Now that the trans leak was resolved, I figured it would be cool to venture out into the unknown parts of central Wyoming. I hadn’t been through here before, and I thought there would be some interesting things to see. I didn’t realize just how remote this state is. It’s about the same density is southern Alaska. There were no towns or cities for hundreds of miles. Now I know why people stick to the interstates.
We did finally find a “town” called Farson, but it’s basically just a couple buildings. There was a Mercantile Store with some ice cream and souvinirs, but that was about it. We filled up the grease and started to head out on the road to SLC.
Then something caught my eye. It was a placard denoting one of the stops of the Pony Express! Wow. What a find.
Turns out it was worth the hundreds of miles out of the way after all.
Still waiting for my van to get fixed at Northwest Auto, we decided to go for a walk to downtown Gillette. Being such a small town, it doesn’t take that much to walk over to the main CBD.
Eventually, we got to the two main museums in town. The second was the Frontier Relics and Auto Museum. Quite a nice little place, containing a bunch of old memorabilia and old cars. The decor is nice too.
They even had a kids place, for the little runts to climb up into a loft and let the dad’s venture out into uncharted territories.
They said we were supposed to supervise our kids, but here’s one of them waving us goodbye. I call it time to get some alone time.
Check out this sweet drying rack for old timey camping.
There was a bunch more stuff, but I don’t have any pictures. They even had movie showings in the afternoon on a small projector, but we were running short on time. We had to end here and get lunch at a Mexican restaurant in town. Of course, we got ice cream too.
Well, we got to our hotel in Rapids City, spent the night, and left in the morning for different locations. I was concerned about my transmission fluid, so I didn’t want to go to Mount Rushmore like the other family wanted to do. They also wanted to go up to Devil’s Tower, but since I’ve been to both of those places about 6 times now, I just wanted to keep my van on the main highways until I knew this trans issue was ok.
Turns out my plan was the right course of action, because while driving across Wyoming, my trans started slipping in Gillette. I pulled off in an abandoned lot, and it was shot. I limped the van over to a nearby hotel, dropped off the family, and limped it over to a nearby shop. Gotta give credit to Northwest Auto Repair shop, who not only got my van that day, but finished the repair in just one day (turned out to be a front main seal on the C6 that went out).
So we were stuck in the town of Gillette for a few days. Not the worst thing, because this town has a few things to do, and it’s small enough to get around town by walking. Not a problem, because our friends heard about our predicament, and they wrapped up their visit to Devil’s Tower to spend more time with us. Nice.
We reunited at this Indian restaurant. This was a real treat. I love Indian food, but it’s hard to find any ethnic food in the flyover country. This place was right next to our house, and we went over to get a good meal for once.
The naan was amazing.
Pretty much all the food was amazing. I don’t think the people in Gillette realize just how good that food is in their own town. And it should have lines out the door.
Now that we have both families here in Gillette for the two days, we decided to make the best of it. Eating good food and visiting the museums here in Gillette until the van is repaired. I’m sure Glenn could’ve dropped the trans on his belly and swapped out that main seal with his pinky finger, but since we had a bunch of family around, it was just easier to have the guys at Northwest do it. And they gave a very reasonable price.
The Corn Palace is a tourist trap in the middle of nowhere South Dakota. It’s one of those things that I’ve visited on several roadtrips (1993, 2003, 2000’s, 2016, etc) because it’s there. I recall being a 12 year old kid, on the tour of the facility, calling out the docent on how the structure isn’t made of corn. But the truth is, the facade is, and that’s just ok, I guess.
We stopped here to let the kids out and I drove my van to a nearby shop. One of my tires got out of balance on the drive, and it was really vibrating. They sold me a few new tires to make up for the blown tire from the other day and the new unbalanced tire that just occured. After a tour of the Palace museum and got some BBQ lunch, the tires were done and we’re ready to roll to Rapids City.
BACK TO THE CONVOY, ACROSS THE USA!!!
We met up with our travel companions this morning at the good ol’ Souix Falls. We visited here on a previous WVO roadtrip with them in the veggie van, but this time we have two vans and we are convoying it back to Southern California.
It was nice to see our friends after separating for a full month. They were visiting family out east, and this was our reunion site. We have better pictures of this place from the 2016 or 2017 roadtrip, but I don’t have them on my computer at the moment.
One bad thing happened though. As we let the van sit, some trans fluid dripped out of the flywheel cover. I wasn’t too concerned, since it was a small amount, but this hadn’t happened before. I’ll keep an eye on this for the time being.
I know Glenn and I are smartasses and make a mockery of everything we touch, but here’s one of the moments where I’m gunna get serious. My mom found this suggestion of a man who made a bunch of metal sculptures on his farm, and said we should check it out. Little did I know just how impressive this site is.
The artist’s name is Arnie Lillo and he’s got a very expansive sculpture garden containing such diverse topics as the Bible, Jesse James, and his wife’s memorial. My mom recalled some Hill family ancestors from this area of Minnesota back in the times of Jesse James, and when we read Arnie’s plackards, we found a few people with the Hill last name. Maybe we have ancestry mentioned in these exhibits.
We got there just before dark, which is good because I suspect it would’ve been hard to appreciate the grounds if it wasn’t light out. Not only that, this is a private residence, and I suspect Arnie doesn’t like families running around his sculptures at night. We meandered around, appreciating his artwork.
As with all roadtrips and kids, we needed a bathroom break. The artist himself came out to visit with us, and he even let my daughter use his facilities. Really nice guy.
He even had a fancy rotational wind turbine manufactured in front of his shop. I could probably spend a few hours here just checking out his craftsmanship, talking to the guy, and seeing his shop, but unfortunately, the sun was setting and we had to make it all the way to Souix Falls.
Thanks for the hospitality Arnie!
First stop on the way back to Los Angeles, turned out to be an impromptu stop at Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store.
I don’t have any pictures of the Wonka wonderland, but it was a lot of candy. I forgot to mention, while on the first 60 miles of road, we got a huge explosive rear flat tire, that F’ed up my rear quarter and turned my metal mudflap into a crinkled piece of scrap.
Anyway, back to the Minnesota candy place. It was so crowded and in the middle Michelle Bachmann country, that it probably should’ve been called the Covid candy store, but oh well. We got our taffy and caramel apples and got the heck out of dodge.
Glenn and I have this knack for being in the right place at the right time on these trips, no matter how bad things are going. This roadtrip was odd, because as we were limping the van back to Mosinee, we happened to drive passed the Balloon Festival currently in progress. Great timing.
Not only did we have the good fortune to get close to the balloons, we did it from the west, which is the least common way to cruise through the remote festival. Probably a few thousand cars were in gridlock from the east, but we cruised passed with only moderate stoppage.
Then we traversed north and east as the balloons drifted over us.
We stopped off at my dad’s to take a break from the 4-hour drive from Carlton, MN. Another coincidence was his house was in the path of these balloons trajectories. We chatted with him for a bit about the oil issue, and then we borrowed his car to take my van to the shop. Then we pulled the oil filter to inspect the canister.
Glenn suggested we cut open the filter, just to see if maybe one of the bearings had spun (mechanic-speak for the bearing deteriorating) and maybe that would account for our low oil pressure and consumption. At this point, we’d try anything.
Good and bad news, the filter didn’t have any particles. We then decided to rent a diesel compression tester and check for bad compression. Good and bad news, we had perfect compression (all numbers over 400 psi) on a hot engine. Good and bad news is actually worse than just knowing the bad news.
Now we’re really in a pickle. Good compression, no significant smoke, no oil coming out of the turbo bearings, no particles in the oil filter….. What the hell could this be. We just assumed it has to be a bad engine block or head, and that’ll have to wait till I get back to my shop in Los Angeles. The new plan is to modify the engine in ways that simplify driving the van back to L.A. Glenn’s super spiffy idea was to rig up a clean cubie with diesel crankcase oil, and have a fuel pump push one or two quarts of oil into the crankcase every 100-150 miles. We set it up with using the filler cap and a hose bib with JB Weld. Looks good, and it worked really well.
Time to stop dinking around northern Minnesota, and get our asses back to Central Wisconsin.
Passed through Carlton on the border. Hit the gas.
Rivers. Rivers everywhere. Maybe this is the St Croix. IDK. At this point, if we don’t start hammerin’ down now, we won’t be home till super late.
Crossed into Wisconsin. I didn’t realize all these little roads up here really are a maze of wilderness.
Upon entering Cloquet, Glenn contacted a coworker who was actually from this town, and inquired on where was the best place to eat. This dude recommended Gordy’s Hi Hat, a local burger/hot dog place. We drove passed and there were something like 14,000 people in line, so we drove over to the nearby FLW gas station to kill some time.
Well, that killed like 7 minutes so we returned to see now there are maybe 17,050 people in line. Maybe it’s a good sign that the food will be decent since apparently all the people from Carlton County are eating here today.
The food arrived, and it was comparable to Pink’s Hot Dogs in Hollywood. OK. But not really worth waiting in line for an hour.
Regardless, our fat-asses ate up all that junkfood faster than a pig in mammies titties.
Look at Glenn, drinking a freaking milkshake with his food. Sheesh.
One thing I know Glenn really really really likes is the architect Franklin Wright. He always gets quiet with what some misconstrue as rage every time I book a visit for his favorite architectural historical spots. He rarely even speaks to me about this other than to mutter what I assume to be comment of utter respect for the genius.
This trip was special because we got to find a FLW gas station. Not only that, but the only FLW gas station still in use today.
Our vehicles run on WVO, so we won’t be filling up the tank today. But we decided to stop off and see the building.
Much to our surprise, the owner let us up into the top, where there was a small lookout tower and couple of restrooms. Some woman got stranded in the bathroom because Glenn messed up the lock. Also, he destroyed it with his butthole.
Frank did have a cool idea with the gas station. He originally wanted the pumps to be dangled from the overhang, so there wouldn’t be any kiosks or stands in the path of the vehicles. Kind of a neat idea, except the dummies at the city planning dept put the kibash on that little ditty.
We made it! Well sorta. We made it to a swampy boggy area considered to be the start of the Mississippi River. First we had to drive around Bemindji, and get to the Bear Den Forest Road.
It was a dirt/gravel road in the middle of nowhere Minnesota.
I recall it going on for about 3 miles before we got to a cul de sac.
Off to the left was the path to the river.
We threw the van into park and headed over. Thankfully, it was designed for Americans, so we only had to walk about 30 feet. I’ve been to other state and national parks were they made us walk over 100 ft, and that’s just ridiculous.
Pretty small river. Maybe 10 feet across. If Glenn sat his obese ass into the water, it’d flood the nearby town of Bemindji.
The river winds and turns a bunch. I bet it’d be nice to canoe down, but we didn’t have the equipment.
We left the hood open on the van to let the engine cool a bit. We figured we check the oil after an hour to see if the oil problem resolved.
While hanging out in the wilderness, a guy on an UTV saw our hood open, and thought we were in distress. He headed over with his friend to check up on us. Nice guy, but we just said we were letting the engine cool before we start putting our hands and arms in to check the fluids.
Glenn found supper.
Well, trip done. Super easy. Time to head back home. (Just kidding, we’re going back to the hotel for the night, and getting a pizza).
More to come.
Well holy crap. I never would’ve guessed someone actually famous lived up here in the northwoods of Wisconsin or Minnesota. I kinda figured it was mostly just people in my family and slackjawed yokels up here. Turns out a little known girl named Frances Gumm used to do vaudeville or circus or cabaret or whatever it was called back when dinosaurs roamed the Earff. She changed her name to Judy Garland when she wanted to be famous. Crazy.
Well, we did some engine work in a nearby parking lot and decided to get a hotel for the night. Turns out our hotel was next door to Judy’s old house. Might as well check this out.
The museum is adjacent to the old building. I can’t recall if it actually was her house or some kind of reproduction. They had an air-conditioned corridor to connect the buildings, so thank god and the baby jesus. Walking over to the house, there were all sorts of exhibits about Judy and her past. They had a bunch of stuff from some movie called “The Wizard of Oz.” Here was a carriage.
The ruby slippers were supposed to be silver, IIRC, but who knows. It’s one of those things a PhD in media research would have to look into, because I don’t have the cognitive capacity to google it.
Have to remember, if you want to bring in the conservatives, you should show exhibits that have blackface. I wish I could have a gal that looks at me the way Judy looks at racial stereotypes. Sigh.
After the gauntlet of vaudeville, archaic ethnic humor, child labor violations, overlooked child rape, and blackface memorabilia, we finally got to the house. Pretty nice set up.
It had an upstairs and downstairs. Had that old house smell. Reminded me a place I used to live at on Grand Avenue in Wausau near the Channel 7.
Now that we killed some time, we figured we could drive over to the headwaters before it got dark. Onward!
After driving up the river roads all the way from south of Minneapolis, we cruised into the small town of Grand Rapids MN.
Upon entering the town, we crossed the dwindling Mississippi River again…
… and then got to downtown really fast.
We parked at a nearby gas station to get some deodorant and dinner, and checked the oil again. Sure enough, all the fixes we did to the engine in Mosinee and Brainard did not fix the problem. We still had an oil consumption issue. We pulled off the doghouse and made a call to Hypermax.
Hypermax seemed very fixated on the turbo drain tube. There is a flexible tube (shown under the turbo in the image above), that allows all the oil used to lubricate the rotation of the turbine to return to the crankcase. Hypermax insisted that our tube didn’t have enough flow, either by not having enough holes in the valley pan or by the tube butting up against the bottom plate. Both would allow the oil to back up to the bearing surfaces, and force a mist of oil into the intake, consuming the engine oil.
We spent the good part of the afternoon disassembling the turbo tube there and bending it up in a “Z” shape that would ensure the flow would not be butted up against the valley pan, especially since we had personally awled the holes in the pan ourselves when we did the engine rebuild back in 2018.
We had to make a decision. Try to push on to the Headwaters, or find a place to rest for the night. We elected to do both, but with the understanding that if our latest fix to the oil consumption problem didn’t work, then we’d just stay the night in Grand Rapids and make a more direct route back to Mosinee to abort the trip down to Louisiana.
So we’re cruising through the metropolis of “Palisade” Minnesota, and we stumble upon a protest currently underway.
We tend to have this kind of luck on all our roadtrips. We were there in Crawford, Texas, when the Cindy Sheehan protests were underway. Somehow, we don’t have a picture of that craziness. IT was wild. We ended up getting on a crude bus with a bunch of hippies and elderly civil rights activists, and got stranded at the remote protest site.
It was really easy getting out there to the protest, but really hard convincing someone to drive you back. It took hours.
So now that we drove up on the 2021 protest site for the Water Protectors, we weren’t too keen on getting out to investigate.
I didn’t want to get on another hippie-painted former-school bus, be driven out the mosquito-laiden hills along the Mississippi headwaters, only to be stranded at a protest with Whole Foods organic-brand bug spray and quinoa.
Maybe their protests had hamburgers. Maybe they had ribs. I wouldn’t know. We made an executive decision to power on.
If you have the fortitude to go down to the river to pray, more power to you. Resist the LINES! !
Go Water Protectors!
We weren’t even going to stop in Aitkin, except Glenn found an “Unclaimed Freight” store and thought he might have a source for a crate of double-headed dildos. He forced me to stop immediately, and turn into the lot. Sadly, the store didn’t have any bulk quantity items at a discounted rate for him.
He decided to drive for a while to make up some ground.
Next thing we see are a bunch of dirty hippies protesting at the city hall in Aitkin. They don’t want Lines.
They love their water protectors. And Wild Rice too.
Sweet deer costume. I’d put that away in November though, you don’t want to be around the blaze-orange drunk types.
Another crossing of the Mississippi River. It’s getting smaller.
Our first day drive ended in a rest area in central Minnesota. We’re getting old now, and it’s easier just to rest for a few hours than drive forever. We parked the van around 1 or 2 am, and got some rest.
The rest area has its usual ubiquitous Paul Bunyan paraphernalia.
When we returned to the van, there was a small spot of some clear oily liquid.
We figured out one of the diesel return lines sprung a slight leak.
Glenn proceeded to do his geriatric calisthenics.
His form and body odor was … unsettling.
Sadly, our fixes in Mosinee didn’t resolve the oil consumption issues. We had to add several quarts.
Since we had bought a new CDR, we figured this would be a decent place to change it out. If the crankcase pressure was working its way through a weakened CDR, then installing a new one might fix the oil consumption.
Shiny Motorcraft CDR. ooooooo.
After filling up the grease, Glenn found a rotted squirrel in the trash. A good omen.
On to Brainerd to pick up some more oil. If it keeps going the way it is, we’ll need a few gallons to wrap up the trip. Thankfully, they had a Fleet. I would be lost without good ol’ Fleet.
Stocked up and heading along the river.
We’ll end up crossing the river several times in the next hundred of miles.
We’ve been to Brainerd several times. I think in 2017 and other times as well.
It’s irresponsible to teach blue oxen to go scuba diving. They are too buoyant.
On to Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
After a few days of tinkering with the van and trying to diagnose the excessive oil consumption issue, we got on the road in the evening. Glenn warned me that we might get BLM’ed once we get to the Cities, but I blithely disregarded that nonsense.
Cruised to the junction of the St Croix and Mississippi river, so that we could follow Highway 12 all the way up through the Twin Cities along the river. Well, as close as we could.
Ended up driving passed stadium along the way.
The city was all lit up in the distance.
Then it happened. We got BLM’ed. There was some kind of murder or memorial at a gas station, and all the BLM’s were blocking the road to the river that we had planned to visit. It was wild. We tried to jump the curb, but it was no use. Then we took a right and a left and a right and a left, until we reached a long dark roadway down a hill.
To our surprise, it ended at a boat landing in the middle of the city. We got to go right up to the Mississippi river in the middle of downtown. Pretty cool coincidence.
Unfortunately, it was really really dark down there, so I didn’t have any light. Whenever we used a fleshlight to brighten things up, it attracted too many mosquitoes, and also, all the cars full of fornicating youths got really upset and stormed off. We kind of blew up their spot. Nothing to worry about, we gotta get on the road to Brainard.
We made it to Wisconsin! I was burning a bit too much oil at this point, and it was a bit concerning, but from here, I could get a free tow back to Wausau if I really needed it. We crossed the Mississippi river which is the point of the trip later in the month.
It’s already pretty large by Iowa, so it’ll be interesting to see just how small it gets at the headwaters.
On to Culvers asap! Gotta get some food and fill up the grease near Dodgeville.
I’ve been through Nebraska at least a thousand times, and I apparently never knew they built a tower in the prairie to oversee the dozens of train lines that come together in North Platte.
I told the kids, “Buckle your belts because we are going to the train tower!” and we were off. Then I got pulled over in Hershey (not the one in Pennsylvania, thankfully, because that one sucks) because I was going faster than an armadilla in sunlight. Got a warning for speeding, then we were off like a herd of turtles to the Golden Spike Tower.
The tower is 8 stories tall, and I told the kids, “elevators are for chumps. Let’s roll.” We sprinted up the steps and they all got winded by the 4th floor.
No one told me the top of the tower is X-rated. All they had were dioramas and signs with explicit shit like “Humping” and “Retarded” stuff.
It was grotesque and vulgar. I would never endorse this kind of behavior for children.
Also, I work with a mentally-challenged co-creator of this website, and it’s offensive to hear train operators and museum tour guides use such vulgarity so flippantly. Shame.
I was so offended, I didn’t even take a picture of the train tracks. I instead turned my camera back to my van, situated in the lot. We lost one of the kids in the complex and made mac-and-cheese in the parking lot. Overall, it was a good day.
Apparently back in the Protozoic Era or whatever, there was this president called Abe Lincoln. He apparently built this interstate highway during the Revolutionary War or something, so they erected a memorial for him.
The sign said this was the highest point, but I didn’t even feel a buzz. Must be some weak shit.
The sculptor really captured his face really well, and his box-shaped torso. Honest Abe must’ve been built like a linebacker.
We stopped off here to pee. Not literally here in this picture, but at a portion of the monument labeled “Restroom.”
After stopping in SLC for the evening, we drove our Ford Econoline convoy across the U-S-A, CONVOY!
Needed a place to fill up the ol’ grease tank, so we stopped in Green River, Wyoming. They have a free history museum to let the kids stretch their legs across this huge, desolate state.
Dad history stuff.
Turns out there was some kind of asian rebellion in this area a thousand years ago. Pretty interesting. It’s the same old story, some immigrants get the shaft, wealthy people make the rules, pit the poorer groups against each other. The national guard or army had to be brought in to keep the peace.
After a one-year hiatus due to the Covids, we returned to WVO roadtrippin’ in 2021! It was a short trip this time, only totalling 5268 miles, and we were confined to the borders of the United States. No trip to Canada for poutine this year.
After an early start at 2am, we got through Vegas before traffic got bad, and we stopped for a picnic breakfast. Then it was off to St George to visit the Rosenbruch World Wildlife Museum.
This museum has a great collection. All sorts of animals and critters mounted throughout the grounds.
Name this band?
These photos only cover maybe one-tenth of all the mounted and stuffed animals here.
There were so many that I didn’t recognize most of the exotic animals. A great place to learn more about mammals. On to SLC.
An important site in the history of America is Independence Rock. This out-of-place rock was the predictor of potential success for the thousands of wagon trains that headed up the Oregon Trail. The conventional wisdom was, if you can make it to Independence Rock by the date of July 4 (Independence Day), then you have enough time to traverse the Rocky Mountain passes before the autumn storms and snow hits. If you get to the rock too late, you are SOL.
So if you are driving the exceedingly remote State Road 220 through Wyoming, make time to visit the infamous rock. There is a walkway to allow people to circumambulate the behemoth and get really close. The rock is vandalized by hundreds of 19th century travelers, carving their names and dates into the stone in archaic fonts from the old days.
On the 2021 Roadtrip….
We returned to this remote site on the 2021 trip. Pretty much exactly the same as we left it 8 years ago.
Lots more mosquitoes this time… be careful walking through the grass. I’m kinda confused how green grass grows out here in late July, but it’s green alright. Maybe it’s high altitude.
Walked up to the rock again. Can’t believe it was 8 years. Feels like yesterday we stopped here.
This time we really examined the carvings in the side. Neat stuff. Real history.
See you again in 8 years….
We’ve been to the Badlands on several of these trips. It’s one of the quintessential national parks in the western United States. It’s a must stop if you are cruising the I-90.
We stopped here in 2013, 2015, and we even stopped here in 2004 before we even got started with the biofuel fun. Eons ago, back when I was a tiny lad, I stopped here with my family on my first westward road trip in 1993. It was places like this that inspired me to be a traveler.
In 2013, we pulled over here on the Badlands Scenic Drive, because my 2-year-old got car sick. We just ate at the Badlands diner at the entrance, and then took the curvy and windy road amongst the hills. I guess it was too much for the little girl, and she blew chunks. Just by coincidence, I was in the back of the van with her playing a game, and I had the “fortune” of being able to catch the vomit in my hand and throw it out the window. Not my idea of a fun day, but at least we didn’t to wash puke out of the carpet.
It rained later that day, so most of the chunks got washed off on the road. Memorable times….
On to 2021….
We were on the epic 2021 convoy roadtrip with our California family, we stopped through the Badlands again.
It was already after 5pm, so all the museums, gift shops, and sites were closed up. We did get to drive the main road, and stop off at a few places to climb up and around the formations.
The kids decided to be the camera-guys on this venture.
Eventually, I had to pull over and fill up the old grease tank. We inspected the trans leak, and it appeared to be ok. There was still a drip, but it seemed to stop when idling. Hard to tell if it was draining while at highway speeds.
On to Rapids City to find the hotel.
In 2008 and 2010…
No time to stop in SLC. We need to make up for lost ground doing repairs in Mesquite. Onward to northern Montana.
In 2013 and 2021…
Basically, every single time I go to SLC, I have to stop at the best Mexican restaurant on the planet: The Red Iguana.
It’s hard to explain just how amazing and flavorful this place is.
That was pretty much the end of the 2021 roadtrip. We ate some food and decided to make the last stretch from Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California back to LA.
On to the next roadtrip in 2022. Maybe we’ll finally finish the entire Mississippi River. Who knows.
2013, 2015, 2021
2008, 2010, 2013, 2021