2013 West Coast Tour

by Conrad Monroe

We recently completed a 4000+ road trip across the seven western states; Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California and Nevada, in our 1956 Dodge Resto-Mod Station Wagon – named Bettie. The purpose for the trip was 1 – a vacation for Michelle and I. 2 – Visit friends that we have not seen in several years and 3 – it was a shake down cruise for Bettie to see what additional changes/repairs I need to do/make before she is fully put into service as our long haul cruiser.

Route 66 Days Car Show
Flagstaff, AZ September 6-7. 2013

Our 1st stop on the tour was to attend the Route 66 Car Show in Flagstaff with our friends from the Over The Hill Gang – Phoenix. This was Bettie’s third car show and we were very happy that she was selected as one of the Top 20 picks of the show.

Friends Fall Tour
September 8-21, 2013

While we were on the road, I posted somewhat of a running commentary of our experiences on the road, which I will repost here with a side comment or two….

September 8, 2013

We are on our way! We avoided the washout on rate 89 by taking 89 Alt to Marble Canyon, Jacob Lake and Kanab. Rain, low clouds, and beautiful scenery. I can’t remember seeing this part of Arizona this green. Bettie is doing great! Drives and handles well. Getting around 20 mpg depending upon the number of long climbs and how many high speed passes I make   A SUV load of young 20 something guys pulled in right after I took this photo. One of the young men wanted to know if we belonged to the Nomad club, I said no, and that the wagon was a Dodge, he said; Oh, I guess it does have 4 doors, Dodge huh, pretty neat. Spreading the word one gas stop at a time …

September 9, 2013

We were on the road to Ogden by 8:30 am, after stopping at the Flying J to fill up before the trek north. Just as I finished filling up, (a bit over 20 mpg) a 30 something guy walks over and says; Nice ’55! I say, nope it’s a ’56. Oh, the g…uy says, didn’t know they made Nomads in ’56! Uh, I say, it has 4 doors, he says oh, is it a Bel Aire? nope I say, it’s a Dodge. Oh, he says, gotta 318 in it? No, I said, and opened the hood. Holy S%*t he yelled, it’s got a Hemi, then he noticed Bettie… Nuff said, closed the hood and wished him a good day …
On to Ogden for Lunch with my old friend Rusty and his ever beautiful wife Dixie, then on to Twin Falls!
But first, we stop at the Chevron next to the restaurant, and you guessed it; What year Nomad is that? From a forty something guy in a Toyota. Michelle handles this one; MM, it’s a ’56 and it has 4 doors. Guy sez; Didn’t know Chevy made a 4 door Nomad. MM; you need to work on your Chevy knowledge, this is a Dodge. Guy: Oh! Really? MM; yes, really…
Nice cruise to Twin Falls on I84 without problems. We got a room, then headed out to find 187 Addison, where friend Rick lived from 1952 to 1956. Photo is of Michelle and Bettie inspecting the former home which seems to be a commercial property now…
Next up, finding a place for dinner, while cruising the streets looking for a place to grab a bite, two teen age boys in a 1500 Ram pickup, pull up beside me at a light and yell out, wicked Dodge! I tell them thanks! And ask them if their truck had a Hemi. They said no, and I said, mine does, then the light changed and I nailed it. Nuff said …
On to Umatillia tomorrow via I84 then backroading up 395. Looking forward to our gas stop at the EXXON before we leave…

September 11, 2013

I tried posting this yesterday but the WiFi at the hotel was unsecured and Facebook wouldn’t let me upload.
This was the longest run on the trip, 467 miles from Twin Falls to The Dalles in Oregon. Much of it was on I84 at a brisk 80-85 mph… across the high prairie. I can only take so much interstate driving so we veered off onto 201 in Ontario OR, and took it to Vale where we picked up 26 which took us up into the mountains and 395. My favorite style road all twisty turny up and down mountains in the pine trees.
When we stopped for fuel in Vale the lady that ran the store/station came out and complimented us on the fine Pontiac that we were driving. Y’all know the drill by now… Spreading the word one fuel stop at a time.
We stopped for lunch in John Day, OR and the restaurant manager came out and asked, is that a 1956 Plymouth? I told him close enough and gave him a peek at Bettie for at least getting the year and MOPAR family right! Bettie had her Converse running shoes on when we hit the really twisty stuff outside of John Day on 395. What fun, aside from the incessant screaming and yelling from the right seat that we were going to die etc etc, it was Great! I can’t think of any thing I would change to the chassis/brake/tire setup.
We pulled into Umatilla at 4:30 and decided that we didn’t care for the motel choices so we hopped back onto I84 which runs along side the Columbia river and breezed on down to The Dalles where we spent the night at the same motel that we stayed at when we did the Puyallup WA run a few years back.
On to Mt Rainier today! Hopefully it won’t be shrouded in clouds! We had a great run to Enumclaw yesterday – will post more later.

September 13, 2013

After several attempts over the years we finally had the chance to see Mt Rainier without it being cloaked in clouds. The run from The Dalles to Enumclaw was nice with all but a short stretch of freeway. We took 410 out of Yakima to Mt Rainier State Park which was dry and clear for a change.
We stopped at one of the 1st pull offs that offered a great view on the mountain. We met a couple of 40 something Harley riders there and played the what is it game with them. One thought Bettie was a Nash and the other guessed that she was a Studebaker. Spreading the word one scenic pull-off at a time.
The next day we drove up to the Mt Rainier National Park Visitor Center with our friends Louanna and Don. The weather was cool and foggy when we left, and became clear and sunny as we drove up the back side of the mountain. Lots of twisty – turnies that run through the tall evergreen forest. The Paradise Victor center is located in a beautiful alpine meadow that was in full sun, really nice drive.
While in the parking lot Bettie was identified as a ’57 Chevy and a ’54 Studebaker. Spreading the word one National park at a time.
We spent the day visiting and doing laundry and playing with Lou’s dogs. Nice relaxing day.

September 17, 2013

After a nice visit with Louanna and Don, and Mt Rainier, we are headed down 101 on the left coast. Of course it is now foggy and rainy which is to be expected. We stopped in Raymond, WA for breakfast at a small corner cafe, I do so love mom & pop diners. Across the street was a wonderful old art deco style movie theater which served as a great backdrop for Bettie.
After breakfast we meandered down the coast to Tillamook, OR where we dropped in to visit our long time friends, John and Maria Phipps at their wonderful home that was built in 1915 that overlooks the bay. What a lovely home and location, if it were mine I would never leave!
We then headed down the coast to Newport, OR where we spent the night. We had a great dinner at a small restaurant that over looked the harbor. As twilight fell we watched the moon rise over the boats and docks. Of course I left my camera in the wagon … Sigh!
Today we head inland to meet with an old friend that I last laid eyes on in 1961. Should be a fun visit!

September 18, 2013

Yesterday we left our hotel in Newport and after stopping at a nifty little cafe/dinner for breakfast we headed to Eugene via 20/99W. Of course we had to play our Bettie Game at the hotel with a man and his wife from Bountiful UT who came very close with their guess that she was a 1955 Dodge, the were awarded with a view of Bettie.
At the cafe the two guys sitting at the table offered that she was a Buick, which was a new one! Spreading the word, one cafe at the time…
We had an outstanding run down 20 to Corvallis; beautiful early fall weather, trees just beginning to turn and leaves just beginning to fall, dappled sunlight filtering through the trees, just doesn’t get any better. On the run south through the valley we were treated with every shade of green that you can imagine with wonderful clouds as a backdrop. Yeah, I know I should have stopped and made a photo or two, but I was in a hurry to see my friend Brad and his wife Toni.
I cannot express how great it was to see him again after all these years. They have a great cottage in the heart of Eugene. After paying our respects to Tug, their 15 yr old cat, we went on a walking tour of a couple of the multiple pubs and ale houses in the area. Brad and Toni share my love for beer, ale and single malt. We had planned to stay only for lunch, which kind of extended into late afternoon, when we decided to get a hotel room so that we could continue our reunion at a great small Italian restaurant. After closing the restaurant, we headed back to the hotel and said our goodbyes.
As with other of my reunions of late, after maybe 5 minutes 50 years evaporated and it was the same as before. We will most assuredly return. Today we head back to Florence and then down to Eureka for our next stop.

September 19, 2013

An Interesting Day…
After a good nights sleep we packed up Bettie and headed to Florence down some more twisty turny  roads that connect the Willamette Valley with the coast highway. Our initial plan was to have breakfast at Jerry’s Hotrod Grill in Florence but it wasn’t open yet so I took some Bettie Snaps and we found a small cafe that was really quite good.
On the drive through the mountains we started to notice a ratcheting sound and vibration from the rear of the car when we were making turns. Nothing major just a concern. On the run down to Coos Bay the noise was intermittent when in the corners but about the same or a bit stronger in intensity. After we left Coos Bay we ran into a stretch of rather fast tight turns which seemed to make  the noise and vibration worse and by the time we hit Bandon it was getting pretty bad.
I found that if I slowed down to a crawl that the noise and vibration would go away and I could get back up to 50 mph or so. When we got to Bandon we were able to find a really nice tire and chassis shop which was packed with customers. The owner, Larry, lent me one of his floor jacks and jack stands so I could remove the rear wheels to check things out. I had Michelle start the car while I crawled around underneath trying to find where the problem was coming from. I could hear and feel the vibration but could not pinpoint it. It seemed like it might be coming from the front u-joint, however I didn’t think to try locking up each axle, one at a time which would have put stress on the differential gear set. I did notice that I could move the front u-joint up and down a bit which led me to think a bushing/bearing in the tail shaft housing could be failing.
I discussed the situation with Larry the shop owner who suggested that we might be better off trying to limp back to Coos Bay which had a better chance of having parts. Well, we almost made it… About 10 miles out the part finally failed with several loud bang and a cloud of smoke we coasted to the side of 101.
Hauled out the AAA card and called for assistance. After playing 20 questions with the lady that answered the phone, she asked, now where are you again? I told her, 101 northbound near a cross road that  now I  can’t remember. She comes back and tells me that she couldn’t find it in her computer. I tell her it was just south of Coos Bay. She tells me that Coos Bay isn’t in AZ, to which I reply; I know that, I am in OR, to which she sez, oh I can’t help you, you need to talk with someone in OR, I will transfer you. 10 minutes listening to elevator music in telephone hell, I got to talk with a real person in OR who sent us a rollback, which showed up an hour and half later.
After Bettie did her Walk of Shame onto the rollback we were told that the driver had to pick up another tow down at the beach, which took another hour before we made it to a transmission shop in Coos Bay. When we got to the shop I noticed a fairly large pool of gear oil near the left rear wheel.
We got a hotel room across the street from the shop and we were there when it opened this AM. The shop has two jobs ahead of us and the owner thinks he can get Bettie on the rack and get things apart this PM. Not much in the way of parts here, every thing is ordered out of Portland. He told me that they could be here overnight so there might be a chance that we could be on the road again on Friday. As he put it, Coos Bay is at the edge of the world… Michelle and I are off to rent a beater so that we can get some sight seeing in. And if we are stuck here over the weekend, they will be having … You guessed it! A car show! Woot!
You know, that rear end is the only Ford part on the wagon, I wonder if it is being rejected?

September 19, 2013

Good news, we have Bettie back!The guys at the shop found the problem right away, rear axle bearing failed. Easy fix and we are back on the road again!
Why a new bearing would fail I dunno, Dave the shop owner has done a lot of sport car racing and offered the opinion that the stock Ford 28 spline small bearings may not be up the cornering loads that Bettie can generate. Seems feasible to me. Looks like we will not be driving con brio the rest of the trip!On to Eureka!
Wagons Ho!

September 20, 2013

One addendum to the bearing repair at the Coos Bay Transmission Shop. When we picked the car up I asked Dave if he had looked under the hood, and he said; no that he hasn’t but would like to see it. He and the four guys who worked in the shop all gathered around the front of the car as I opened the hood. They were all looking at the engine install when I pointed out Bettie, they all said nice, and continued to inspect and comment on the engine install. I had to conclude that Dave and his guys are total gear heads, I totally recommend this shop!
Peter White playing on the mp3, sunny skies, light coastal fog, cool temps, good roads and no problems! It just doesn’t get any better than this. I do so love the left coast and how much I love the time we spend here.
We have a winner! At our gas stop in Brookings, a gentleman around my age walked up and asked; Is this a 1956? I gritted my teeth waiting for the other shoe to drop, but then he blew me away… He followed up immediately with; “I can’t remember the last time I saw a Dodge station wagon…” I got out of the wagon, and shook his hand! We talked for about a half hour until I started getting the ‘let’s wrap this up and get going’ look from Michelle so we shook hands and I got back in the wagon and we continued on our way.
On our way south today!

September 21, 2013

Bettie Visits the City by the Bay…
After a good run to Eureka and a good nights sleep, we headed down 101 to Santa Rosa to have lunch with my old friend Mike D’Addario. I normally take Hwy 1 instead of 101 because I love driving the twisty roads, which may be the cause of Bettie’s wheel bearing problem. So discretion being the better part of valor, we took the more straight road, but less fun road. The scenery was gorgeous, great weather and Bob Seger playing in the background.
Mike suggested that we meet at Guy Fieri’s Johnny Garlic restaurant near his work at Flow Master, great choice! Good food, wonderful waitress and a lot of catching up since our last meeting in Bakersfield in 2010.
Back onto 101 headed for the Golden Gate, traffic was light going into the city and we made good time, so I decided to try to find the road to the bay overlook that is next to the bridge. Every time I have tried to do this in the past, I have always been in the far left lane when the turn off came up, this time we were in the right lane and made the turn and were rewarded with a great view. Both Michelle and I assured Bettie that we would not take her down to any of the beaches. I don’t think she really believed us, but she cooperated and didn’t break any more of her parts.
Next big adventure was driving though San Francisco on Friday afternoon in a 53 year old car, that is really low in the front. The GPS notified us of a major problem on 101 and routed us around it on a street very similar to the one used in the chase scene in Bullet. At the very top of the hill, there was a sign warning us of a sharp rise at the top, the sign wasn’t needed because of the large 18 wheeler moving truck that was high centered at the top. I wish my camera had been handy… what a sight! Down the equally steep other side and back on to the freeway.
Where we got back up to speed, then the GPS started to warn us about an accident on 101 by the airport, unfortunately there was no easy go around, so we spent the next 45 minutes crawling along until we cleared the 8 car pile up in the left lane.
We made it to 280 and was zipping along toward San Jose where we hit yet another back up. Crawled along for another 5 miles and 45 minutes and finally got though it and back onto 101. We made Gilroy at 7:00 PM and decided to call it a day… we were not going to take on the Grape Vine in the dark.
We got a motel room, found a Seven Eleven and bought some cheese, crackers and beer and holed up for the night.
As much as I hate I 5, we will be taking it down to Bakersfield and then I 40 over to Laughlin where we will spend the night before making the final push to Show Low on Sunday. Not how I planned to end the trip, but probably the best choice until I find out why the bearing failed.
Wagons HO!

September 22, 2013

Home Again!
The Edgewater in Laugh In wanted $6 for WiFi so we said No, No, No and I wasn’t able to give an update for yesterday.
We left Gilroy yesterday AM and hit my favorite I-5 to 58 and over to Bakersfield and on to Barstow where we caught my other favorite (NOT) freeway I-40 and bounced our way through the potholes to the Riverfront Road that heads up to Laugh In. This road is perhaps in the WORST condition of any road that we have traveled on this trip, until you get into Nevada where it turns into a smooth as glass boulevard. Other than I-5 which to my wonder was actually really in great shape! The rest of the roads in CA are in dismal shape.
After we got to the Edgewater and checked in, Michelle stayed in the room getting gussied up and I went back to the wagon to haul in the cooler and our coffee bag. The Edgewater has added a really nice concert venue and the featured band was one of my favorites, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Of course the show had been sold out for months so any chance of scoring some tickets was out of the question, but I did walk by the refreshment area outside the venue. I was wearing one of my ever popular black OTHG-Phoenix shirts and a pair jeans, on my way through the crowd, I was stopped by a 50-60 something couple who wanted to know if I was one of the band’s security guys. I had to confess that I wasn’t and told them that I appreciated the compliment…
So I trekked up to wagon, collected the cooler and coffee bag and headed back to the room, which was on the 25th floor. I got in the elevator with a couple of couples, all in their 50s who were dressed for the concert. The elevator stopped on the 3rd floor and in walks Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie’s younger brother who now is the lead singer of the group. The two groupie couples haul out their I phones and ask if they can take his photo, he of course says yep, and they start shooting, since he was standing next to me, I got in the photos as well.
The groupies, got out on the 10th floor and since Mr Van Zant was on the 26th floor, of course, we had a bit of time together. I asked him if he was having fun, and he said, “Yes, I have fun all the time”, I said, “That’s what it is all about, isn’t it?” he said, “So true my brother, so true…” the elevator door opened, I got out and my close personal time with a rock star ended.
By the time I returned to the room, Michelle was looking spectacular, and so we went off to dinner, I stayed in my Lynyrd Skynyrd security togs, just in case…
After dinner, Michelle stayed down in the casino and played for a while – actually doubled her money! Played $20 and came back to the room with $40! All in all a great stay at the Edgewater!
The trip from Laugh In home was uneventful, thankfully…
Arrived home at 3:45 unloaded Bettie and put her back in her garage, we had a great 4000 mile trip, saw some of my favorite old friends and in general I got the chance to spend some quality time with my best friend, lover and wife. I have to say that in one way, both Johnny Van Zant and I have at least one thing in common, we are having FUN!
Party On!
OH, and all of the cats except my Buster, had to give us the cold shoulder for leaving them for so long. Our house sitter, Sue, did a great job taking care of Blue Bell and the rest of the family.
Thanks for following along with us!
Conrad & Michelle


Well, I thought I had pieced together what happened with the rear axle bearing in Coos Bay. On Tuesday I pulled both axles and inspected them and the axle housing and could not find any issues with the axle or the housing and after examining the right side axle, I cannot see how I could have screwed up installing the bearing on the left side. After searching the web and talking with two differential/drive line shops I concluded that the Ford 9″ small roller bearings are not up to handling the side loads during the kind of hard cornering I was pushing Bettie through on the trip. So after Winslow and Springerville I had planned on pulling the rear axle to have the housing converted to large tapered bearings and heavier axles which will eliminate the problem and also cure the brake knock back issue I was having as well.
Then I talked with Paul Nolte and he reminded me that he had had a new wheel bearing fail on his ’31 Chevy after he had the axle housing narrowed and new Moser axles and Timken bearings installed. Then I had a long talk with Manfred Wagoner, one great meticulous mechanic, and he told me that since Timken began sourcing their manufacturing from China, that their quality had gone to hell and that he had had many problems with them. Then yesterday I had a long talk with Toby at Performance Automotive here in Show Low and he told me the same story as Manfred. Further more he told me that between his dad and him, that they had built several roundy round cars using 9″ axles and never had a side load issue, even on pavement. So, the current plan is to replace both bearings with National bearings which are made in the USA (if the one installed in Coos Bay is not quality) and shim the axles to get rid of the end play which is causing the brake knock back issue.
If I have another failure then plan B will be the tapered bearing conversion…

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