This Thing Called Bonneville

Bonneville.  It's both a place and an experience.  To the car enthusiasts out there in the world, it means one thing:  SPEED.  It's one of only a few places on the face of the earth where it's possible to go several hundred miles an hour on wheels.  It's not a place for racing, it's a place where a person and their machine can test the limits of speed.  It's a place where records are broken every year during that one week in August called Speed Week.  Here is a video with some good camera footage from both the push vehicle and the race car.  It will give you and idea of what it's like to go airplane speeds on the ground.

Growing up around a dad that was so into cars and racing as mine was, I can't really ever remember not knowing about Bonneville.  It's like it has always been there.  There were always issues of Hot Rod, Car Craft, and Rod & Custom lying around our house, and it seems that every issue had something in it that referenced racing a car against the clock at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  Everything from motorcycles to fenderless street rods to bullet-shaped streamliners--all hand-built with love and attention to detail with one purpose in mind:  To be the fastest person in the world in their class.  To get their name in the record books.  When I was about 12 or so our family made a brief stop at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  I think we were headed to my grandparents' house in Phoenix and purposefully had it coincide with Speed Week that year.  I remember we had no sooner gotten there when I watched a streamlined motorcycle lay down and tumble down the salt at speed.  Apparently, something went drastically wrong when he popped his parachute.  I remember thinking, "Wow, do they all do that?"  We didn't spend a lot of time there so I don't remember much else other than how seedy and rundown the town of Wendover was.

Suzie never knew anything about the Bonneville phenomenon until she watched a movie with me (which has turned out to be one of our favorites) called The World's Fastest Indian.  That movie really captured what it was like for a person to set their sights on seeing what their machine can do when there are no restrictions of any kind.  Then my brother, Denis, went there with a his employer and coworkers to run a car last year.  He posted a bunch of pictures on Facebook and she was immediately interested.  About six months ago I suggested we go to Bonneville this next year and she jumped at the chance.  "We're talking about Wendover, Utah in August.  That's bright white, desert, and it's hot."  Well, there was no long story to make short.  She wanted to go.  We were both imagining the photographic possibilities, and we both like hot weather so it was a no-brainer.  We also travel very well together.  As a matter-of-fact, it's probably when we get along the best together is when we're on a travel adventure.

I don't think Suz really knew what to expect when she saw the Bonneville Salt Flats.  It's hard to feel what it's like until you actually experience it.  When you drive on it and you hear the tires crunching on the crusty salt, you know you're in a strange and unique place.  The expanse of bright white stretches almost as far as the eye can see, and is ringed with jagged, pointed mountains that look like they were taken from the cover of a science-fiction novel.  She was taken by the uniqueness of it.  To stand in a place so unusual seems like it would just feel barren and empty, but in fact, there is a beauty to the place that is hard to convey until you experience it.

We got into town late in the afternoon on Sunday--the first weekend of Speed Week.  After checking into our overpriced motel room, we drove down to investigate the Salt Flats.  We wanted to get a feel for the place and to find out where to go, and when to be there.  Because it was so late in the day, they waved us through the entrance.  The entrance is probably a mile from the beginning of the racing area, and with very few rules or boundaries.  One rule that did make us chuckle were the "SPEED LIMIT 55" sandwich board signs that we saw along the drive toward the track.  The action was still in full swing and there were lots of cars in action.  There were plenty of spectators walking, and driving or riding all sorts of interesting modes of transportation.  After exploring the area by car in air-conditioned comfort, we stopped at the check-in line that marked the entrance to the pit area and I got out and talked to some of the officials.  Nice people!  They told me when would be the best time to get there in the morning.  "Don't miss the sunrise!" one woman told me emphatically, "it's been awesome!"  As I turned to leave, the guy I was talking to said, "If you have any questions, just ask anybody.  This is the friendliest place in the country!"

We did make it for sunrise the following morning, and you know what?  It truly was awesome!  It came up blood-red, no doubt enhanced by wildfires we drove through in parts of Nevada and Oregon that we had driven through on our way there.  We had our sun hats, our SPF-1000 sun block, and lots of water.  We walked around for a while taking pictures of all sorts of things as the sun rose, all of them bathed in a warm glow.  When it came time for breakfast I enjoyed a $5 plate of scrambled eggs, sausage, and hash browns right there trackside (Sue already ate at the motel).  There were several long tables with awnings over them for us to eat at sitting perpendicular to the track.  It was funny--when we would hear the unmistakable whine of a car with its engine screaming, every head under the food tents swiveled to watch the car as it screamed past.  We talked with a couple of guys at our table and one of them had a great assessment of the experience that is Bonneville.  While so many racing events have been ruined by commercialization, fees, crowds, and all sorts of things, Bonneville remains virtually unchanged.  It's the same laid-back, fun-loving, event that is riven with camaraderie that it has always been.  Why?  Because there is no prize money.  It's man against himself--racing the clock to better himself and put him and his machine into the record books.

There was huge presence of people there with machines that seemed to be built just for Bonneville.  Not for racing, but for personal transport back and forth on the salt.  It was like the idea was to see and be seen.  All day long we were struck by cool and unusual vehicles they people were riding on and in.  Rusty cars made from all manner of things, called Rat Rods, dominated the place.  They were cool!  There were two-wheel scooters, carts, buggies, and all sorts of things.  We saw a motorized bar stool, a couple of motorized skateboards, and even a Segway-looking thing that had something like tank tracks it ran on.  Bicycles, umbrellas, floppy hats, and sunglasses were everywhere.  Another thing that set this experience apart from any other automotive event I've been to was the t-shirts.  At most events, black t-shirts tend to dominate, punctuated with bright colors.  At Bonneville, the t-shirt color was 99% white.  Lots of interesting designs on them, but white was the dominant color by far--no doubt to help reflect the sun.  The only negative experience:  The porta-potties.  Not because of smell or cleanliness--because of heat.  They felt like they were 150° inside.  Whew.

One thing about experiencing the Bonneville Salt Flats:  Salt.  Salt sticks to everything.  It is picked up by every tire on every vehicle.  It's clammy and sprays as you drive--coating the wheel wells, bumpers, body panels, and all sorts of voids under our cars.  It also sticks to our shoes, which in turn infests our floor mats.  By the end of the day, every car and shoe is marked with the Bonneville Experience.

I wouldn't have traded it for anything!

New Car Time!

I'm a little late with this blog because things have been so busy lately.  It actually happened back on August 3rd.  Yep, I bought myself a new car. Okay, not actually new, but new to me. I will never buy another new car in my lifetime unless I win the lottery, and there's not much chance of that happening.   I don't play the lottery.

It was a Craigslist deal. I generally like Craigslist deals, but not when they involve lots of money. It makes me nervous.  A person can only do so much inspection of what they're buying. The rest is left up to trust of the person selling it and your level of acceptance. I haven't had it long enough for anything wrong to surface, nor have I had it long enough to find that something was hidden or covered up by the seller. I hope there is nothing of course, but it always takes time to get to a level of relaxation with a used car. At least it does for me.

It's a 2003 Honda Civic LX. It's fully equipped, LX-wise, and completely beautiful condition. 132,000 miles on the body, and 80,000 on the engine. I bought the car from a young guy (I'm guessing 23-25 years old) that works at the Honda dealership. He put a warranted used engine in it after giving it a new timing belt, water pump, and other assorted replacement parts ("all genuine Honda parts" he assured me). He said it was his girlfriend's car and she ran the original engine out of oil. He was not a very good liar though--I think he just got a sweet deal on a trade-in because it had a bad engine. The car is virtually like new everywhere. The only signs of wear at all are a few spots on the removable floor mats. Under the car, the trunk, the interior--all in fantastic shape.

I hate buying cars.

The deal came close to not going down. The car was in Bellingham, and that's a two-hour drive north of here.  After many texts and a few emails, we arranged to meet at the Lowe's store near his place because it appeared that by the time we got there it would be nearly dark.  I don't like buying a car from a private party when I can't see their home, but I pushed that aside this time.  I had been looking for a new car for quite a while and wanted this one to be 'the one'.  I told the guy we should be there about 9pm at the latest.  When we went through Everett at about 7:30 (still about an hour from him) I texted him and told him so.  He replied with something like, "Oh, I didn't think you would be here until 9."  Hmm.  He knows damn well what transpired because it was all on his phone in the form of text messages.  I reminded him of all that.  When we were near his area I again texted him.  He replied with something like, "Ok, um, I just wanted you to be aware that I've got another guy interested in the car and he may be there when you arrive."  What the hell?  It was like his story kept changing.  Both me and Suz fussed and fumed over that as we neared the meeting place.  When we got there he was nowhere to be seen.  I texted him.  "Oh, I'll be there in five minutes."  Again, he story changed.  We waited there over 20 minutes for him to show up.  We texted him multiple times, one of which was to the point, "Is this deal going to happen?"  No reply.  Sue had already told me a couple times up to that point, "We've driven a long way--give him some more time."  After another 10 minutes I said, "Screw it, let's go."  We had been waiting 30 minutes at that point.  We we were just about to the freeway we got a text from him apologizing.  "I was halfway there and had forgotten the title" he said.

I liked the car.  It looked as good in person as it did in the ad pictures.  The interior color turned out to be a tan when I expected to see light gray.  The pictures in his ad sort of threw me the wrong direction I guess.  Still, I wasn't put off by that detail.  Anyway, I liked the car and bought it.  I spent the drive home just "feeling" the car out--checking anything and everything.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the gas gauge had barely moved after filling it up in Bellingham before heading south for the 2-hour drive home.

After owning the car for only a week and a half, what do we do?  What else?  Road trip!  Kind of a bold move for sure--especially given the nature of the trip.  Driving an "untested and unknown" car to Wendover, Utah in the middle of August was ballsy.  So we've returned from our trip and have put the car through its paces.  The results?  The mileage:  Phenomenal.  We got a couple of tanks in the high 30's, and two tanks that were over 42mpg!  The AC worked great and kept us comfy.  The cruise was so nice to have too.  The stock Honda sound system sucks pretty bad and let us down, but that wasn't much of a surprise.  The engine seemed to develop a little noise that made me nervous for a while.  It never got worse.  I get the impression that nothing new happened, but rather, possibly an additive that might have been masking the sound up until that time finally wore off.  It's a theory.  I changed its oil yesterday and put in full synthetic oil.  I've never put that in a car before because it's so expensive (and it makes leaky cars leak even more because it's so slippery) but I thought I'd go for it and see how it does.  Time will tell.

Was the car a good deal?  No.  It as a fair deal.  It was a great car for the money, but it was still a lot of money.  To me, a good deal is when I practically steal something.  It's just that cars of this type and year are hard to find in good shape, and this was was what I was looking for.  I hope it will serve me well and translate into a good deal.

It's safe to say it's the fanciest car I've ever owned in terms of options.  Power everything, AC, cruise control, and all--it's way more than I've ever had.  My cynical nature tells me, "It's just more to go wrong" while my optimist side (it's a much smaller side) tells me, "Shut up and enjoy it."

One thing is for sure:  I am loving the 40+ mpg!

Here are pictures from the guy's Craigslist ad.  Even though you can click them and view them full size, they're not very big.  Still, you can get an idea what it looks like.  You can also see what I meant when I mentioned the interior color in the ad pictures.

Stalwart No More

The vehicle previously known the "Famously worn (but stalwart) Neon" has been officially retired. It has weathered a lot of ups and downs in its life, but it's finally crossed over the line I have drawn in the sand. On one side of the line is "repair" and on the other side is "move on". The Neon left us a couple weeks ago, lovingly embraced (okay, pushed actually) by the whole family that came to check it out. It went for a whopping $300.

Family involvement Line it up carefully, now PUSH

The 1963 Falcon Futura
The bright red Neon was bought In June of 1994 to replace the bright red 1963 Ford Falcon Futura that my ex was driving as her daily driver at the time. The Falcon was a "one-owner" car I bought from a grandson that inherited it from his grandma. That is a car I wish I never sold, but then--isn't that always the way it goes?
"It hurts my back." she complained. (True, car seats were mushy ad non-supportive back then.)
"But its a classic. It's in great condition. It's beautiful!" I kept trying. Finally I gave in and started researching cars. The Neon was new on the scene and there was something about it that intrigued me. After much reading and investigating, we ended up buying one. Titled as a 1995, it was almost the exact same color as the Falcon: Bright red. The Neon was her car. It was bought to be her car. Sure, I got to drive when we as a family went anywhere, but it was hers.

That was 18 years ago. In its 148,000 or so (I forgot to look before it left) mile life with me and my family members it has been through a lot. It's been to California several times, Utah a couple times, and lots and lots of smaller trips and exploration. Yes, throughout the years the Neon has been to many, places. Look how nice and new it looked when I bought my Harley back in 2003.

Like any car, the Neon got a little tired over the years. At one point Teresa's parents gave her 20k to spend. It was both a gift and a way of reducing their taxes that year. I don't remember the details, but I do remember researching yet another car for her. This time she got a 2001 Nissan Altima. That meant the Neon was "mothballed" in the garage. I don't think it was driven for about six months. I was driving a Datsun 200SX commuter car I bought from a gal after she bought it back from the insurance company (it had been stolen and recovered). I paid $200 for it and drove it for over 100,000 miles before it started to suffer catastrophic degradation that made fixing it non-worthwhile. I sent it down the road (for $50 more than I paid for it!) and rolled the Neon out into the daylight. Admiring it with a fresh, new eye I gave it a fresh dose of pride and interest and made it my new car. I cleaned and scrubbed it and made it shine like the day it was bought--inside and out.

Replacing the heater coreOver the years the Neon has been through a lot of health issues too. Some normal--some not. It was vandalized once as it sat sleeping in our driveway one night. The bored low-lifes shattered the windshield and drivers window by beating them with steel water meter cover from the sidewalk in front of our house. Another time it was tagged with a large "CK" spray painted across the entire hood. (We moved after the second episode.) It blew a head gasket one time, causing it to overheat on me in downtown Seattle. During its life it had gone through the usual tires, batteries, and other normal items, and like the head gasket/timing belt/water pump repair, I did them all myself. I even did a heater core replacement myself, and as you can see in this picture, it was not for the faint of heart.

The Neon even weathered the change in my marital status, and after I remarried the Neon carried us on many, many adventures. It was so good at showing up in pictures that we took as we explored the many roads of our state and country. It was hard to keep it out of the pictures because after all--it ferried us there. It was our dependable steed that took us everywhere.

The major event in its life occurred the time it got rear ended while sitting at a stop light a few years ago. That caused the insurance company to declare it totaled. They paid me handsomely for the car (about $2000), and then let me buy it back from them for about $80. The Neon was never quite the same after that though. It was plagued by a water leak somewhere up under the dash that proved near impossible to get stopped.

Loaded up...It's a sad thing when you go around your car of 18 years and remove your possessions from it. All the things that make it your own: stripped away with a sense of resignation and finality. I have no regrets about buying it way back then, but I don't think I ever really thought I would be signing its 'organ donor' card this far down the road in its life. Most people don't keep cars anywhere near that long.

The people that bought it led me to believe it would live again instead of being taken apart and sold off in pieces. I think they were somewhat surprised at the condition it was in given its age.

I hope it makes it's future owners as happy as it made its original owners.
...and away it goes.Bye, Neon.