What car does a fellow with too many cars drive to a mini- and micro-car event in Golden, Colorado? Since the featured marque was the Citroen 2CV, the choice should have been clear. But we have two. What follows is "The Adventures of Michael and Lise...and Michael and Susan" (Ted and Alice couldn't go).
Since the frame on The Red One ('78 2CV Special, nick-named Geranium by her previous owner, Ann Warren) had been showing signs of weakness, The White One ('85 2CV Special) seemed to be the better bet. I took it over to Neil's for some preventative preparations. He thought the car was fine, but I heard a 'ticking' from the engine...which was not valves. Was a bearing heading south? We've still not gotten a conclusive second opinion, but the idea of an engine failure while driving in mid-Nebraska was not high on our list of life desires.
Having talked Mike Guanella and Susan Knoblauch into driving to Colorado with us (a conversation begun with hopes that their Mehari might be reassembled in time; it was not, but they joined the party anyway, driving their trusty Renault Alliance convertible) and not wanting to miss the event/adventure, the solution was to cross our fingers and get Geranium ready. At this point we were still a more than a week ahead of the scheduled departure on Wednesday, July 30.
Neil got the car midweek, reported that a rear wheel bearing on Geranium was bad, and ordered a new one from French Parts Service. Unfortunately, he ordered the part (which arrived on Friday, July 25) before actually tackling the problem on Saturday. At that point he discovered that the retainer ring that keeps the bearing in place could not be removed without damaging it (a situation he had not anticipated), so though he had the new bearing on Saturday, he had no way of completing the repair. Horrors!
First thing Monday, FPS was called again. They were asked to overnight the part ...but it did not arrive on Tuesday. #@!*@! ...and we were supposed to depart on Wednesday!! FPS goofed up and did not send the part on Tuesday, either, but promised that it would be shipped on Wednesday and arrive at 7AM Thursday morning, this already a day after we had intended to depart. Well, we figured we could drive 900+ miles in two days, if the wind was with us. And, as it turned out, Mike and Susan weren't able to leave on Wednesday anyway. So much for a leisurely trip!
Neil, always a trooper, offered to pick up the missing component on Thursday morning at the UPS depot and work on the car as soon as he got home...it was only a 45-minute process (he figured). Indeed, it was quick work and we were there (in the Saab) waiting for him to finish. But as Lise started up the 2CV to take it home to load up for the trip, it became apparent that an exhaust manifold gasket was about to give up the ghost. More horrors...I didn't want to drive cross country with that additional noise. So, as the clock ticked off the minutes (and Mike and Susan were champing at the bit to get started), Neil fashioned a replacement gasket, which seemed to work, and we drove home, packed the 2CV, and were on the road (amazing!) by noon. Knoblauch and Guanella were already about 80-minutes ahead of us but, hey, I have a heavy foot.
The day was beautiful as we headed down Highway 169 towards Mankato, noticing that the car seemed to be very gutless (well, this is a relative condition in a 2CV with a single-barrel carb and 28-HP...but the car really didn't have much get-up-and-go). During a gas stop in St. Peter, I realized something was wrong with the throttle linkage; pressing on the pedal was not fully opening the throttle plate in the carb. After some head-scratching I figured out that the gas pedal (which is not a pendant type, as on the newer 2CVs) had come off its pivot, and its angle-of-motion was compromised...thus the throttle was not opening fully. The fix was easy (push pedal onto pivot block), and the car's operation noticeably improved (relatively speaking).
We continued on Highway 60 through to Sioux City, Iowa, and caught up with Mike and Susan in Grand Island, Nebraska, where they had found a motel. We arrived just as the sun had set, had supper together at a Mexican restaurant, shared stories from the road, and went to bed, determined to get going early the next morning so as to make it to Golden, Colorado, before nightfall.
Friday morning, our drive from Grand Island progressed through southern Nebraska on secondary roads (Highway 30, then Highway 6), we had lunch and got gas in McCook, then churned on to Benkelman, headed down into Kansas and crossed on Route 36 into Colorado. During all this while Lise was reading outloud the chapter on the corn culture and beef feedlots from a rather disturbing book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. We will never think well of 'corn-fed beef' after this day of driving through endless miles of cornfields and barren feed lots, pondering the implications of the petroleum-fueled mono-culture (as we drive a petroleum-fueled car...).
Under the beaming sun, with temperatures approaching 100-degrees, Highway 36 across the endless dry, brown, treeless plain of northeastern Colorado was no picnic, particularly in an un-air-conditioned car (Mike and Susan briefly relished the a/c that their Alliance boasted, until their motor started to overheat). There is also a lot of nowhere between habitations, and though the map showed several towns along the route, these boasted populations of 39 or 76...with no gas stations.
Before hitting Last Chance, I realized the Citroen was getting low on fuel. Wisely, I had packed a spare gas can. Stupidly, I had not put any gas IN it. Perhaps Last Chance would offer us a last chance...but no luck, there was no gas. I cell-phoned a report to Mike and Susan... "I'm likely to run out somewhere along here, because it's another 35 miles (either south to Limon or west to Byers), and I don't think we can make it to either. But I'll keep on driving until we run dry, then you can take the can and get gas and come back and rescue me." But we surged forward, the car kept running, and amazingly we actually made it to a BP station at the intersection with I-70 at Byers, Colorado. With a sense of relief, I filled the tank...5.9 gallons went into a tank that is supposed to hold 5.5! I figure that the other .4-gallons is in the filler neck. OK!! And the Citroen was getting 41-mpg, too, on 91-octane.
From here on, it was relatively smooth sailing, though afternoon rush hour in Denver was no joy in a hot car (just keep moving, so we have a bit of breeze, please!). We arrived at the motel in Golden at 5PM, and wondered where everyone was...in front there was not a 'strange car' to be seen, and when we checked in, the folks behind the front desk really didn't know anything about any car meet. A what? We did get the room number of the fellow in charge and found him around back with a bunch of other folks and their cars, got ourselves registered, and started meeting new people.
The event itself was of a somewhat smaller scale than I had imagined, but totally entertaining evenso. Friday night was informal, a gathering at the hotel (byob), with a couple of good restaurants just across the parking lot and drive-by visits from several members of the local Mile High Microcar Club, sponsors of the weekend's event. We were introduced to a Janus (doors on both ends!), met a fellow who had driven up from Saint Louis in an Alliance GTA coupe who was able to diagnose several actual and potential problems in Guanella's car,
and learned the difference between various models of Isetta (bubble window, sliding-window, cabriolet). One fellow had driven, solo, in his Isetta from Albuquerque...now, that takes bravery, especially coming through the mountains. Read "1,000 Miles in an Isetta" www.volkmanns.org/isetta%20trip.htm.
Saturday was a full day at Heritage Village, a family-friendly re-creation of a mining town up in the hills outside Golden, complete with old storefronts, amusements, and plenty of space for us to display our cars (nearly 60 that day...and people loved them all). There were Isettas of every imaginable model and color, an American Austin Bantam woody wagon, many Minis (including a Traveller estate wagon and a Riley Elf), a Smart Car (driven from California via Seattle!), an Opel GT, a beautiful Ami 8 wagon, an English Ford Escort, Vespa (car and scooter), pre-war Crosleys, Messerschmitts, a Honda 600, NSU Prinz, '59 DKW Coupe, a Steyer 4-wheel drive (for the Swiss Army), Fiat 850 Spyder, and many 2CVs (gray and maroon Charlestons, but none in yellow). More photos of microcars at the meet at www.citroenmn.com/microcar/microcarshow/carshow.html.
One fellow brought an Isetta 300 'in pieces'...and he and a group spent the day putting it together. Talk about your 'kit car'.
Fortunately, the day was lightly overcast, so temperatures were moderated from the previous baking. We entertained ourselves with shopping, mini-golf, the Alpine Slide, bumper-boats and go-karts, and won a trophy for driving the furthest in a 'vintage' mini-car (nearly 1,000 miles one way...Tom Volkmann, the fellow in the Isetta, had travelled 511 miles one way, though I felt bad, since our engine...at 602ccs...was twice as big as his 300cc single-piston power plant).
Sunday morning, Lise and I rendezvoused with friends in Denver at the Episcopal Cathedral with its big Kimball pipe organ, then hooked up after service with Mike and Susan for lunch and a guided tour of some of the Denver city sights. We started on our return trip, back-tracking a bit for a few hour visit (and a delicious dinner) in Boulder, after which we drove east as far as we could get (on I-76 to Sterling in an interesting rain storm), then north on Highway 13 to Sidney, Nebraska.
OK, let me pick up a bit of the story left incomplete earlier. That 'repaired' exhaust manifold gasket lasted less than a day and the car just kept getting noisier and noisier as we drove westward, not quite as bad as a Harley, but no whispering kitten, either. And on the return leg it got worse. Turned out that one of the bolts had come undone and gone missing. I called Neil, he had some ideas of what I might look for at the NAPA store in Sidney, but that didn't pan out, so we sputtered onward.
Coincidentally, in addition to the noise, the car's performance was dropping again...mileage was now in the mid 30s, and the car had no pep (with a steady headwind).
But we plugged on, north on highway 385 to Carhenge at Alliance, Nebraska - - got some photos of the 2CV in amidst the totems microcar/carhenge/index.html ...should have taken a photo of the Alliance in Alliance! - - then through the sand hills to Hay Springs on Highway 87.
Had a tasty, hasty picnic in a grocery store parking lot in Clinton, Nebraska, then continued east on Highway 20 with nice, rolling grassland, beautiful plains territory, just south of the Pine Ridge Reservation, much prettier than northeast Colorado!
Just beyond Cody (Nebraska), out in the middle of nowhere, something caused the windshield in the 2CV to self-destruct. It may have been a stone from the Alliance since we were drafting Mike and Susan's car rather closely, trying to make up for deteriorating performance in the 2CV...but there were no stones on the road. The window glass in the Citroen was 'tempered,' and though there was a plastic membrane to keep things in place, the window cracked into a zillion little facets...instantly...quite a shock, and putting a new twist on the trip. Where would we find a replacement windshield for a Citroen 2CV in the middle of rural northern Nebraska???
We attempted to drive, at a slower pace, to the 'next town'...but after a few minutes at 35-MPH it became apparent that (1) I am incapable of driving slowly enough and (2) glass fragments were beginning to detach from the window and plop off on our knees. So, we pulled over again, assessed the situation, and activated the cell phone.
AAA Emergency Roadside Service answered (cell phones can be a blessing), the operator even knew something about Citroens ("They're supposed to be very comfortable cars, yes?"), and she sourced two possible businesses in Valentine, Nebraska, that advertised automotive glass repair. I called both, left a message at the first, but actually connected with Andy's Glass Shop. When I explained the 2CV windshield was a simple flat panel, he responded "No problem, I can do that; come on in!", and we did...but first we carefully removed all of the broken glass shards and particles from the frame (the rubber surround gasket was fine). I then drove the additional 45 miles at full speed with NO WINDOW (and no goggles...fortunately, there were no bugs). Squinting most of the way we breezed along, arriving at about 5:15 PM.
Andy assessed the problem, traced a pattern, cut one window (which cracked as he tried to fit it into the last corner..."No problem, now I have a better pattern; just shave a bit more off that side..."), and with the second try popped it in perfectly, and away we drove (this scene 100% paid for by State Farm Insurance Comprehensive Coverage). Andy's brother (or uncle?) runs an auto parts store in the other half of the duplex building, and Andy shares his side with his mom who runs an auto-upholstery business out front. Nice people, all of them, entertained by our presence, and the car.
Tipped off about the Bryan Bridge Scenic Overlook and Smith Falls(!) State Park, we continued along Highway 12. The Scenic Overlook was lovely, much as one might find in Wisconsin, and Smith Falls turned out to be one of the highlights of the journey.
Created by a small creek running through typically flat Nebraska farmland, the 100 foot-tall Falls exist at a point where the Niobrara River has carved out a fairly substantial valley, and the creek drops into the river at a depression in a little wedge of land that contains a blending of east- and west-coast flora and fauna in their furthermost extensions...western plants and birds go no further east, and ditto for the eastern species. The Park is a perfect camping destination, and we may go back (and visit Andy, too!). We stayed an hour, hiked in to the falls, waded in the river water to cool off, and thoroughly enjoyed such a beautiful natural wonder in this unlikely spot.
As it was approaching sunset by the time we left, we churned forward, but again the towns along Highway 12 were small and offered neither gas nor lodging. After several false hopes, just before 10PM, we arrived in Spencer, NE, happy to discover an open convenience store at the highway intersection (with both gas and food, after a manner, for a late supper) and a tidy motel just south of town. The day had had its challenges, and delights, but that is what adventure is all about.
Next morning, we headed north on highway 281, crossed the St. Francis Case Reservoire Dam, turned east towards Yankton, with a noon destination of Vermillion and its famous Shrine to Music Museum. In this fantastic collection on the University of South Dakota campus, you can find everything...from African native drums and Javanese gamelans to historic harpsichords and lutes, pianos of every variety, a Swiss farmer's pipe organ, a matched Stradivarius string quartet, a complete history of the Gibson Guitar Company (including a workshop bench and Johnny Cash's personal favorite instrument), all easily absorbed (and heard) via snazzy little digital hand-held 'tour guides', with pictures, verbal descriptions, and performances. You could spend the day here and not be bored. Check it out online: www.usd.edu/smm.
After a quick lunch at a local barbeque shack, we zoomed up I-29 towards Sioux Falls, skirted the city, went east a bit on I-90, then up Highway 23 for a visit to the Pipestone National Monument: (www.nps.gov/pipe/). It is sobering to reflect on the impact the 'white man' had on the lives of the indigenous peoples of the region. We enjoyed the museum exhibits, nonetheless, but upon returning to our cars discovered that the 2CV, after having been really hard to start during this last day, simply refused to fire up. And no amount of pushing seemed to do the trick. It would crank happily, but not catch...no cigar.
Mike and Susan headed into town in search of a tow rope, and that seemed to provide the necessary encouragement, so onward we went, louder and louder (with the Citroen leading, just in case the motor stopped and we needed another yank. I did the best I could to keep it from stalling, as the car did not want to idle at intersections (I'd pull the choke to keep it revving, not a subtle process with the leaky exhaust gasket). From this point forward, the goal was simply to get home, taking a route different from any either of us had driven before, just for the fun of it.
Minnesota's growing involvement with wind-generated electricity was evident in the Lake Benton/Florence area, with nearly 100 turbine units dotting the horizon: see http://itctel.com/lbenton/wind1.html. At Marshall we turned east on Highway 19, through Redwood Falls, Morton, Franklin, Fairfax, Gibbon, Winthrop, Gaylord, over to Cannon Falls (our last gas stop...had to be towed, again). Mike and Susan followed us up 52, we promised to make it home OK when they turned on 494 and headed over to Grey Cloud Island and, indeed, we did, they did, and by about 10PM the journey was completed.
Mike claimed an average of 40.6 miles-per-gallon with the 1.7 liter Alliance (some of which was run with the a/c on!), which is quite impressive. The 2CV did not do quite so well (I think the average was 35-MPG), and it sat in the driveway for several weeks before I had the time to get it back to Neil for a fix. Along with replacing all the exhaust gaskets and tapping the head for a new bolt, he checked the ignition, determining that the plugs were fouled and the points shot. Now Geranium runs a LOT better (on cleaned plugs and a used but functional set of points), and I'll be curious to see what sort of mileage we can get now.
We've posted a bundle of other pictures online, invite you to enjoy them, and consider joining us for some future travel into the unknown. Believe me, a Citroen 2CV provides entertainment for everyone...those of us who drive or ride in them, and everyone who sees them on the road, too! And even a pale blue Alliance convertible gets a nod now and then! :-)