DSC_6397Long time readers (If I’ve got any left) will remember coverage of the Holiday Train going back to the days when CP was the sleepy big railroad where the Maintenance of Way staff tended the trackside grave of a co-worker who fell in the 1800s, the home office even has a museum, and they’d happily haul just one car or a unit train. Then came a chief executive who damn near throttled CP and a series of other railroads, he’ll remain nameless here as he’s passed on to the big model railroad in heaven and his “accomplishments” deserve no recognition. But his theory of “Precision Scheduled Railroading” lives on at too many railroads as they forsake growth and tell there customers when, how much, and for how much they can ship. Suffice to say, “precision Scheduled Railroading” has been a great success… For the trucking industry!

But you can’t keep a good railroad down, and CP Railroad Police are still a friendly bunch and the dispatchers still clear their busy single track mainline along the Mississippi twice daily so the Empire Builder can run on schedule. Couple years back they even sent a locomotive with not a single car of revenue freight to slowly roll by the burial of a child railfan.  And so the Holiday train lives on, though the bean counters no longer power it with the latest locomotive. As always, they pretty much shut the sub down as the Holiday Train passes through with every available Canadian Pacific employee out providing hospitality and assuring a safe trip.

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And while they say the internet has shrunk live performances, the audience was big as ever- Years ago I noted that the Holiday Train seemed to draw a crowd of around 500 whether in a town of 50 or city of 500,000, but this crowd looked to be at least a thousand strong. Many of that thousand brought hefty bags of food donations and Canadian Pacific cut their usual big check to the local food shelf too. So in it’s 21st year the Holiday Train rolls on, better than ever!

Oh, and here’s a link to CP’s new Holiday Train tracker

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Ford vs. Ferrari vs. the Future: the Failed “Mustang” Mach E Intro…

It’s hard to run from your heritage, especially when it’s a great one-

Ford has heritage in spades, starting with Henry who was both a populist who raised wages  and a union hating anti-semite who hung with Hitler for a bit. Ford remains the only automaker I know of with a working farm and two decades after they sold the tractor biz, “Ford tractor” is the 2nd most common branded tractor search on google, second only to “John Deere tractor”. Two thirds of a century after production ended, half of the best selling tractors ever, the Ford N series, are still alive and plowing and mowing and keeping hobby farms running. Over a decade after dim bulb Ford management practically gave the Louisville heavy truck line to Daimler, “Louisvilles” are still on the job all over America.

That’s just the humdrum agricultural and industrial side of the Ford heritage- In the 60s while Ford was becoming a serious maker of big trucks Ford went racing, everywhere. Not content just to humble GM and Mopar on the NASCAR ovals and drag strips of America, Ford went racing round the world. The deck was stacked against Ford, for example in the Monte Carlo rally the lightweight Falcons tied the legendary Mini Cooper S, only to have the Mini beat them on actual scoring via an obscure “Index of Efficiency” that gave the Mini points just for having a smaller engine. On the endurance racing circuit Ford met similar favoritism, with tiny  two seaters sports cars that never saw a public road required to have a trunk big enough to hold an “FIA suitcase”. 

And then there was Ferrari… The legendary Italian racing team that built a couple thousand road cars in a good year to satisfy the FIA’s “production car” requirements and bring in a few bucks to subsidize the racing team. Subsidies probably also flowed from the larger Italian auto industry, Ferrari being a source of national pride. Thus when Ford tried the simple path to racing victories of buying Ferrari and probably repainting the race cars Ford blue and slapping on blue ovals, Ferrari replied with a guerrilla war of noncooperation and then outright killed the deal.

The simple route to winning the FIA’s world endurance racing championship blocked, Ford took “Total Performance” to the world’s road racing tracks, enlisting a troupe of racing mercenaries including the legendary Carroll Shelby. Using then new NASA and computer technology Ford developed the GT40 and it’s Ford engine into a race winning car that could set fast lap while running day and night like a Ford tractor plowing and planting before an incoming storm. 

 

There’s a movie out last weekend, Ford vs. Ferrari, that details that story much better than I can. While more people saw that movie that polished Ford’s image and told the story of Ford’s contributions to the art and science of mobility during that legendary era of Ford’s “Total Performance” programs, there was not a single mention of the movie over at media.ford.com, Ford’s official media mouthpiece. They were putting on their own show in the halo of this weeks Los Angles Auto Show, renting a nearby theater for Sunday evening and even bringing in a whole choir from Detroit. 

So with the requisite high theatrical production and special effects Bill Ford and Ford’s latest incompetent pretender CEO introduced a new electric SUV, and a reasonably competent one at that. For about the same just under $40k taxpayer subsidized price as a Tesla 3 econobox you get a real car, and in the Ford tradition it’ll probably be rated to tow. Lay out $50-60k and you get all wheel drive and even in the neighborhood of 400HP,  It’ll need those HP, while the econobox sized ‘lectric cars can get by with 40 to 60 kilowatt hour batteries, this SUV sized ‘lectric car cuts a bigger hole through  the air and needs a darn near 100 KWH battery to manage a 300 mile range, and only 270 with all wheel drive. It’s telling too that while ford has given us pages of specs, hey haven’t told us what it weights.

So Ford’s new electric SUV rates as least a B+ grade. But it came on stage in an atmosphere of anger that started when months ago Ford previewed it with Mustang styled lights and threatened to use the fabled “Mach” word in its name. The Mustang has a substantial and financially qualified following, and Ford best not anger them. Ford apparently wasn’t listening to their Mustang loving followers, as they shoved the dagger in deeper with leaks that revealed that this ‘lectric SUV would be called a “Mustang”. Meanwhile the electric car faithful, that core market that’s been driving 50 in the 55 zone that’s now a 70 zone for the last few decades in their Prius and now a Tesla wasn’t tuning in at all- You’d get more attention out of them if you called it a Falcon.

So when Ford opened internet ordering on Sunday night they didn’t break the internet, heck their website didn’t even slow. Ford media hasn’t been proudly forthcoming with claims of thousands of orders, and a day in the “limited edition” model still hasn’t sold out. More important to the close to retirement and loaded with stock options guys who run Ford, the stock bumped up barely a percent then right back down. The Mustang faithful are steaming, and the automotive press other than the ‘lectric car faithful are amplifying their anger at Ford’s ‘lectric pretender pony car. 

It takes in the neighborhood of a billion dollars to bring a new car to market, and this one being a whole new platform and drivetrain, make that several billion. And thanks to Ford’s incompetent leadership they just flushed those billions down the drain. Sorry Ford, but you can’t run from your proud heritage of GT40s, Louisvilles, N series tractors, Transits, and especially the Mustang!

The current occupant of the White House is dumping the EPA’s tightening of auto emission regulations that would have reduced Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) via tightening MPG requirements over the next few years. In response to that gross unscientific stupidity, Minnesota’s Governor Walz proposed adopting the California standards, which are pretty much the same as the standards Trump killed. So it was that last night the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency held a meeting in my rural corner of the state to explain and get public feedback on the proposal…

The are two California standards proposed, the first is the Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standard that ratchets up automakers average MPG to a theoretical 50 MPG or so. Theoretical because only some small cars have to meet that standard and the MPG goals drop with size to the point where a big ol’ pickup with a barely 20 MPG rating can waltz right through. That explains why the automakers gave up the fight on this regulation so easily and BMW, Ford, and VW say they’ll meet it whether required to or not. If we had any real climate change fighting courage we’d adopt the tougher EU standards that will require max GHG of 100 grams/kilometer, which is better than 40 MPG for anything smaller than a working truck or minibus. The other standard, the Zero Emissions Vehicle Standard (ZEV), demands that 6% of a car makers output must be electric cars. That explains the phenomenon of “compliance cars” with tiny batteries and inadequate range sold at a loss only in states that follow California’s ZEV standard.

The LEV standard, wimpy as it be, actually has potential to produce double digit reductions in GHG emissions. The ZEV standard is basically PC on wheels, given that it takes 20+ years to turn the nation’s auto fleet over and electric cars have a life of only 10, sometime after 2040 the ZEV standard will push us up to maybe a whole 3% electric cars on the road. Figure in that electric cars displace small high MPG cars anyway, some of the electricity fueling them will come from dirty sources, and some of the conventional cars will be running on renewable biofuels… The ZEV standard will maybe give us a whole one percent reduction of GHGs in a couple decades.

So we’ve got an LEV standard that’s an easy choice, a big reduction in GHGs and drivers fuel costs with almost no downside… I should know ‘cause I’ve been driving VW diesel LEVs for the last four decades. The ZEV standard is barely worth arguing over… It just plain won’t accomplish much.

So comes the meeting and the PCA presenter gets through maybe a half an hour of explaining, only to be interrupted by a luddite who argues the whole regulation was unconstitutional, with a couple of his fellow luddites joining the interruption. Clearly they’d skipped outta Civics 101, the constitutional authority of the government to establish rules for the general welfare of the citizenry being well settled law.

Noting that the luddites weren’t waiting for their time to speak, this cued the ‘lectric car fanatics to take the floor with their own near religious testimonials. Clearly they’d played hooky outa science classes as well as Econ 101, thinking their little Bolt, Leaf, or Tesla was going to save the world by replacing the couple hundred gallons of fuel a year they burn with ‘lectricity half produced with sometimes even dirtier fossil fuel. This cued the dealer’s lobbyist, or at least he claimed to be, who got up and unleashed the standard FUD about higher costs and less choices. Seeing an opening, I countered by chiding him for stupidly opposing a ZEV regulation that will shower them with electric cars that they’ll have a monopoly on repairing and half the life of a conventional small car, and those $40k price tags pack a lot a profit!

The stupid kept coming for the rest of the meeting, with testimonials of the glory of big ass pickups countered by testimonials to the glory of overpriced throw away electric cars that will save the clean air of tiny Morris, Minnesota. The ‘lectric car fanatics even had a conspiracy theory that they couldn’t buy electric cars in Minnesota… cars.com lists something like 176 for sale within day trip distance… But these zealots weren’t about to let their not so righteous indignation be scuttled by reality. I tried to interject some bits of science, but neither side would have it- This was an argument between religious zealots, with neither side interested in real solutions.

Heck, why would they drive a 40+ MPG diesel car that rivals an electric for GHG production while doing the work of a big ol’ pickup when they can make a “statement” with said funny looking ‘lectric car or jacked up pickup?

DSCF4282  Here’s a link to some better pix.

My old kayak is all of 10 feet long and has given way more fun than the $250 I gave Costco for it should allow. But at 50+ pounds it’s too heavy to portage so it gets trailered and dragged to and fro the lake a lot. And while it turns fast, being short it’s slow no matter how fast you paddle. Boarding, always important to a gimpy near 70 and overweight paddler, ranges from “ain’t easy” to “downright scary”!

The new boat, which cost $1950 even though it’s end of season and a blem, is about half the weight despite being over half again as long at 16 feet. I’ve wanted one of these lightweight high performance kevlar canoes for going on three decades, and with everything I’ll ever need already paid for and Social Security threatening to shower me with more money next year, I gave in to my dreams. Had it out on the lake, or at least the little bay round the boat launch, for a bit this morning but the 15 MPH winds gusting to 25 cut short my paddling. Getting in and out proved even easier than the same gymnastics in the kayak, affirming why I decided to go for a canoe rather than a kayak- canoes are much more versatile and useful for old folks and gimps like me! This long lightweight proved to be just as seaworthy as the short fat kayak, as the only water taken in despite the big waves was due to my splashy paddling. And efficient… About two paddle strokes and I was across that little 50 yard or so wide bay!

The downside to this relentless pursuit of efficiency, speed, and light weight is a boat that in or out of the water is a fragile boat that can’t just be run up on shore or literally dragged in and out of the water. That said, at 28 pounds weight, it’s not much of a challenge to carry and lift atop the car racks. In fact, the major challenge was fighting all the wind the boat caught to maneuver it on and off the car. This problem continued in the water, get broadside to the wind and it takes serious maneuvers to get this long boat headed in the intended direction- After a couple nearly out of control episodes I decided to head for shore while that was I still had a choice of where on shore.

Which neatly sag ways into this little editorial… Why must we choose between extreme designs instead of a versatile “all rounder”? I will confess to seriously considering pre-ordering one of the upcoming mid engine Corvettes, even though I still haven’t forgiven GM for killing the Corvair a half century ago. But while a brilliant car at a bargain price, the next ‘Vette would be even better with a turbo’d 4 or V6 instead of the fugitive from a truck pushrod V8 it’s going to get to satisfy GM’s perception of their customer’s need for big block V8 bragging rights. The Mustang at least provides the choice between a big V8 and turbo’d 4, although said brilliant EcoBeast 4 is held back by the Mustang’s girth needed to fit around the wide V8.

So it seems like the popular boats for paddlesports are the cheap and cheerful molded plastic kayaks and the much pricier competition oriented rapids running kayaks and long fast canoes whose natural habitant seems to be the placid waters of south Minneapolis’ chain of lakes. In researching boats prior to purchase after eliminating kayaks (can’t haul a folding bike and lotsa other useful stuff in one) I figured out that the “sweet spot” for my use was a canoe about 13 to 15 feet long. Speed potential of a boat being the square of length that should give me a considerable improvement in miles covered per hour, but beyond 15 feet I doubt this senior citizen can reliably produce the fraction of a horsepower to take advantage of a longer boat. Make a boat longer and it gets heavier, which means a shorter boat can be made with enough strength to tolerate the occasional “oops”. A 13-15 foot boat is also simply easier to live with, just throw it on the flatbed trailer and tie it down for travel and it might even fit into a place of honor in the living room for winter storage. So I went shopping for a 13 to 15 foot canoe…

Now Northstar does make this 14 and a half foot Trillium model and the other kevlar canoe maker of any size, Wenonah, makes this 13 foot Fusion that even offers a rudder which makes a lot of sense and riles up the purists to boot. But good luck finding one to buy- at probably the bigger dealer around here, the legendary Hoigaard’s, the shortest solo canoe was 15 foot and inches and $300 more than my new 16 footer. Another Wenonah dealer had a blem 16 and a half footer for $250 more and half again the weight, and the dealer I bought from had one a whole 6 inches shorter, but it had sold before I got there.

So it seems like the V8 ‘Vette, the makers are building a product targeted at the speedy twenty something guys who can’t afford it anyways. But the real customers are more like the lady next county over, at least a decade my senior, who has a whole collection of ‘Vettes and will probably be adding the latest, but hasn’t the slightest need of big block V8 power. Actually build and make the dealers stock that 14 foot or so “all rounder” canoe with a bit of kayak DNA that works on all kinds of water and is easy to live with off water  too and they’d satisfy their real customers desires and sell flotillas of them.

And while I’m not going to return my new “hot rod” canoe because I can’t get anything better, I’m not going to be a “social media persuader” for it either… Canoe makers, you can do better!

 

It’s father’s day, and my dad was a Ford man, born of bad experiences with a GM product and his respect for Ford’s sound and honest engineering. Being the usual disobedient teen Ford had to earn my loyalty, and they did that with a 60s filled with racing and revolutionary products.

Those were heady times, with Ford taking on not just it’s American competition but the world’s best on the racetracks and in the showrooms. When Ferrari refused to be bought, Ford built and perfected the Cobra and GT race cars and put a dream team of the best drivers behind the wheel. The Ford GT and it’s derivatives dominated LeMans and endurance racing for years, even in the hands of amateurs after the Ford factory team pulled out. It was Ford’s “moonshot”, and just as NASA developed technology that we still benefit from, Ford’s developments in materials and computer modeling for the GT program advanced the science of auto engineering.

So a few years back when the Ford family was probably more worried about the company’s history and future they decide to build a 21st century Ford GT, return to LeMans, and win. And they succeeded, for awhile… But the competition from Porsche, Ferrari, estranged subsidiary Aston Martin, and even lowly crosstown rival GM wasn’t sleeping and improved their car’s performance. So come LeMans 2019 Ferrari 488s, Porsche 911 RSRs, and even lower class ‘Vettes are matching and beating the Ford GT’s qualifying times.

Come race day and night the Ferraris, Porsches, and even Chevy Corvettes take the lead and hold it. The Fords were dead reliable like a fleet of F150s with all four finishing, but the highest was only in fourth place. But the Ford GT was “dead racecar running” as Ford had long ago pulled the plug on the GT and race program. There was talk of continued support for the amateurs one of whom won the GT amateur class in a Ford GT, but the smart money will be invested in race cars that aren’t going away like the “Vette and 911.

So what car won? First place went to that little company that Ford tried to buy and failing that defeat in the 60s, Ferrari. The lower two podium positions went to Porsche, whose parent VW Group is partnering with Ford on a bunch of future products. No wonder media.ford.com has been quiet today… VW Group, could you speed up that acquisition and put Ford out of it’s misery?

Long days bring long races and rallies, and the internet brings you damn near in person coverage.

First off there’s LeMans, and it’s the end of an era as Ford exits car making and thus car racing. The Ford GT is about to be eclipsed by the upcoming mid engined Corvette and the old “Vette is nipping at Fords heels as well as the usual 911s, Aston Martins, and Ferraris, but Ford Racing is going out in style with full 24 hour in car video feet starting at 8 am central saturday at this Utube channel.

Once you’ve had a long sleep and recovered from that ultimate binge watching the Iron Butt Rally heads outa Greenville, South Carolina for an 11 day long way round tour of at least this country. Daily updates are usually given here at the IBR’s web page and the best “play by play” coverage is at the FJR forum, registration may be required.

So binge watch to your little gearhead heart’s content… Nothin’ else really important is going on the next two weeks!

Every writer has a bunch of canned story lines in their head for likely future use, some even have them all composed and stored on their hard drives, ready to go in the race to beat the 24 hour news cycle. Heck, I suspect the PR flacks have them set aside too. Mack having been milked for all it’s worth by Volvo with sales sagging, no doubt the inevitable is coming, heralded by the usual press release blaming “market factors” for yet another plant closing and death of a once powerful brand.

Been a depressing rally season, though partly due to what is now being called the “climate crisis” instead of just plain “climate change”. The Dam site rally on the Missouri was windblown and cold, thanks to the sheltered campground being flooded out. GR3 was a washout, though last week’s Minnesota BMW Rally held it’s own, maintaining last years attendance. But there’s too little crowding here at the Iowa BMW Rally, despite perfect weather. Hopefully another hundred or so riders will roll in today and Saturday.

Gettin’ so lonely I may take in a political event on the way home Sunday…