Six weeks ago, in the shadow of largely “paper companies” like Tesla, real automaker Ford held it’s first attempt at a “virtual” annual meeting as Ford stock hovered at $11 and a couple pennies a share. Said “virtual” meeting was rather “buggy” amidst further announcements of Ford forays into ride sharing, autonomous vehicles, and all that other vaporware that plays well with hipster investors. Ford stock budged about two bits in the wrong direction.

“When in doubt, fire the figurehead CEO”… Which is exactly what Ford did about 10 days later. By then the stock was recovering past $11 again and in the euphoria of the firing made it all the way to $11 and a dime before sinking again.

Then Ford did the unthinkable at LeMans- 2nd place! Following the script from the “Total Performance” Era of the 60s Ford is supposed to enter 4 cars at LeMans and most likely finish 1-2-3, barring a bit of luck inserting a Ferrari or other interposer in that order. Granted, the Fords ran consistently like a fleet of Super Duties on a tight delivery schedule, but not fast enough… Aston Martin beat Ford and a only a late race mishap kept a rival ‘Vette from pushing the fastest Ford GT into 3rd place. And even with the “Vette waylayed, Ford was denied 3rd spot on the podium by a Porsche 911RSR. To make the defeat even more painful, the winning Aston Martin has an engine built in Ford’s Cologne plant, and there’s likely more Ford DNA in the winning Aston Martin from when Ford owned the company a few years back. Sorta like getting beat by your ex, whose racing is being funded by the divorce settlement…

It gets worse… In a rare moment of lucidity, Ford media dropped a little factoid that the buyers of high performance variants of the Fiesta and Focus have higher incomes and are younger than SUV buyers. So a couple weeks later, Ford up and decides to move North American market Focus production which is getting evicted from Michigan Assembly to Mexico even further away… To China! The Focus is usually the world’s 1st, 2nd, or 3rd best selling car and and ought not be treated like an orphan.

Fortunately the young Turks over at Ford Otosan aren’t entirely following orders from Dearborn, as they reintroduced Ford heavy trucks into the EU via the Eastern European back door, bringing the Cargo truck to another market besides the middle east and south america.

And after all these machinations, Ford stock closed a couple cents higher at $11.04 a share as of market close friday. And lest anyone get alarmed about Ford, GM and FIAT/Chrysler are even more f’d up…



DSC_5761‘Bout midnight saturday night I was about ready to swear off rallying and write a scathing review of the Hiawatha rally. Deservedly so, as a few too many drunken loudmouths next tent over kept keeping me up, and dawn comes around 5 am this time o’year. They finally expired and I got about 4 hours of fitful sleep before the sun put a stop to that. Drank a couple big cups o’coffee to caffeinate myself into consciousness for the 250 mile trip home and was walking back up the hill to break camp… When a couple fellow riders came down the hill in search of me, my lost wallet in hand. Yup, these good folks saved me from having to siphon gas and survive on granola bars and left over bananas for 250 miles!

Other fellow riders had been reminding me of next weekend’s Iowa Rally, and would I be going? Thankfully the rains provided an excuse for my missing the GR3 rally, or I’d have had to explain my absence there too. And was I going to the BMWRA rally in Michigan? Took about halfway home for me to figure it out, but no matter how hard I try to ignore it, I’m a lifetime member of an unorganized organization of riders that have found riding around the country to a never ending buffet of weekly rallies is one of life’s finer delights!

Call us “rally rats” or whatever, we’re havin’ fun and we don’t care. But sadly our numbers are dwindling as elders aren’t able to travel anymore and millennials don’t seem to have discovered motorcycles yet. So it’s our duty to ride and rally ’til we can’t, keeping the tradition alive ’til the young take our place. Seriously… Motorcycles are an ideal “intermediate technology”, being half the price of cars. Greener too, motorcycles use half the fuel of cars and thus produce only half as much of them evil greenhouse gasses, and motorcycles have an even smaller manufacturing, parking, and garaging footprint. Easy on the retiree’s or millennial’s travel budget too, for less than $100 I can ride and camp for the weekend, enjoy some good food and great rides, and even better friends.

So yes, I’ll be riding to the Iowa BMW Rally this weekend, and every other rally I can make. And along the way I’ll do my best to infect any and all millennials, bored retirees, and anyone else with rally rat fever… This is too much fun not to share!

In an age when armies can move at just short of the speed of sound or at least the speed of an Oshkosh, it’s hard to believe that a war fought pretty much in just the southeastern U.S. could drag on for 4 long years. So let’s follow my great great grandfather’s unit, the 28th Wisconsin Infantry, to see what went wrong, and occasionally right.

Let’s set the scene: By the Civil War’s beginning in 1861 the Union states had a rudimentary rail system mostly east and north of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The confederacy had an even more rudimentary rail “system”, hobbled further by oddball gauges that forced the transfer of whole trainloads from train to train. There is no TV or even radio, electronic communication being limited to telegraph lines that pretty much followed the railroad lines. It was the heyday of newspapers, but delivery was irregular even during peacetime and even more so during war.

The militaries were no models of efficiency either, being poorly organized local militias and worse. “Command and control” was so lacking that militias from the same town even went to war with each other… Milwaukee would have been the site of a Civil War battle but for the loss of a ship carrying a Milwaukee Irish-American militia traveling to Chicago to obtain weaponry to repulse attempts to muster them into the union army. Provisions were uneven and inadequate, for better or worse “military discipline” was also lacking, allowing a whole cadre of “camp followers” to provide for the troops every need… It was not uncommon for troops to buy supplies when needed, and sell military property when needed also. This all went on in a general fog of drunkenness and disease, in fact disease claimed far more lives than the enemy, including my great great grandfather William Slyter near Memphis in July of 1863.

William enlisted in company F of the 28th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry in the late summer of 1862, and the 28th was sent for 9 weeks training in nearby Camp Washburn in Milwaukee in the fall. In the midst of that training they saw perhaps their greatest combat success, putting down a draft rebellion in suburban Port Washington and arresting over a hundred resistors without a fight. On the 20th of December they set off to Columbus in northwest Kentucky by rail, at least as far as the rails went.

The 28th Wisconsin helped fortified the union fortifications in Columbus a bit, then moved on to southeast Arkansas for the next two long years. Extended encampments were made at Helena, Little Rock, Pine Bluff, and Little Rock again, with occasional forays of less than a hundred miles to screw up the confederate’s logistics by destroying a bridge and such. Just as well, as river boat transport was irregular and unreliable and travel by “road” even more so, with 10 miles being a good day. Having traveled 700 miles in less than a month to reach southeastern Arkansas, over the next two years the soldiers of the 28th Wisconsin only traveled a thousand miles or so, most of those miles merely moving between encampments rather than in pursuit of any vestiges of the confederate “army”.

In February of 1865 the Union army finally found something for the 28th Wisconsin to do, taking a mere two weeks to move them by boat 800 miles to join in the siege of Mobile. Having subdued what confederate remnants remained at Mobile, the 28th Wisconsin spent May 1865 occupying McIntosh, a mere 50 miles or so upriver. The war winding down, the 28th Wisconsin spent a mere week moving on to the Brownsville, Texas area for garrison duty until they were finally mustered out of their misery on August 23rd, 1865. The unit was formally disbanded in Madison, Wisconsin a month later on September 23rd.

Granted, the Union was stuck fighting an enemy on their own turf, which seldom goes well… Note the decades long battles the U.S. fought in southeast Asia and now the middle east with marginal victories if any. The missing communications and logistics infrastructure of the Civil War era, especially in the south, made victory even more elusive. The 28th Wisconsin Volunteers gave three years of their lives, and in many cases their lives, to the generals and politicians who pretty much blindly pursued and occasionally fought a war on remote enemy turf against an even more ineptly lead confederacy.

When it was all over after three years the 28th Wisconsin Volunteers returned home, minus the fifth of them that died in service, largely due to disease and accident rather than the rare combat. Despite the drudgery and suffering of their mission (or more correctly, lack of mission), desertions were rare. But nearly a fifth were discharged, frequently for really chronic alcoholism… Mere alcoholism seemed to be the norm, ‘cept for the odd “dry” soldiers.

As noted previously, my great great grandfather never made it home, succumbing to disease near Memphis in July of 1863. So thick is the fog of war that there are graves for William Slyter in both the Memphis Veteran’s Cemetery and the town cemetery in Whitehall, Wisconsin. We may in fact have lost two William Slyters in this war, the 1860 census showing both a William T. Slyter and his son William F. Slyter and their families farming on adjoining plots near Milwaukee in 1860… Handwritten “t”s and “f”s are hard to tell apart. Regardless, I find no mention of the elder William after the Civil War, and the younger William’s wife and orphan children lost the farm and re-emerged in Whitehall, Wisconsin. She remarried only to lose that husband to lightning strike, homesteaded Missouri River floodplain in South Dakota, then remarried again in Whitehall only to have her heirs cheated out of their inheritance when she passed… Is it any wonder that much of the family spent the century after the Civil War as drunkards?

Was it worth it? War is at best a murderous and mutilating comedy of errors, sometimes balanced by a greater good such as eliminating the horror of slavery.  At least a 620,000 troops died in the Civil War, and historians have been revising that tally upward towards a million, and throwing in the permanently disabled troops certainly pushes the casualty count over a million. But the Civil War resulted in the release of around four million slaves, many of whom lost their own lives fighting for their freedom.

My family paid too high a price, but overall, the price was worth it…

Seems the facilities and prices on my wanderings through the Dakotas and the tier of even more conservative states due south have been disappointing of late. Last couple falls the North Dakota state parks have been trying to resolve the deficit left by the floundering oil tax revenues by nickel and diming us for every tent and every extra night we stayed at their half empty state parks. This year the formerly hospitable southern Dakota twin got chintzy too, deciding to remodel the rest rooms conveniently located across from our normal campsite in Randall Creek State Park. They didn’t close the restrooms, we crawled over the badly sagging orange fence and found the doors unlocked, but holes in the floor where the porcelain should have been. Next to the stripped facilities was an afterthought of a restroom & shower trailer, plumbing hooked up but doors locked tight. Being dignified motorcyclists, comfort breaks thus required a several hundred yards walk to a functioning one holer or even further if plumbing was desired.

But we persevered…

DSC_5755Great weather, so we checked out South Dakota’s first schoolhouse amongst other dubious attractions. This was never a big rally, we peaked at 13 riders the first night and lost a few to attrition over the weekend… Perhaps due to South Dakota’s absent facilities.

Now before the fiscal conservatives feel picked upon, time to call out the EPA’s environmental extremists and their latest bit of micro management. Haven’t gotten it in writing, but several sources have told me that the EPA set the terms for VWs recent feeding frenzy sale of the 2015 TDIs in dealer inventory. Not wanting to call attention to the continued popularity of diesel cars, the EPA reportedly wouldn’t let VW advertise even the mere availability of said diesel cars, never mind the generous rebates on them. Heck, VW didn’t even mention the deal on their website, and not giving notice of a de facto “insider deal” like this is a definite no-no these days. EPA also reputedly dictated that those generous rebates would only be available with a loan or lease from VW, so they could yank the cars back if buyers failed to return them for the rest of the recall work or worse yet, another buyback.

Now VW maybe sells 20,000 cars a month these days, and if normal industry practices prevail, maybe finances 10,000 of them. In a couple short frenzied weeks VW sold most all those 12,000 TDIs, and it looks like every one was financed through VW to get the $5000 to $8500 rebates. Thus the workload over at VW finance doubled or tripled thanks to the EPA’s stupidity, and buyers have first payments coming due but no notice from VW as to where to send said payments, etc.. Fortunately VW Finance has been pretty good at heading off these crisis over the phone… Thus I have a nice letter from VW telling me that my loan is paid off in full.

So sorry, EPA… Despite your attempts at petty micromanagement, my VW TDI diesel is mine and mine alone to do as I please with. And despite your attempts, I’m havin’ fun drivin’ it anyways!

Finally…DSC_5742Deere’s prices dropped while beat up decades old tractors sold for damn near new price, so I bit the bullet and order one in early March. Came back from Florida and tractor hadn’t been delivered, told delayed ’til mid June. So I go and blow my wad on a new Golf TDI, then a couple days later the Deere dealer calls and the tractor’s in. Scraped the $$$ together to pay for it and they delivered it friday, and I’ve been playing with it all weekend.

The learning curve is steep, as Deere’s control scheme isn’t exactly “intuitive”… If this is a tractor the two pedals on the right should be brakes, not forward and reverse pedals! But I’m getting used to it and mowing the lawn as fast as I can slalom around the landscaping. Got a front end loader too so I can make the driveway respectable and clear off snow this winter. There’s a real 3 point and PTO out back, gotta shop for implements.

She may be only a fawn, but she’s a Deere!

Last Thursday morning:DSC_5700

Last Thursday evening:DSC_5716

Long time readers who I haven’t put to sleep yet will remember that VW has been quasi-sponsoring my Gearhead gallivanting about the countryside with a guaranteed buyback offer, thanks to the encouragement of the EPA, CARB, and a bunch o’ greedy shysters. The deal was too good to resist- around $6000 bounty to let VW fix the offending TDI diesels to comply with just one aspect of ‘Merica’s oddball environmental requirements that they didn’t comply with, assuming EPA and CARB ever approve a fix. Or juicier yet, buyback for the September ’15 trade in value PLUS the $6k “restitution”= About what I paid for the ’13 “Jetta” Sportswagon TDI new! And pouring on the free “condiments”, VW allows 12.5K miles a year with no penalty and deducts only a paltry nickel a mile if you run over those allowances… And they gave us until the end of 2018 to turn it in! Thus was turned loose my “Fugitive TDI”, as I aimed to pile on the miles ’til the last day of 2018.

None the less, there were a few “bugs” in that plan… Like the Fort Myers VW dealer who botched an alignment, and the lack of new TDIs to trade for. Sorry, 30 MPG or less MPG is hard to accept when your TDIs have routinely given 40+ MPG for the last four decades. So I was resigned to replacing the ’13 TDI with a gluttonous “gasser”, and keeping the ’03 Golf TDI going as long as possible. Then EPA and CARB surprised us by approving a fix for the latest technology TDIs, the 2015 and maybe some 2014 models with the newer EA288 engine and Diesel Exhaust Fluid injection. Meanwhile, there’s no fix approved yet for the next oldest group of TDIs, the Passats with the older 70s based engine design and DEF injection. And for the 2009-2014 TDIs with the older engine design and no DEF injection, the outlook is grim… VW is already crushing some.

When the stop sale order on new TDIs came down in September 2015 there were around 12,000 new unsold TDIs in the U.S., and they’ve spent the last year and a half languishing in limbo at the back of VW dealer lots and worse. After a couple weeks of rumors, the stop sale order was dropped on April 14th and the TDI rush began! And I mean rush, with no advertising or even mention on VW’s website and aided by a $5k rebate and 0% financing, most of those 12,000 new TDIs sold out in days.

With the new tractor I’d set aside $16k for delayed until June, I e-mailed the two “nearest” (70 and 110 miles away) VW dealers on the 15th to check inventory status. Just about sold out in Sioux Falls, and a pair of Golfs and another Sportswagen in Mankato. Put my dibs on the white Golf on the 17th, and picked it up a bit over a week later after a minor feud with VW Finance who insisted on financing the car to get the $5k rebate… We settled on a token loan with 40% down that I’ll be paying back shortly.

So here she is, in her natural habitat:DSC_5713For those of you outside the midwest, Fleet Farm is sorta a Tractor Supply, all grown up.

Just breaking her in, so picked up a light load as I trained in the new TDI with her first pizza and Dew stop:DSC_5715Next day a bit tougher assignment with a Costco run:DSC_5725Big cooler, 36 cans of Dew, couple weeks worth of bread, ‘nanas, and a couple years supply of TP… And didn’t even have to fold the back seat down! Haven’t refueled yet and the current tankful was partly burned while under the dealer’s custody, but here’s the computer’s results for a 65-80 MPH 140 mile cruise to Sioux Falls and back:DSC_5726That 45 MPG beats the ’13 by at least 10%, and matches or beats my ’03 TDI and ’86 and ’79 VW Golf diesels, and this is a new tight engine cruising at higher speeds than were even quasi-legal in ’86 and ’79. This highlights my impression of the latest 7th generation Golf- In almost every way it’s better than the previous Golfs and TDIs. There’s a couple questionable “modern improvements” like the hiding of the door locks and having to go through computer “menus” to do stupid simple stuff, but in most every way it’s an improvement. And it got cheaper to boot- when the 7th generation Golfs came out VW added a cheaper “S” trim option in the U.S.A. and knocked a couple thou off the price. And by going back to the standard Golf hatch from the Golf Sportswagen I saved a couple thousand more- The Sportswagen’s extra foot of cargo space is nice, but that same foot moves the hitch a foot back and makes the shorter overhang Golf hatch a better trailer tower.

And what of that ’13 Sportswagon? Sitting at the VW dealer awaiting a May 10th buyback that will net me the price of a decent Airhead more than this new Golf TDI costs. But seeing that VW is now crushing TDIs, I may do the numbers again and maybe reclaim the ’13 “Fugitive TDI” and put on a few (hundred?) thousand miles before I surrender it to a date with the crusher. I still have 4 of the 5 Golf diesels I’ve bought since ’78, and with no new ones forthcoming to ‘Merica, I’m hesitant to give up my “stash”!



DSC_5679That’s the label on just about the only mailbox in South Dakota that gets collected at 8 pm, This one’s in Huron. Behind it sits a massive and mostly empty former mail sorting center that used to speedily sort all the mail headed in and out of east central South Dakota. Today all the mail dropped in this box and for a hundred miles or so around gets trucked to Sioux Falls, a couple hundred miles away, for sorting. And while the box gets pulled at 8, I suspect the last mail truck of the day to Sioux Falls left hours before.

In compliance with federal law I duly deposited by properly stamped tax return into this box before the promised 8 pm collect time, and 2 hours later I doubt the Postal Service has moved it more than a hundred yards to the loading dock to await tomorrow’s truck to Sioux Falls. I’m not a tax protester, I’m happy to pay my taxes. But I do this as a protest against what Postal Service management has done to hobble what was once the world’s greatest postal service. I’ve been doing this remote post office mailing on tax day routine for a couple years now and my tax payment checks never get cashed until May at least. How the hell can a private business survive with that slow a cash flow?

Didn’t used to be that way… Before we had computers and cell phones we had a vast railroad network with at least daily passenger service on every track that stopped at most every town. If they didn’t stop, they literally caught the mail on the fly and threw bags of mail out the door as they passed the station. Every passenger train had a Railway Post Office (RPO) car, and post offices they were- Literally sorting mail on the fly as the train flew through the night. And every RPO car had a slot for deposit of mail.

Half a century ago you could walk over to the station, drop your tax return in the slot on the RPO car of even the day’s last train, and know that your tax return and check would hundreds of miles towards it’s destination and often delivered the next afternoon. And they call the gutting of our Postal Service and passenger trains “progress”?