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Coming Down the Mountain (with no brakes)

We got up early today to leave Powell, Wyoming for Gillette, Wyoming for the Campbell County Fair. There’s not a lot of time between shows. We have at best one night and one day before we have to setup for the Thursday start of teh Campbell County Fair. Today is Monday.

As luck would have it, our borrowed Garmin GPS crapped out and we got a little lost and ended up in Cody, Wyoming before we fired up the computer and Googled better directions.

There were two routes available to Gillette. The first was 14A through the bighorn mountain range. After ‘googling’ 14A, RV, and mountain pass, I found comments like, “white nuckled”, “narrow roads”, “steep hairpin curves”, and “never again”. That pretty settled that route.

The other option was rt 16 from Worland to Buffalo, Wy- and away we went.

Besides what seemed like the endless potty stops for Emma (I think she was bored and did not have an overactive bladder), we made good time through to Tensleep, Wyoming at the foot hills of the Big Horn Mountain Range. We were skirting the southern part of the mountain range and the terrain ranged from canyons passes with rivers flowing along side to bleak and barren stone gardens amidst the dry scenery. In the range, the incline seemed like it would never end. At one point were were climbing up hill at a whopping 22 mph with about 6 cars, trucks, motorhomes, and trailers behind us. I can’t get much momentum with the sharp hairpin turns pulling the 3,000 pound’ish trailer behind the motorhome. We reached the peak at 9663 feet (I think that’s it, I took a brief glance as I had the pedal to the metal trying to pick up some speed) and started the 30 miles descent to Buffalo, Wyoming.

In some ways, descending with a trailer is harder the climbing. Your biggest fear in climbing is overheating. Your biggest fear in descending is dying a fabulous death somersaulting down the mountain in a mangled heap of metal and broken bodies. No matter.

I took off overdrive and descended with the transmission doing most of the work. In some spots where the descent reached 8% grade amidst sharp corners, I had to drop her to 2nd gear on the column for a leisurely, engine whining 4000 RPM, tour of some spectacular scenery (or so I’m told with white nuckles on the wheel and arms shaking from the stress).

The final leg was the worst. We hit 8% grades in sharp turns forcing me to continuously pump the brakes to keep us at a controllable speed. With a sigh of relief, we hit the final slope coming into the outskirts of Buffalo. I let the transmission do the work and we coasted in gear down the last steep grade.

At the bottom of the hill coming into Buffalo I started to slow us down coming into town to find the pedal dropped to the floor! I started pumping and got enough brake pressure to slow us down and dropped the transmission into second. At the bottom of the hill was a light where RT 16 dead ended into I-90. I managed to get us to a stop and around the corner before finding a clear strip to stop the motorhome.

I got out and took a look under the motorhome expecting a pool of brake fluid from a blown brake line or brake cylinder- nothing. I inspected the master brake cylinder and topped off the reservoir- it was full. What gives? I thought maybe we blew the master cylinder or the vacuum assist. I called the few auto repair shops here in Buffalo before a mechanic suggested the master cylinder was fine but the brakes overheated coming down the mountain. He said they get that all the time.

And here I sit waiting for the brakes to cool down to see if he’s correct. I hope so. We don’t have a lot of time to wait for a repair and replacing the master cylinder is a little out of my league with the tools on hand (on the side of the road).

Admittedly, the two cold beers I shared (she may disagree) with Hil went a long way to relieve both our nerves. We’re sweating like pigs from the heat and the kids are stripped down to their undies. I may join them after another beer:)

These are the fun things you run into traveling like we do pulling a 3,000 pound plus trailer. The obvious conclusion is that I need brakes on the trailer. Easier said than done. It would almost be easier to replace the trailer than to add brakes to this trailer (switching out axles).

Another bonus would be to have a GPS that could route us based on elevation and slope. I’m looking into that now.

Oh well, you work with what you got.

Next Up? The Campbell County fair in Gillette, Wyoming. What becomes of the limping Suburban in Lander?

Stay tuned…

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3 comments to Coming Down the Mountain (with no brakes)

  • Jay Pea

    Rock on McDowells!!!!

  • Jenn

    “dying a fabulous death somersaulting down the mountain in a mangled heap of metal and broken bodies”….Jerry!…we miss you lots…big kisses to the whole family…extra hugs for H!

  • big cheese

    Thanks Jenn-

    Hope all is well in HotAtlanta with the family. Say Hi to Paul.