We’re in the middle of our first road trip with the Dolphin. I guess it’s a shakedown cruise since we’re pretty much putting her through her paces. So far, so good.
The first leg was from Silverton to Bend where we visited with Lulu’s youngest brother. The trip was up and over the Santiam Pass so it was a good start on finding out how our little 4-cylinder was going to handle hills. I’m happy to say that she did just fine. Granted, we had to downshift to 3rd occasionally but we completely expected that. After all, we come from a split-window VW bus background. Believe me, we know about downshifting. I kept an eagle eye on the temperature gauge during the climb but it never once rose above the middle of the normal range. Outside temperatures were in the 90s at the time. We stopped in Sisters for a few groceries (beer and ice) and then finished the trip. Before we left Bend, we filled the gas tank. I calculated the mileage and came up with about 16.5 mpg. Not amazingly great but about what we expected of a 2.4 L engine pulling a pretty heavy load over the mountains. This mileage period had no freeway driving and was mostly 2-lanes up and down. There was a fair amount of in-town driving in Salem as well, mostly on 90+ degree days, so we’re not really disappointed. Better mileage would be nice but 16.5 mpg will be just fine.
The “road trip” portion of the shakedown cruise really began when we left Bend. We got up pretty early, had showers, brewed up a couple of cups of road coffee and set off down the road towards Redmond. Just before Redmond we veered off towards Prineville where we planned to find someplace to get breakfast. Breakfast is one of my favorite restaurant meals when road-tripping and is the meal that says Road Trip to me. Much more so than lunch or dinner for some reason.
We stopped at Brothers Restaurant in downtown Prineville. It was a pretty standard looking place with a restaurant on one side and a bar on the other. The sign said the bar was open but it didn’t really look like it. Just as well at 8:00 AM. Our waitress was new and she was a tad bit overexuberant for first thing in the morning. A little too happy and concerned with our happiness and way too loud. But, she meant well or at least was trying for a good tip.
In order to compare one restaurant to another, you kind of need a standard item to order. For lunch it could be burgers or fish and chips, for example. Our standard diner breakfast order, if we’re not in the mood for anything else is Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs, generally served with hashbrowns or home-fried potatoes and always served with sausage gravy. Some places it’s really good, some places it’s great and some places, although very few, it sucks. This was one of the almost great places. They had two different versions, the regular for $9.95 and the Big One for $11.95. Well, breakfast might not be the best place to completely pork out especially if all you’re going to do is sit in a truck all day so we opted for the regular.
We were not disappointed. The eggs were cooked over-medium which, to us, means firm whites and runny yolks but you never know for sure what you’re going to get. These were perfect. The steak was fork tender and the gravy, although undoubtedly started from a mix, had definitely been doctored up by the cook. The hashbrowns did not taste like they’d been sitting on the grill for hours and the English muffin was served with plenty of butter, which is really unusual as that seems to be where most diners choose to cut costs so their muffins are always dry out at the edges.
Nicely fueled up, we hit the road heading towards John Day, más ó menos. The country around central Oregon is really very pretty and is fortunately not crowded with vehicles. We drove past ranches, through forests, and up and down canyons.
Our first waypoint was a little town called Mitchell. From there we’d get on the road to Mt. Vernon. At Mt. Vernon we stopped for a pee break and to get something to drink at a little gas station/convenience store. The proprietor and the locals who were shooting the breeze inside were very friendly. I thought about getting gas there but we still had over a quarter of a tank and I kind of wanted to run the tank down further so I could calculate the mileage over a longer run. I’d get gas in Ukiah which is where we were headed from Mt. Vernon.
As we got closer to Ukiah, my gas gauge was getting mighty close to empty. No matter, Ukiah is just ahead. By the time we were almost there, the gauge was on empty. Guess I planned that pretty well, huh? Or did I? We passed the sign for services and under fuel all it showed was a Pacific Pride cardlock commercial fueling station. Oh well, I know that businesses have to pay to get their names on those signs and if you’re the only public gas station in town, why bother with the expense? We cruised in to Ukiah which is pretty darn small but certainly large enough to support a gas station. Except it didn’t. We got to the other end of town and the Pacific Pride was the only gas station around and we couldn’t get gas there. And now we’re on empty and the next town with gas would be La Grande, some 54 miles away. Oops. Fortunately, our little Dolphin has an aftermarket auxiliary fuel tank. Thirty gallons and I filled it in Silverton. There’s no gauge on it so you have to do some cipherin’ with miles driven and mpg calculations but at least we have gas. There’s the standard valve on the floor between the driver’s seat and the door. But there aren’t any labels to give one an idea of which way to turn the valve, and it seems to travel through a full 360 degrees. I had contacted Steve, the previous owner and he thought it was marked but if it wasn’t he was pretty sure the valve should point to the door for the auxiliary tank. It was pointing to the seat for the main tank. So, I pointed it towards the door and waited a few minutes. I wanted to be sure we had flow from the tank before taking off. It’s really hard to just sit and wait so, naturally, I took off a little too early. We hadn’t gone 100 yards when the engine started to sputter and generally act like it was out of gas. I reached down and turned the valve 90 degrees to the rear which happened to point toward the tank. Sputter, sputter, vroom! and we’re off. So now we know.
Steve had also warned me to use premium gas for the first tankful in the auxiliary tank and to add a stabilizer. Well, I didn’t get this advice until the tank was full so I added the stabilizer but regular gas would have to do. I was a little concerned but the truck ran just fine. Not sure what running the premium was all about but it probably had to do with the tank having an unknown quantity of fuel of unknown age. However, when I filled the tank it was obviously completely empty so I guess there was no problem.
From Ukiah we headed to Elgin and then had to get on I-84 for a couple of miles before dropping in to La Grande. The I-84 piece was mostly uphill so we stayed out in the outside lane where we belong and where we’re comfortable. There was another Dolphin ahead of us a bit. As we neared La Grande, the road went down to one lane due to construction. The other Dolphin was behind a semi truck that was moving along at a pretty good clip. Just about the time that the left lane started to actually taper off before ending, the guy in the Dolphin decided it would be a good time to pass the semi. What a MAROON! He just barely made it before he’d be crushed between the semi and the concrete abutment on his left. He was so close to the concrete I expected to see paint on it when we passed. We were on the Interstate for maybe 10 minutes and almost saw a wreck. Give me the two-lane blacktops anytime.
In La Grande we stopped at Walmart to start checking things off the list of “needs” that we had been compiling. That got out of hand really quickly. Of course, the 3″ memory foam pad to make the bed more comfortable, at $109 didn’t help matters one bit. But we eventually got out without having to sell the rig to pay the bill and headed to our stop for the night, Minam State Park between La Grande and Wallowa.
Minam SP, located along the banks of Minam Creek, is a “primitive” park in that, other than the outhouses, it has no services. No electrical, water or sewage hookups that RVers love. This keeps the cost down ($9.00) and keeps the giant luxury motorhomes with their noisy generators away. Mostly there were tent campers, one tent trailer, one medium size 5th wheel trailer and us. And lots of very bold deer.
The campground was pretty uncrowded. No one had to set up right next to anyone else unless they just wanted to.
Speaking of outhouses, this one had a huge array of solar panels on the roof but we couldn’t find anything that they were powering. The conduit ran down off the roof and then into the ground next to the building. But there were no lights or fans or anything else we could see. Maybe it’s for some future thing.
We got up early the next morning, made a couple of cups of coffee for the road and headed out looking for breakfast. Figured we’d stop in Wallowa. However, Wallowa had other thoughts. Nothing was open! Granted, it wasn’t even 7 AM yet but this is farm, ranch and logging country. Where do the good ol’ boys get together to gossip in the mornings if there are no restaurants open? OK, we’ll stop at the next town, Lostine. Foiled again! Even the espresso stands weren’t open yet. C’mon people! You’re burning daylight here! Get your butts out of bed and make us some breakfast! Finally, in Enterprise, we found Friends Restaurant. Lots of locals inside and we sat down at the table right next to the one where most of them seem to gather every morning. People kept trickling in and sitting down at that table and, somehow, it seemed to absorb them all. Lulu had a sourdough pancake, egg, and sausage and I opted for sausage (patty) and eggs with hashbrowns and an English muffin. It was very good although, apparently not photo-worthy. Either that or I just forgot to bring the camera in.
We got on Oregon Highway 3, the Enterprise-Lewiston Highway, and headed north. About 2/3 of the way between Enterprise and Lewiston, the road descends into a deep canyon, the climbs back out, then descends into another one, climbs back out and then calms down as it descends to the level of the Snake River. This section of the road is called Rattlesnake Grade and we’ve heard the name for years but had never driven it. Seems like usually, by the time we actually drive one of these legendary roads, they’ve been so over-hyped that we’re kind of disappointed. Rattlesnake Grade lives up to its hype. The grade portion of the road is maybe 20-25 miles long altogether and I have no idea what the altitude gain and loss is. A Google search of Rattlesnake Grade Washington brings up a bunch of motorcyclist websites. With its twists and turns, it’s apparently a lot of fun on a bike. We did the whole grade in 3rd gear except when the tight curves required a shift down to 2nd, which actually happened fairly often on the uphill portions. A close eye on the engine temperature gauge gave no indication that the little 22R engine even knew it was being worked. We’re loving this little rig!
This leg of our shakedown cruise ended at Kayler’s Bend Golf Course near Peck, Idaho on Highway 12 along the Clearwater River. No, we haven’t taken up cow pasture pool, we just happen to be related to the proprietors of the course. Treva and Jeff gave us a sweet, level spot to park and we settled in.
So far, we’ve replaced one cabinet latch, tightened up a faucet fitting to stop it leaking and that’s about it. Engine’s running fine and every time I check the oil it’s full up and still clean. We need to maybe learn a little more about the propane reefer as it seems to go out while we’re driving a lot (but maybe not, the flame is really hard to see in broad daylight). We found that running grey water to the holding tank fills it pretty darn fast and that, when full, the holding tank emits some odors. Have to find the source of the odor leakage and plug it up. Also thinking about putting in a diverter so we can run grey water to a bucket outside instead of to the holding tank. All in all, not too bad for a shakedown cruise in an old but new-to-us rig.
Next edition: Eagles and Effie Burgers.