By on February 19, 2013

We rejoin our tale of adventure aboard what was proving itself to be a very worthy foul-weather road tripping first-gen Toyota van. It took us something like twenty-four blizzard-hampered hours non-stop to make it to our Golden CO destination, from the South Bay LA departure. The only casualty inflicted was committed against our recently purchased cable “chains”.

Counting our blessings, we put in for the night at what had to be the last “old-school” motel in what appeared to be a rapidly modernizing town. We would tackle the acquisition and loading of our intended cargo—a late-model Suzuki superbike—on the morrow.

The new day dawned clear, sunny, and very cold—as is typical in the aftermath of mountain snowstorms. Fortunately, things were warming up nicely in Golden, as we headed to our cargo rendezvous.

Upon more direct questioning—and in keeping with his previously expounded-on modus operandi —I learned that my friend and cohort, “The Mint” was not entirely sure about the fit our “One-Liter Gixxer” would enjoy there, in the back of the Van. He was confident that, as he had transported similar superbikes in first-gen Toyota Vans before, this one should be no problem.

As we ran the bike up the ramp and sized things up, we realized that maybe it was going to be some kind of a problem, after all.

With a little strategy and deft use of a few simple hand tools, however, we had removed the offending bits on the bike, and had it properly secured.

One load off our minds and into the Van!

With clear weather—albeit with wet and potentially icy road conditions ahead—and a more properly ballasted vehicle, we set out for what promised to be an easier return trip.

As we headed toward the Eisenhower Tunnel, we were again noticing what we perceived to be the rather high rate of speed the general westbound traffic was moving at. I mean, at this point—and notwithstanding the prevailing sunshine—temperatures in the Vail Pass had to be hovering at around ZERO, if not lower, and we had a steady headwind of around thirty mph—with gusts that had to be in the fifties. The roads had obviously been salted, as there was not a trace of snow or ice on them; but with conditions like what we were experiencing, we couldn’t help but think that there had to be the dreaded “black ice” awaiting us all at some point.

Apparently, that point was a small stretch of the I-70, just east of Glenwood Springs (if memory serves), where the route passes through a gap narrow enough to necessitate running the westbound traffic above the eastbound traffic—not side by side, as is the case with pretty much the rest of the route.

On our approach to this section, our rapid progress ground to a halt about a hundred yards or so from a small tunnel adjacent to an electric power substation.

We knew there was an accident, but had no idea it’s magnitude.

After something like an hour-and-a-half passed, we got a better idea as we saw large helicopters—of the heavy equipment-moving variety—beginning to work the area! We knew we were in for an extended stay.

I decided to go out and investigate.

Understanding the prevailing conditions, I figured that with the winter gear I had in my possession, surely a two hundred yard round trip taken at a brisk walking pace would be no problem.

About fifty yards into this sortie, I realized that I was, in fact, very seriously gear challenged, and if I continued, I might wind up meeting the same fate as the Scott Expedition. I mean, it was cold beyond belief—far surpassing anything I’d ever experienced from several winters living in the northeastern United States, and winter excursions in the Sierra Nevada backcountry. Yikes!

I made it back to the Van none too soon; now convinced that the only thing to do was to wait patiently and stay warm by frequently starting the Van’s engine and running the heater until the interior temperature reached tolerable level.

In all, we wound up sitting in place on that section of the Interstate for about four hours, before traffic got rolling—and once again, as on the eastbound run, at a more subdued pace. I guess some folks need a more graphic demonstration of cause-and-effect before they’ll effect a change of behavior.

We again counted our blessings that we weren’t just a little farther up the road when the carnage went down.

And we cursed the fact that we weren’t yet a little farther up the road than that—as we would have missed the entire “show” altogether.

It turned out that the source of the problem was a jackknifed truck that wound up with its cab hanging off the westbound level, threatening the eastbound traffic underneath. That explained the helicopters and the lengthy delay.

In the end, we only beat out eastbound time by a couple of hours! I’m happy to report that there were no other problems to speak of, though—save for the fact that the Van was stolen about a week later, from in front of The Mint’s townhome!

When recovered, naturally one of the things missing was the stereo head unit—and Disc One of my recently purchased DEVO Anthology (which I forgot to remove upon return) along with it!

The Mint was happy he’d at least unloaded the ‘Zook before the theft.

It would sure have been ironic—to say the least—if he HADN’T!

Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.

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7 Comments on “MEMOIRS OF AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP OWNER: Tall Winter Tales – Extreme Weekend Banzai Road Test / Rally—Part Four...”


  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    Where is the so-so button?

  • avatar
    Piston Slap Yo Momma

    Seriously WTF you bought the Devo anthology? The more appropriate purchase is to buy the complete albums from Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978) through Oh, No! It’s Devo (1982). Trust me.

    • 0 avatar
      Phil Coconis

      Of course, I have them ALL! But there ARE a few unique cuts on that Anthology set.
      I especially like their rendition of the NIN classic “Head Like A Hole”. Check it out, if you havent already.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I’m loving both your stories and the kiddies responses…..

    I wish one of the good writers was old enough to remember wheezing across America in a rusted out shytebox or Air Cooled VW Van…..

    Things were *very* different in those olden dayze .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Phil Coconis

      The rattiest thing I ever crossed the USA in was a late ’70′s Ford Fairmont Wagon w/ 302 ci V-8, Variable Venturi carb, and the “Vacuum System From Hell”. Ran better with an inoperative EGR system…

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    All those road markers and references remind me of many a ski trip into Summit County, and the Mint reminded me of a great restaurant in Silverthorn called The Mint…you get to cook your own hunk o’flesh on a huge grill after you pick out your own steak. I love it out west…we may just end up retiring there…not to rush life away but I can’t wait for the rat race to be over….

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Phil,
    Great story from someone who got their chops driving RWD vehicles in the snow. The advent of FWD and all season radials made winter driving a walk in the park. To those who insist on 4WD or AWD, all I can say is
    “bunch of wimps”


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