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“If you’re not moving, you’re standing  still.”

 

Steve Trafton

Back Roads Speedster Trip

Taking The Back Roads to Rangley

The Big Sky and the American LaFrance vehicle.

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’).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Getting Ready to Drive the Alcan

At Whittier, Alaska both American LaFrance vehicles

 

unload to begin the journey down the Alcan Highway to Seattle 

 

 

 

The Traftons (which include Steve, his wife Katherine and two of Steve’s brothers Dwight and Byron) are “LollyGagging” Alaska until other Blackhorseracing Team members (Guillaume Marceau and his father Rick) arrive on Monday. So here is their LollyGag Map:

 

Since it is considered disgraceful to allow grass to grow beneath the feet of any Trafton, the four travelers drove north from Anchorage to explore Alaska. They started on Thursday by temporarily shedding the two ALFs at an airport hangar in Anchorage. They had to mark time until their team would land-launch toward Seattle on Tuesday. So why not head toward the Arctic Circle like any average person would do? Through noon on Saturday (August 25), they drove 1150 miles.  Staying the first night at Healy, then driving to Manley Hot Springs, reversing direction to touch base at the Arctic Circle and then going beddy-bye at Fairbanks on Friday night.

 

 

It just so happens that Katherine has a connection to Manley Hot Springs. 

 

This is what she wrote:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Married at 25, my grandfather’s young bride (age 19) eventually joined her husband at Manley Hot Springs by traveling alone from Seattle by boat, then railway, then barge and overland stage in 1914. While there she worked for his uncle Frank Manley who had established a gold mining camp. 

 

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My grandfather’s job was to carry the saddlebags of gold on horseback over the Chilkoot Pass down to the boats headed to Seattle. He used to tell us the story of how he met a group of men en route who offered him a drink by their campfire. They had spiked the drink in hopes that they could steal his saddlebags! Fortunately, my grandad recognized his impairment and jumped off the horse to run alongside and sweat it out! 

 

He managed to prevent the robbery! 

 

 

My grandparents left camp on a dogsled to head for Fairbanks on 28 November 1914. Never made it to the hospital! My dad was born on the dogsled, in the snow! Needless to say, he was an only child!

Frank Manley was quite a character. Left Texas with some reputation. Established a better one in Alaska as “having taken more gold out of Alaska than any other single individual”. He then moved on to California and discovered oil in Bakersfield.”

 

 

But hey, the Arctic Circle still waits. So the Trafton’s backtracked their route, traveled across the Yukon River and then stopped at the exact location of the Arctic Circle for a tourist shot.

Steve checked-off another bucket list item by standing next to the Alaska Pipeline.

 

 

 

Then all four Trafton’s headed for sleep in Fairbanks.

As of noontime on Saturday, they headed south through Delta Junction and the Alaska Range. And here’s what they saw:

This is not fair. More tomorrow…

 

 

ALF at Classic Auto Show in LA

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The Classic Auto Show in Los Angeles played host to one of our two ALF (American LaFrance) vehicles on January 27-29, 2017. Some of the Black Horse Racing Team was in attendance to answer questions put to them by attendees. Steve Trafton was also interviewed for the podcast at HorsePower Online.  (The podcast is also available online for both the iPhone and Android.)

 

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See some of the photographs from that event in our Gallery.

.(Click to view in close-up.)

 

Peking to Paris Roadster Nears Completion

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In this series of photos, follow the progress of end-stage preparation before road testing our updated American LaFrance vehicle. The first of two similar Steve Trafton roadsters entered in the upcoming road rally, this version was initially rebuilt in Rockwall, Texas from an original 1925 fire engine chassis. Then it was hauled on a trailer to the northwest United States where it was painted and further prepped. Components were specially forged and more modern accessories were fabricated for the 9000 mile transcontinental journey to be held during the summer of 2016.

 

Earlier, this ALF roadster was driven a short distance. Now, more tuning and electrical work is taking place. The new transmission works fine. Brakes are being adjusted. The heavy steering will be evaluated over a longer distance.

 

So this American LaFrance vehicle will soon be road-tested by Steve and his wife Katherine in advance of the July 2016 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge. Meanwhile, an orientation meeting in London was recently held for participants in the road rally. We’ll report on that meeting in our next installment.

 

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The first of two American LaFrance rebuilt roadsters arrives in Washington State.

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After its arrival in the northwest, the first vehicle was prepped for painting:

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This roadster was painted dark blue.

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ALF Roadster Progress Before Road Testing

Follow the rebuilding of the first American LaFrance vehicle (of two) that will compete in the Summer of 2016 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge Race.  These photos show the ALF Roadster Progress to date:

 

 

This is the first start-up of the rebuilt ALF Roadster:

 

 

American LaFrance Startup

American LaFrance Engine Startup

 Vroooom Vrooom!
American LaFrance Engine Startup!


The 14.5 Liter La France engine comes to life after decades of silence! The sound is very much like a World War Two aircraft. We hope to have it tuned and in the first of two cars in about two weeks.



 

 

American La France Roadster

American La France Roadster

 

 

Note the La France insignias on the water intake manifolds

These photos show progress on the American La France Roadster as of March 15, 2014. Tim Taylor also talks about fuel consumption and its availability along the 9000 mile journey.







 Tim Taylor talks about fuel efficiency and the need to take gas filters along the route.


Engine, Exhaust and Radiator Work

Engine, Exhaust and Radiator Work

 

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One of two roadsters being built for the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge receives work on its engine, exhaust system and radiator. Here the solid silver radiator is being polished and test fitted.




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The engine is being assembled in this series of photos.

 

And the exhaust system is being built here.

Tim Taylor talks about road testing the vehicles.


 

 

Peking to Paris Motor Challenge Progress

Peking to Paris Motor Challenge Progress

American La France Roadster

 



The two American La France Roadsters
being assembled for the 2016 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge Race are on schedule. Follow progress in these photos and recorded comments by Tim Taylor, in charge of rebuilding.







How far along is this project?

 

 



Two old (fire truck) vehicles are being re-built as roadsters for the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge of 2016.

 

 

We’ll have further progress updates and comments from Tim Taylor as the rebuilding process continues.

 

 

American La France Roadster Takes Form

American La France Roadster Takes Form

Here is our progress as of January 31, 2015.

The American La France Roadster (one of two) is being re-built in Rockwall, Texas.





Piston used in La France Road Rally Racing Roadster

 



This is a synopsis of what has been done to date. We will update this page from time to time so you can follow the progress!


 

Building the Road Rally Racing Roadster

Building the Road Rally Racing Roadster

Peking to Paris 2016

Road Rally Racing Roadster

 

Building the Road Rally Racing Roadster: After the 2010 Bonneville Land Speed Record adventure the Black Horse Racing Team set about coming up with the next challenge we would undertake. We settled on three possibilities.

  1. Another Bonneville Speed Record
  2. Vintage Formula One Racing with our 1991 Ferrari F1 car
  3. Participate in a major long distance Endurance Road Rally

The Bonneville idea was appealing and we certainly had the experience and team to build a new car and try for another, even faster record. We even researched what it would take to build a 350 mph plus car to race in 2015 and 2016. But land speed racing is a very “lonely” one person oriented sport. Even though the team gets to participate in building the car and preparing it for a record run, only one person gets to drive and experience the actual race. No…… Bonneville would have to wait.

Vintage F1 racing certainly has its appeal, but is fabulously expensive and it is also very driver oriented. So many people would spend thousands of hours working on a very temperamental car so one person can drive around a road course. That’s not to say that we won’t take the Black Horse F1 car to the track for fun, but as a goal and prolonged endeavor it leaves something to be desired.

So at the suggestion of Tim Taylor, our team leader, we decided to enter two cars in the 2016 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge.

Once the decision was made we had to settle on what cars to enter. We wanted something durable, because of the demands of a race that covers over 9000 miles, crosses the Gobi desert, Siberia and Russia, and the Alps before finishing at Paris. We wanted something unusual and interesting because it would be a complete departure from anything we have worked on in the past. We wanted something that would continue to be fun to drive on long distance tours after the big race. Finally we wanted something vintage, pre-war with some panache!

We considered a couple of old 1920s or 30s Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Morgans, Chevrolets, Fords etc.

After a lot of consideration we settled on two early American La France Speedsters. These 14.5 liter, 18 foot long, 7500 lb. cars fit the qualifications nicely. Often nicknamed the “Beast” or “Brutus” they started life as American La France fire trucks built in Elmira, New York. During the 1920’s, a number of car enthusiasts bought the bare chassis from the factory and converted existing fire trucks into “Speedsters” by re-bodying them with custom coachwork.

 

Road Rally Racing Roadster

 

 

Late in 2013 and early 2014 Tim searched the country for enough of these old fire trucks to construct two of these speedsters for the P to P Rally. We also decided that my wife Katherine and I would drive one entry, a 1915 and Tim and my brother Dwight would drive the other, a 1925 in the 2016 race.

 

Road Rally Racing Roadster

Road Rally Racing Roadster

In early 2014 the original trucks were torn down to the frames, the engines were pulled and the drive train dismantled. The frames were sent to the sand blaster and taken down to bare metal, examined for cracks or any defects and then painted with epoxy primer.

 

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