Taking The Back Roads to Rangley
Back in July (2019), Katherine and I, along with our friends Alan and Nancy Bixby loaded our 1915 American La France Speedster on its trailer and left home for a two-part tour of the western states, during which we would drive our old race car over 850 miles. We started by driving to New Halem, Washington where we unloaded “The Revenant” and started up over the North Cascade Highway toward Washington Pass. Our old chain drive ALF performed admirably, chugging its way up through the mountains past Diablo Lake, up to Rainy Pass (4875’) then on for another four miles, past Cutthroat Peak to Washington Pass (5476’).
The view from the pass was spectacular with Liberty Bell Mountain (7720’) rising above us. From here we began our descent toward the town of Winthrop, pausing briefly to photograph Silver Star Mountain and the Wine Spires just east of the Pass. Soon we reached the Methow River Valley and stopped in Winthrop for lunch and to load the ALF back on its trailer. After our rest stop, we headed down along the river to the town of Pateros, Washington at the confluence of the Methow and Columbia Rivers before continuing on to Grand Coulee where we spent the night camped out on Lake Roosevelt.
The next day we drove to Fort Spokane where we off-loaded the ALF and drove north along the Columbia River to Kettle Falls, Washington. We reloaded the ALF on the trailer and then drove east on Highway 20 to Tiger, Washington and south along the Pend Oreille River to Newport, Washington. From here we drove on east to Sand Point, Idaho where we spent the night.
After having a restful night at Sand Point, we drove north to Bonners Ferry, Idaho then south to Libby, Montana. Just outside Libby we off-loaded the ALF and started on a beautiful fifty-eight-mile drive north along the eastern side of Koocanusa Lake to Eureka, Montana. After searching in vain for a suitable campground, we settled for camping out under the stars in the town park. We should have taken note of the nice green grass we were camped on in an otherwise parched landscape, because at two a.m. the sprinklers came on and Katherine and I had to beat a water-soaked retreat to our truck till the next morning.
The next day, we trailered the ALF seventy miles to Whitefish, Montana where we off-loaded and started our drive to Glacier National Park. We followed Highway 2, along the middle fork of the Flathead River up through the mountains and then on to Marias Pass (5222’). The climb up to the pass was a long one and the ALF’s 14.5-liter engine overheated several times which meant that we had to stop occasionally to add water to the radiator and let the engine cool down. But the old warhorse chugged on and by mid-afternoon we had made it to East Glacier Park Village where we stopped for the night.
We got an early start the next day and, with the ALF back on its trailer we drove on to Browning, Montana then south to Choteau and on to Helena, Butte and finally Anaconda. We off-loaded the ALF here and drove the last forty miles up into the Big Hole where we made camp at Fish Trap Campground along side the Big Hole River.
After a restful night at a beautiful campsite next to the river, we decided to drive the ALF on a “Grand Tour “of the Big Hole Valley and the Pioneer Mountains. First, we drove south along the Big Hole River to the Town of Wisdom, and then on to the town of Jackson. From Jackson we followed the road up and over Big Hole Pass (7360’) then to a back road running north through the Pioneer Scenic Byway to Wise River. This section of the tour was challenging with its steep up and down hill sections and many hairpin turns. I should mention here that the ALF weighs in at 8000 pounds and has no power steering so it is not a trivial undertaking to drive it. But all the effort was well worth it, given the scenery which surrounded us.
After our drive through the Pioneer Mountains we came to the town of Wise River. From here it was but a short drive back to our campsite and a welcome cocktail hour.
On the day after our “Grand Tour” we packed and departed the Big Hole for Salmon, Idaho. First, we drove down the valley back to Wisdom and then due west for twenty-six miles, over the Continental Divide at Chief Joseph Pass (7252’) and then over Lost Rail Pass (7014’) before heading south toward Salmon. Once again, the road was steep and there were numerous hairpin turns, but soon we were in the Salmon River Valley. Here, the going became easier. We stopped at the outskirts of Salmon and loaded the ALF back on the trailer before driving south to Idaho Falls and then east to Alpine, Wyoming. We pulled over into a rest stop, unloaded the ALF and drove south along the Idaho/Wyoming border for eighty-one miles to Cokeville, Wyoming. After a short rest stop and reloading ALF on its trailer we drove on to a campground at Manila, Utah where were spent the night.
The next morning, we off-loaded the ALF once again and left Manila and then entered the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. We turned off the main road, Highway 44, at Sheep Creek and drove the “road less traveled”. This drive was well worth it. While we had to contend with poorly maintained sections of primitive road and a steep winding drive to 8300” before returning to the main road, this loop drive was spectacular. Bright colored sandstone, beautiful aspen grooves and vistas of the surrounding mountains combined to make this portion of the trip literally the high-point.
After returning to the main road we drove on along a high mountain plateau before coming to the long steep descent into the town of Vernal, Utah. Once again, the challenge of a steep descent, punctuated by many hairpin turns made this section a struggle. But to rest is not to conquer! At last we reached Vernal. During this arduous day, ALF had started misfiring occasionally and by the time we reached Vernal this misfire had become progressively worse. An electrical issue had arisen and we would have to deal with it before we drove much further. In addition, the weather had turned hot. Afternoon temperatures were nearing 100 degrees.
As we left Vernal, I was trying to come up with a Plan B. How to fix the ALF, and how to deal with the heat, which would only get worse as we headed south to Moab, Utah. While I mulled this problem, we drove on heading southeast, crossing the Utah/Colorado border at Dinosaur. We maneuvered through the Coal Oil Basin and arrived at Rangely, Colorado where we stopped for gas. As I was pumping fuel and doing a safety check of the trailer, a tall, lanky fellow, about my age (73) came over to me and asked the usual questions about the ALF. As we talked, he mentioned that he had a car collection and that we should stop by and he would show it to us before we left town.
I really did want to get moving down the road right then, but there was something about this guy that piqued my interest. So I agreed to follow him. We drove about a quarter mile and he turned into the parking lot of a beautiful building with a sign out front that said Rangely Automotive Museum. This guy was for real!
He introduced himself as Bud Striegel and he had been collecting cars and motorcycles for decades. As a businessman Bud had run an oil pipeline construction company. Now that he was semiretired, he was devoting more time to his car collection. He recently had finished building his museum which he opened to the public and was just enjoying life. After we toured his collection I said, “How would you like to have the ALF on loan for a few months in your collection?” So, we struck a bargain. He could have the ALF at the museum till October, when we would return, after the weather cooled down to pick it up and continue on our way to Utah. In the meantime, I wouldn’t have to trailer the ALF home and trailer it back to Colorado to finish our tour after the weather cooled.
And so, thus ended the first leg of our tour. We had driven the ALF five hundred miles, were in position finish the tour in the fall, and had meet a new friend along the way.