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Fear and Loathing in the World’s Most Hated Mustang: Part Four
“The possibility of physical and mental collapse is now very real. No sympathy for the Devil, keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride..."
Pulling out of Grand Junction on I-70 Westbound with both of our tanks full, Rodney and I were basking in the glory of the day’s drive over the Rockies. He was running like an absolute dream with nary a miss nor cough as I fondly reminisced about the drive through the oil-painted masterpiece that is the Colorado Rockies in early Autumn, now heading off toward the sun setting over the Utah desert.
I have driven this road from Denver to Los Angeles (and vice versa) many times in the past, normally making it in one nonstop 16-hour trip. On the occasions when I traveled with less hardcore road dog types, the usual layover point was Green River, Utah, which is roughy 100 miles West of Grand Junction. Not wanting to push my luck with Rodney after such a successful day, I pondered bunking down for the night in the desolate little rest stop. But the miles slipped away as smoothly as a Victoria’s Secret Supermodel’s butt cheeks and Rodney was running so great that it seemed like a shame to end the day so quickly, so easily. Knowing that it was going to be 100 more miles until the next gas station, we stopped in Green River to fill the tank again, then headed back into the night.
That was my second mistake of the day.
The first one? Not ensuring that the bedeviling coolant leak would be a non-issue by topping off the radiator. After dinner that night in Junction, the car had cooled off enough that I should have checked the coolant level, but with everything going so swimmingly it just didn’t come to mind. That would prove to be our ultimate undoing.
Cruising off into the dark out of Green River, with the windows now rolled up in the cool desert night air, the goal was to just keep going until it felt right to stop. I knew that either Rodney or myself would eventually make the call when the time was right, and it was Rodney who first dialed in. I had forgotten how quickly out of Green River the grade appears. About a half hour past our last stop, the hill got progressively steeper and we were once again relegated to the right lane, hanging out with the big trucks while hipsters in their Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) and trophy wives jacked up on amphetamines in SUVs on the way to Vegas and a date with the craps tables screamed past us in the dark. My daydreams of these fellow travelers and what mayhem they will likely cause in Sin City were interrupted by the realization that we had been on the road a long time at this point, and it had been an equally long time since I had checked the radiator. A quick glance down at the temperature gauge, which never budged until it was almost too late, confirmed my worst fears—Rodney was getting hot. Very hot.
The smell of leftover antifreeze and that odor that anyone who’s dealt with a perpetually overheating car knows all too well began to waft into the cabin, getting worse with each mile until I saw the geyser coming from the right front corner of the hood.
Have you ever watched a NASCAR Cup car overheating during a race? They have the cooling system vent at the base of the windshield, and when the engine temp skyrockets, it releases a vertical stream of steam, a sign to the driver that if he doesn’t pull into the pits in the next few laps, the engine will soon turn into a puddle of molten aluminum. Mustang IIs with the 2.8L V6 have an unintentional but similar setup—the overflow hose comes off the passenger-side of the radiator and terminates into thin air, with no catch can to contain the goo. The gap between hood and fender therefore became the exit point, and Rodney morphed into Old Faithful and Mount Vesuvius all in one, erupting fluid like a frat boy on his second keg.
“C’mon buddy, we can at least make it to the top of the hill.”
I didn’t know how far away the summit was and it didn’t matter anyway. As the steam stream grew taller, Rodney’s V6 became less willing to keep going, until it gradually slowed to a crawl and finally stumbled to a stop as I steered us off to the side of the road. I hit the key and got the reaction of an engine and starter so hot that they weren’t about to crank. Dang.
This was also the first time I tried to hazard flashers. Of course they didn’t work. While debating whether to turn on the parking lights to make us at least a little bit visible on this moonless night, or save the battery for another attempt at starting once everything cooled down, an unloaded big rig blew by in the dark at 80-plus mere inches off Rodney’s driver’s side door, with a wake of turbulent air so violent that I’m sure it moved us a little bit farther off the road—on went the lights. Battery be damned, I’d rather get towed out on a hook than punted 200 yards into the desert by a trucker high on little white pills.
On a moonless night in the desert, you sure can see billions of stars out there, but as pretty as they are those damn little flickering orbs don’t do jack squat to shed any light on the surface of the earth when the moon is hidden. The expression “it’s so dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face” is absolutely true on a moonless Utah desert night. My iPhone’s flashlight app was pressed into duty as I carefully slid out of the car and opened the hood to check the carnage. Not only had it turned brutally cold and windy, the gust of putrid air that greeted me when the hood popped open was too disgusting to describe in a story that my parents are probably reading, but suffice to say it wasn’t pleasant in the slightest. Think Rosie O’Donnell, an overflowing sewer in the slums of India, and the worst chunk of Limburger cheese on earth, all rolled into one stinky gelatinous mass and stored in a Pakistani cave for a year, and you kind of get an idea.
We had one bottle of water, so after a half hour or so of letting things cool off and playing Backgammon on my phone, I popped the cap and dumped all 16 ounces into the radiator, then hopped back behind the wheel and tried the key again. The engine turned over finally and coughed but wouldn’t fully start, so I let it cool down some more while I pulled the ‘chutes and dialed AAA for a tow. Fortunately, Rodney’s cigarette lighter receptacle worked to keep the cell charged. Unfortunately, both my work and personal cell phones (I know, apparently I’m what my brother calls an “iTard”) had only one bar of service. Finally getting through to AAA was a relief, but in the middle of describing what part of nowhere we were sitting in, the call fell off. That scenario repeated itself four different times; I would get an operator, tell him or her where we were, say it again three times when they couldn’t comprehend just where we were, then lose the call.
“I’m on the shoulder of I-70 westbound, about 30 miles west of Green River.”
“What mile marker?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t take notice of the last sign. Just send the truck west from Green River about 30 miles and he’ll find us.”
“What road are you on? And what is the mile marker?”
“I’M ON THE SHOULDER OF I-70 WESTBOUND, ABOUT 30 MILES WEST OF GREEN RIVER!”
“Okay let me think here…..”
Call dropped. Truck thunders by. Wind blows with hurricane force.
Make another call, get a different person, repeat the exact same conversation. Lather, rinse, repeat. For the love of GOD people, what’s WRONG with you?!
“I hate to say this, but this place is getting to me. I think I'm getting the Fear.”—Hunter S. Thompson
Convinced we were destined to sleep on the razor-thin shoulder of Route ROUSST (the Road of Unusually Sized and Speedy Trucks) for the night, I tried the ignition key once more and Rodney protested mightily but finally started, with an idle that said, “Don’t even try it pal.” Holding him at 2,500 rpm and doing a neutral drop to keep the engine running, we got back under way….for about three miles. This time, when he finally cut off, we were at least coasting into an empty rest stop and I made a mental note that we were at Ghost Rocks View Area and tried AAA again. After two more attempts, I got the message through about where we were located and waited for the hook.
Waiting for the tow to arrive and dreading what it was going to cost (long story about my AAA membership), I chased down a truck driver who had stopped to rest and asked if he had a jug of water and how long the incline was, hoping for the possibility that I could fill Rodney’s radiator and keep on keeping on—I’d call off the tow truck if we tasted victory. He had no water, but confirmed that we had made it to the top of the hill…this hill anyway, with three or four more even steeper grades before the next habitable stop of Salina. At this point it was about 10:00pm and a darker night than I’ve ever experienced, so back to waiting it was.
The tow truck driver was pleasant enough as he winched Rodney onto the flatbed, and even cut me a deal on the 70-mile tow to Salina when he found out I was a car guy. In the cab of his truck, we began to talk about cars and his collection of Fords so the drive went by quickly, and when we pulled off the road at the exit to Salina he gave me a brief tour of his shop—which housed a few early Mustangs, a very nice ’57 Fairlane, and several other projects in progress—then dropped Rodney and I off at the Super 8 next door. With a premonition of potential trouble to come, I made sure to get his card just in case he’d have to come fetch us on the road the next day.
As I sank into the soft, warm bed, Hunter reminded me, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” Rodney and I sure took a ride into the danger and discomfort zones tonight. And my vow earlier that day, during the breathtaking drive down from Loveland Pass and into the majesty that is Glenwood Canyon, to “never again hold my breath on this trip and just live in the moment, live with what is to come, and not worry so much,” helped push the sheep over the fence. Finally, as I drifted off to sleep, HST’s proclamation that “good people drink good beer” inspired me to make it to Vegas come hell or high water to party with my industry friends, and I thought of Rodney resting and recuperating out there in the parking lot.
Catch up on the rest of Project Rodney: