January 15, 2017
A few years ago I let a Netherlands blogger post this. Last time I looked it had received 8000 hits. Europeans and South Africans seem particularly interested in driving on a huge sheet of glare ice.
Later on in life a man may forget the name of his first love, but he will never forget the intimate details of his first new car. Mine was a yellow 1973 VW Beetle Custom. I chose the Custom model rather than the Superbeetle, because I was skeptical of those newfangled MacPherson struts — thought they were a fad, and CV joints looked to be a maintenance nightmare.
The Beetle was a great car on the road, especially after I replaced the stock bias-ply tires with oversized radials. The thing was amazing on ice: just how amazing I was to discover one Sunday afternoon in February.
The Big Rideau had watered up in mid-winter, leaving a triangular, five-mile expanse of perfectly glare ice. This was too much to resist. Gingerly I drove on at Portland and worked my way up through the gears, getting the feel of the unfamiliar car on the unfamiliar surface. Everything seemed quite well balanced, so I got up into 4th gear and settled into a cruising speed at what I considered the limit of adhesion, 68 miles per hour.
A Ford Courier with a cement mixer in the back came up behind me and then pulled ahead. This would not do. Determined to catch this upstart, I gradually sped up. The Beetle complained, squirmed a bit, then, resigned, settled in all the way up to 80. All of the sudden everything let go at once. There was no gradually-increasing oscillation which normally leads to a spin-out with a Beetle. Nope. All of the sudden I was spinning like a top.
This was quite an interesting sensation: on a zero-traction plane, you go from a vector of 80 mph north to a similar vector counting in about sixty revolutions per minute. I’d never spun that fast or for that long. I started to worry about oil pressure, so I shut the engine off and shifted into neutral. Still spinning, not even slowing, I turned on the tape deck. It worked fine. I was still a mile from any shore and still spinning, so I just settled back and enjoyed the ride.
Eventually the back wheels caught up and the Beetle coasted to a stop. The Ford Courier was long gone over the horizon. I started up again and continued my tour. A new Corvette blew by me, and I chose not to take up the chase. After about an hour of glare-ice driving and a tour to Rideau Ferry and back I had a pretty good feel for the car. 68 miles per hour remained the optimal cruising speed on ice.
The Beetle served us faithfully for ten years and 130 thousand miles. Then it received new floorboards and lived with my cousin for another three. Its only ill-effect from its many off-road adventures was that when we sold the car it was 1 ½ inches longer than when it was new. My dad’s horses had had to tow it quite a lot, sometimes out of ditches, and sometimes like a toboggan over the snowdrifts to the ploughed road. A couple of times I buried the thing while driving on the crust. Once, disgusted, my dad made me wait until spring to recover it. I had to use my wife’s Datsun for a month until the snow melted. What a grouch!
We got rid of the Beetle when our new son arrived. The Rabbit was much safer, but useless off-road. My dad could hardly contain his relief, but two months later he bought his new grandson an army surplus Jeep to drive around the farm.
January 11, 2017
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.
December 28, 2016
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.
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.
December 24, 2016
My super-efficient MacBook Air computer has begun to suffer from performance problems relating to a lack of disk capacity. Routine purges of the hard drive fail to contain the deterioration. It seems Google Photos has linked my phone’s camera to the computer and automatically saves a version or two of everything the camera takes to my hard drive.
Each new photo automatically becomes sacrosanct, for almost all are of an adorable infant, our first granddaughter Ada. A tentative attempt to delete one or two this morning earned me an electronic slap on the wrist: the blasted things are locked! Many of these artifacts have come from other family members in an earnest effort to document Ada’s life and travels around the province.
Pretty well every time Ada opens her eyes there’s a camera there to record the event, and Google Photos immediately and automatically distributes the new data to other named recipients.
This reached a fever pitch about when Ada’s first selfies hit the Internet. At three and a half months, the kid has now become smart phone-sophisticated, calmly maintaining eye contact with the camera as a natural part of her personality.
And of course the album links get forwarded: we have created the Ada Virus.
The impulse to share one of Ada’s pictures popped up from some unfamiliar corner of my brain as I finished typing this deliberation, so I tried to upload one to WordPress. I couldn’t find a single photo accessible to this program’s software. The virus has now concealed itself!
*This online document has been checked and declared free of the named virus.
December 20, 2016
Here’s a thought:
Over the last few years my contributions to the Liberal Party of Canada have been directly tied to the level of abuse Justin Trudeau has faced in the media during his time in office. Unfair attack ads opened my cheque book because, like a distant but somewhat protective parent, I felt I could at least do something to defend the guy.
All fall I have ignored the LPC email stream begging for contributions because things were going pretty well for JT and the Liberals and they could get along without me after we had gotten rid of Harper. It seemed it was somebody else’s turn to pay the piper. I didn’t mind if it was Chinese billionaires. It at least showed the Liberal Party had gotten off their butts and learned how to raise money.
But now the media’s lining up on this ethics issue. The LPC has learned to find the money to operate, but they’re vulnerable because of the catchy bumper-sticker phrase “Cash for access.”
I guess the condemnation is really directed at me, the lazy parent. So last night the cheque book opened up again.
December 18, 2016
Remember when the Canadian media called Justin Trudeau a hypocrite for refusing to condemn Donald Trump during the long presidential campaign? Turns out JT was wiser than his naysayers thought.
Then his loudest detractor quipped he would be no match for Trump in negotiations. Cheap bumper-sticker thought, that Bambi-vs-Godzilla line from Kevin O’Leary.
Even Michael Harris’s David-vs-Goliath comparison is a poor analogy, because it still speaks to a cranky, insecure Manichean tradition of the battle to the death between principalities which today is far from the Canadian experience.
The last fresh idea about Canada-U.S. relations (mouse-sleeping-with-a-friendly elephant) came from the elder Trudeau, come to think of it.
From what I’ve seen of Donald Trump so far, the elephant-in-an-orange-toupe idea still retains a good deal of currency. Justin Trudeau would fit naturally into the role of the rider trapped on this panicked elephant as the United States careens along the road, driven by its fear and natural urges, but unsure of its destination, or even direction at a given moment.
I’ll watch with interest the first public encounter between Trump and Trudeau, but I expect the rider will continue to calm the behemoth and begin to nudge it away from the more obvious hazards as it burns through its manic energy.