WCRA website promoting Stage and TSD Rally Sport in British Columbia
2002 Totem Rally Story

RallyBC Historic Class Rallying

The Last Great Adventure, or "But Modern Cars Have Things Like Good Brakes and Working Heaters -- That's No Fun!"

The close proximity of the last two events of the season nearly proved the undoing of Rallybug. I had obligations in Europe that required me to basically hop out of Rallybug and onto an airplane immediately after the finish of Midnight; and then hop off an airplane and back into the car immediately for Totem. The only problem was that we limped through the last half of Midnight on only two cylinders.
In the three weeks between the events, with me in Europe and unable to assist, would there be a car to immediately hop back into? This is the joy of running a historic class car--no suitable hot spare unless it is 30 years old an happens to be running that day (Like your brother-in-law's '66 International Harvester Travelall -- no, second thought, like I said, no suitable hot spares available.) The seriousness of our predicament did not become apparent to well into the second week. Dave had delivered 069 KAY to our local Beetle repair god. Frantic calls from Dave in Seattle and me from Paris resulted in no visible progress. Our usual calendar challenged VW mechanic blamed the initial delay on the fact that a Roundtoit had not arrived (as in "I'll get around to it - maybe"). When the Roundtoit finally did arrive, we suddenly had a two-week problem that needed to be sorted in two days. "No way I can fix this--if only you'd brought it in two weeks earlier." To which he had to be reminded that if he had only brought the car into the shop from his parking lot were it had sat for the last two weeks, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Mechanics seen to live in a universe where the fabric of time is strangely interrupted
Is only offered solution was a used engine. Though I recall there was some static on the line when he said, "used"; perhaps what he said was "abused." I am not sure now. Four marginally operable cylinders did seem better than two, so we agreed on this plan--used engine, cleaned up, installed, nice tight heater boxes and secure heat pipe connections, good exhaust, new fan belt, ready to go--pick the car up on Thursday on my way back from the airport. No time on Friday. Done. Do it! So why all this fuss? We have a numerically thin chance of being the 2002 RallyBC Historic Class winners. Though hard work, thrift and industry (dumb luck also a factor) we have managed to be in a position where we have a striking chance. Rallybug was purchased on a whim, just to do T-bird at the start of the 2002 season. Clearly, we have taken the bait, hook, line and sinker on this historic thing. We owe it to Rallybug to give it our best shot for the Expatriate's Martini Club de Paris.

So, off the airplane and directly to the shop to pick up Rallybug. My poor taxi driver did not understand why someone would want to go into the really scary part of run down industrial Seattle at that time of night. But soon all would be clear.

I arrive and there is Dave and there is Rallybug. Amazingly, there is an engine under the rear trunk lid. It is even warm, as if it had recently generated heat under it's own locomotion. Good sign. But of course in the middle of the night in run down industrial Seattle, with only a 15 watt light bulb to inspect by. One does not want to spend much time attracting the attention of the local populous who cling to the shadows but seem to be circling. A quick exit is called for. Grab key and go.

Car starts--good sign--seems to idle OK, so off we go. The feel of the engine does at first seem a little strange, and perhaps a little slow. But realistically, I have just spent the last two weeks driving big Grosser McGerman cars with fully Automatic-this and complete Anti-that. After 8 hours of high speed motoring from Geneva to Paris on the Auto Route at speeds just shy of 200 Clicks to catch the plane, jumping back into 1969 (or as this is a Volkswagen Beetle, perhaps 1939) requires an initial adjustment in one's mental expectations of vitesse rapide. Car makes it to parking garage, which is a good sign. But I am not sure which is operating slower than normal--my mind after 13 hours of flying, or perhaps my new used "excellent runner, like new condition" replacement mill. Even the surrealistic blue fog that emanates from the engine vents fails to grab my attention. The next objective is clear--blissful sleep. But tonight I sleep well knowing 069 KAY is primed and ready for the RallyBC Historic Class finale.
The next day is spent madly finishing a Boeing proposal that must be in at 5PM. Around 8PM, it's time to start thinking about Totem.

I am a major believer in night before car preparation. It adds a certain clarity to what is really a priority, and what is not. The prioritization is simple. The question must is asked-"what can be accomplished with blue tape, hot glue or self tapping sheet metal screws in the next twenty minutes?" Or, it divides critical tasks into two major categories: "What can I do now and what can I defer to the Petro Canada truck stop in Hope?"

Dave returns from our local overpriced VW part purveyor. A brand new fan belt, the life thread of any VW engine, has been purchased especially for this rally occasion.

Only this thin strip of vulcanized rubber can provide some illusion of heat output for the occupants and keep the engine from turning into a Chernobyl. It sits on the workbench, still in it's Continental Rubber orange package, awaiting careful stowage per the preparation checklist.

With the secure knowledge that Rallybug had been thoroughly prepped and prepared by a seasoned automotive professional, this made last minute adjustments a lot easier. It was a matter of what is the blue tape, hot glue and self tapping sheet metal screws now still not holding from what was fixed the night before the last rally? So by 8:20 PM, car prep is over and it is time to start the long journey north to the land of Eh? and our final 2002 historic rally adventure.

The slow response to locomotion activity from carefully measured inputs of spark, air and fuel hint at things to come. This engine is not warm, and awakening in it is like trying to arouse a sleeping bear around Thunderbird time. Much coaxing finally brings it to life, but the embarrassment of having to warm the car for ten minutes to make it up the ramp of my parking garage is our first indication that "excellent runner, like new condition" might have an alternate meaning. By 9PM, were on I-5 and cruising north. Dave is driving. Jet lag for me is seriously setting in, but the buckboard ride of studded Nokians inflated to three atmospheres keeps me thoroughly focused. Tires filled to exactly 45 PSI is Ballard Les Schwab's revenge for having the gall to bring the car back and ask them to hand torque the wheel nuts to something that can be actually loosened by a human life form. (We had to borrow mining explosives to get the wheel off to fix our flat on Midnight. Luckily in rural B.C. you can find mining explosives fairly easily).
A quick time speed distance calculation discovers we would arrive Cache Creek after the pubs close, so an alternate plan is hatched. Bellingham, city of our old alma mater is selected as the alternate midpoint destination.

By this time, even with my mind just waking up at breakfast time somewhere over the Atlantic, it is clear something is amiss. We are spending a lot of time in third gear, and going nowhere fasr. Also, the interior of the car is starting to take on the characteristics of the firebox of a poorly combusting oil-burning stove. A quick roadside inspection, once the smoke clears enough to inspect, finds oil sluicing from the valve covers onto the red hot heat exchangers, which Volkswagen engineers have thoughtfully mounted directly below the valve cover/head mating surfaces (i.e. the parts that always leak). Oil + heat = smoke, and plenty of it. Our fate is clear--we are now piloting a mobile smoke generator.

By the side of the road, with the four ways flashing, drowned in the mass of blue haze, the world takes on a strangely surrealistic look with a hint of disco effect. We manage to seal off enough of the heating system to be really, really cold but inside the oil cloud remains about the same. Bellingham soon arrives and this will be tomorrow's problem. Perhaps it will go away during the night. The good news is that the bars are still open.

The alarm goes off at oh dark hundred hours. We scurry to the local Bellingham car wash to remove some of the oil slick and perform damage control. We find three people washing their cars at 4:30 AM. Is life this slow in Bellingham? Even after a quick spray, the motor looks like it was just hauled up from the center of the La Brea tar pits. A quick read of the repair invoice states "install new valve cover gaskets." We look in the trunk and under the seats, in the glove compartment--but we just can't find where they've installed them.

But it is now 5:00 AM and Cache Creek is not moving toward us any faster than it has in the last thousand years. Time to go. Precision air circulation management (socks stuffed in the heater ducts) and carefully balanced ram air induction (pulling out the radio mounting hole filler plate in the dash) provides an acceptable level of survivability. Off we go.

The truck customs in Blaine is always amusing fun. Which customs inspector will we get? What level of early morning humor will they attempt to rise to? When you roll up in a slightly tatty Volkswagen with large numbers on the door, "Martini Club de Paris" on the windscreen and your name and blood type posted on the side, what can they say? "Spies traveling incognito, eh?"

There are actually three classic responses:
1) "Hey, sounds like fun--have a great time in Canada!"; or 2) "You say you were born in Cache Creek? Do you intend to leave anything, um...this...um...vehicle in Canada?; "You say you were born in Cache Creek?", "Are you traveling with more than $10,000?," "You say you were born in Cache Creek?" or, 3) "...just get otta here...(I haven't had my coffee yet")... (not actually spoken, but communicated with a bored wave of the hand).
So once crossed, we are now officially foreigners, complete with funny accents and strange spelling habits. We know this is true because we have to stare blankly at money when handed to us for long periods for no apparent reason. "Hum..., is that the two dollar coin, or the one? Or is there a three now?"

Tech closes at 9:30. It is four hours to Cache Creek. We have three and one half hours. Time to jet seriously. But other characteristics of the "excellent runner, like new condition" engine are becoming apparent. Gentile hills seam to take on a Mt. Everest like character. Log trucks with half the forests of Canada strapped on the back pass us on going up 10% grades with ease. Clearly, Rallybug can hardly get out of its own way. Something is seriously amiss. Only one large truck hauling an oversize load of pre-cast cement beams can match our same power range for passing, but only just so. We seem to have exactly the same power to weight ratio, except that he weighs 80,000 lbs. We alternate passing each other all the way to Cache Creek. Fortunately a road construction induced stop at a one-lane bridge gives us enough pause time to dump in more oil into the engine in order to keep up the chase. Finally we arrive in Cache Creek, amazingly with time to spare.
"Dave, did you grab the fan belt?"

With usual WCRA efficiency, the Tech Guy is there to greet us. OK--no problem--it all worked three weeks ago. "Right turn, left turn, brakes, back-up, brakes, four-ways, brakes, brakes, brakes...brakes?" No brake lights. Volkswagen mechanic god has struck again.

Investigation finds a loose "ball'o'wire" which once used to transverse the engine compartment prior to installation of the "excellent runner, like new condition" engine. Coincidentally, "ball'o'wire" used to connect to the brake lights to power and the brake light switch. But mere field replacement of the "ball'o'wire" is too easy of fix. A peek at the master cylinder finds the sensor terminals broken off. Hum.
Plan B is already in place. Auxiliary brake light switch and relay already installed after Golddigger. Said switch is a serpentine length of brass strip clamped to the brake pedal with a band clamp. This strip facilitates electron transfer (i.e.-a spark) to the metal floor of the car upon downward movement of brake pedal. Said fix installed ten minutes before leaving on that event. Crude, but an effective and elegant solution, thank you. You just have to remember to scrape the rust off the bare patch on the floor before each rally. A hasty external rewire and rally bug has brake lights. We sign the forms and we are ready for action. But alas, our beloved season favorite car number, No. 12 is given away because we arrive so late. Is this an evil omen?

This is a wet season rally. Fire danger is zero. This means one thing--flares! We get to light flares! Heck with triangles--real men light flares! But you can only light a flare if you are going to be there until in burns out-i.e. a long, long time. And that means the big call to the CAA--"Beam me up, Engineer Scot, I'm somewhere east of Van and it doesn't look good!"

But no flares unless, the unthinkable happens. Dave looks really sad about this. I am banking on the unthinkable.

Dave and I each look first at the "excellent runner, like new condition" engine and then exchange knowing glances. "Better see if we can buy some flares." Petro Canada, here we come...

Day One

We vote to abandon the sophisticated calculating system implemented on the last event because after the third calculation my brain imploded. Our game plan is survival, within the context of "excellent runner, like new condition" engine's ability to propel us through the tundra. We adopt our fallback "Go Like Hell!" strategy.

To implement the "Go Like Hell!" strategy, you must first manage to loose 15 or so critical minutes of transit time to the start of the first regularity. This requires either careful effort or a suitable distraction. In this case, it was either deciding, "did we want a cache of flares at both the front and the back of the car, or just one really big stockpile between the live bare copper electrical distribution panel and the leaking gas filler hose?" Or, perhaps it was just hanging around for that second cup of Petro Canada coffee. Needless to say, those fifteen minutes were gone like a pre-election tax cut promise.
Having implemented the requirement for the "Go Like Hell!" strategy, a "Hot Start" is called for. In case you have not experienced this phenomenon, this is when you are quietly sitting beside the road, expecting to enjoy the sounds of nature for the next fifty five seconds or so, taking that last sip of cup of coffee, when suddenly this blur appears in the rearview mirror and bliss is interrupted by a spray of gravel and the smell of burning Havoline as a car seven numbers ahead of you speeds by at full tilt. Mission "Hot Start" accomplished! The one thing you have to remember about a hot start is to carefully note the car number of the car whose reverie you have just disturbed. This defines the extent of your "Go Like Hell" strategy. The ideal scenario is to pass by a car with a number about six higher then yours. That means reeling in six cars by the end of the 35 kilometers. I inform Dave of this strategy, but he retorts "Winter Rules! Winter Rules!"
No! It can't be! This is not T-Bird. I quickly check the supp's. Sure enough, those dreaded words-"winter rules apply." "Damnation! Oh, what fiendish mind created this evil curse, these vile Winter Rules"! The offending page is ripped from the car rulebook and is tossed into the B.C countryside.

"Damn the winter rules, full speed ahead! Go Like Hell!" (Note: that is, within the context of the 46-ish but likely considerably less available horse power). The "Go Like Hell!" strategy is now fully implemented.


Ah, snow. Nature's way of reminding mankind who is boss. Never enough of it in November or February in B.C. for my tastes. Today, it is patchy with mud.

I am driving. I am lost in a winter wonderland. I think of myself as a small boy, holding my trusty sled "Rosebud" on the hills of Seattle, watching cars slide down the hill backwards and pile up in the yard of my neighbor. One, two, three -crash, bang, smash! But now the scene changes. I am in a car. I am sliding down a hill, backwards. The place I am sliding toward is not the safety of my neighbor's yard, but a quagmire of snow and mud leading to a steep bank.
Some how I must convince the engine end of the car that it really belongs at the opposite end of the direction of travel.
I do this with my right foot and the help of a small tree, who is none the better afterward for it's assistance. Luckily, Beetle running boards are only $14.95 from JcWhitney. Somehow we maintain enough forward momentum to not get stuck, and continue on.

Another thought comes to mind. "Dave, you did grab the fan belt of the workbench, didn't you?"

Rural BC is a Lonely Place

Rural BC is a lonely place, but always full of nature's beauty and surprises. A deer, a chipmunk, a rabbit, a semi truck and low-loader trailer carrying a D-9 Cat sideways, these are all the interesting things you might see and must dodge while on a scenic tour of BC. However, deer, chipmunks and rabbits take up considerably less space than a sideways bulldozer on the roadway.

In the case of a D-9 Cat, the length of this bulldozer is roughly a foot less than the width of a plowed logging road. When mounted in a sideways configuration, it pretty much overhangs the available roadway.

This requires Rallybug to morph into Arcticbug. Arcticbug can go where mere mortal vehicles cannot. Magically, Arcticbug maintains enough momentum in the foot deep slush to not become Stationary bug. We press on, but toning things down to "Go like Heck!" just to be on the safe side.

We catch up slowly, keeping up our speed, but this is the section where every other corner is labeled "corner of death!" or "exposure to the centre of the earth!", "bottomless pit on right!".

We make it across the Frazier on our favorite bridge, but now Rallybug has upward hills to deal with. We arrive at the summit to find the yellow Rabbit (definite Historic class material--next year!) having spewed most of its fluids, which were now running down to join the Frazier on its trip to the sea.

Later we discovered their expansion tank had literally exploded from age. They display it proudly at the finish of the event. Bronzed, it would make a great coffee table conversation piece - I am reminded of another key advantage of air cooling. "Dave, you did remember the fan belt, right?"

Down the hill again we pick up the speed we lost. Then a triangle appears, then another, and another. Three triangles in a row? Who carries that many triangles other than Petro Canada?

Where are their flares! Real men use flares! You could do a whole line of them, down both sides of the road, alternating the spacing for effect Extra long burning 20 minute ones! It would be beautiful!

And so we round the corner and there it is: The car on a rock pedestal, suspended in time and space, a sacrificed to the rally gods. It is a primitive rite, but it must be done so others can pass unscathed. We stop to admire the beauty of this achievement, and they signal they are OK-so we motor on. Dave wants to stop to give them some flares, but there is just not time.

But one last time the opportunity for defeat to be snared from the jaws of victory presents itself. On the last stretch, we hear a characteristic noise like someone put pea gravel in a washing machine. The fan belt has broken. This is the thin blue line between marginal cooling and the China syndrome for a Volkswagen engine.

"DAVE, DID YOU REMEMBER THE FAN BELT!?!" "...er, no...."

This is it. No way out. No nylon stocking offered up from the pretty French girl walking by the roadside to be wrapped around the pulleys like in the movies. The vision of the pristine fan belt, still in its orange Conti wrapper sitting on the workbench is seen with disturbing clarity.

But wait-"Flares! Dave! We get to light the flares!"

So the flares come out. One, two, three - seventeen, stretching for as long as the eye can see. A festival of sputtering red light bathes the roadway. The cars behind us slow as they pass, mesmerized by this ethereal beauty. If extraterrestrials are looking for a landing spot tonight, this is the place.

But now the first flares are starting to go out. Suddenly a vision of the little match girl freezing in a cold square of Copenhagen appears before us. We must light more, but there are no more flares to light. A frantic search ensues. Areas of the car that have not seen daylight in many a moon are explored.
The old sail bag, stowage place of all emergency gear never used is quickly emptied in desperation.

"FAN BELT!" The rally gods have smiled on us once again. We bid our column of red light goodbye, knowing that the cool and wet BC mud will safely extinguish our pyrotechnic display.

"Dave, Go Like Hell!"

We eventually settle into our rhythm and complete the rest of the day with only minor disasters. We pull into the White Spot, oil stained and haggard. Fortunately artic suits are not out of place in Williams Lake. We slowly begin to thaw in the warmth of the camaraderie our fellow competitors.
Day Two

The dawn comes early. O69 KAY is carefully parked on a hill the night before, but this has warded away evil electrical spirits so a clean, uneventful start is achieved. The first critical leg, to the White Spot, is achieved without drama. We even get our same table, so I guess we are now considered regulars. With a few cups'o'coffee, the world is looking brighter.

We bid the warmth of the White Spot farewell and put on our artic survival suites for our remaining hours in Rallybug.

The car ahead of us drives by the turnoff to the first regularity, and amazingly, we actually notice this. So we know that we are ON, or at least have had enough coffee for a successful morning.

Power Out

This section of the rally route could be named bliss, because that is what we are feeling on this high valley plateau. Until suddenly all things electric die. Power to the rear of the car where all the important bits are, has ceased. Ball'o'wire cannot be blamed this time.

Moments ago we had bliss (electrical power) and now we have nothing. Maybe this time we will get to light a flare! It starts to feel like a CAA phone call is coming on.

So many things to power under the engine compartment lid. First check the electronic ignition, then the fuel pump, then the coil, then the starter solenoid, but where is the starter? A quick search finds it smack in the middle of the mobile La Brea Tar Pit, well under the car. "Who goes under? Do we flip a coin? Heads?! OK, I loose, how about two out of three? Is this a Loonie or a Toonie?" No. We solve this problem like engineers and gentlemen.

Volkswagen beetles are illogical cars designed in 1936. In 1936, cars had headlights (actually two by that time) and one brake light. We have already visited the brake light on this adventure. Therefore it makes perfect sense (on an illogical car) the problem must be with the headlights.

How can this be? Well, logically in an illogical car, all power goes through the headlight switch.

Out of nowhere, locals start to appear. "You OK?", "Need tools?", "I've got a welder?" "Want some coffee?", "Have some cake?", "Voting conservative are you?", "Is Gordon Campbell a member of the Martini Club de Paris?" All of Canada suddenly appears out of nowhere with offers of help, and to wish us on.

A quick check of the headlight switch area finds the problem. A large cascade of arcing sparks over the gas tank annunciates the problem. The main power feed has separated from the headlight switch. The aerospace quality wiring job by the former owner (his patented soldering technique, found throughout the wiring loom: "the bigger the glob, the better job") had let go. An equally professional and expedient "quick wrap'o'wire" fixes the problem, at least until the middle of the next rally. Thunderbirds Are Go! And "Go Like Hell!" they must. Were off, exactly 358 seconds later. Pray for hills. Downhill ones.

"William, Go Like Hell!"

And somehow, we managed to finish.

That's our 2002 Totem story. That's how we managed to clinch the Rally BC Historic class title in 2002. And looking back, we wouldn't want to change a moment of the whole experience.

Just too damn much fun!

William McRae / Dave Harms

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