Been three days since I rolled outa the RA rally in Harrison, so a final review of that rally is in order. Besides, I’m all fired up to do an update on the developing VW diesel soap opera, and need to close the books on this rally season.

Despite the site being a high class dump, I slept way better at the RA Rally than at most. I take that back, most dump sites, er excuse me, “sanitary disposal sites” around here seriously overcompensate with well tended landscaping and such and at least the front office is spotless. Outback, that’s another matter… Boone County, Arkansas Fairgrounds just push the manure to the edge of the camping area and let it sit, leaving it to the embarrassed city of Harrison AKA our hosts to turn their Public Works folks on the problem with Kubota bucketfuls of lime. And so it was all week and weekend, with the RA and city struggling to make the fairgrounds a passable rally site. Meanwhile, the blessings of the rural Ozarks were on display- country quiet and dark skies lead to the aforementioned easy sleep, and the Harrison “micropolitan area” of 50,000 odd souls was big enough to provide most anything a visitor needs without the traffic jams and tourist traps of overrun Branson just up the road.

But yes, there were complaints, and I heard an earful- That may explain why I and a few others were informed by saturday afternoon that the county was giving us the fairgrounds rent free. To top it off, word spread that we could stay over into monday if we wished, though the buildings with flush toilets would probably be locked up sometime monday. That’s a marked contrast with the usual fairgrounds rules, which require complete clearing of the grounds and a full inspection on sunday, and sometimes by noon. That suggests that while Harrison is undeniably behind the curve, they’re workin’ on it, as we saw the grounds improve markedly during the event. RA deserves credit for this too- It was easy to find the rally chair on site and problems were dealt with as quickly as possible. Contrast the agility of RA with the hierarchy that is BMWMOA- Submit a complaint and it might get denied at the board meeting at the next MOA rally, after you’ve been banned from the MOA forum, blamed for MOA’s ongoing loss of members and volunteers, and maybe been hung in virtual effigy in the MOA offices too. Thus I rate the RA rally a B thanks to their efforts, while the MOA rally continues it’s underachievement with a D rating… If MOA puts on a great rally, somebody screwed up!

‘Tis also the end of rally season for me, and most of us that live north of the Mason-Dixon line. ‘Twas a good ride, fourteeen rallies from the Florida Winter Rally in January to this past weekend’s BMWRA Rally in Arkansas. With the exception of the BMWMOA which seems to be constitutionally barred from throwing a great rally, every single club worked their butts off to produce the best rally possible. Which leads us to the number one reason rallies rise or fail… The site!

The Florida national guard, South Dakota state parks, Airhead Roger in Naples, and cities of Soldiers Grove, Atchison, Grand Marais, Elkader, Harrison, and a campground whose name I forget near Belmont, Wisconsin have embraced their rallies and are better economically and culturally for it. When a few hundred or even thousand motorcycle riding “culture vultures” make the rounds of your historic district, eateries, and shops while educating the locals that not all motorcycles are two wheeled tractors, that’s a good thing for all concerned, besides the notable boost to the local economy! But Billings and an unnamed campground in Galena, North Dakota state parks, and an unnamed resort in “the Dells” see riders as a cash cow to be milked… 5000 or so riders will now only stop in Billings for a short night’s rest if they’re dead tired, and that campground in Galena charges near as much to pitch a tent in their pasture for the night as a room goes for in Dubuque, 20 miles away, and there’s no security at the gate, and North Dakota had the stupidity to charge us even more for a thursday night tent site than Galena! And the Dells Rally that’s provided a profitable season extension may be no more, victim of the resort’s high rates and resultant falling attendance.

So rally venues, here’s the recipe for success: Embrace the rally, make it a weekend community celebration. Don’t just rake in the profits- Reinvest in site facilities that, what the heck, are gonna benefit the community for years to come anyway. And BMWRA, after the bills are paid, how ’bout donating some of the rally profits back to Harrison and Boone County for improvements to the rally site?

By any honest accountig, BMW Motorad is “the GS company”- Despite all their marketing efforts for the latest luxury tourer or superbike or whatever segment chaser, the GSes are usually BMW’s best sellers. But as always, BMW tries to convince us that we need something on two wheels forcused on other roads or streets.

One of the benefits of the better rallies is the odd seminar put on by a former corporate insider, in this case Laurence Kuykendall at the current BMW Riders Association Rally. With at least one current BMW employee monitoring, Laurence was nice enough to inform us of BMW’s recent and future “bike in the city” marketing efforts. Suffice to say, BMW has put on their narrowest blinders and is aiming their marketing cannons at urban markets, because everyone seems to be moving to the magacities. And thanks to those blinkers, BMW can’t see that a lot of those folks ain’t movin’ to the metro by choice, and sure as hell can’t afford a new BMW. Heck, if BMW wanted that market, they should have bought up some bus and light rail manufacturers!

More telling was the response by BMW’s rep present to airhead interogation after Laurence’s presentation, when he tried to defend BMW’s policy of concentrating dealers in those megacities, far from those GS’s stomping grounds. Now when your customers keep buying GSes despite your persuasions otherwise and ride them all over the countryside and world, it would make sense to save all the multimillion dollar costs of those persuasions and just give the GS riders what they want. That means truly capable dual sport bikes and a dealer network that is everywhere to assure rapid repairs instead of thousand dollar flatbed “tows” back to the megacity dealers.

But I suppose when you make one of the world’s least reliable motrocycles, best to keep your customers slurping $5 coffees within a stone’s tow of the dealers…

Amazing how a town can rise or fall (think Billings) to the challenge of playing temporary home to a few thousand motorcyclists…

A couple weeks ago the Boone County Fairgrounds here in Harrison, Arkansas was your typical run down dump of a county fairgrounds, southern style. Same for a lotta the town… Where else will you find a lost in time Wonder Hostess thrift store, obvlivious to the company going under years ago. But then a couple thousand fussy serious BMW and otherwise inclined riders descended upon this sleepy burg, and they weren’t willing to sleep atop the local dump/manure pile.

So suddenly the livestock barns have gotten cleaned to almost Minnestota 4H (this was a barn?) standards, the dump got graded and grass, and the public works department and local businesses have been busy keeping us in vittles and stocked with firewood. Heck, let us stay the winter, and the town will have a canopy of Wi-Fi, a coffeeeshop with live music on every corner, and at least a half dozen mom ‘n’ pop bike shops! And them narrow and congested thoroughfares… Already got a plan in my head for a couple one ways with hike/bike trails with interchange flyovers disguished as classic truss, arch, and even suspension bridges. And is a freeway ramp still a freeway ramp when there’s a diner alongside?.

Meanwhile, BMWMOA took what little Billings offered without complaint…

And the Mule just died.

Welcome to Ozark ArKansas, for better or worse… Looks like the local Kawi dealer just showed up and traded out the dead Mule for a live ATV. And better a Mule that actually hauls needed stuff like firewood that a BMWMOA golfcart that just hauled around unneeded stuff like a puffed up poobah, or excuse me, Committee Chair.

Harrison, Arkansas is a confused place now, just as they and many other mountain regions of the south were. We have the obglitatory inadaquate 20 something palefaced male in the late model Dodge “hemi here” pickup with the big ‘ol confederate flag flying fromthe tailgate, while the county fairgrounds we’re camped at is quite happy to accept Union surplus assets in the form of a late model uparmored Steyr/Stewart & Stevenson 6 by 6 and more important water tanker trailer. And while the unbypassed main drag has 9 foot lanes because Arkansas has figured out how to restripe a 4 lane into a 5 lane, but for some reason or other hasn’t gotten Union funding to properly widen or outright bypass said route. Said schrunched US highway is lined with similarily schitzo development, from an abandoned in place Wonder Hostess thrift store to a the full complement of franchised food hawkers. And there’s no Wifi here at the rally site and flush toilets are scarce, while the local Wendys has faster WiFi than anything in Billings.

The RA rally fits right in with this mileau… I just walked in the front gate without as much as showing my armband,  while the local caterer has 3 serving lines set up with his $8 breakfast and maybe 10 customers… Looks like he may be late on this months payment for his jacked up Super Duty, and as a Ford stockholder I hope he didn’t finance through us. But the Airheads are up and running with a big ‘ol tent, coffee aplenty, and the best used furniture to be found ’round this end of the Ozarks.

‘Tain’t perfect, but beats all hell outa the MOA’s attempt at a rally!

From comments on the website, also picked up by Ars Technica:

When I worked at the EPA finding these defeat devices was “part of the job”. We never had any trouble with the Japanese but all the other manufacturers were doing highly suspect things. With microprocessor engine controls in every car it is very hard to find what is going on.

Once a VW was in the middle of failing a 100K mile driving test (pollution devices had to work for 100K miles) and suddenly caught fire so the test had to be restarted. EPA engineers joked they were sure they saw a broken “Molotov cocktail” on the road next to the car. There were some other VW shenanigans but they were too complicated to explain. I owned a VW at the time but it was falling apart constantly so I had no sympathy whatever for VW.

Chrysler got caught doing something like VW but was caught in testing so they paid a smaller fine.

Ford lied like crazy and the EPA director had a big photo over his desk of the million $ check for a fine they had to pay. They were also ordered to “behave cooperatively” as opposed to the snarling obnoxious behavior they had formerly exhibited.

I also caught Ford in a defeat device and had to write a memo to them asking for written info instead of the lying (but sooo friendly) PR guys they sent out. They never answered so my letter was used in court as proof that we had tried but they hadn’t cooperated.

GM was no better but they were cleverer so we couldn’t catch them in testing. Enforcement division out in the field got them.

Honestly, it was just an “EPA doesn’t tell US what to do” attitude – it would have been cheaper for them if they had followed the Japanese example and just made clean cars to begin with.”

And rattling around the Brit press, this statement from an insider carried by the Telegraph, similar quote in the Guardian:

“Former government advisor Greg Archer, of the Transport & Environment thinktank, said: “It is probably not limited to diesel and not limited to emissions. There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence about carmakers using these defeat devices.””

I always wondered how they could get over 100 HP per liter out of an unturboed engine and pass emissions… Before the government nails VW to the cross, we should investigate every manufacturer and maybe the EPA too.

The bad news even invaded my tranquil weekend camping with about 50 fellow riders in North Dakota- The EPA has accused VW of programming their diesel cars to perform better at the expense of possibly increased exhaust emissions.

Lets go through this story chronologically, it’s more understandable that way. VW has been the world leader in diesel cars since the 1970s, using the acknowledged world leader, Bosch’s, engine management system. The EPA is a giant federal government bureaucracy that has set standards for vehicle exhaust emissions among other things since the 1960s. It’s regulations have the force of law but are written by unelected civil servants, whose skills vary from world class to barely able to meet the minimum standards for hiring, never mind job performance. Thus the EPA has gone from being a world leader in the field early on to demanding tighter and tighter standards, practicality and drivability be damned. By the turn of the 21st century the EPA standards resulted in diesels that you couldn’t make smoke if you tried, none the less the EPA required further reductions in diesel emissions in 2004, 2007, and 2010 that reduced diesel soot to one hundredth of what was allowed before 1984. No surprise that EPA has lost it’s leadership role to the Euro standards created by the European Community which have been adopted by almost every nation EXCEPT the US and Canada.

So we have an american regulatory agency of questionable ability going it’s own way, writing regulations for but 5% of the worlds population. Then throw in pressure to protect ‘Merican manufacturers from foreign competition and hybrid and electric car promoters, and I’m amazed that VW even tries to drive it’s diesel cars through the EPA certification maze for a mere couple percent of the world’s diesel car market and VW’s diesel production. None the less, after EPA didn’t like the way VW met the EPA 2007 standards and blocked VW’s diesels for the 2007 and 2008 model years, VW came back and met all the standards for the 2009 through 2016 models years.

That should have settled the matter, but a pro electric car group called the International Council on Clean Transportation with a grudge against diesels tried to second guess the EPA and EC. The electric car clown club has long been hating diesels, they can compete with gas engines in some environments (think short range city cars) but for economy and sustainability the diesel with it’s engine life typically twice or more that of an electric’s batteries is hard to beat. So no surprise that this well funded “green” advocacy group would fund on road emissions testing of dozens of diesel cars in hopes they’d fail. And low and behold, their “testing” showed many diesel cars “failed” to meet the emission standards…

‘Cept they were using the wrong test- The actual emissions tests are done with the car on a chassis dynamometer with the car driven through a simulated typical driving course. That’s the only test that counts both in the USA and in the EC and other nations that have adopted the Euro standards, and VW has passed every one of those tests. VW uses the same engine management software and hardware as most of the worlds diesel car makers, whom the EPA has left unchallenged… Perhaps because they’re largely ‘Merican based and in some cases even recent recipients of government bailouts?

Now one would think if all these VW diesels were failing to meet emission standards they’d be throwing codes faster than a VagCom diagnostic tool can read them and flunking state emission tests left and right… But I’ve heard little mention of such occurrences on the VW diesel fan boards. After testing in service VW diesels the fussiest of the world’s tailpipe sniffers, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), had some concerns. But those were resolved with a minor software update.

But the EPA caved to the environmental extremists, and now stands poised to kill one of the most workable solutions we have to global warming, diesel power. In a country like the U.S. that literally runs on diesel, converting trains and trucks from diesel to gas would as much as double greenhouse gas emissions while driving up maintenance costs. That’d put the american economy and products at even further disadvantage on world markets, with the EPA’s protectionist emissions standards actually killing american jobs. But the environmental extremists will happily celebrate the death of the diesel with fine wines, while laid off workers pinch pennies for a beer…

Coulda been titled “Fear and Loafing at the Implement Dealer”…

After 5 years of semi-serious shopping for a tractor for the not-so-vast Gearhead Grrrl estate, on a coffee fueled late saturday night I finally concluded that 1) Sleep is overrated 2) shoveling out six foot snowdrifts is no longer within my capabilities, heck, a snowblower can’t handle it. 3) Ditto for the 4 by 4 Ranger pickup, which for the first time in it’s life got stuck in the aformentioned six foot drift 4) The tallest snowplow that will fit a Ranger is but three foot high when raised, so good luck blasting through that six foot drift. 5) The formula for determining asking price for a rusty beat up three decade old diesel 4 by 4 tractor is the price of a new one minus one dollar depreciation for each missing fastener and holes in the tin, fuel lines, tires, seat, etc.. So sometime during Austin City Limits I decided I was getting a new tractor, the smallest diesel 4 by 4 I could buy that would tote a front end loader (think snowdrifts) and belly mower (use obvious).

So having slept off that sorta late nighter on sunday, at the crack of noon monday I hit the road to the tractor dealerships, loins girded with printouts of MSRPs from the maker’s webpages, what the state is paying for them off a little known website, and a few other snippets of bargaining data. Plan was to hit at least one dealership of each maker within 50 miles of home whilst enjoying the lovely weather of this summer held over.

First up was a courtesy call at the local New Holland dealer in Tyler, figured I should make an inquiry even though NH has forgotten their Ford heritage and deserted much of the small tractor market. Heck, the parts man even gave me the price quote, with his dad covering when a customer came in to pick up some parts. But while the “ambiance” was down to earth, the “list price” was about 10% higher than on NH’s webpage! Thus the “list price” was inflated to $24,567 and then “discounted” to an offered sale price of $20,000. Now according to NH’s webpage their list should be around $20k, and they’re promising the State of Minnesota and all it’s counties, cities, townships, tribal nations, transit systems, school boards, soil and water control districts, and even the infamous Seven County Misquito Control District 29% off of those list prices, even if they only buy one of the tiniest tractors. That would make the street price of this same reputed $24+k list tractor around $15k, making NH almost competitive. Besides, blue looks better for parades, at least if you’re a democrat.

Thought I’ve give the local Deere mega-dealer another try, ‘specially since their Tyler store was just up the street. Turned out the whole sales department was out to lunch… Amazing how lazy a big mega dealership can get. Headed north through the lovely county roads to the local Branson tractor dealership, which still has the Mahindra sign up and sported a few TYM tractors on the lot to. Got a quote of $17,700 off a similarly inflated list of $23,059, Branson website gave a list price of $18k and change. Given that they’ll switch brands on a whim, crossed this dealership off the list.

On to greater Marshall, first stop the local purveyor of Kubotas, Kesteloot Enterprises, which has something of a rep for being pricey… I balked at the almost $5k they were asking for a three decade old 12HP Ford 1200 with a loader a few years back. They at least played it straight and quoted exactly the list price from Kubota’s website, $13,534 for a BX1870-1 with loader and mower after rebates.  On to the Deere megadealer’s Marshall store, didn’t need to rouse any salespeople as they still had a 1025R with the requisite loader and mower out front, though the price on the sign had dropped from a totally outragous $19k plus to a merely outragous $16,620. They could knock over a thousand off that by substituting the decontented (who needs cruise control on a tractor?) 1023E, but they don’t seem to want to stock that model.

So the best deals are the dealers who at least didn’t try to inflate MSRP to make it look like they were giving a discount… Nice try, but you’re permanently off my shopping list! That leaves me Kubota at $13,534 list, and with the State of Minnesota et al getting 19% off of that, there’s plenty of room for haggling. Deere could be competitive if they weren’t being hobbled by the regional megadealer, list on a 1023E with loader and mower is $16,109 and Deere is giving the state 17% off and there’s rebates too, making them competitive if they and their dealers would try. New Holland, Branson, Mahindra, and TYM… You’re outa here! Gonna try different Deere and Kubota dealers next, and maybe Massey and Yanmar too as they’re a bit far away, along with Kioti.

Hmmm… Maybe I should give an award for the most outragous overpricing scam?


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