It’s been awhile since I’ve found myself on the side of the road — and on my back under a disabled classic.
When I found out that Timberline Lodge, on Oregon’s Mount Hood, was hosting an annual “Comedy Night” I thought the D90 would be the perfect rig to get me there. My co-host of “What’s My Car Worth?” on Velocity is stand-up comedian Josh Nassar. I wanted to see what his day job was like.
I’ve always welcomed any opportunity to visit Timberline. It is a monument to the positive energy that came out of the Great Depression-era WPA. My grandfather first brought me there when I was 5 years old. He was a craftsman himself, and he had great respect for the sculpting of the timber and the cast-iron creations that are hallmarks of the lodge.
Taking the SCM Defender 90 the 62 miles from Portland to Timberline seemed like a logical decision. The D90 is a 1984 RHD Turbo Diesel, and we keep it in “rough-and-ready” condition.
Besides, I hadn’t had the D90 out in nearly a year, and I was itching to get behind the wheel.
Last time I drove it, I had noticed a slight clacking noise when I engaged the clutch. I’d sent an email to Doug Shipman, who maintains our rig, mentioning the sound and commenting that it sounded like it might be u-joint related.
It was overcast but not snowing as I headed up to Mount Hood on Highway 26. The diesel runs cold, so I had the front muff installed to keep air out of the radiator. On the long pull up the mountain, I noticed the temperature reaching nearly 212 degrees, so I stopped and removed the muff.
When I started back up the mountain, I noticed a slight vibration that hadn’t been there before. Suddenly, there was a sound like a egg-beater going berserk from the front of the Defender. I eased to the side of the road and crawled underneath.
The Defender has two driveshafts that come from the transfer case. The u-joint on the driveshaft to the front differential had disintegrated. While the rear of the driveshaft was still connected, the rest of the driveshaft was just flopping around.
I was extremely fortunate that the front of the driveshaft hadn’t dropped to the ground — it might have badly damaged the transfer case. Worse, it could have pushed up through the floorboards of the rig and badly damaged me.
So there I was, near Milepost 50 on U.S. Highway 26, at 3 pm with a 6 pm dinner reservation at Timberline Lodge, which was about 30 miles away.
I checked in with Shipman, and he told me to disconnect the rear u-joint of the front driveshaft at the transfer case (only four bolts), lock the center differential so that the rear driveshaft would be sending power to the back wheels, and motor on up to Timberline.
Of course, I had not brought my tools along on this trip. I had considered it, but really, why would I need tools for a highway trip to Mt. Hood. What could possibly go wrong?
A quick call to a tow company resulted in “Andy” from “Andy’s Towing” heading out to me with tools. He arrived in 30 minutes, lifted the front of the D90 with his tow truck and crawled underneath.
Ten minutes later, he handed me the driveshaft. I locked the transfer case into high range and headed up the hill to Timberline. I arrived at 5 pm, in plenty of time for a well-deserved Stolichnaya on the rocks before dinner and then the comedy show.
There was a light snowfall that night; the elevation of Timberline is 6,000 feet. I wasn’t worried about traction with power to just the rear tires. I have installed an ARB air-locker, and I can lock the rear wheels up if I need extra pulling power.
The diesel clattered to life, and soon enough I was on my way off Mount Hood and back to Portland. I did make an obligatory stop at the Huckleberry Inn restaurant for a diet-busting omelette and stack of huckleberry pancakes – which I felt I had earned.
I dropped the D90 at Doug’s shop, Ship’s Mechanical, and took Uber back to SCM World Headquarters.
It’s been a while since I’ve made roadside repairs. Today’s cars tend to have hermetically-sealed mechanicals that made any kind of quick fix impossible.
While I don’t remove a driveshaft by the side of the road by choice, being able to bring an immobile vintage vehicle back to life and managing to get to my dinner appointment on time was very satisfying. It was kind of a vintage car “John Wayne” macho moment.
Old cars create adventures, and it’s always good when they have a happy ending.