Fargo, Ontario 2017

December 17, 2017


Remember the opening scene from the Coen Brothers’ movie? A beige 1987 Olds Cutlas appears through a whiteout with what appears to be another identical car reared up behind it. Turns out the clone rides on a U-Haul car dolly, and the camera reveals William H. Macy grimly fighting his way through a prairie storm to deliver it to a pair of hit men. It’s the stuff of legend for Coen buffs, if not for car lovers.

This morning I had scheduled myself to deliver Mom’s Scion to the Kingston Toyota dealership, so there I was on Hwy 15 amid the blowing salt dust as the sun came up, locked in a Hollywood fantasy. Couldn’t I have done better than William H. Macy? I squinted through Ruby’s frosted windshield and waited for my vision to clear.

Loading the Scion had proven quite easy. Though the dolly came without rental agreement or instructions, its operation seemed straightforward and my son Charlie was there to supervise. The only confusing part came when I tried to attach the safety chains which hold the car to the dolly. I couldn’t find any frame under a Scion onto which to hook anything.

A dozen or so U-Tube videos during the evening and early morning led me slowly to the realization that 1) the chains are essential; 2) they don’t have to be tight; and 3) just running each over its lower control arm and hooking back to itself will be fine. I finished tying them in place at 7:15, just before departure.

Some of those videos had flat-out scared me. Half of them portrayed accidents in waiting, so this one time I decided not to cut any corners.

Generally I am loathe to leave Ruby out of doors on a cold night lest her engine frost up and her lubrication fail. But the car and dolly were already attached, so the garage was out of the question, even during an Arctic clipper.


Ruby lit up at first touch, regardless of the extreme cold, but then took her sweet time at warming up. Nonetheless we descended the driveway, a trim towing package, and turned onto #15 to face the rising sun.

On the highway with a two-ton load the Cayenne’s V8 certainly does not lack power. Cruising at just under 2000 rpm in 6th gear, Ruby occasionally downshifted to 4th for steep hills, but the whole thing went smoothly. I was struck by how quiet and comfortable the towing experience was — nothing like the tooth-grinding battle the same load puts my Tacoma through. Yes, I soon had the cruise control engaged at 93 km.

After fifteen minutes I stopped for fuel, tightened the straps, and had largely recovered from the frostbite of that experience by the time we turned onto the 401. Ruby’s speed crept up to 110 km/hr without any sign of instability in the load or the tow vehicle.

We breezed through empty west-end intersections in record time. Chuckling at how clever I had been to make this run early on a Sunday morning to avoid the Christmas traffic, I found my entry blocked by security gates at every entrance to the Kingston Toyota lot.

OOOOPS! Hadn’t thought of that.

Surely the answering machine will have someone on call to open up. Ten minutes of phone tag during which I spoke to no human led me to realize that I had outwitted myself this time.

Across the street lay an almost-empty parking lot for a drugstore. We pulled in out of the growing traffic to unload. The chains came off the Scion’s control arms with a shake. Tire strap webbing was a little stiff in places, but the ratchet mechanisms worked as promised, with just a bit of brute force. By now the idling Scion was making progress on its windshield, so I lowered the ramps and prepared to back off the dolly.

Nothing happened but whining tires. Mom’s car was stuck on the dolly.

With visions of last night’s videos (jeep and mini-van belly-hung over twisted car dollies), we rocked ahead an inch, then reversed. More whirring of tires on steel. The Scion was without usable traction on small squares of slick metal between the thick angle irons fore and aft designed to hold the car in place. I left the idling car in neutral, set the parking brake (on the rear wheels), fired up Ruby and shot forward. On the third try, it worked. I looked back to see the bemused Scion sitting on all fours, with its right front wheel tentatively pressing down on a trailing tire strap, for security, I guess.

The drug store staff accommodated my request to park my charge overnight for the mechanics to collect, so I sealed up the envelope with a key and a hypochondriac’s list of ailments for diagnosis and repair as well as the air bag replacement, wrote the car’s number and location on the front, and marched it across to the service department. Every dealership has a hole in a door for car keys.

As I walked around the gate I didn’t notice. After I had dumped the key, on the return trip only, I realized that the gate which had barred my way was not locked. I had dropped the key through the dealer’s wall, but there was another Scion key in Ruby, so I fired up the patient, scurried through the gate, and parked it in slot 12, right in front of the key drop.

And away Ruby and I went, home by 11:00 with the entire business of the delivery completed. A first-gen Porsche Cayenne is built for this sort of errand. The hand warmers on the steering wheel and the butt-and-back heaters in the seats take on their full relevance after sessions on frozen ground stringing chains through another car’s undercarriage.

U-Haul Car Dolly rental: 1 day $59.68 CDN

Morning with my Cayenne doing something hard: difficult to say, but pretty good


Ruby’s air conditioning

October 25, 2017

Over the course of the summer it seemed that Ruby’s air conditioning system was becoming less vigorous.  Then I rode in the passenger seat on a return from Kingston one warm afternoon.  The passenger vent doesn’t work.  I cooked.  My wife is a lot more tolerant of the heat in a vehicle than I am.

For the rest of the summer we drove Bet’s Lexus to my many medical appointments.  Its excellent climate control and electronically cooled front seats won out.

As I recovered from the heart operation I put my scattered thoughts to the problem.  Leaving an elderly Porsche parked for weeks at a time wouldn’t do.  I recalled that Ruby’s longtime mechanic had recharged the system in B.C. just before Charlie delivered it to the railroad yard in Vancouver back in July of 2016.  I’d go to the local air conditioning shop and have it done again.

Google suggested Olgivie’s on Kilmarnok Island.  I made an appointment and turned up to find a clean facility with a lot of expensive cars, high-end pickups, and heavy trucks around.  The tech came out to listen to my request for a diagnosis, then returned with a printed statement that claimed one a.c. solenoid for the passenger side wasn’t working, but the cooling system works fine with less output on the right.  I gave them the requested $100 and left, more impressed with the car wash than the diagnosis.

Air conditioning performance steadily decreased until I feared for the compressor if it ran out of lubricant.

The next closest shop is Pat’s Radiator in Kingston.  After an initial talk with the counter guy I dropped Ruby off there for service between appointments at the hospital.  They vacuumed the system and recharged it with oil and refrigerant. Because the tech could find no leak, he added a green dye and suggested I have a look after a week or two of driving.  The counter guy told me small leaks often occur in this climate because of extremes of temperature and then can’t be located when it warms up.  Out of the blue he commented:  “You haven’t driven it very much, have you?”  I think he was referring to Ruby’s mileage and condition in comparison to its year. Generally techs in Ontario don’t expect much of a car built in 2003, but Vancouver cars have it easy.

My $238 was well spent, as the a/c now seems to work quite well.  No leaks are evident so far.  I’d take Ruby back to “Pat’s” for other repairs.


I should mention that I did take Ruby back to Pat’s for a checkup of the coolant refill. A drop-in, I figured someone would take a quick look under the car and give me the nod and be done with it.

No. A tech put Ruby into the shop and I sat down for a half hour before he re-appeared. I approached the counter. He began to operate the bill machine. Out came the invoice, documenting the cooling system check, declaring that there were no leaks. Amount owing: $ 0.00.

Apparently it is important to document the inspections, and they figure the cost into the original invoice.

Ruby’s HVAC system continues to function well. Pat’s Radiators in Kingston, Ontario rates pretty high in my book.


For years I have told anyone who would listen that the most hazardous driving conditions of the winter occur in April, when a quick fall of snow is saturated by rain at 32 degrees F.  I even had a name for the phenomenon, April grease.

We drove into some on the way home from Merrickville today.  I was mildly curious to see how Ruby would do on zero-traction slush, but primarily I was eager to get her home without damage.

The trip began bravely enough, with very little traffic on the back roads.  The few winter- hardy drivers plowed along, their pickups in 4WD and loaded tanks of sap in the back.

As long as I was exactly in their wheel ruts, things were normal.  But if the right wheels climbed a 1″ pile of slush, Ruby let me know with a stutter-step to the right, the same as any other car I’ve driven in this stuff.

On a side note:  because of this slush I quit using a Volkswagen for winter commutes.  A light FWD like our Jetta would lose control for as long as both front wheels were floating on slush — in passing situations, for example.  I opted for a series of Volvo sedans, those of the skinny, tall Michelins. They were pretty good, though I managed the odd front-wheel skid with them, as well.  When the new 4Runner came along I learned just to drive it in 4WD through thick and thin.  It was very stable in the passing lane unless in 2WD, at which point it behaved like an annoyed pig on ice.

Back to Ruby and the unfamiliar April slush.  As we passed Toledo things became greasier, though I noticed that most drivers were still holding a pace for dry pavement.  Then one guy braked to turn.  His SUV split-arsed a bit, but he recovered neatly and continued into a barn yard.  Though well back, I tried my brakes on the tricky surface.  To my surprise nothing happened for a bit.  It wasn’t a skid — no machine gun rattle from various corners of the car — but rather it seemed that the brakes just weren’t working.  Ice on the rotors, or all wheels with zero traction?  Likely ice.  I’ve noticed that before on Ruby.  This never happens on a Lexus, but Toyota engineers didn’t have to worry about brake cooling on a sedan designed for geezers.  Cayennes occasionally find themselves on a track, so the rotors are built to run very cold.  32 degree F slush, a whirling, shiny object and you have a perfect chance for ice to form.

So part of the routine for driving Ruby in near-freezing conditions is frequent touches of the brakes to defrost them.

Once they were dry, I over-applied the brakes as a test.  The usual muted machine-guns went off, and the car slowed quickly, dead-straight.  A basic safety line established, I experimented with the Goodyear winter tires and the grease.  Frankly, I wasn’t all that impressed.  The wheels are simply too wide for the weight of the vehicle on grease.  The coarse off-road treads of my pickup would grip the asphalt better, I think.  I slowed down to just a bit over 80 km/hr.

Why the critical attitude when I certainly should have been driving more slowly in bad conditions?  In my wife’s Lexus, a pretty good slush car with a relatively high weight-to-tire width, I know how quickly I’m driving without a look at the speedometer.  In Ruby, I really don’t know without instruments.  Speed creeps up if I don’t use cruise control.  Stealth speed is not what a driver needs in April grease.

Will I leave Ruby at home next time in bad conditions?  Naw.  I’ll just set the cruise at 80 km and go for it.  It’s still by far the best, safest car we’ve ever driven.  I just need to adjust the control nut behind the wheel.

And now that I think of it, on one memorable 5 a.m. drive to the Ottawa Airport on April 7th, I refused to drive my Volvo an inch further because I couldn’t keep it on the road.  We went in our friend’s Dodge Mini-Van with AWD.  It drove like a motorized living room, but it didn’t slide around on grease.

Those who have driven the Chaffey’s Locks Road from Perth Road to Hwy 15 over the years don’t need any convincing that it is one of the best scenic drives in Eastern Ontario. Regular improvements have turned the rough cottage track into a fine hard surface through the original twists and climbs around Upper Rock and Opinicon Lakes in this section of the Canadian Shield.  The wider eastern stretch from Chaffey’s Locks to Hwy 15 also received a superb paving job two summers ago.

Of course the county fathers clapped a 40 km speed limit on the whole thing lest there be a Miata wrapped around every tree.  The many bicyclists in summer no doubt appreciate this.

After an errand in Kingston on a snowy morning last week I came home by Perth Road, but then turned toward Chaffey’s, partly to escape the deluge of salt and sand on the more heavily-travelled route to Westport.

Ruby discovered twenty miles of packed snow with a light dusting of sand down the middle.  This could be interesting.  At 5380 pounds empty, the Porsche Cayenne plants its winter tires quite firmly on the surface below, so I expected a smooth and controlled drive around the many dips and turns.

But I hadn’t taken the traction control into account.  After a while I began to wonder why the car felt so rooted to the road, so I tried to induce a little bit of slippage on a sweeper around an open field.

No.  Ruby just slowed down to a reasonable pace and continued on her way.


I tried again when I found another good sightline.  As soon as the computer detected any slippage, on came brakes in a couple of wheels and she resumed the correct line.

You mean I could drive this road without braking for turns?  But that would be crazy! There are far too many blind spots for that.

So behave, you old coot!

And so I did.  Ruby and her computer/nanny guided me on an amazingly smooth passage to Chaffey’s Locks.  The ride was as serene as an illegal golf cart tour on a back road on a fine summer day.  It offered about the same sensation of motion, but it wasn’t long until Ruby pulled up to the stop sign at Hwy 15.

We ducked across the sandy main road and followed a series of other snow-covered by-ways back to Young’s Hill.  Only at the hairpin on an unused road around Forfar Station was I able to confuse Ruby.  I guess German programmers didn’t anticipate a 25 mph hairpin turn on virgin snow over gravel.  The left rear lost traction, all four brakes instantly burped that machine-gun rattle, and Ruby collected herself and proceeded at a resolute ten miles per hour regardless of my efforts on the throttle.

Two thoughts collided:  I certainly wouldn’t want a teenager to learn to drive on this thing. If the computer ever failed with the bad habits it had engendered, he’d crash.  But then I thought how great this car would be in the kind of slush on a crowded highway which turns light front-wheel drives into aquaplaning death traps.

There’s no doubt that a smart tank like Ruby is the right conveyance for my new grand-daughter.


Today I ran into a case where Porsche over-engineering produced a potential safety hazard for the uninformed trailer user.

A Cayenne’s a logical choice to tow a 6X12 covered U-Haul trailer, but not until the rental’s safety chains receive an important modification.  The hooks on the trailer I recently rented would not engage the rings on the factory trailer hitch because the steel is too thick to accommodate the triangular safety devices.  Jamming the hooks into place wasn’t going to work, so I limped three miles to my shop from the rental depot by a back road.  By then, one of the three chains had worked its way loose and was dragging.

I borrowed a pair of hooks from a robust trailer I built a few years ago.  The photo shows them in place, pinned into links below the U-Haul hooks.  I only had access to two hooks this time but from now on I’ll keep three which I can add on to safety chains to ensure that the robust hitch does not itself produce a hazard.

Update:  29 December, 2016

Grab the chain about 12″ from the hook, stick the CHAIN through the hole, loop the hook around the chain. This worked for me at UHaul.

Another RennList contributor used 3/8″ stainless steel quick-links to do the same job.

According to trailer veteran Tom Stutzman, Toyota has similarly robust hitch dimensions.  Pennsylvania mandates simple S-hooks which fit easily.  Ontario regulations require the problematic hooks.


Woodlot excursion

December 25, 2016


Over the years it has become a Christmas ritual to tour the woodlot by whatever means necessary.  Ten years ago Charlie and Shiva began the tradition by bullying the golf cart into the trip through too much fluffy snow.  When the Ranger replaced the golf cart, it hauled passengers and their snowshoes across the windy fields to the woodlot and froze them on the return trip.

This year Charlie started up both 2004 Cayennes to try out their low range and differential locks around the yard.    Ruby was thus already cleaned off and warmed up when I grabbed my keys and tracked him down on the property.  Then we toured the sugar bush.

We soon observed that it would take a good deal of snow to stop a Porsche Cayenne equipped with winter tires.  I did manage to twist over an earth berm at such an angle that I needed to use the locker to maintain traction to the wheels, but Ruby felt right at home off-roading in snow.

The only problem is that puttering through the woods in a Porsche Cayenne isn’t much fun.  It’s far too capable a vehicle.  A golf cart or 2WD UTV, or even a snowmobile, provides much more of a challenge, and hence a higher fun quotient.

On the other hand Charlie is now a father and I’m not getting any younger, and we did break a good wide walking track through the bush.

Ruby visits Sweet’s Quarry.

December 15, 2016


When Charlie tried to transfer his trailer’s registration from BC to Ontario, the clerk told him he was obliged to provide a weight for the vehicle.  Email ensued.

Roads were good today so we unloaded the BMW track car, squiggled it over driveway ice and into the shop, cleared out the luggage in the trailer, and hit the road to the Sweet’s Corners quarry.

Ruby towed the 2950 lb trailer quite willingly, though in a headwind on the return trip the fuel consumption shot up to just over 17 litres per 100 km.  (Interestingly, a few weeks later a 6X12 U-Haul tandem trailer exacted the same fuel penalty on a trip to Ottawa.)

An ongoing debate on Rennlist.com has dealt with whether a Cayenne is car, truck, or other.  Up until this point my comments have favoured “car.”  With this photo, though, I may be entering the “truck” tent.

The weigh-scales guy loved Ruby.  This tag shows the gross weight of Ruby and the trailer at 3780 kg, or 3.78 metric tonnes, as the quarry guys prefer.  That’s 8333.5 pounds to me.


Ulp.  That means Ruby weighs 5383 pounds!  And the fuel tank was nearly empty.  The trailer weighed 2950 lb.