Montana, You Were the Best of Times, the Worst of Times…

Life on a Sprinter Chassis is both a blessing and a curse. The rig drives like a dream. Hardly more struggle than driving a regular-sized van. For a solo-RVer, it’s both comfortable to drive and easy to maneuver. But placing an entire 24 ft house on a van chassis also means we Sprinter squatters must “watch our weight.” Not only are we limited in how much we can carry on board, but also on how much we can tow. The maximum towing capacity is 3,500 lbs, fully loaded. When you consider weight, while also ruling out any and all cars where the manufacturer does not sanction towing “four down,” that leaves only a handful of options…the discontinued Trackers, Samurais, and all but the newest of Honda Fits.

Finally, I get a lead on what sounds like a “dream car” in Kalispell. A 2003 candy-apple red, hard topped Tracker with low mileage. I ask my brother Don to call the guy, as it is my experience that a male voice typically nets a more honest answer. The Car Fax checks out, and everything sounds perfect. Mitch, the used car salesman says “I’ve never seen a car this age in better condition.”  I decide to go for it.  But it means I must retrace my route back through Browning, MT for a third, and what I hope will be the final time…231 miles back to Kalispell. What else do I have to do on a Saturday? At least it will get me out of the oil refinery setting. Mitch says he will hold it until 6:00pm.

It’s love at first sight. I test drive it, crawl all over it, under it, and send a dozen photos back home, and receive confirmation that it looks like a great find. I tell Mitch, “I am 99.9% sure I want it, but I just need one night to sleep on it….please understand, it took me a year to find “The Perfect RV,” so I can’t buy a car in an hour!” The dealership is closed on Sunday, but Mitch tells me to call him by 10:00am, and he will take the ads down, and come down and process the paperwork. I can drive it away tomorrow. He leaves me the keys, dealer plates, AND, he tells me, “You can park here overnight if you want.”

That night as I am trying to get to sleep in the used car parking lot in Kalispell, MT, I begin mentally going over my towing checklist in my mind on how I would tow this model. Disengage the transfer case….Wait….where is the transfer case?? How could I have been so stupid not to realize this car is a 2WD, not a 4WD? I get up in my jammies and go out to glove compartment for the Owner’s Manual. There it is in black and white, beneath the dim light of the dangling string of “Used Cars!” lighbulbs overhead, it reads, Notice. If your vehicle is a two-wheel drive model, do not tow it on all four wheels. If you do, your transmission could be damaged.”

Not only must I come to terms with the realization that I just drove 231 miles out of my way due to my own stupidity, but now I must break the news at 10:00am tomorrow to Used Car Salesman Mitch, a 6’3” body builder covered in tattoos, that he’s not going to make the sale. I consider just driving off like a thief in the night, but what would I do with the keys and dealer plates? Is that a strategy of the Used Car Salesman? You hold the keys, you own it?

I check the front door for some kind of a drop box. But then, I realize the low-hanging string of used car lightbulbs overhead is too low for me to clear in the Winnie. And, I can’t back up with the Blue Ox tow bar. I will have to get out, unhitch, and manually push the Tracker back to turn it around, not something I think I can do alone in the middle of the night. My fitful night is made worse by a skunk who crawls under the warmth of the Winnie and proceeds to share her fragrant perfume all throughout the night…

The next day, I call on two other Tracker listings, one in Spokane and another in Seattle. Both are already sold. One went sight unseen. There is a bit of a “cult following” for these cars due to their light weight, 4WD, and four-down towing capability. I am quickly learning that the phrase, “It would cost more to repair it than the car is worth” has an entirely different paradigm when it comes to Trackers, as they are selling for far more than their “worth” would appear. Plus, I have brand new brakes on the front and rear, a new battery, and reasonably good tires. Not to mention a few hundred dollars of towing equipment attached and the comfort level to go with it.

Throughout the past 48 hours, I have been in constant contact with my Einstein-like brother Don back in Texas, who has saved me from more perils in life than anyone else. He writes, “I have found you a replacement engine. Find some shade-tree mechanic to disconnect the drive shaft for you so you can keep towing it. It’s easy – four bolts. Then bring it on home; I will swap out the engine for you…”

I have family matters in Texas to attend to at the end of September anyway. Though I had planned to fly, that still means finding a place to stow the rig, airline tickets, and having to pack. Not to mention sleeping on an inflatable air mattress on the floor in my parents home. Maybe it all makes sense.

And thus begins my 1,769 mile, cross-country Walmart marathon…

(On a related note, I would like to thank each of my friends in the blogging community who offered to come to my aid in Montana.  I am deeply touched by your kindness, hospitality, and generousity!)

Freezing my butt off in Butte!

Freezing my butt off in Butte!

Beautiful dusting of snow over the pass just outside of Butte, MT.

Beautiful dusting of snow over the pass just outside of Butte, MT.

Passing the ski areas of 'Big Sky" near Bozeman, MT.

Passing the ski areas of ‘Big Sky” near Bozeman, MT.

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Bizarre cloudburst up ahead.  Thankfully, it moved off before I got there!

Bizarre cloudburst up ahead. Thankfully, it moved off before I got there!

The Tracker is nervous, parked in the Walmart next to the crematorium.  ;-)

The Tracker is nervous, parked in the Walmart next to the crematorium. ;-)

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Wyoming, I barely saw you, but I'll be back!

Wyoming, I barely saw you, but I’ll be back!

Playing "Shoot the Gap" through Denver on a Sunday morning...

Playing “Shoot the Gap” through Denver on a Sunday morning…

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Walmarts along Hwy 287 in Texas have designated truck parking....the earth rumbles.

Walmarts along Hwy 287 in Texas have designated truck parking….the earth rumbles.

A good dose of reality that my towing problems could be much bigger than my Tracker!

A good dose of reality that my towing problems could be much bigger than my Tracker!

14 thoughts on “Montana, You Were the Best of Times, the Worst of Times…

  1. I have had a knot in my stomach ever since the first posting about the tracker….sheesh, I guess this is the reality of life on the road with wheels.

    My new view towing is 5000 lbs, so I bought a new Scion xD, in stead of the honda because of the weight and difference in cost……I sure hope I made the right decision.
    I will have to turn on the engine at 200 miles for the transmission, but it is really hard to find a towable car….seems it should be easier, with all the RV’ers out there.
    I am going to try it without the car for the first year, but know some of the places I want to go on my list will require a separate car. Getting used to one thing at a time, not to mention my new puppy…..what was I thinking? Heart over head for sure!

    Thank goodness for your brother! I’ll bet he even has a white horse….

  2. I can’t believe you left us wondering about whether you are all right!! I guess when it rains, it pours is happening in your life. I so hope you are safely in TX with your family and all things are looking up! I wasn’t happy seeing that last photo.

    Gayle said you may be coming back to Capital Reef if all works out. We are thinking we might get there, also. But we still aren’t sure about week:)

    Thinking of you and hoping all is well:)

  3. You made the right decision… tho you were kinda forced into it :)
    “It could be worse” got me thru a real winter of discontent. Hang on to that line, but I’m praying you don’t need it.
    Box Canyon Mark from Lovely Ouray, Colorado.

  4. OMG that last picture gave me a heart attack. You actually saw a view being towed like that? Oh sigh……… I am SO glad you are fixing your tracker. It’s what I said in the first place. I have first dibs on your brother if you are ever idiot enough to discard him. Talk about saving you $$$$$. He can replace your engine? WOW! is all I can say. I see a happy ending to this saga. But what did the big guy with tattoos say? So glad that one turned out to be 2WD. Your tracker fix was meant to be! I had no idea I was going to have such troubles finding a tow for a View. I don’t like the Honda Fit.

  5. Now you will be 4X big time! Go four it.!
    Love the pix of the ride home.
    Our aging Subaru towing a small trailer decided ENOUGH in the middle of the high desert.
    The rental truck; a robust 3500 provided a laugh every mile rolling home.
    Enjoy your ride!
    We are.!!

  6. Replacing the engine is the best option. The cost will likely be less than getting another vehicle. Plus, you know the condition of the Tracker you already have.

  7. Nice to have a brother..and a good one at that!..I’m the big brother of 3 great sisters…
    You made the right move, you know your Tracker and will be able to back-track to all the places you had to speed-by.
    My Samurai is a 1987 and I’m never parting with it….Keeps following me wherever I go…..For the past 8 years…
    Best to you,
    David

  8. Linda — How exciting for you to be embarking on this journey! I don’t know much about the Scion, but you are fortunate to have the additional towing capacity. I am certain you and your new puppy have some exciting adventures ahead!

    Lisa — Yes, a roller coaster is a good way to describe it! And it continues. But today, I think I am on the free wheelin’ ride down the last big hill, finally!

    Pam — thanks so much for the comment, and all the good hiking advice via the “Oh the Places” blog! I hope to catch up with you guys in Capitol Reef, but if I don’t make it there in time, I will hopefully see you somewhere in the area soon!

    BC Mark — Thanks so much for all your support and advice through my Tracker Trauma!

    Dave — Footloose is gonna feel more fancy-free than ever!

    Sherry — I am not a big fan of the Honda Fit either. Just no personality. 😉 Although their storage space in back is impressive. There are lots of Trackers out there, you just have to be careful that all the right criteria line up! THANK GOODNESS, yes, for my “Libra ways” that make me a lousy impulse buyer!

    Sondra — Thanks so much for the comment!

    Rand — Sorry about the Subaru! Wish I could “afford” one of those weight-wise!

    Sherry and Susie Wade — My two “friends to the rescue!” I owe you both private emails (and dinner!) as soon as I get the grease out from under my fingernails!!

    SWade — See above

    Pleinguy — Thanks for the support and encouragement. I feel good about the decision, fingers crossed!

    UpRiverDavid — I didn’t know you were part of the “Suzuki Family!” You will like the photos I have coming up next. 😉

    Contessa — Mi Amiga — Mine is just a car….nothing like the journey you are on now with your Dad. I think about you often, and hope you are finding strength!! Besos!

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