Our plan was to leave early in the AM to get through Oklahoma and the Texas pan handle into New Mexico at Santa Rosa. First problem was a noisy power steering pump had to be treated with Lucas Power Steering Stop Leak, so we were back on the historic Route 66 to see the ghost town Texola, OK not far from the Texas border followed by an interesting stop at the iconic U-Drop Inn Conoco station in Shamrock, TX. After taking a couple of photos, a tour group of EagleRiders motorcyclists for Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. pulled in and this became a great photo op for these Route 66 tourers.
After some additional photo ops like the BRITTON leaning water tower in Groom, Texas we made our run for New Mexico after filling the tank for the third time ($1.89/gal, $1.89/gal & $1.92/gal). About 10 miles into this drive, the engine started to misfire and recover for a period of time. This kept happening until we crossed over into New Mexico on I-40 I pulled into Russell's Truck & Service Center in Springer, NM and put octane booster, carb cleaner and topped of the tank with + gas. It cleared for a while but then when it seemed O.K. it happened again so we pulled off in Tucumcari, NM and holed up at a Quality Inn. We covered 600 miles of travel today even with the car problems We'll see what the morning brings.
Wednesday morning, September 16, a couple of blocks west from the Quality Inn on Route 66 in Tucumcari, NM stands the historic Route 66 Motel with a polished aluminum plane yard art under their neon sign. Although we would have preferred to continue driving Route 66 to Albuquerque, I needed to be sure the problems we experienced yesterday were gone so I opted to drive the 175 miles of I-40 at the 75 mph speed limit to be sure bad gas wasn't the problem. A call to Bob Hines at Robert's motors resulted in his diagnosing the problem as possibly the Pertronix electronic ignition which was running hotter than normal in the 92 degree heat at 4,000 ft. elevation causing the failure mode I experienced, so after driving 50 miles without any sign of ignition failure, bad gas or vapor lock, I called Yearwood Performance Parts in Albuquerque for a service station that installs performance parts and the clerk recommended; McKinney Motors about 1 1/2 miles up the road form them at exit 165. Owner Ken Kiefer came out immediately after seeing the '61 do a drive around outside tour of the shop when I parked. This was the right shop for replacing the problem electronic igniter. Ken is also the current 2015 Drag Racing Mopar Challenge points leader and his 1967 Barracuda was featured in a Sept. 18, 2008 Hot Rod Magazine article.
Ken put me in #2 queue position for the replacement Pertronix Ignitor Kit, which I got from Yearwood Performance and while waiting Jim and I ate lunch at Santiago's breakfast/lunch across the street, I got a haircut at a new barber shop next to the NAPA store two blocks away when I went to buy a quart of Royal Purple oil, and I pulled out my laptop to catch up on my emails. We were back on the road by 5 pm and continued on to Grant, NM for the night. We logged 303 miles today, not bad for losing 1/2 day of travel, but I have peace of mind that we can continue on more Route 66 adventures tomorrow with the '61. Because we've lost about two days due to car problems, we've decided that we will not try to make it to California, but focus on enjoying the Grand Canyon side trip this time.
On Thursday September 17, with all the car problems behind us, Jim finally got to drive the Chevy on Route 66 in New Mexico until we reached the Continental Divide where I got behind the wheel. As we crossed into Arizona and Navajo country from New Mexico, the landscape changed dramatically. We drove 450 miles today ticking off great visits to the Petrified National Forest & Painted Desert as well as the Meteor Crater. Included also were mandatory photo ops in Winslow, AZ - Standing On The Corner, in Holbrook, AZ at the Wigwam Motel and some souvenir shopping at the Yellowhorse Trading Post in Lupton, AZ. We weren't sure about finding accommodations at the Grand Canyon, but with a one hour gain in time zone change and stopping at the Flagstone visitor center to get as list of hotels to call, we were able to book an overnight room at the Canyon Plaza Resort in Tusayan Village and when we arrived were also able to book a Friday morning helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon then go watch the sunset over the Canyon along Desert View Drive before ending the day with a steak dinner at the Yippie-Ei-Oi Steakhouse.
Friday Sept. 18 was another great day starting with a 50 minute Papillon helicopter tour of the South and East rims of the Grand Canyon. We then drove back into the park to the Grand Canyon visitor center and walked to Mather Point and the rime trails to get the up close to the vista. What a great experience combining both aerial flying into the canyon and walking the rim. A last minute decision was made to continue our Route 66 CRUIZ by driving back to Williams, AZ and taking the Seligman to Kingman segment. Stops at the Road Kill Café in Seligman and a fun visit to the Hackberry General Store where we took a soda break with some German motorcyclists. It seems young couples or groups we meet on the Mother Road are from Europe or Asian Pacific regions, while the few Americans, which seem to be in the minority, are retirees like me. We holed up in the Kingman Comfort Inn for the night to lay plans for our final run to Needles, CA to fulfill driving Route 66 in all 8 states before doing an about-face and making the return drive back home. The 1 1/2 days of car problems prevent us from going all the way to Santa Monica and there is always that possibility of return trip delays.
Saturday Sept. 19 was our planned turnaround and head home day had we reached Santa Monica. But because we lost 1 1/2 days and we had not yet crossed into California, we decided to drive to Needles, CA to make this an official 8 state Route 66 adventure. Everything was going well after Needles on the return trip when the same Pertronix failure problem started to show up again with the new replacement kit. The first time it happened we pulled off I-40 and tanked up to allow the unit to cool; I'm convinced now it is overheating because of its location up against the firewall and above the engine manifold. The car ran well until we started to climb up to the 7,000+ level into Williams, AZ at the 75 mph speed limit. It couldn't go much above 55 mph despite the engine temp being O.K., so I pulled off I-40 again to gas up and let it cool down. I went into the trunk to get some engine oil and and the trunk would not close, the driver side hinge support bracket had bent and the trunk was now out of alignment. The trunk is now tied down with heavy poly rope from the Dollar Store and all our can't-get wet items and bags are piled in the back seat. We continued on into New Mexico without any further problems and are holed up for the night in Gallop at a LaQuinta Inn. Rocky's Auto Body will be getting an email and photo with a request for some body repair work when we get home. Although we did 548 miles today, this was not a good day. Jim says next time, let's bring a new car, truck or SUV and leave the classic car home. I think he might be missing the point. Life is like a box of chocolates.
The fun part of our Route 66 CRUIZ may be over, but not the adventure. After tying down the sprung trunk with rope and packing most of our stuff in the rear seat, we used the California Car Cover to hide the fact that the trunk was open and accessible to the tools and other items. Now it was hoping for no rain as we made a dash over I-40 to Oklahoma City, some 632 miles and 10 hours away. At the hotel buffet breakfast, a man next to asked, "Are you the guy with that '61 Impala outside?". When I replied yes, he asked if I was driving Route 66 and had I done the Santa Fe segment. When I told him no, but that was the one drive I wanted to make but will have to do in the future as a dedicated drive because I'd like to stay in that area touring the galleries and visit some of the artists workshops. Long story short, Willie Lambert and are newly found good friends. He went to his room and came back with a bag full of albums filled with photos and detailed hand drawn maps of all the New Mexico historical Route 66 alignments. He has been documenting all this detail over the past 11 years and he and his wife drive it today confirming newer detail in another album, identifying each 1/10 mile of New Mexico's historic Route 66 features. I was blown away by Willie's work and impressed with the dedication that he and his wife Evelyn have devoted to this obsession. The University of New Mexico is also interested in archiving his books for future Route 66 Tourians to enjoy. We exchanged contact information and I hope to get back and explore the Santa Fe loop with Willie. About four hours into the drive to Oklahoma near the New Mexico - Texas border, the Chevy's Pertronix electronics started to fail, so I pulled into the next gas station off I-40 to tank up and open the hood to let things cool down. Sitting at the next pump was a green 1946 Ford Tudor Sedan street rod with Maine plates. The husband and wife have been on the road for three weeks and he had just gotten off one of the dirt Route 66 tracks after it turned into a washboard road with the dust causing the car's 350 Chevy engine to stall. It started up again and he was uploading some photos he had just taken of two abandoned junk yards he had found to his buddies. One yard had 30's & 40's cars and the other 40's & 50's era cars. Turns out he was originally from Bridgewater. It seems like it's a small world when these encounters happen, as they have been for the past two weeks. Not wanting to waste any more time, we got back on the road and made it to our Oklahoma City hotel by 8 pm with no further Pertronix problems.
I didn't want the sunrise in my eyes driving East or Monday morning commuters so Monday, Sept. 21 Jim and I got off to a 9:30 AM start to make a run through Oklahoma, Missouri and over the Mississippi at St. Louis into Illinois. We did make a couple of stops in Springfield, MO to see the Bass Pro Shops flagship store and it was an unbelievable experience. It looks like you could fit the Foxboro Bass Pro Shops in the entrance lobby. The other stop was to see the Fantastic Caverns also in Springfield, which had signs all along I-40. We didn't do the tour due to our Illinois deadline. We did 630 miles and made it to our hotel in Collinsville by 7 pm.
We discovered our hotel in Collinsville was only a few miles from the Cahokia Mounds so we decided to begin our morning drive for Washington, PA by seeing theses Pre-Columbian earthworks and take a photo in front of the Monks Mound, the largest pyramid north of Mesoamerica. Located a mile from the Mississippi River and U.S. route 6, it qualified as a worthy side trip, particularly having seen it on the 1981 PBS documentary; Odyssey, Myths and the Moundbuilders. Of the over 100 mounds in the Cahokia State Park at Cahokia, the largest is Monks Mound standing 100 feet high covering 15 acres. After a quick visit and photo, it was a 570 mile CRUIZN day to Washington, Pa on I-70 over the West Virginia state line near Wheeling pulling in to our hotel at 7 pm. Our plan is to make the final run home on Wednesday, cutting our original planned Route 66 cruise short by a couple of days.