt roads, this time passing through Ideal, SD.
Finally, as we just passed through Colome, we thought we should stop and get some culture at the local museum.
At approximately 12:34 Saturday we departed Murdo, SD in the direction of O’Neill, NE.
It’s more lonely than ever out here now that the most senior and most junior of the travelers are no longer with us, but man, these wide open spaces make you want to stay out here forever. We’re on an access road next to I-90 before peeling off back into the country and having just driven the four-hour round trip to the Rapid City Airport this morning in a modern car (where we experienced our third flat of the trip) we can tell you the traffic on I-90 is missing the best part of the country only a few miles away.
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.
For those of you who have been riding along with us these past few weeks, you are undoubtedly aware of the loud, sudden knocking the crew of the ’11 heard coming from their engine compartment earlier this afternoon. There was no preface, no unusual requests being made of the engine, just a long, straight, paved road with slight rolling hills on which we were humming along when it let go.
But we can’t say this was unexpected. All antique automobile hobbyists learn to expect what’s possible, no matter the provenance of the mechanical device in question. We’ve all heard about failures that others have experienced but which we hope never happen to us. But to ensure it never happens to us means to never drive our cars, instead consigning them to a life of car shows, garages and car covers. We think we, and the general public, are better served by keeping this rolling history alive and, to be quite frank, it’s a blast to do so.
Are we disappointed? Of course. But the unspoken truth is that we knew back in Bakersfield that there was a real possibility that something, anything, could have ended our journey just miles out of the starting gate. Things always go wrong, but then again, and more frequently, things always go right.
So what’s next? The simplest solution would be to have an engine and transmission assembly on-hand and just pull the old one out and put the new one in. Done in a day. It’s actually a little more work to swap out just the engine, keeping the original transmission in place. And, of course, if we had a new crankshaft on-hand we could swap that out, but there’s no telling what other damage may be lurking in the engine despite our initial evaluation that we were lucky the engine appears to have preserved it’s functional space instead of trying to put a section of the crankshaft in the same space as a connecting rod at the same time.
But reality is settling back down on some of us, in that we think we still have jobs we’re supposed to get back to before the middle of July. (We’re not sure, though, as we haven’t been checking in much. If any of our co-workers are reading this we’d appreciate if you could discreetly ask around). So we figure the best path forward is to ship the ’11 back home where it can get the proper care and attention it needs. That in itself will require a couple days to coordinate, but the friendly people of All-Pro Towing in Murdo, SD have generously offered us a spot in their garage in the meantime.
And, of course, there’s the question of the ’10. Do we continue on with just one car? It’s running fine, why not? Or is there safety in numbers? We haven’t answered that question yet, but will do so in the morning.
We’ve been asked by more than a few people how much it will cost to repair the ’11’s engine, and the answer is it doesn’t matter. In fact, we think it’s reasonable to believe many people would gladly exchange a broken crankshaft for the opportunity to spend two weeks together with with a parent, brothers, grandparent, sons and grandsons. We visited Yosemite, Mono Lake, the Nevada desert, the border of the Great Salt Lake, mountains, lakes, Yellowstone, Devils Tower, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands and even bull riding. We made new friends, saw the things that make America such an amazing place, watched the tractors tending fields, yelled “moo!” to more cows than we can count, learned to play the harmonica and use a Yo-Yo, and even learned how to drive, sort of.
And after everything that happened today, with all the emotional highs and lows, it’s really just another day. Venus was just as beautiful this evening shining in the twilight as it was last night and last year. We still had laundry to do. And we still look forward to the next day we’re on the road with our T again.