The Grand National Roadster Show was a fantastic success. The trip home was quite a contrast to that. Under ‘normal’ conditions, it takes two 12-14 hour days to return (or one hell of a long non-stop trip, which I’ve done more than once). This return trip was much different, taking 4 days, and including some harrowing driving and even one “spin out” off of a very icy road (glacier would have been more apt).
Dick Weiss (the car’s “other” owner) and I left Pomona, CA, on Monday morning headed east on I-40 for Flagstaff, AZ, Albuquerque, NM and finally home. I must admit I am a sucker for driving through the mountains, so I chose this route on purpose. The drive out of California was as uneventful as the drive westward to the show. We approached Flagstaff with the knowledge that some winter weather lay ahead, but not really knowing its severity or exact location.
As a side note, for several years, Flagstaff has been a favorite travel stop of mine. I have stayed there several times, with a couple of them including my family, and once with the family of $umday’s owners, the Keffelers. Our favorite haunted hotel is there, The Monte Vista, so ask me sometime about my ghost story from when we first stayed there several years ago.
Flagstaff was awesome, as usual. We headed east out on to the plains and Albuquerque. As we drove on, the impending storm became obvious. We drove on into it, as the snow began.
After a few hours of driving into the snow, we reached Albuquerque. At this point, the storm was on full blast, with the temperature down to 6 degrees and the wind blowing at 30-40 mph. The wind chill was down around –15 degrees. I love the winter weather, but that is way colder than my Houston-based butt is used to.
After we settled in the room, I noticed a pile of snow on the floor near the door: the wind, blowing at 35+ mph was blowing snow through the door jamb and into the room. That’s not something you see in Houston very often, okay, ever.
As we left Albuquerque the next morning, we were greeted with a landscape covered in snow, and our newest traveling companion, Mr. Ice. It took quite some time to climb out of the valley Albuquerque is in and get to Santa Rosa, where we would exit I-40 and drive southeast down into Texas. By the Santa Rosa exit point, the icy roads had diminished, and traveling was at a somewhat faster pace. We made it through Lubbock and were heading toward Abilene on I-20 when our pal, Mr. Ice, returned. We had gotten to Sweetwater, Texas, about 40 miles west of Abilene when we decided it was time to stop. While fueling at a truck stop, we were told that I-20 going East was at a standstill from a significant layer of ice and the wrecks that were resulting from it. We found one of the few rooms left, and parked it for the night, as did literally thousands of Semi’s. They were everywhere: in parking lots, truck stops, down city streets, along the freeway, etc. I have never seen so many trucks in one place at the same time.
The next morning, we left out with hopes of making it home, as we should have been there last evening, Tuesday, and were still several hundred miles away. Despite what seemed like a good omen, the snow rainbow did not bring us good luck. Our unintended passenger, Mr. Ice, had other plans for us, and many others, as the day wore on.
Now, after we reach Abilene, a distance of about 37 miles, several hours later, we head south on Highway 84 in an attempt to finally get home. At this point, we had seen over a dozen wrecks, driven for hours on a true sheet of ice at well over 10 mph and then…it was our turn.
While driving on Hwy 84, on a downhill slope, the truck lost its steering, started to veer to the left and then…around came the trailer, spinning the truck with it. As it all happened, seemingly in slow motion, (it only lasted about 4 seconds) we ended up parked on the opposite side of a 4-lane highway, pointed in the opposite direction, now facing uphill, unable to move the rig, but unharmed in any way. Just prior to and shortly after, semi trucks and passenger cars passed us. How they were absent at the time of our spin further reinforces the fact that someone else is running this “show” we call Life.
We sat there nervously joking about what had just happened, then got out and surveyed our condition and checked on Blue Belle and the trailer’s contents. Too our amazement, not a thing was out of place. The car was exactly as we had last seen it at the last fuel stop, all the display components were where we had put them and suddenly life was very good! We returned to the truck and attempted to move back on the road, but to no avail. Even with 4-wheel drive locked in low, the wheels just spun, unable to move the trailer (7000#, maybe more) out of our thankfully soft grass landing pad (albeit frozen, snow and ice covered). The picture above may look very tame, but it was 8 degrees, the wind was blowing at 20+ mph (wind chill down in the –teens, ouch!), the incline was steeper than what you see indicates and the ice was over 2” thick. It was like trying to drive uphill on an ice rink. I have lived in Colorado Springs, and Mr. Weiss lives in the mountainous area of Idaho, and neither of us have ever been this cold or seen this much ice cover this much geography.
There was no shortage of people (good Samaritans) that offered to help, or take us somewhere, which was a welcome sign that the world is not such a bad place after all. They just couldn’t really do anything. One local fella stopped, and attempted to reach a tow truck driver he knows, but he could not reach him. After about 30 minutes of calling, with no results, we assured him we were going to be fine, and he went on his way, promising to check on us as he came back by later.
We decided we had to unhitch the trailer, lock it up, and try to reach the next town, Coleman, in search of a wrecker or anything that might help. We also knew that we may have to leave the car/trailer on the side of the road until this frozen landscape thawed enough to get the trailer out. We hunted around to find something to put behind the trailer tires, just in case it should decide to continue down the slippery slope under its own gravitational power. We finally found an old tire, and a broken tree limb, to hopefully hold our precious cargo in place until our return.
Once we were back under way, trailer-less, we headed south toward Coleman. After a few miles of slow driving, we came upon a Heavy Duty wrecker (tows semi-trucks) and a local Sheriff, working to get a tanker rig back on its way. We spoke with the wrecker crew, and they said they had two more commitments, then they would meet us at our truck, in 1-2 hours. We went back to wait. Also, the Sheriff let us know that the ice continued for at least two more counties to the South. Lovely.
In our downtime, we had to idea to take one of the trailer’s torsion springs and see if we could break up the ice and get the truck’s tires back down to pavement, and ultimately, traction to pull out the trailer. After about 30 minutes, we managed to crack away enough ice to allow us to back up to the trailer, re-hitch, and attempt to pull it out. As luck would have it, with the truck in low 4-wheel drive and as much throttle as the slippery blacktop will allow, we were able to release the trailer from some of Canada’s finest ice and the glacial grip of our unintended roadside destination.
Despite the simple nature of it, the next challenge proved to be turning around, as after getting back on the road, we were headed the wrong direction. The concern was that if we had tried to turn around on any kind of a slope, the heavy trailer would slide downhill and drag us with it. We crawled along until we found a relatively flat spot near a road intersection and were able to manage a successful U-turn and regain our momentum southward, and ultimately, home. By the time we reached Coleman, it was dark, we were tired, hungry and ready to stop for the night. The day’s progress: 13 hours, 83 miles, one ‘spin-out’, near frost-bitten and, thankfully, zero damage.
To add to our good fortune, we found a new Best Western and an fantastic “log cabin” steakhouse, The Way Station. If you’re in the Coleman, Texas area, try it, you won’t regret it. Their breakfast the next morning was equally as impressive.
Our trip the next morning proved to be less eventful. As we traveled further south, the ice continued to lessen, and once we were near Austin, the roads were clear and we were again traveling at the posted speed limits (no faster, not us!). I have to say, after crawling around at 10 mph or so for the last couple of days, driving at 60+ seems like we’re hauling butt.
Ahhh, the exit to the house. After 1600 miles, 4 days, 3 motel rooms, countless cups of coffee, borderline frostbite and one minor miracle, we made it home. I will be the first one to admit that someone WAY above my pay grade made sure we got here. Because of other weather events in the Houston area (more ice!), we chose to not attend the Waco Autorama that we had previously committed to. We will instead travel back into the frigid North this next weekend to the Wichita Falls Show (February 12-13, 2011).
Stay tuned, as we continue the saga of Blue Belle’s Travels.
Until next time,