Well, you’d think this was a web log about cars, not a boat, wouldn’t you?
At the moment, that’s what it seems to be. David and I spent a week in Mesa, AZ with David’s father and step-mom. Dad was out of the hospital for most of the week, but was re-admitted on Friday. So, we stayed around a few more days and then drove back to San Diego and Mahdee. There is a big, several miles long, hill steeply rising from the desert as the Interstate 8 passes by El Centro and prepares to go into San Diego County. We remember this hill very well. It’s ascent marks the “almost there” point on all the driving trips we’ve had to San Diego from the East.
I can remember the first drive we made up that hill, in the Spring of 1984 in our 1974 Saab 99LE Pepe. No A/C, hot day, Pepe close to overheating and us running the heater inside the car as an “extra” radiator to cool the car’s engine. Back then, naive that I was, I kept expecting “green” trees and lush landscape. That’s what I’d heard about San Diego, after all. As we drove miles through the Imperial County desert and rose into the hills of Eastern SD county, I just stared in awe at the scrub growing between the huge boulders. The hills just looked like piles of giant river rocks with a bit of scrawny cacti and sage thrown in for good measure. I kept thinking “over the next rise it will be green” until we arrived at the Officers Club and BOQ at dry, dusty Miramar Naval Air Station. It was not green in San Diego county. For the record, this place is not naturally green. It is only green where people are importing water and plants to make it that way.
Ever in search of green, David and I drove Pepe all over California, Baja, and mainland Mexico in the mid to late 1980’s. We had some happy trips up that hill in Pepe in the dark wee-hours of the morning: Returning, tan and tired, from a month and 5000 miles of driving and camping on the beaches of the West Coast of Mexico during winter. Re-entering the US at Mexicali/Calexico, we were on autopilot going up that hill.
Other memories I have of driving up that hill: Driving Bopeep, my red 1985 Saab 900S, back from visits with David in El Centro. He and his squadron mates had many detachments there between 1985 and 1988. I had many lonely drives back up that hill in air conditioned and pretty Bopeep. I drove alone, in Bopeep, up that hill in 1991–a nonstop 17 hours from South Texas–wondering where I’d be in a year. David was still in Texas, finishing up his work and I was driving ahead to look for an apartment in San Diego. It was right before David’s transfer to Japan and we were to live in San Diego for 6 months while David re-trained in the Navy’s F14 Tomcat before moving to Japan.
We returned to San Diego to work on Mahdee’s rebuild in the fall of 2006. First, we drove Wesley, the 1987 Saab 900 Turbo, across the country from Washington, DC to San Diego. Barely working A/C, two cats–Beamer and Skog–in the car, and a canoe on top. Skog (shown here sitting in the open cat carrier in the car, waiting for the trip to start) had chronic renal failure so we stopped every 6 hours to purchase gasoline, buy munchies and give the cat a hit of saline sub-q. He died a few months after the trip but I can say I think he enjoyed the drive. We drove up that big hill in the early morning light after a marathon drive through from Albuquerque, NM. Dropping the cats off at our newly rented studio apartment in San Diego, David and I then spent a lovely day sailing on Stargazer, the Rawson 30 David purchased to keep us sane while we rebuilt Mahdee.
We flew back to DC and drove Buttercup, the yellow 1976 99GL out a couple months after Wesley. Uneventful, we drove up the hill in the dark and cold night. We’ve been back and forth to Mesa, AZ several times in the past couple years as David’s father spends his winters there. This trip back, in Wesley, was just a wonderful drive until we were almost at the crest of the hill. We’d only put about 1000 miles on Wesley since David installed the transmission that Paul rebuilt for us. With quite a bit of traffic and for some reason only base boost available on the turbo, we couldn’t race up the hill as we usually do enabling us to keep the car in 5th gear. So, going up the hill at 65 mph in 4th gear, the smoothly running car started shaking roughly like we were driving over a rough gravel surface. I looked up from something I was reading in my lap as I heard the engine RPM’s race and it seemed that perhaps the car had popped out of 4th gear on the suddenly rough road. I saw a cloud of blue oil emerge from the hood–a couple clouds of oil, actually, as David said “we’ve lost 4th” and placed the car in 3rd gear. I fretted as the congestion continued and I wondered what was going on. I said “that was a cloud of oil!” David, ever in denial to problems he doesn’t want to see said “nah! you didn’t see oil!” with quite a bit of confidence–or obstinacy–whichever I don’t know.
I shifted my head side-to-side wondering if the bright sunlight coming through the sunroof and glare on my sunglasses could have produced what looked like multiple clouds of oil over the hood of the car. Wesley continued on in good form in 3rd gear and 5th gear. We were incredulous. In this transmission, if 4th gear doesn’t work, then 3rd gear is also non-functioning. We didn’t understand what could be going on. I called Paul on the cel phone “Paul, we just lost 4th but not 3rd, ever heard of that?” Paul said “are you sure?” and I explained that indeed it was true. The cel reception was bad so I told him to puzzle on it and I’d call him when we got closer in town. As we slowed to go through one of the silly Border Patrol check points, David and I looked at each other and I forget which one of verbalized what was on both our minds “Do we still have 1st and 2nd gears?” We did. Whew.
David and I joked about the strangely rough patch of highway that we’d never noticed there before. Rough enough to take out the tranny, ha, ha, ha…We puzzled more about what might have caused the failure. We’d planned to stop and get 5 gallons of K-1 kerosene at the only place in the county that sells it in bulk: a truck stop in El Cajon on the way back into town. As I went in to pay for it, David inspected the engine and checked the transmission oil level and discovered nothing on the dipstick. The case was empty. The truck stop didn’t have manual gear lube so I bought 4 quarts of 10/30 motor oil, fashioned a paper funnel to get it into the tiny dipstick fill and watched the transmission take all 4 quarts. It really was empty. David and I puzzled some more. Perhaps that really WAS a cloud of oil. Maybe that hadn’t been a rough patch of highway but instead was Wesley’s 4th gear literally decinigrating and blowing holes in the tranny case?
We got back into the car and headed to the North Island Auto Hobby Shop where Buttercup sit waiting her clutch master rebuild. We stopped at the transmission fluid store and bought a case. Then, stopped at Downwind Marine where we’d had the clutch master cylinder rebuild kit sent to. Yep, they had it.
At the Auto Hobby Shop, David and I literally “played” with bleeding Buttercup’s clutch hydraulics again since it must be bled out before dealing with the clutch master cylinder anyway. Miracle of all miracles, that did the trick and Buttercup was ready to drive. Perhaps there’d been air in the lines or gunk, who knows. We were just really glad that Buttercup was rising to the occasion and now the hydraulics were working! The newly installed tranny in Buttercup was a used (not rebuilt) one from a 1978 car that had been rolled. It had been in storage for 20 years when the owner gave it to us in December so we weren’t really sure it would work. It works great, thank goodness.
It was already 5 pm and David really didn’t feel like starting to remove the engine (again) from Wesley so we could take the tranny up to Paul for another rebuild. Sigh. We decided to put that off until after we’ve gone to DC and returned in early March. Having just spent days doing this in late December-early January and then turning around and spending two days last week doing the same task on Buttercup, David and I neither one have any real energy for this re-do project. We talked to Paul on the phone. After profusely apologizing for the problem (since Paul had just rebuilt the tranny) Paul said he only knew of a gear failure like this happening twice: one time it was second gear that blew apart when the car owner had down shifted at 75 mph from 5th, missed 4th and hit 2nd. Oops. The other time the owner was using nitrous as well as a high boost turbo and passing 120 mph in 3rd gear when it blew to pieces. Risky. We’d just been bumbling along up the hill with normal engine RPM and base boost on the Turbo. The mystery will continue until we take the transmission back to Paul and we can all examine it when he pulls it apart.
Yes, this is a web log about Mahdee. And, all we’re doing is talking about cars. Yes.