A Road Trip Five Years In The Making: Part 7: A Train To Catch

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh
a road trip five years in the making part 7 a train to catch

[In this part of my West Virginia road trip five years in the making with my best friend, both of our fathers, and two RX-8s we return from Summersville, WV, to Mill Creek, where I had, um, left my computer behind in a roadside restaurant.]

At breakfast I plan the day. Or at least attempt to. The judge doesn’t want to spend all day in the car. He wants to do some hiking. I know a good hike to a series of waterfalls along the route. I’ve also always had a thing for trains and there’s a state park not far off our route that operates narrow gauge logging locomotives. They have a Heisler and a Climax, but mostly run Shays. All three types of steam locomotives have unconventional running gear that I’d love to observe in operation. I call Cass Scenic Railroad State Park and find that trains leave at 9:30, noon, and 2:30. The first is too early, the last possibly too late. So we’ll aim for noon.

Finally, somewhere in here I’ve got to retrieve the computer I left behind in Mill Creek, about an hour round trip off the route. I suggest that the others take in a short hike while I make a run for the computer, but they want to come along.

With these plans, such as they are, we remove the plastic sheeting from the front right window of my father’s “rolling dead” RX-8 and leave Summersville a little before 10 AM. My father needs to get back in the saddle after “the incident,” so he’s driving. It’s not long before he regains his confidence, now tempered by better judgment thanks to yesterday’s off-road excursion. He’s loving the feel of the RX-8 through WV 39’s many curves. Now more secure that he’ll keep the car on the road, I’m vicariously enjoying his enjoyment. This is why I encouraged him to buy the Mazda in the first place. It’s what we came here to do.

While he drives, I snap photos. For some of these I hold the camera out the window and, through trial-and-error, get a few good ones of Trey and the judge in the following car. Somehow, having two cars together is much more fun than just one. Trey is clearly enjoying his time at the wheel. Which is all of the time, since the judge—technically the owner of the car—never drives it. He claims throughout to be extremely satisfied with the view from the passenger seat. With a low hood and thin pillars, the RX-8 does provide an expansive view forward.

The farther we go, the better 39 gets, with curve after curve as it works its way up into the mountains. As is often the case in this thinly populated state, there are hardly any other cars even on this relatively major highway. The few that do turn up are easily dispatched in the passing zones. The fall foliage is near its peak. The conditions couldn’t be better: the sky is clear, and the air is much warmer than the weather forecasts had led me to expect. Trey brought shorts. I hadn’t thought to, even though I packed far more clothes than I could possibly need, a by-product of waiting until the last minute. My father takes a fancy to a cluttered porch in Richwood, which reminds him of the small town in which he grew up. After breezing past it he turns the car around so we can capture it and an attendant cat in megapixels.

Serving as navigator, I miss the turn for the Hills Creek Falls hike. Stopping at a closed visitor’s center five miles down (make that down, down, down) the road, we decide we don’t have time for it anyway. There’s less than an hour until the noon train. The plastic sheeting over the missing right rear window has been flapping around a bit. While the others hunt for the restrooms I try to fashion a batten out of a twig and packaging tape.

We have two choices: continue on WV 39 to WV 55 (the road we took for a few miles yesterday) or the Highland Scenic Highway (WV 150). The second sounds better, so I opt for it and also opt to drive. Trey leads. Like yesterday when I asked to drive because I feared (for my old man) and hoped (for me) that the road would be especially challenging, this one’s a bust, at least as far as driving is concerned. The insufficiently frequent curves aren’t tight enough to exercise the car. With autumn-tinged valleys to either side the views are indisputably scenic, so the judge is happy. We’re in a hurry to make the train, so we don’t stop for the periodic overlooks.

The scenic highway terminates into WV 55, which I now wish I’d taken instead. It’s much more entertaining. We stop at the junction with WV 66 in Linwood. The Snowshoe resort, where we’d all skied many times in decades past, is just up the road. It’s a quarter till, so I decide we’d be cutting it too close to try to make the noon train. We’ll continue on 55 to retrieve my computer, lunch at Bob’s Mini Mart, then return south for the 2:30 train.

I take the lead, and soon leave the red car far behind. WV 55 heading north out of Linwood is packed full of tight curves, some of them marked for 15 MPH. The RX-8 easily takes them at twice the recommended speed. Back in the day when we drove up to Snowshoe in the winter in a rear-wheel-drive 1976 Plymouth Volare wagon these roads could be scary. And nauseating—I remember nearly throwing up during one such trip. In the fall in an RX-8 they’re a delight. Brake just before each entry, get back on the gas a little through the curve, then go deep post-apex to rocket out of each exit. The RX-8’s alignment is a touch off, but otherwise the mortally wounded car remains as balanced and precisely controllable as it ever was.

At the junction with US 250, just south of Mill Creek, I pull into a gas station to fill up. (Trey and the judge are a few minutes behind.) Driven hard the RX-8 travels about 16 miles on each gallon. A local man with a scruffy reddish beard walks over to check out the car. I tell him that we’re enjoying the local roads. He enthusiastically suggests the one to his house, in Helvetia. It turns out we’ve already traveled part of that road—that’s where my father wrecked the car. Yes, it is a good road.

I already know what I’m ordering for lunch at Bob’s Mini Mart—the roasted chicken Sunday special that another customer highly recommended yesterday. Once again the food is cheap and tasty—the chicken is as good as I was told—but the service is slooooow. And they make errors. My father orders a grilled cheese sandwich with a sliced tomato inside. They forget the tomato. He lets it slide. At the next table a woman orders the taco salad without green peppers because she cannot eat them. They deliver it with the peppers. She doesn’t let it slide. They remake the salad.

Afterwards I must order a large “hot fudge milkshake” ($2.50), if only to see how hot fudge works in a milkshake. It turns out that, while they use the sort of fudge used in a hot fudge sundae, they don’t heat it up. I’m not remotely disappointed. It’s an outstanding shake even with cold “hot” fudge. I can see why some of the locals, who we’ve repeatedly found to be patient people (nature or nurture?), eat here every day.

Continue with Part 8: Climax.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data

Join the conversation
2 of 15 comments
  • Lastwgn Lastwgn on Mar 21, 2011

    I have thoroughly enjoyed the writing and the road trip has definitely spurred my thoughts regarding something similar through interesting areas of Minnesota. I would have the pleasure of being able to combine a vintage 1983 RX-7, 5 speed, with a 2005 RX-8. The RX-8 was obtained this past October as a replacement for a manual shift Mazda6i. None of the ladies in the family drive a manual shift, and with 4 drivers it was becoming too much of a nuisance to have them not willing to learn how to drive my car. Sooo, being a rotary engine afficionado, I took the opportunity to trade the 6 on an RX-8 with an automatic. I know, not the first choice, but a sports car with an automtic is still better than an ordinary sedan. Which brings me to my real point, accolades for the engineering ingenuity of the RX-8. The chassis dynamics are absolutely terrific. Perfectly balanced, no apparent excess weight or bulk anywhere, and spot on 50/50 weight distribution. Regardless of the transmission, the chassis shines. Even with the automatic, the engine still revs like a rotary, which means it revs like nothing else. Period. Get that engine in its happy zone and it supplies more smiles per gallon than anything else at its price point. Add into all of that fun, the fact that it CAN seat 4 adults. I spent this past winter using the RX-8 as a daily driver taking a daughter and her friend to and from basketball practice all winter. In and out of the backseat is not an issue. Try that in a Mustang or Camaro. It is not possible. When my older kids were in their early high school years I was driving a '96 T-Bird as my daily driver. Terrific car with a very roomy back seat. Once you could get back there. A two door just does not work well with moving multiple kids in an out of the car. Like I said, it could not be done with a Mustang type car. There is simply nothing else out there like the RX-8. It is a category to itself. A true sports car that can carry 4 people in reasonable comfort, with ease of entry/exit into the car. I did not believe the rear seats were going to be useful either . . . until I tried the car for a weekend, which allowed me to get the thumbs up from the wife for the Rex. It IS an engineering marvel!! Too bad more buyers have not figured that out, but once you get bit by the rotary engine, it is tough to let go!

  • WheelMcCoy WheelMcCoy on Aug 30, 2012

    Epic! Maybe it was all the recent TTAC headlines about Mazda. Or perhaps it was Miata constantly mentioned in the BR-Z reviews. Or possibly, it was that toy model RX-8 sitting on my desk... I know this series (starting from part 1) is almost 2 years old, but it's among the best writing on TTAC. Wonderful reading on a lazy summer day, it makes me want to go out and drive my Mazda3 and spend time with my family. Kudos Michael Karesh!

  • JamesGarfield What charging network does the Polestar use?
  • JamesGarfield Re: Getting away from union plantsAbout a dozen years or so ago, Caterpillar built a huge new engine plant, just down the road here in Seguin TX. Story has it, Caterpillar came to Seguin City council in advance, and told them their plans. Then they asked for no advanced publicity from Seguin, until announcement day. This new plant was gonna be a non-union replacement for a couple of union plants in IL and SC, and Cat didn't want to stir up union problems until the plan was set. They told Seguin, If you about blab this in advance, we'll walk. Well, Seguin kept quiet as instructed, and the plan went through, with all the usual expected tax abatements given.Plant construction began, but the Caterpillar name was conspicuously absent from anywhere on the site. Instead, the plant was described as being a collective of various contractors and suppliers for Caterpillar. Which in fact, it was. Then comes the day, with the big new plant fully operationa!, that Caterpillar comes in and announces, Hey, Yeah it's our plant, and the Caterpillar name boldly goes up on the front. All you contractor folks, welcome aboard, you're now Caterpillar employees. Then, Cat turns and announces they are closing those two union plants immediately, and will be transporting all the heavy manufacturing equipment to Seguin. None of the union workers, just the equipment. And today, the Caterpillar plant sits out there, humming away happily, making engines for the industry and good paying jobs for us. I'd call that a winner.
  • Stuki Moi What Subaru taketh away in costs, dealers will no doubt add right back in adjustments.... Fat chance Subaru will offer a sufficient supply of them.
  • Dartdude Lorenzo, the reason for low manual transmission here is that most dealers won't stock them. I wanted a 2012 Kia Koup with manual tranny it was available, but no dealers ordered any from the factory hence there was none available. Go on any car manufacture's web site and price and build and build your model and you would be lucky if the model existed and was available.
  • The Oracle Good news is that based on the model years many of these have already been junked or experienced terminal engine failure.