Crestfallen in Great Falls

My original plan was to hike to Iceberg Lake on my last day in Glacier National Park.  The weather forecast predicts an ideal day for it. But it’s Friday with the weekend closing in, so  I think instead the more “responsible” thing to do is to get the little Tracker in for a diagnosis.

There is only one mechanic in a 50 mile radius from Many Glacier, and that is “Randy,” who works out of his garage in Babb, Montana, 20 miles from the Canadian border. I could tow it on in to Browning, Montana, 50 miles away, but that town creeps me out, especially after the warnings I have received. I don’t want to spend any more time there than the night already spent in the Casino parking lot. So I decide to give Randy a call. He is not home, so I drive on over to his house, which has about 20 cats crawling all over it. I sit outside and wait. At least now I have a Verizon signal, so I can begin to do some research while I wait. Where is NPR’s “Click and Clack” when I need them?

Randy comes home driving a faded red, almost pink car that must be 40 years old with the hood tied down with coat hanger. He opens the Tracker’s hood, which is a good sign, considering I have had mechanics in the past who can’t even find the latch. He tries to start it, tinkers around a bit, stares at the engine, backs up, and stares some more. Then with hands on hips, he proclaims what everyone else has said when they saw the steam blowing out the tail pipe, “Cracked block. That’s all she wrote. Mighta saved it if you’d only called me sooner.” I can all but hear the death march playing in my head. That’s all I needed to hear, that the death knell for my beloved Tracker may have been rung at my own hand.

At this point, I am feeling a bit stunned and gutted. A million thoughts are running through my head. Even if I could bear to dispose of my little Bratty Tracker, how would I go about doing so? Do I even know where the title is? Back in Texas in my storage shed? And as any full-timer knows, the “toad” becomes a mobile storage unit. What would I do with all the stuff stored in it? My kayak, my bike, my ice chest, my BBQ supplies?  No room for any of that in the Winnie.

I am sure Great Falls has some redeeming qualities, but I will forever remember the image from the Walmart parking lot. It is directly across the highway from a massive oil refinery. The air reeks of putrid smells, and the night sky takes on a day-glow orange light. This is one lot that allows “extended stay,” and there are rigs that have been there so long, they are up on blocks. The dead weight I am towing behind me makes me think I should fit right in.

I can’t think clearly, but I do know one thing….time is of the essence. When towing with a 4WD, the engine must be started every 200 miles to lubricate the transmission. I am now down about 50 miles, with the inability to start the engine, and it is Friday afternoon. No offense to Randy and his House of Twenty Cats, but I need to get to a larger city with greater access to mechanic shops to weigh my options. So I head for Great Falls, Montana.

I spend all day and night here in the shadow of the refinery in what feels like a movie script of hell, never stepping out of the rig. I do constant research, checking Craig’s list and car sales websites looking for a replacement “toad.” Emailing back home, I ask my family to search my storage shed for the car title. As a full timer, I guess it should have occurred to me that paperwork such as this should travel with me, but I always worried about an on board fire.

I write to friends and family for advice, while just generally feeling sorry for myself. One dear friend responds with “Call me.” I write back, “I can’t. I will start crying, and I might not be able to stop.” I stare out the back window at the “hearse” I am pulling behind me, the oil refinery and the broken down rigs lining the perimeter of the parking lot as a back-drop, trying to figure out how I could have fallen from the heaven of Many Glacier to the hell of Great Falls in just one day…

Many Glacier Campground, Glacier NP, Sep '14

Many Glacier Campground, Glacier NP, Sep ’14

Dry Creek Cafe, Colorado River, Austin, TX, Jan '14

Dry Creek Cafe, Colorado River, Austin, TX, Jan ’14

Oceanside in Assateague National Seashore, Aug '13

Oceanside in Assateague National Seashore, Aug 2013

Open roof in Mt. Rainier National Park, Jul '14

Open roof in Mt. Rainier National Park, Jul ’14

Open roof in Cape Hatteras Dunes, Jul '13

Open roof in Cape Hatteras Dunes, Jul ’13

Catalina State Park, Tucson, AZ, Apr '14

Catalina State Park, Tucson, AZ, Apr ’14

Covered Bridges Tour, Cottage Grove, OR, Jun '14

Covered Bridges Tour, Cottage Grove, OR, Jun ’14

Redwood Forest National Park, Jun '14

Redwood Forest National Park, Jun ’14

Artist's Drive, Death Valley NP, May '14

Artist’s Drive, Death Valley NP, May ’14

Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley NP, May, '14

Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley NP, May, ’14

Lavender Festival, Sequim, WA, Jul '14

Lavender Festival, Sequim, WA, Jul ’14

Ohiopyle, PA, Oct, '13

Ohiopyle, PA, Oct, ’13

Front Row, San Juan Islands to Anacortes Ferry, Aug '14

Front Row, San Juan Islands to Anacortes Ferry, Aug ’14

Along the shore of Lake Erie, Four Mile Creek, NY, Oct '13

Along the shore of Lake Erie, Four Mile Creek, NY, Oct ’13

White Sands National Monument, NM, May '14

White Sands National Monument, NM, May ’14

First boondock, Government Wash, NV, May ' 14

First boondock, Government Wash, NV, May ‘ 14

Lake Lanier, Georgia, Jul '13

Lake Lanier, Georgia, Jul ’13

Olmstead Point, Yosemite National Park, May '14

Olmstead Point, Yosemite National Park, May ’14

Shenandoah National Park, Oct '13

Shenandoah National Park, Oct ’13

Thanksgiving Day, Lake Ouachita, AR, Nov '13

Thanksgiving Day, Lake Ouachita, AR, Nov ’13

Overnighting at the Visitor's Center, Lassen Volcanic National Park, May '14

Overnighting at the Visitor’s Center, Lassen Volcanic National Park, May ’14

Drive to full moon party at the Big Bend Hot Springs ("Blair Witch Project" photo by Ethel at WinnieViews)

Drive to full moon party at the Big Bend Hot Springs (“Blair Witch Project” photo by Ethel at WinnieViews)

Waiting for the Lights of Marfa, with Lynne and Millie in Marfa, TX, Mar '14

Waiting for the Lights of Marfa, with Lynne and Millie in Marfa, TX, Mar ’14

Ocracoke Ferry, Outer Banks, NC,  Jul, '13

Ocracoke Ferry, Outer Banks, NC, Jul, ’13

Mt Rainier National Park, Jul '14

Mt Rainier National Park, Jul ’14

First sunset on the Pacific Coast, Trinidad, CA, May, '14

First sunset on the Pacific Coast, Trinidad, CA, May, ’14

15 thoughts on “Crestfallen in Great Falls

  1. Getting a good look at Tracker on this sad post, I realize how straight and healthy the body is…a gem, for sure. Do what ever surgery is needed, it’s money well spent. Such a clean rig should not be put down.

  2. Suzanne, we are about three hours from you near the little town of Big Timber. What can we do to help you–we are friends of Paul and Nina–Great Falls isn’t the best of Montana for sure but we do have family there. Send me an email and I will provide you with our phone number.

    • Janna and Mike — I sent you a PM. One thing I have been so touched by during this process is the kindness of other bloggers…people like yourselves, Sherry at MTWaggin.com, and my new friend Susan Wade in Utah…to offer to come to my aid. What a wonderful community this is!

      But I am embarrassed to admit I am so far behind on the blog. I still don’t have a “final solution” yet, but I am working on it (as well as getting caught up on the blog!) Though I am a bit further south now than Montana. 😉

      Thanks so much for your hospitality and generosity! I hope I can “pay it forward” one day!

  3. I agree with Mark, as the bodywork looks so good its worth keeping. Have you thought about getting a low mileage used engine from the breakers and installing that. At least you can tow it around until you decide.

  4. Given my absolutely zero knowledge of such things all I can do is send you good vibes and hope for a speedy resolution. Not easy to let go of a car that’s taken you so far. I totally get the connection.

    Nina

    P.S. Janna and Mike who commented above are awesome peeps.

  5. This is just so sad. All those pictures show the tracker to have been a loyal and dependable friend. What year is it??? I know just how you feel. When someone totaled my Luna I cried for days. And then the insurance company wouldn’t give me enough money to replace her with the exact same car same year. Your post reminds me I need to take a lot more pictures of Ruby in her travels. I hope you can figure out what to do that will be best for you. I’ll be waiting right here to find out what happens. Give the tracker a kiss for me.

  6. …you can put in a motor!! I had my motor switched out in an old Bronco II you can probably find a low mileage motor and have it put in for about the cost of a good used car! Check into that…before you head to the scrap yard! I do have to tell you my sister had a tracker same thing happened to it!! She had a second car so she sold it for parts to a fellow who had an old tracker he was trying to keep going.

  7. Ratz!..Sounds like a blown head gasket, that’s what they do..My wife toasted two engines by not watching the temp guages. We had a used engine installed with a warranty for a very reasonable price. Of course that’s waay over here in Seattle. As others have said she looks in such great shape overall, changing the powerplant would be my choice.
    Best of luck,
    David

  8. Your Tracker is better traveled than most people – and she sure is pretty, still. I’m sure you’re doing a LOT of research, REPAIR? REPLACEMENT? Whatever you decide, before you know it you’ll have a running toad again soon. And… you have an engine in the View, so you still have wheels until you make a decision. I’m so sorry this happened. :(

  9. Yet again, my husband Ron chimes in that a new engine for your Tracker (possibly a rebuilt “new to you” engine) should not be that expensive. It could be a good option to keep your buddy going!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *