Dave's Arizona Travel Adventure

The trip to Arizona started at about 4:17 PM on Wednesday October 22nd. Having confirmation that the house closed successfully, I finished packing the leftovers, got in the truck and took off for Ohio (maybe).

On the way west on I490 the truck did it's transmission trick. The transmission trick is where it suddenly drops from overdrive to second gear causing the motor to scream bloody murder. Billy and I thought it was an electrical issue that required cleaning the electrical connection from the transmission to the computer.  So stopping on the side of the road, I cleaned the connection and started again. Didn't get far before it kicked out again. I found that stopping, shutting off the motor for four or five minutes, then starting again worked also. The truck behaved well to Depew where I stopped for dinner at the travel plaza.

Leaving the Depew exit to continue west, the catalytic converter fell off the exhaust system cross over pipe. This happened while on the west bound entrance ramp out of Depew. This is particularly bad, because the converter is dragging front first along the road where it could get caught and pulled right off or folded under.

For those not familiar with the Depew exit / entrance, it is pretty narrow with guard rail between the two lanes. Being stopped on the shoulder with tractor trailers going by is not exactly the best place to be crawling around under a wide vehicle! Plus it was dark by now making it especially risky.

The clamp on the pipe was completely shot, so there was no way to clamp it back. Fortunately I had packed the torch set in the trunk of the car. I was somewhat successful getting a bead of brass to stick to the rusty pipe. Surprisingly, the state police never came by to ask what the hell I thought I was doing welding pipe on the shoulder of the ramp :-) By now it was late and I was beat, so I stopped at a rest stop near Angola (I think).

After a couple hours sleep, I started out again. Didn't get far before the transmission issue raised it's ugly head for the 3rd time. Luckily it was near an entrance ramp, so pulling over was safer (fair amount of truck traffic speeding past even that early in the morning). About now I was seriously contemplating turning back to Rochester!

Sitting there in something of a funk, I thought hard about what could be going wrong. It occurred to me that stopping, shutting off the engine and restarting, virtually eliminated an electrical problem with the transmission. More thought indicated that overdrive might be going out by over pressure / temperature or some other mechanical reason. I put the truck in drive and started again. Bingo... no more transmission fall out all the way to Erie :-) What a relief, now I could focus on driving and making miles go by! Only 2073 miles to go.

Didn't get far this time either though. On the Cleveland bypass near a town called Macedonia, I started hearing a whining noise. At first I thought it was coming from a car passing by, then hearing it again and again, I realized it was the truck. I pulled off at the next available exit and sure enough, it was the rear wheel bearing on the right side. Ok, so now its October 23rd at 7 AM, not even 200 Mi out of Rochester, in a strange town, needing hard to find parts.

A helpful gas station attendant directed me to a parts store fairly close by. I did find it and waited till they opened. No such parts :-( They pointed me in the direction of Advance Auto, where I have had good luck before. Sure enough a nice older guy worked with me to figure out which bearings would fit and he did have them :-)

These guys were really super! They let me take the dual wheels off and rear axle out in the parking lot. Along the way they let me borrow tools and helped find a special pair of pliers needed to remove one of the bearings. Hats off to the Advance team in Macedonia OH!

It took about 5 1/2 hours to finally get the brake drum off and replace both the bearings, races and inside seal. One of the guys commented that I was moving a lot slower than when I came in the morning. How right he was! Bear in mind that this is not even a full day of travel from leaving Rochester. Wonder how many other adventures are in store? I probably stopped at the Loves truck stop in Lodi OH for fuel and sleep (at 5:43 PM on the 23rd).

Somewhere past Columbus the exhaust fell off again. This was getting pretty repetitious, crawling around under the truck every hundred miles. I figured it would take ten days or more at this rate! Experimented with wire rope then coat hangers to try to take the stress off the weld. Worked pretty well for a while until the rope burned through, wire stretched etc. I can not even guess how many times I tried to fix the exhaust problem.

Early in the morning of Friday the 24th I got off the highway in Dayton OH and the car dolly came unhitched at the intersection! OK so now it is 5 AM, the ball fell off the tongue and I can't find the bolt to put it back together. Evidently the bolt was too small for the load, worked loose and fell out. Luckily the safety chains held and I was able to drag the car dolly to a gas station. Luckier still I was right next to a 24 hr Wal-Mart and was able to buy a new ball. Not so lucky, the bolt was way bigger than the existing hole and would not fit.. It took some fancy cutting with the torch to enlarge the hole in the tongue to get a good fit. Couple hours later I was satisfied it was good to go and left.

Other than the exhaust issues, bearing failure and the car dolly falling off, things went fairly well. Can you see my tongue in cheek? Somewhere between St. Louis IN and Springfield MO I stopped at a rest area at the bottom of a big mountain to sleep for a while. My notes say; stopped at 1:30 AM and left at 4:30 AM for Springfield where I had breakfast at 8:30 AM. Gas is now the lowest cost at $2.09 a gallon for regular. I use mid grade for towing, still pretty cheap at $2.19!

It is now Saturday the 25th. By 12:45 I hit the first toll booth on I44 in Oklahoma. Pretty weird, they charge you for the entire length and refund any difference when you get off. No difference to me as I will take both legs of the "thruway" (I44) to Tulsa OK. Hit Tulsa at 2:15 PM had lunch and a nap then left at 4 PM towards Oklahoma City. Stopped outside Oklahoma City at 6 PM then slept till 1:45 AM.

Gas & go Sunday at 2:30 AM, breakfast at 7:00 AM in Sayre OK. One of the tires was going soft, so I dismounted it at the Flying J and took it to a Goodyear near by to have it repaired. Smart to have a tire shop next to a truck stop!

The border between OK and TX is between Sayre OK and Shamrock TX. There is a state run rest stop on the Texas side that is really impressive and a welcome sight. Between Sayre and Shamrock the winds were very fierce. It took a lot of concentration to keep everything going down the road.

The rest stop actually has a tourist information person to answer questions and several displays giving some of the history of the area. Everything that can be seen from the rest stop is owned by 4 brothers. Including 69,000 acres visible from there, which are a part of the 270,000 acres they own. One of the displays explains that the biggest ranch in Texas was the XIT, founded in 1875 and covered 3 million acres in the panhandle. Two Chicago brothers traded a new state capitol building for the land.  The building cost $3,000,000.00 making the land cost $1.00/acre!  The XIT was never profitable and the last parcel was sold in the 1960s. Like they say, everything is bigger in Texas!

Driving through Texas you can go for miles and miles in one direction and come to a 90 degree bend in the road. It is then that you realize that the road is constructed to go around a farm. Some of the irrigation machines they have out there are perhaps 3 tenths of a mile long. Agriculture on a stupendous scale. Gradually, the land turns from flat dry land agriculture to desert before Amarillo.

The last straw with the muffler issue was when I was somewhere in no man's land, off the road welding yet again late at night, then again at dawn. At some point I realized I left my Swiss Army knife behind at the last welding stop.  Although it doesn't sound so bad, I use the thing every day for one thing or another. I am lost without my all purpose Swiss army knife.

To continue, I welded the pipe as solid as I could at dawn on Sunday the 26th when I could see better.  I made it to Amarillo before 11 AM Sunday. Tired and dirty, I showered at the TA (second shower for the trip), washed clothes and decided to bag it for the day. Went to sleep resolved to get the exhaust fixed in the morning.

Amarillo has changed a lot since I was there 35 years ago. The last time I went through, there was a small strip of stores on one side and desert on the other. Among the stores was the Big Texas Steak House (a landmark then with billboards every few miles coming in). Their claim to fame is the 72 oz steak diner. If you can eat it all, including all the trimmings, they give it to you free! At the time there were only 3 people that had done it. Now Amarillo surrounds about 6 miles of I40. There are 8-10 lanes of traffic instead of the old 4 lane RT 66. Was nice to see the Texas Steak House though.

Monday morning the 27th I started making calls to replace the exhaust parts. No such luck... I asked around and someone mentioned Meineke. Called them and got the address of one shop in town that could handle the truck. They had a guy that looked at it and quoted the part numbers to fix it off the top of his head. SOLD!!! Anyone who can do that, knows what he is doing. He had it done in an hour and a half for a cost of only $318.00. Best money I spent so far (except for the showers :-)! He did a great job welding the new parts to the old. It will never come off again!!!

On the road again at 11 AM bound for Tucumcari NM. About 20 miles outside Amarillo there is a massive wind farm that must cover about 10 square miles of desert (how cool). About 50 miles before Tucumcari the Land of the Buttes starts. What scenery! Miles of buttes make you wonder how they were all formed. You drive down into a valley with 200 foot bluffs on all sides. Then the drop from the high plains is awesome. There are some pretty high mountains that took a lot for the truck to climb, sometimes going as slow as 35 at the top of the slope.

Stopped outside Albuquerque around 8:45 PM Monday. Albuquerque is enormous. The huge drop from the high plains gives a great view of the city. Slept until 12:15 AM Tuesday and started out for Gallop NM. Stopped about 2 AM at a Loves near Gallop, slept until 4:30 AM and started for Flagstaff. Arrived Flagstaff at 10 AM Tuesday!

Easy to find a hotel :-) Just looked for the truckers. Several were parked in a row of motels (6 motels, Dennyís, Cracker Barrel and even an Outback). Nice guy owns the Super 8 and the HoJo. Gave me a fair weekly rate.

Settled down to call real estate agents and property managers about housing. Played tourist some. Went to the Northern Arizona Museum. Great display of the geology, paleontology, archeology and Indian history / crafts. Spent half a day there and more at a couple other spots. I also stopped at Walnut Canyon Monument for an afternoon.  This is an amazing area where the natives lived in shallow caves carved in the canyon walls by erosion.  They only lived there between 1020 and 1200 AD. Somewhere around 1100 AD a massive volcano erupted that was visible for hundreds of miles.  It is not known whether the volcano caused them to abandon the settlement or not. Informative displays, plus a long hiking trail down into the canyon that offers better views of the settlement.  Not a trail for the elderly, there are 285 steps to climb back out!  Well worth the afternoon walk though.

I really like Flagstaff. There is a lot of interesting stuff to do. The mountain scenery is spectacular and with great places to visit like the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Meteor Crater, Walnut Canyon Monument, all within a hundred miles. And of course there is the moderate climate. Like the weather in Rochester the past couple of weeks of October, it was about 10-15 degrees warmer than normal. Chilly in the morning, but rapidly warming to the mid / high 70s well before noon.

After a nearly a full week of looking and talking with folks, I came to the conclusion that Flag (the local name) was not for me. All of the properties I could afford were far out. 40 miles or more in two cases. One property was fairly close at 20 miles out, but I could not even find the property. I found the mail box and sign, but not the actual house. There are 6 houses in the section, each on 10 acre lots. I drove the dirt roads for a while before I realized it would be hard to cover a hundred acres, on dirt roads surrounded by trees and brush you can't see through. The scenery was awesome there however. Great view of Sunrise Crater (an extinct volcano). All the other mountains in the surrounding area were also volcanic. Pretty impressive landscapes!

After figuring out I was not able to afford Flag, I started an internet search for real estate in Tucson (my second choice). Housing is really high in Flag. An apartment can be as much as $1200.00/Mo. The ones I could afford are not ones where you would like to live. I found about 6 properties in Tucson that looked promising and one that I liked a lot. I contacted a real estate agent in Tucson and arranged to meet her Wednesday morning.

On Monday the 3rd I did some maintenance on the truck in preparation for leaving Tuesday morning for Tucson. One of the maintenance issues was a power steering line that was rusted out and leaking.  This is another one of the parts that is hard to find and varies a lot from model to model.  With some helpful advice, I located a shop that seemed to have the parts and could make up a line with fittings and the proper bends. The owner was really helpful and made up a custom line to repair the truck.

Left for Tucson after breakfast Tuesday morning and arrived about 3 PM. On the way to Phoenix it is worth mentioning the terrain. There are three or four mountains to be crossed on the way.  These are really big!  Some of the inclines were 6 degrees or better and rose / fell more than 2,000 feet. I have to credit the truck for the remarkable job it did pulling it's own 10,000 pounds plus the car and car dolly up these grades.  At one point it was running flat out in first gear for several miles, but it did the job!

On the way I can not even begin to tell you how much the area has changed since the last time I was out here 35 years ago. Phoenix is now a metropolis of 4 million plus. It covers an area of about 200 square miles! Instead of the old 4 lane to Flagstaff, most of I17 is now 8 lanes or more. The density of building is phenomenal. Traffic is ridiculous to say the least. I remember being able to leave Phoenix and 10 minutes later being in the desert. Not like that any more for sure.

20 miles south of Phoenix on the I10 the road finally gets back to 6 then 4 lanes. About 80 miles outside Phoenix, Tucsonís suburbs start with Marana (we would call it a small city). From here it is much like Phoenix, except that there are only about 1 million people here! In 20-30 years Phoenix and Tucson will probably be one long city by the road!

Back to the real estate search... I was in contact with a realtor representing an as-is bank owned property near Marana. On Wednesday I met her and her associates at the property. I really liked the setup. It is a 3 bedroom manufactured home on two acres. Travel is about 7 miles from Marana on an access road that parallels I10. There is about a half mile of graded dirt road that reaches the property. Pretty rough going depending on the condition of the road. The county grades it only twice a year!

What I like; all the properties in this section are on a minimum of 2 acres. There are neighbors, but there is plenty of elbow room. The house itself is 6 years old and in fair condition. Needs a bit of TLC, but is livable as-is. On the way in to the property there is a horse farm, a neighbor to the north on the next parcel and a vacant million dollar mansion to the west.

The parcel has water rights, meaning that an association of the parcel owners pays for maintaining the well and equipment. Water is very important out here, having a well is a big benefit. Otherwise, dessert dwellers have to have water trucked in. There is a septic system that the bank must have certified, otherwise it is as-is.

I made a purchase offer Thursday that was accepted Friday. I do not anticipate finding any serious issues during the required 10 day inspection period. The realtor and bank have already answered most of my concerns. Everything else I can fix or replace. God willing this is where I will live in peace for years to come.

Even with the mechanical issues and the hard work of driving 2300 miles alone, this was a trip of a lifetime. I canít begin to tell you about the vast expanses of land seen crossing the country. Literally hundreds of square miles of land with few people and awesome scenery. I doubt many people realize just how sparse our population is outside the cities or how big the country really is.

I can also say that this trip strengthens my opinion of people. So many of the people I met were welcoming and helpful. It was also interesting to spend some time with the professional truck drivers that move the goods we all need to live. I felt a bit of kinship with them, living and sleeping on the road for days at a time like they do. We could all make their lives easier with just a little patience and courtesy on the highway. Driving is definitely a hard job.


A reminder: my phone number is changed if you feel like chatting!
520 262-3306