We only had 217 miles to get to Elizabeth, CO today so we didn't worry about getting a real early start. We took our time, had coffee and breakfast, and finally got going around 9:30 am. The GPS unit showed we'd get there sometime around 2:00 pm.
It was a beautiful drive leaving Glenwood Springs and heading east on I-70. The freeway followed the canyon along the Colorado River. The sun was shining. The temperature around 84 degrees. And the humidity low. Everything was great.
We were making good time as we started climbing the grade out of Vail, CO. We chuckled at the "idiots" trying to ride their bicycles up the grade on the bike trail that ran along side the freeway. Secretly we both admired their determination but agreed that we would never try it.
The road kept going up and up and up. The truck was beginning to overheat pulling the 15,000 lbs. 5th wheel behind. The transmission temperature had reached critical at 235 degrees. The engine coolant temperature was pegged at 240, well above the normal 190 degrees. The top of the grade was no where in site.
I pulled over on the shoulder and kept the engine running. I knew the best way to cool the engine was to keep it running and pour cool water over the radiation. But I didn't know about the transmission. Should it be in Park? Neutral? I experimented a little and found I got better results in Neutral. However this meant that the parking brake had to hold all 23,000 lbs. of the truck and trailer, more than it was willing to hold. So I had to use a combination of Park and brake, get out and block the wheels, and then move the transmission shifter back to Neutral.
The engine cooled very quickly but the transmission was another matter. The temperature actually went up to 250 degrees when I stopped. Our water supply was somewhat limited and pouring cup after cup over the transmission cooler was sure to deplete it quickly. Then I remembered the spray bottle we keep to squirt the dogs when they bark. I filled the one quart sprayer and lightly misted the transmission cooler for the next 30 minutes. During this time I saw many of the "idiots" on bicycles we'd passed earlier. Riding a bicycle up the hill was looking better and better. Finally after running three quarts of water through the sprayer, the truck was cool and we were on our way.
It didn't take long for the temperature to start climbing again. It was a delicate balance between going slower and heating up the transmission or going faster and heating up the engine. It seemed 25 mph was a good balance between them causing both to overheat at about the same rate.
I was just about to pull over again but we reached the top. Good! We made it. The summit was 9000 ft. and it was most certainly downhill all the way from here. The road went downhill a little but was mostly flat. It gave everything a chance to cool down.
But then we started climbing again and things were starting to overheat. Jesus Christ! How tall are these fucking mountains? We're already at 9000 ft and going up?!? This time the road wasn't so wide but I managed to find a narrow spot and pull over. I was so close to the actual highway that I waited until no cars were in view before opening my door and getting out. I needed to block the wheels again so the transmission could be put in Neutral. Denise climbed from the passenger seat into the drivers seat while I blocked the wheels. With all of our accumulated "things" in the front seat such as trash, books, blanket, purse, snacks, etc. it was quite an accomplishment. All of this with two dogs in the back seat that are so excited we've stopped that they can't wait to get out of the truck. I explained to them that they weren't getting out but they insisted otherwise.
With the truck in Neutral, I ran another three quarts of water through the sprayer. I was beginning to develop forearms like Popeye's. After another 30 minutes, everything was cool and we were on our way again.
But it kept going up. And up. And up. And so did the temperature gauges once more. The air conditioning was off and the heater on full blast. We had both windows open to let the heat escape into the air. I could see the top in site but the engine coolant was pegged at 240 degrees again, and now the transmission is pegged at 250 degrees. Both may very well have been hotter but that's as far as the gauges go.
However I pressed on as I know things will cool quickly once we reach the top. Right at the top, we enter a tunnel. The transmission is so hot it won't even shift but there's no where to pull over in a tunnel. That's fine, I'll pull over as soon as we get out.
But where's the light at the end of the tunnel? This thing kept going and going and going. Neither Denise nor I said a word. We were both thinking the same thing as the smell of burning oil filled the cab. What are we going to do if the truck dies right here?
We finally reached the end and pulled over immediately. This stop was probably 45 minutes as things were much hotter. All total, I ran over 2 gallons of water through that spray bottle and my forearms were burning and cramping. While I was outside, Denise called Stan (her sister's husband) and informed him of our delay. He told us that was the Eisenhower Tunnel and it was a mile and half long. The sign on the side of the road listed the summit at 11,500 ft. This was definitely the highest mountain I have ever pulled the trailer over. So the truck conquered the Rockies but was knocked to the mat three times along the way. Denise says we'll never go that way again. I say I'm getting a bigger transmission cooler and larger exhaust pipes to cool the engine. The final decision is forthcoming.
Now it's downhill all the way to Denver. No problem as this has little stress on the engine and almost none on the transmission. I have an engine brake which does an excellent job of holding back the rig in the 50 mph range on the down hill. But now there's stop and go traffic. Seems every last person in Denver had gone to the mountains for the weekend and was returning home this Sunday afternoon. Speeds were zero to ten miles per hour and there was still 45 miles to travel before reaching Denver.
Now what's that I smell? The brakes!!! An engine brake does nothing to help at zero to ten miles per hour and riding the brakes down the mountain is taking it's toll. I even saw a few puffs of smoke blowing by the truck.
I was pretty sure it was the brakes on the trailer that were having the most trouble so I adjusted the brake controller to put more of the load on the truck. This combined with the grade decreasing seemed to do the job.
Finally at 4:30 that afternoon we reached our destination of Dianne and Stan's house in Elizabeth, CO. We pulled in the driveway and were happy to be off the road. However the challenges of the day weren't quite over yet.
I was setting up the trailer as fast as I could while the wind blew and the clouds darkened. Denise and the dogs were inside the house visiting. Dianne and Stan have a dog named Sadie. I'm not sure what type of dog Sadie is. She's black and of the bird dog breeds. Kind of like a Lab and Retriever mix maybe. But anyway, not a breed known for being aggressive.
Well Schatzi had been in the truck all day and was ready to play. Sadie was not and probably didn't even want these two white fluff balls in her house. But Schatzi persisted and Sadie had had enough. Sadie reached down and grabbed Schatzi by the neck and head. Schatzi yelped. Denise screamed. All of this happened in the house. I was still outside just finishing up and getting my first beer.
I was greeted at the garage door by a panicked wife carrying a bloody dog. Schatzi appeared to be fine but a little shaken up. Although a bit bloody around the neck and ears, it wasn't gushing out so that was a good sign. I took him in the trailer and washed him up, just to see if the bleeding would continue.
After cleaning him up, I found three spots. A nick on his ear and another small nick on his neck. These were done bleeding already. But there was one fair sized hole in his neck and this one continued to bleed. I got a towel and sat with him on my lap, keeping pressure on the wound and thinking of my beer getting warm outside. I knew Schatzi would be OK but wanted to be sure the bleeding was completely stopped so that our trailer carpets and furniture would not get blood stained. After about 30 minutes of pressure, the bleeding had turned to "ooze" and I figured that was good enough.
We spent the rest of the evening visiting. Dianne and Stan's daughter, Nancy, and son, Neil, had come to visit as well. After dinner, we played some cards. I noticed both Nancy and Neil had Coca-Cola money tins and I asked about them. They explained that their mother had bought a whole bunch of these tins at a sale some time ago. I'm happy to announce that my Lucerne cottage cheese tub and Denise's Tupperware dish in which we keep our money have been replaced with Coca-Cola tins as well.
After the long day, we retired around 10:00 pm. We needed our rest as we have about 450 miles to cover tomorrow.
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