COAL – 1986 Ford Escort Pony – First Car Four Speed Fun (Part 2)

Within the Petrified Forest, AZ. Might 1996.

It was winter of 1995-96 and I used to be nicely into my first yr at Corning Group School. I used to be deeply unhappy at my post-high faculty decisions (or lack thereof). Most of my shut pals had gone off to undergraduate faculties and seemed to be having a blast. My Escort and I incessantly visited several of my buddies, together with Okay. who had gone off to Colgate University. Colgate was a brief two-hour drive from Horseheads and even with roads in winter circumstances, I didn’t thoughts making the drive to visit her. Whereas I had minimize my road-going driving tooth on rear-wheel-drive automobiles, my Escort had ceaselessly bought me on the virtues of front-wheel-drive for everyday driving, especially in snow and ice.

By this time my Escort had properly over 120,000 miles on it and the unique engine was getting slightly tired. It additionally wanted a water pump, new clutch and most importantly a brand new timing belt. As luck would have it (no less than on my half), considered one of my father’s co-worker’s son lately been in a minor accident in his ’87 Escort wagon. The automotive was totaled because of successful to the rear finish, but the engine and transmission have been in good form. Did I mention that it was a five-speed transmission?

After driving my girlfriend’s ’88 Escort with a five-speed I firmly believed that the extra gear would enhance the driving expertise of my Escort. After my blistering top-speed run from earlier within the yr attested velocity wasn’t the actual challenge, however the engine felt busy at freeway speeds with only 4 gears. My father was more than recreation to yank the engine out of the ’87 and do all of the work wanted (water pump, timing belt, and so on) and simply swap the engine and transmission. This was made a lot easier by the fact that my father had a single-post hydraulic raise in his storage.

Years later when scrap metallic was at an all-time excessive we dug the engine out from the weeds and scrapped it.

Simultaneously with the engine swap, Okay. and I have been hatching a plan to drive cross country collectively once our Freshman yr of school was over. Our friendship had started to float apart by this time and I used to be deeply saddened by this flip of occasions. It was natural in fact, as she was making new associates from everywhere in the nation and I used to be stuck in our hometown. A street journey appeared to be an ideal concept to rekindle our friendship.

We both diligently saved our cash and plotted our trip. This may be my first solo cross-country journey and I used to be excited beyond perception. With the extra cog within the gearbox, I was positive to have the ability to run at high-speeds as Western highways demanded with ease! Our departure date was set for Might 10, 1996. Okay. was unable to drive a normal transmission automotive so I used to be left to do 95% of the driving, but I didn’t mind. We packed the hatch of the automotive with all the essential camping gear, including a green canvas umbrella tent that my mother and father had used 20 years prior on a cross nation street trip of their own.

The first day noticed us make it from Horseheads to Columbus, OH the place we stayed with Okay’s grandparents. This is able to be the final time we might sleep indoors till Oakland, CA 11 days on. New York State was simply exiting the dark days of a strict 55 mph limit, so with each state westward the velocity limit regularly inched larger. By the point we hit Missouri I had came upon that my additional gear didn’t actually do a lot to reinforce my high-speed driving. In truth, it seemed like the ultimate drive of the five-speed transmission was lower, thereby making the engine rev even greater at 70 mph. This might all be in my head because the reminiscences are approaching 25 years previous, however I recall feeling like I was all carried out at 80 mph, which was a shame once we obtained out to Texas and Oklahoma where the large open expanses referred to as for 85+ mph cruising.

My first time legally driving 75 mph!

As we made our means westward on I-40 I observed that one of the purple idiot lights on the dashboard began glowing ominously. All of these years later I can’t keep in mind precisely which one it was, but I knew sufficient to stop the automotive and call my mechanic (i.e. my father). Whereas we had a 90’s fashion “bag phone” with us, because the invoice for utilizing the telephone was outrageous I discovered a pay telephone to make the decision. After some verbal analysis and a quick examine of the fluids in the automotive, my dad determined that it was a “winter” thermostat that he had put in the automotive to help it warm up quicker in the cold NY winter months. He declared I wasn’t in any danger of destroying my engine, however that I ought to take it straightforward and stop when the light came on for a bit to see if that helped.

A few minutes within the baking solar ought to chill the automotive down, proper? You can too see the primer on the automotive that coated the rust that had already started to grab the Escort at this point. One afternoon I got here out to the storage to see my father’s proud handiwork – sandblasting the rust and portray it with primer. He swore that he would comply with up with a coat of white…are you able to guess if that ever occurred?

Along with stopping every time the light came on, I also removed the grille to extend the airflow to the radiator every so slightly. There have been a couple of events in New Mexico and Arizona where it was so blisteringly scorching that I additionally turned the heat on full blast. The air was so scorching that it actually didn’t make a distinction to the passengers in the automotive, however I wish to assume it helped the automotive run a bit cooler. It was on one in every of these road-side stops that we have been virtually run over by a house, a story I never tire of telling. Half of a double-wide trailer was being towed in the westbound lane of the freeway. Because the truck and house crested the small hill that we have been also stopped on, I happened to look into my rear-view mirror to see the wind pushing the house over to the median. I simply managed to start out the automotive and move a number of ft extra to the aspect of the street. Okay. noticed the home fly by my open window and stated to me, in astonishment, “Did you see that? We almost got hit by a house!”

You possibly can see how the hood was bent ever so slightly in this photograph.

We stopped at the Continental Divide, Petrified Forest, and Meteor Crater alongside the best way earlier than ultimately making it to our first actual stopping level, the Grand Canyon. It had taken us five and a half days to get this far and I was glad for the pause. We spent a day and a half resting and wandering across the southern rim of the Canyon, and the KOA we have been staying at had a scorching tub that we enjoyed beneath the clear starry night time skies. We additionally related with two other associates (from Illinois) who have been additionally on a cross country street trip. They have been going to be in the San Fransisco bay area the identical time we have been, so we made plans to satisfy up a couple of days later.

That is what occurs if you overlook to shut the drain plug on the cooler. Fortunately the air was so dry and arid that the automotive and camping gear dried out in a matter of minutes.

On the afternoon of the second day at the Grand Canyon, we departed for Las Vegas. Our plan was to stop in Vegas for dinner and then head as much as San Fransisco by way of Dying Valley beneath the duvet (and coolness) of night time. Since we have been both solely 19 years previous we might go into the casinos however only to the restaurants. We wandered around for a while, gawking on the glitz and glamour of the casinos after which had dinner. By this time we heard warnings of flash-floods in Dying Valley, so we opted to take US 95 by means of Tonopah up to Reno and then cross over the Sierra Nevadas at Donner Cross. It was not until years later once I drove on the same route that I came upon simply how lovely that a part of Nevada was. In 1996 all I knew was that I needed to work the Escort arduous on the lengthy uphill route coming out of Vegas. We made it as far as a mud pull off north of Reno at around four AM earlier than I had to cease and rest. We slept within the automotive for a couple of hours after which pressed on over the mountains and down into the Bay Space.

By the time we made it to San Fransisco correct, I used to be exhausted in a method I had by no means been before. I might come to know this sense many occasions over the course of street journeys since then, but at the time the fatigue from driving for therefore lengthy was new to me. We have been staying with Okay’s second cousin and his household in San Fransisco, so I immediately crashed on the couch whereas Okay. received a tour of San Fransisco. Whereas I used to be asleep my Escort acquired a parking ticket (which to today I’ve never paid), and I missed out on seeing most of San Fransisco. I had been there once earlier than in 1984 however I was sad that I didn’t get an opportunity to wander around a lot myself. The very next day, Might 21st, we have been to satisfy up with our new pals from the Grand Canyon. As is typical for Bay Space climate, the 21st dawned damp, foggy and wet. We have been staying at the Hearth Inn (and as of 2018 this motel was nonetheless there, but luckily closed). Regardless of the weather the four of us had a enjoyable night stepping into shenanigans in Oakland, CA.

After bidding our buddies goodbye and agreeing to satisfy up of their hometown of Chicago, we headed north on I-5 to Eugene OR to visit a pal of Okay’s from Colgate. This drive was uneventful and unmemorable as we have been on the interstate and lacking a lot of the lovely surroundings of Northern California. Eugene can be the turning level for our journey, as every mile from right here on out can be bringing us nearer to house. By this time we had coated virtually four,200 miles and I assumed it was a good suggestion to cease for an oil change at a quick change store. The store effectively did an L-O-F and I had solely delicate reservations that the kid beneath the automotive that was no older than me remembered to tighten the whole lot and fill every thing correctly.

The Escort resting in Eugene OR earlier than our turn eastward.

We headed east into Idaho and up into mountainous terrain. We noticed our second snow (the first was crossing the Sierra Nevadas) and stopped to have a snowball battle. By the point we stopped in Twin Falls ID the climate had warmed up enough that we weren’t freezing chilly, but we might hit snow again the subsequent day while crossing into Wyoming. While buzzing by means of Wyoming, Okay. and I have been confronted with something you never see on the East Coast: a cattle drive. On the street we have been driving on. I shortly stomped on the brakes and sat immobile in the midst of the street as a good-sized herd of cows surrounded the Escort and continued on their method westward. Of everybody concerned, the cows have been much more unfazed than Okay. and I have been.

Bumper stickers embrace Ron Jon’s Surf Store, WINK 106 radio station, Legoland, and a few more I can’t recall.

Whereas buzzing by way of Wyoming, Okay. and I have been confronted with one thing you never see on the East Coast: a cattle drive. On the very street we have been driving on. I shortly stomped on the brakes and sat immobile in the midst of the street as a small herd of cows surrounded the Escort and continued on their approach westward. Of everyone concerned, the cows have been much more unfazed than Okay. and I have been.

This was no unfastened herd of cows, you possibly can clearly see the cowboys on both aspect driving them alongside the street.

After a quick stop at Devils Tower, we continued on by way of South Dakota. An obligatory cease at Wall Drug was the only fascinating thing that happened between Wyoming and Chicago, have been we met again up for the third (and last) time with our Grand Canyon associates. We all went into Chicago for the day and had a pleasant time wandering around Navy Pier. By this time, Okay. and I have been drained and cranky from driving virtually each day for the previous 14 days. It was on the fifteen day of the journey that we had our first major battle, a battle that might sadly lead us to end our friendship shortly after we returned from the trip. One final nights stick with another school good friend of Okay’s noticed us get up on the morning of Might 27th and determine we needed to be executed with the trip and get residence. I drove straight by means of the 27th and on into the 28th, arriving back in Horseheads mid-day on the final day.


We had traveled 7,114 miles in 27 days. The Escort consumed 238 gallons of fuel at a total value of $323.37, and averaged 29.8 mpg. The very best worth for fuel we paid was $1.72 in Tonopah, NV and the most cost effective was in Cuba, MO at $1.11. My little Escort held up remarkably nicely with no major faults or flaws. The overheating challenge had gone away as soon as we reached cooler temperatures and it never faltered or failed to start out.

This might be the swan track for my Escort. I had applied to 4 totally different state faculties that spring and had been accepted by all four. I picked SUNY Oswego, and after a summer time of working to avoid wasting money headed off to “real” school and dorm dwelling. The Escort would go together with me and would ferry me the two hours many occasions in winter climate however the automotive’s days have been numbered. Winter street salt had eaten away the rear shock towers (and repairs with fiberglass have been solely going to last so long). By the summer time of 1997, I used to be finished with the Escort. My father stored it on the street for his winter beater for an additional yr and a half, and the final time I ever drove that automotive was on the flip of the Millenium (’99 to ’00). I estimate that I put around 60,000 miles on it throughout my 5 years possession which is pretty good for a highschool kid that didn’t actually go anyplace.

By that time I had moved on to my next beater automotive, but Walter didn’t disappear on a ship sure for China to be made into razor blades.

Winter, 2003.

Summer time, 2018.

Walter still rests behind one in every of my father’s barns in Upstate NY. There’s more than likely nothing left of the automotive immediately, however I can’t convey myself to shift it to the scrapyard. Part of me thinks of all of the I  superb reminiscences I made on this automotive that it appears a shame to let it go, and a part of me likes to have the ability to say “Yes! I still have my first car!”. I’ve visions of rescuing it, however with each passing yr I understand just how futile that effort can be. Now I’m considering that I will rescue no matter elements I can as mementos and perhaps use them on a clear ’86 Escort. However for now, my Escort patiently waits to be reclaimed by somebody, or something. Maintaining my previous automobiles would develop into a harmful behavior for me, as you will notice in future entries on my COAL.