MEMOIRS OF AN INDEPENDENT REPAIR SHOP OWNER: Tall Winter Tales - Extreme Weekend Banzai Road Test / Rally-Part Three

Phil Coconis
by Phil Coconis
memoirs of an independent repair shop owner em tall winter tales extreme weekend
We rejoin our tale of high adventure—en route to Golden, CO, for the purpose of taking delivery of a slightly used superbike—aboard a newly acquired and undertested first-gen Toyota Van. Having passed it’s first serious test—the midnight-to-dawn segment through southwestern Utah in a driving snowstorm (including a near-miss involving a concrete center divider) on the I-70—we set our sights on Grand Junction, CO and the Vail Pass.

Having made our descent to the high plains east of Moab, The Mint and I now had time to reflect on both my performance behind the wheel, and that of our rapidly appreciating and Bodaciously Beaten Van. We had to conclude that the proof was in the proverbial pudding in both cases: aside from the occasional stop to clear snow and ice accumulation from the wheel wells—checking on the integrity of the cable chains on the rear—our progress was confident and rapid, considering conditions.

I had to declare that the whole dynamic of keeping the mass in motion from the upright driving position perched just above the left front wheel, was really something completely different than what I had ever previously experienced. And quite a kick in the seat—very literally, when wheel well ice accumulation reached critical mass—at that!

Now, the real issue became managing our cable chain life—as the segment across the high plains to Grand Junction wasn’t going to be over completely snow-packed road. We figured that it’d be snowing up the Vail Pass, and we didn’t want to shred our only set of cables before we got there.

We didn’t know how correct that assessment was until we got back into blizzard conditions at the beginning of the climb up The Pass.

We had seen a couple of vehicles that had spun off the road coming into Grand Junction, but the frequency of these sightings got to the point where we flat-out lost count as we proceeded with the ascent. Although we were not exactly playing it tight-on-the-bottle conservatively, we were surprised at the generally borderline-frantic pace of our fellow motorists, including—and maybe especially considering—the Big Rig jockeys. All of these folks must have felt some measure of invincibility behind their respective steering wheels, to be pushing the limits as they were. Many of them—again including the truckers—were not running chains on vehicles that we could verify as not in possession of any kind of All or Four Wheel Drive system!

The attrition rate was impressive!

We began to be concerned that the local Highway Patrol might at any point close The Pass, thus scuttling our non-stop strategy.

As far as it went, though, was the enabling of warning signs mandating the installation of chains on Big Rigs and Two-Wheel-Drive vehicles.

Fortunately, ours were still intact at this point; and with the increase in traffic volume, and all of the surrounding vehicle carnage serving as a warning to the previously frantic, it seemed unlikely that we were going to run afoul of the maximum speed warning for our cables.

Just as we were considering this while passing by the Breckinridge Ski Area, a loud whack from the rear, followed by a rhythmic slapping, confirmed what we had just been denying:

Our cables were finished, before we were with their use!

There was nothing to do other than pull over and finish the removal job that centrifugal force had initiated.

We rejoined the traffic fray—now reduced to a snail’s pace—chainless, but thankful that there was enough grip on significantly colder snow, so as not to require their necessity.

When we made it to the Eisenhower Tunnel without incident, we knew we had passed through the worst of it, for the day. With the exception of a couple of still frantic, and soon to be self-neutralized urban Suburban drivers, we continued to Golden unthreatened, otherwise intact, and fairly close to on-time, all considered!

We’ll consider the acquisition of our intended cargo, and the less-than-uneventful trek back to LA in Part Four, next week.

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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  • RogueInLA RogueInLA on Feb 06, 2013

    I remember, years ago, driving from LA to Chicago in November, left Amarillo Texas, a little bit of rain, listening to the trucks on the CB (remember those?). I heard a few truckers talking about ice, and having 80,000 pounds of "road hugging weight". I tried telling them that they weren't Russian icebreakers, and if they started sliding, they wouldn't stop til they hit the Atlantic. Long story short, I'd been following a truck at 75, and I heard them talking about the ice, then I hit the gas and the rear end came loose, the whole highway (I-40) was a sheet of ice. I slowed down to about 15 MPH and got off at the next exit. Found a gas station that would let me use their lift to put chains on, after I got done and asked them "How much?", the kid said "Is $2 ok?".... I gave him $50 and told him to have a great night, it sure beat putting the chains on alongside the road (not a dry spot to be found). I still love the idea that "weight+ice=traction".

    • Corntrollio Corntrollio on Feb 06, 2013

      "I still love the idea that “weight+ice=traction”." Yes, it shows a completely lack of understanding of physics. It has to do with weight distribution, more than weight per se. Also, there are other issues of static and dynamic friction -- for example, the tire could deform over load in a way that increase friction, and the wheels can be more or less loaded depending on the slope you're driving on, but even if you simplify things, it's not just about weight. "I gave him $50 and told him to have a great night, it sure beat putting the chains on alongside the road (not a dry spot to be found)." I believe that's more than chain installers charge in the Sierras.

  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Feb 09, 2013

    Thanks for the stories, Phil. I actually enjoy driving in stormy weather and look for excuses to take a long drive when the snow starts coming down hard. It's a great show and fun to feel the vehicle move around as it floats above the soft surface. But it's only truly enjoyable with a good set of winter tires. The only time I can recall being out in such conditions with bad tires was when I drove 650 miles in a Powerstroke diesel cube van with a worn-out front end to transport my possessions to my new job location. While unloading the van, the snow started coming down hard but I had to get the van home for the sake of low rental costs. It was a sketchy trip back with a lot of steering corrections having an unloaded box, but pretty much free of incident. However, at a really slippery point I got distracted looking at a jack-knifed semi in the ditch and ended up doing a little 60 mph drifting, but it was an easy recovery. I think the big slab sides are good for putting the back end where it belongs once you're sideways. I ended up with the same van when I moved back two-and-a-half years later, and they had put a set of fresh Nokian Vatiivas on it by then. Of course, it was summer so I didn't need the extra traction on that trip.

  • Carlson Fan I think it is pretty cool & grew up with a '75 Ford window van so I can attest to their utility. $60K is a lot for any vehicle and I'm not convinced EV's are ready for prime time for a number of reasons. It would make an awesome 2nd or 3rd vehicle in a multi-car household but again the price would keep most from considering it.I agree with the other comments that those who have to have it will buy it and then sales will drop off. Offer a panel version for the commercial market, that could have possibilities.
  • Wjtinfwb Panther Black? or Black Panther? Shaped like a decade old Ford detectives sedan? Seems like an odd way to send out your marquee car...
  • Kwik_Shift Instead of blacked, how about chromed? Don't follow the herd.
  • Carlson Fan Nicest looking dash/gage cluster ever put in any PU truck. After all these years it still looks so good.
  • Wheatridger Correct me if I'm wrong, but has the widescreen digital dash usurped the space formerly occupied in every other car by an HVAC vent? I see one prominent vent well right of center, where there should be two. I rely on twin driver's side vents to warm my hands on cold mornings, and I wouldn't give that up for more screen area.