Clyde meets the smallmouth of Mille Lacs
"I THINK THE BEST TIRE is the spare in the trunk," says Pete, handing me the keys. The other four tires vary in brand and age but seem to be holding air. I drop onto the seat and close the sagging door with a little extra encouragement. Amy does the same on the passenger side. Between us, decades of dust whirls in a beam of evening light pinched flat by the narrow windshield. The air is a bouquet of sun-dried vinyl, stale foam rubber, and used motor oil. It reminds me of my grandpa's 1971 Dodge Power Wagon, which we bounced around in as kids hauling firewood to the house from the edge of the hayfield.
The flashing freeway sign reminded us that high winds had closed I-25 to light and/or high-profile vehicles. This wasn’t a problem for Clyde. Ford built him in 1974 weighing just under 5,000 pounds. Its big-block 460 engine alone weighs more than 700. We weren’t getting blown anywhere. Instead, we were comfortably cruising north riding low and heavy, eventually passing four semis lying on their side in the median. Don’t mess with Wyoming cross winds.
Colorado Front Range rambling
THOUGH HE'S LOGGED some incognito years on the shaded two-lane roads of the Pacific Northwest, and rolled many an empty highway undercover in Montana and Wyoming, I can tell that, in the city, Clyde commands the attention he deserves. The turnpikes of Colorado's Front Range are crowded with blue-collar sorts who appreciate Detroit craftsmanship and Clyde's particular brand of patina. In suburbia, Clyde turns just as many heads of yoga-pant-wearing soccer moms as he does dive-bar patrons. Marooned for the winter in Denver, Clyde needed one last chance to stretch all 460 cubic inches of big block before the cold really sets in. So, on a crisp November Saturday I rounded up my funemployed fishing guide friend, George, and pointed Clyde south for Pueblo, the oft-forgotten southern bookend to human sprawl at the foot of the Rockies, for a little tailwater fishing.
Clyde hits the Bighorn
“THIS IS A SWEET CAR,” said the friendly sheriff of Hardin, Montana (population 3,500-ish), who’d just pulled us over for a burnt-out headlight. After promising to replace the light (Fat chance!), he let us roll on with no questions asked. (Which was damn lucky on our part, because if we’d have had to find any sort of official papers in that glovebox…)
Three years with Clyde.
Clyde should be dead by now.
He was pronounced dead. More than once, in fact. In February 2012, a Salt Lake wrencher put a $1,200 tranny in him and said, “He might make it through March.” In November of that same year, driver Steven Hawley emailed: “Clyde’s 460 is shot. Best quote for a rebuild here is $1,395.” It’s fun going back and reading old emails from Clyde’s drivers, many of them frantic. But some of the best ones came not from drivers, but from fishermen who’d stumbled across Clyde on a river somewhere. My favorite, from a man named Jason Koertge: “Was walking out of one of my go-to Oregon Coast runs a few days ago and lo and behold, there sat Clyde. Nice camp those guys had, but it’s complete bullshit their cooler didn’t have any beer in it.” Clyde’s engine was never rebuilt. And the cooler is still empty. But I’m sure Clyde’s co-owner, RA Beattie, still shares my opinion that he was the best investment either of us ever made.
How to get skunked and befriend a cop
I wasn’t too concerned about the highway patrolman until I had to start digging under the seats for a piece of sharpened rebar. Then I thought I might go to jail. We were somewhere between Boise and Island Park, trying to get to Bozeman.