March 3, 2013

Taylor Midwest Mustang Tour

At 71 and suffering from Parkinson's Disease, Batesville, Arkansas' Jerry Taylor doesn't know how much longer he will be able to drive his '66 Mustang hardtop, "Blue Bayou." So last summer, Jerry decided to take the Mustang and his 14 year-old granddaughter, Kate, on a trip around the Midwest to visit friends and family. When Jerry's wife, Dianne, heard about the plans, she invited herself along too—"in case something happened," Jerry said.

Acquired in April 2011, the Mustang is a six-cylinder car that was converted to a '71 302 V-8 by a previous owner. Although Jerry admits that the paint is nothing special, the hardtop has been upgraded with a Mustang II rack-and-pinion steering, a tilt column, an aftermarket radio, a console, an electric cooling fan, air-conditioning, and a steel plate behind the rear seat for protection in case of a rearend crash. Jerry notes that the front disc brakes are from an S-10 Chevy pickup, adding "The front and rear wheels have different bolt patterns so I carry two different spares."

Just before the start of the trip, Dianne tried to convince Jerry to take the couple's '05 Buick instead. Jerry nixed the idea: "I ruled that out as killing half the fun."

Traveling 300-400 miles per day and avoiding the Interstates when possible, the trip took 10 days and carried the trio through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. As Jerry explains it, "We circled the state of Iowa but never drove into it."

Jerry provided us with the trip highlights and lowlights:

"The first day out we lost the cell phone and found it just about the time we got the service stopped. The next morning, we left a suit bag full of clothes in the motel. They were kind enough to package them up and mail them to us.

"With daily highs in the 100s, we hoped the A/C kept working. The underdash unit is Ford but not Mustang. It has three vents which meant one for each of us. The person in the back seat had to sit on the hump to get much benefit.

"Kate turned out to be vegetarian but she would eat shrimp. That cost us a couple of shrimp dinners.

"We were stopped once by police. In northern Minnesota, a kind officer noticed that our front novelty plate didn't match the rear Arkansas antique plate. He said they needed to match, so he took the front one off.

"Only once did the Mustang not start—at a gas stop in Norfolk, Nebraska with the temperature near 100. I grabbed a screwdriver, jumped the starter solenoid, and away we went.

"Day five got us to northern Minnesota and the origin of the Mississippi River. Kate got her chance to ‘walk across the Mississippi' on the rocks.

"The Minnesota map we were using was about as old as the car. We finally figured out that they had changed the number of the road we were looking for.

"At lunch just north of St. Louis, we put the emergency brake on but not hard enough to notice when going forward. We drove about 50 miles that way. When we got to the bridge crossing the Mississippi, I touched the brakes and the pedal went to the floor. I quickly pumped the pedal and released the emergency brake, which slowly restored the brakes. First time I ever had seriously faded brakes.

"On the next to last day, we ran an unattended toll booth for lack of pocket change. A kind native told us about the website for unpaid tolls so when we got home we guessed the time and location of the violation and paid the $1.10.

"Total miles were over 2,700. Total gas bill was $444.

"My wife says that if she goes on tour next year, we're taking the Buick."