Saturday, July 05, 2008

Looking back, looking forward

A few days into the current hitch, I've had time to reflect on the drive up, and how the car ran. In short, very well, but it could use some fiddling and fettling.

There are several things which could use attention. I've already replaced the very worn ignition switch. I've ordered a capillary water temperature gauge from Mini Spares to replace the 'C-N-H' electrical one, and see how efficient the cooling system is. The radiator has a single cooling fan mounted loosely behind, and I'll fit a second fan beside it and duct them so all the air they pull comes through the radiator. Mini Spares also sell braided oil pressure gauge hoses, a good idea as the standard plastic ones can wear through or break, running the engine out of oil. Replacing the temperature gauge means the original is redundant, so I'll find a 4" tachometer and a new fuel gauge. Much more sporty than standard Herald fare.

Lastly, the Herald could use a tune-up. The problem is lack of mid-range torque and response - open the throttle, the carburettors hiss, but the pick-up is missing. In Christchurch it always went to a garage who knew SUs, but out here I'll have to figure out for myself how to do it. I'll get a wide-band air-fuel meter, carb balancer and an adjustable timing light.

Just being able to go out and sit in Gerald the Herald has brought back memories of where we've been. Looking through the sunroof as we drove through a tunnel of beech trees in the Lewis Pass. Driving onto the ferry to go to the North Island. Turning the corner at the Hermitage at Mt Cook, and gazing at glaciers of green ice hanging off the Southern Alps. Later on the same trip, winding through the Maniototo Valley with warm feet and frozen head (sunroof open as always). I wonder where we'll go in the next sixteen years?

North of Oamaru, after the Dunedin Street Races in 2005

At Mount John Observatory, above Lake Tekapo

Porter's Pass, Southern Alps. The sunroof was closed that day!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Chapter 4 - final leg

The last day of the trip was always going to be the longest and hardest. There are few towns between Mt Morgan and Moranbah, and the first, Middlemount, was nearly 200 miles away. It's flat, dry, empty country, and in summer you carry a lot of water in case of breakdown. Cell phones are useless, and traffic light. The road is at least sealed the whole way.

The first leg retraced about 30km, and then we headed north to the Capricorn Highway, which runs west along the Tropic of Capricorn. For some of the westward drive along the highway I sat behind a road train, almost coasting in his slipstream. We did an easy 100km/h, hardly touching the accelerator. It would have been the perfect free ride if not for a strong smell of cattle leftovers...

After he turned off, I realised we were slowly passing an empty coal train heading west to the mines. These trains are 120 wagons long, and sit at about 80km/h, so passing took a looong time. As we finally caught up with the loco, I heard a short toot and looked over. The driver waved, I waved back, and he let out a long, loud blast. Man, I want one of those horns! Only one thing for it, we floored it and sat at 110 (the limit) all the way to Dingo. He had more horsepower, but I had a weight advantage!

We turned north off the highway at the Dingo roadhouse. Dingo's not so much a town as a place to fill the tank, grab a bite and have a pee. From there it's 120km to the coal mining town of Middlemount, up a straight, flat road known locally as the Beef Road. The whole road is 230km long, with no towns, roadhouses or rest areas, built solely to get cattle trucks to the market at Rockhampton. From Middlemount to Moranbah, we passed one huge mine after another. Although it isn't usually visible, the road parallels a single open pit about 65km long. The quantities of rock removed, coal mined, expenditure on infrastructure and income are staggering, and pump billions into the Queensland economy every year.

Derailed coal train near Saraji Mine

The Outback. Flat, straight roads and big skies. And hot.

Made it!

Gerald pulled into my drive in Moranbah at 2pm, a bit hot and dusty after three days and 747 miles (1202km), but running perfectly. He picked developed a few new rattles and squeaks, but never needed the oil topping up, returned a consumption of 36mpg or better (despite racing trains) and kept his cool in all but heavy traffic.

After a trip of nearly 3500km from Christchurch to Moranbah, from temperate latitudes right into the tropics, that was definitely Gerald's biggest adventure, ever.

The red line is the flight down to Brisbane (at least the portion I was allowed to have the GPS on for). The green line is the route Gerald took, along the D'Aguillar, Burnett and Capricorn Highways, and then into coal country. Two hours vs three days!

Chapter 3 - Orange to gold

Sunday morning was again foggy, and little of the scenery could be seen as we drove north out of Gayndah. It had cleared by Mundubbera, where I stopped at the Giant Mandarin. A lot of Australian towns have built giant icons such as an enormous pineapple, mango or crayfish, and Mundubbera has celebrated its local citrus industry the same way. I can't decide whether they're tacky, or sad, or brilliant.

Misty morning

Munduberra and the giant mandarin

I stopped in Eidsvold for morning tea (and a mandarin), before pushing north to Monto. I passed through Monto a month ago after camping at Cania Gorge, and stopped for an early lunch. When I finished a local, Ron Jamieson, came over and had a yarn about old cars - he has a '79 Corvette, currently in the workshop, and an rip-snorting XU-1 Torana before that. He remembered his father's old Wolseley, and an MG rally that passed through a few years back. Couldn't remember a Triumph in Monto, though! I'll look in next time I'm passing through, and see how the Corvette's coming along.

North from Monto, we passed over the Coominglah Range. Ron had told how road trains at night could be seen climbing the range by the glow of their turbochargers, but Gerald kept his cool. No turbos! From there to Biloela the road wound down through a valley and past Mt Scoria, an extinct volcano. Biloela's information centre makes good coffee, and after a reviving espresso and wander around the farming display ("eat Beef!"), we headed north to Mt Morgan, the final destination for the day.

Mt Morgan was slightly off the direct route, but was the last place to find a decent motel between Biloela and Moranbah. Mt Morgan's an old gold mining town tucked in a valley inland of Rockhampton. It survives partly on tourism, but with gold over US $1000/ounce, mining companies are looking again at the old tailings, and fresh, unmined deposits deeper under the hills. The place has a buzz, and I'll go back and camp there sometime. The motel, also a caravan park, had an old motorbike mounted on its sign - typical Queensland quirkiness. Apparently the owner collects old bikes...

Later in the evening, while waiting for my pizza, I filled up Gerald - 29.1L and 240 miles for the day equalled 7.8L/100km, or 36.2mpg. Not bad! The local RACQ (Royal Automobile Club of Queensland) mechanic was there, and had seen my car earlier in the day. I joined the RACQ prior to the trip, but was glad I hadn't needed them. We discussed Triumphs (there used to be some locally many years ago), the foibles of SU carbs, and other local auto-antiques, until the pizza was ready. Along the whole trip I met people who knew what Heralds were, or had had similar British cars, and the stories and characters added greatly to the trip.

470 miles into the trip, we slept in a mining town full of ghosts and stories from the past, but with a bright, golden future. Like a lot of Queensland, really.

Stop 2 - Mt Morgan

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Chapter 2 - Escape from the Big Smoke

Saturday morning in Brisbane was clear and cool, certainly too cool to have the roof open. I didn't leave until about 8.30, instead mucking around repacking, cleaning the windows and checking the oil and water again. Procrastinating, in other words. Once we pulled away, though, the nerves disappeared.

At the start line

First stop was the Gateway Bridge, a concrete arch which soars over the Brisbane River. $2.60 toll paid, Gerald roared up and over in top. It's a long, steep climb, but the engine pulled strongly and exhaust echoed off the walls and other traffic. Progress slowed on the other side thanks to an accident and subsequent tail-back. A traffic jam before 9am on a Saturday? I was glad to be leaving! The temperature rose a bit while crawling, but dropped again once we were clear and cruising.

I turned off the motorway just north of Brisbane, at Caboolture. I could have continued up the main highway for the next two days, but it's a long, boring grind between concrete walls, passing town after town and seldom in sight of the sea. The alternative route up the Burnett Highway links farming towns. It looks shorter on the map but winds around hills and valleys the whole way. Much more fun, then!

I stopped at Caboolture for snacks, and then at Kilcoy for fuel. It was foggy inland, and we drove through valleys filled with thick mist, with the ghosts of gum trees looming out of the gloom. Ridges and hill tops, meanwhile, were above the sea of clouds, bathing in the Queensland sun. Next stop was the town of Nanango, near the giant Taroom coal mine. The low-rank coal here is mined for electricity generation rather than coking, and the mine is celebrated at the entrance to town with a giant dragline bucket. I tried to reverse into it, but had forgotten how much lower Heralds are than 4WDs. Ooops, hopefully no one saw that! Thank goodness for the towbar.

The town of Moore, on the D'Aguillar Highway heading west

Dragline bucket from the Taroom Mine, on the Burnett Highway heading north

The goal for the first day was Gayndah, a pretty town on a river flat. It's famous for citrus fruit, so I drove up to the lookout and watched the sun set over orange orchards.

The first day's drive let me get reacquainted with a Herald's character and quirks. The road is a bit bumpy, probably due to the large trucks. Gerald tended to get thrown off course by these, and sometimes it felt like flying a small plane through a thunder storm. The quick steering is a joy, very responsive but needing constant correction. I'd forgotten how much the windows rattle, too! From late morning I'd opened the roof, and with the heater warming my lower half, it was very pleasant. We seldom drove at 100km/h though, due mostly to the bumps and wind noise. 90-odd made for a more comfortable cruise, and I could hear the radio.

And so we slept, dreaming of roads ahead. No longer on a little island, a whole continent stretched out before us!