Monday, June 10, 2013

The Stage Stop and Other Adventures

Ekstrom's Stage Stop
From Coeur d'Alene, we followed I-90 across the Idaho Panhandle and into Montana. This stretch took us into the Rocky Mountains and we ended just short of the great divide. We drove past Missoula about 20 miles to the little town of Clinton and then to a small RV Park called Ekstrom's Stage Stop. The Ekstrom family acquired several early settlers log cabins and part of an overland stage rest station, dismantled them log by log and reassembled them along the banks of Rock Creek. They marked the ends of each log with chalk coding so they would know how to put them back together. Unfortunately, after the cabins were disassembled some major thunderstorms rumbled through the area and washed away the chalk numbering, so reassembling the cabins became something of a 3-D jigsaw puzzle. Sadder but wiser, when it came time to move the stage station, a much larger building, they used oil based paint to mark the joints. They put in a large lawn area with RV connections for about 20 units and now the children of the original owners run a bakery/restaurant and small RV Park, renting out some of the reassembled cabins to people without RVs. Part of their gimmick is they have a "pioneer special" at the restaurant daily which is supposedly a recipe unchanged from the 19th century meals that would've been served in the original stage station. Vicki had the special of the day, listed as "German roast beef", which was basically sauerbraten and which she said was pretty good. I'm not a big sauerbraten fan so I had a steak which was kind of dry. Oh well, they did have a nice salad bar.

That first evening we took a drive up Rock Creek Road after dinner since the sun doesn't set until after nine o'clock. It was a nice drive up a narrow two-lane road for about 20 miles. At one point, we saw a group of critters in a fenced pasture that looked odd. We weren't sure if they were sheep or goats. "Wait a minute", I said "those look like the bighorn sheep we saw in South Dakota last year". We had never heard of anyone domesticating big horn sheep and thought it kind of odd. As we were discussing it, this beastie shows up coming down the sheer cliff face on our right, trots across the road right in front of us and jumps over the pasture fence like it is no obstruction whatsoever.

Sheep Crossing

Well, that explained it. Looking up the cliff face we saw another dozen or so big horns wandering around about 100 feet above us. We also saw a few deer in the valley, the males just beginning to grow the new set of antlers they will need when mating season arrives in the fall.
Up the side of the cliff

The next day we rested from our labors. I'm not sure which labors those were exactly, but rest we did.

Saturday we had reservations at what was supposed to be a really nice motorhome park in Big Timber and we wanted to have a little time to enjoy it, so we got up fairly early, had breakfast in the stage stop restaurant and then got packed up and on the road by 10 o'clock. Everything went peachy for about 25 miles, then the motorhome started vibrating ominously and I pulled off the side of the interstate to determine why. The right front tire was mostly flat. It still had some air in it but poking on the sidewall revealed that it had delaminated from the radial ply. It was not going to be fixable like the one in Eugene. Fortunately, we have AAA service for the motorhome. Unfortunately, we were out in the middle of nowhere. We called AAA, they took our information and said they would send somebody out from Missoula which was now about 50 miles to our rear. The next sizable town was Butte which was 100 miles to our front. It took about an hour for the tow truck guy to show up and assess the situation. He told us he could put air back in the tire and see if it would hold but after I had him poke on sickeningly soft sidewall he thought maybe that wasn't such a hot idea. He had a limit on how far they could tow us, so going to Butte wasn't really an option. He spent about a half-hour hooking us up to the tow truck, then another half hour detaching the drivetrain from the motorhome so he would not wreck the transmission by towing it. We had to go 15 miles forward to reach the next offramp, so we were 60 miles from Missoula when we finally turned around and headed back.

There was only one RV dealership in Missoula and they didn't have anybody working on Saturday except the salespeople who were useless to us, so he took us to a truck stop just the other side of Missoula. We were not the only poor buggers on their work list for the day so it took a while for them to get around to us. They said the tire would cost $600 plus $66 to mount and balance it. Not having a lot of options, we told them to go ahead and waited in the little café connected to the truck stop sipping soft drinks and muttering under our breath. About 30 min. later, the mechanic came in with the classic good-news-bad-news routine. The bad news was that they did not have a new tire in our size. Most truck tires have 70 mm high sidewalls. Our tires have 80 mm high sidewalls. If we put on a 70 mm tire it would run but it would not make very good contact with the ground, it would cause the opposite tire to wear heavily and we would have to spend another $1200 to replace two front tires in the near future. The good news was, he had an "almost new" 80 mm tire that should work fine. Some guy had pulled in about three years previously having recently experienced the same dilemma as us and had opted to put on a 70 mm tire. When it became clear to him that that was not going to work very well, he pulled into their place and had them take off his nearly new 80 mm tire and put another 70 mm on so that his front end would match. That 80 mm tire they took off of his rig had been sitting in their storage garage for three years just waiting for us to come along. And since they had gotten it for free, they would only charge us $250 for it. The alternative was to get a motel room and wait until Monday for somebody to ship them a new 80 mm tire from Butte (if there was one to be had in Butte, which was not guaranteed).

I went to look at the tire with significant reservations, however it appeared to be in good shape, no more worn than our other tires with a good half inch of tread depth and no other visible problems. It had been stored out of the sun and the elements, so supposedly should not have deteriorated significantly, so I told him to go-ahead and mount and balance it. It turned out to be a Michelin tire which was almost but not quite identical to the other five on our rig, has the same pressure rating and should be a good match. According to the tire guy, there was no puncture or foreign object in our tire. His guess was that the pressure monitors we had installed to warn us about potential flat tires had vibrated loose creating a leak which caused the flat tire. It seems like everything we add to this motorhome makes our lives more miserable. We need to stop doing any kind of upgrades. Anyway, it took them about 40 min. to mount the tire, then we filled the motorhome with their gasoline and got back on the road at about 4:30, seven hours after the tire failed.

We now had to think seriously about our reservations at the lovely motorhome park in Big Timber. At 60 mph the trip would take 4.5-5 hours. Our GPS system estimated we would arrive there at about 9:18. The office of the motorhome park in Big Timber closed at nine and they did not allow late arrivals. We had to make up some time. Our rule of thumb now is we are not in any hurry and we go almost everywhere at 60-65 miles an hour. The GPS estimate assumed we would be going 65. I set the automatic speed control at 70 and kept one eye on the arrival estimate on the GPS. Minute by minute, I saw our estimated time drop back towards nine o'clock. We were just about even, estimated arrival time at 9:05 and only 25 miles to go but we had a small problem. I had to pee. I mean I reeeally had to pee. I pulled off the side of the interstate and ran back to the half bathroom in the middle of the coach (have I ever mentioned here that we have a bath and a half? Posh.) After heaving a huge sigh of relief, I made my way back to the driver seat. We had lost 2 min. I pulled back onto the road and cranked that puppy up to 75 mph. We used to run the Bounder at 75 miles an hour quite a bit. We've almost never had this rig at that speed and we had a recently replaced tire on one rim, but everything ran smoothly and we made it to the motorhome park with nearly 2 min. to spare.

They were actually very nice about the whole thing and it was really an unbelievably nice RV park. They put us in a camping site literally right on the bank of the Boulder River. The spring thaw is on and the flow in the river was phenomenal. There must've been tens of thousands of gallons of water flowing past us every minute. When you came out of the bedroom into the living area, all you could see out of the driver's side windows was rushing water. It was very disorienting, giving you the feeling that you were floating down the river on some kind of barge. The campground had a community campfire every night which was just breaking up when we got there, but we sat by the fire and talked to the one remaining couple for about 15 min. while the dogs relieved themselves at our feet.

We decided we were not in a rush to get out the next morning. We lazed around until almost noon there at the riverside enjoying what we could of this fantastic camping spot. Then we packed up and got on the road heading for Hardin Montana and the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

No comments:

Post a Comment