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Vintage road trip: 3,636 miles in classic cars

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Sep. 13, 2013, at 5 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013, at 8:34 a.m.

When last we left our intrepid travelers, they were preparing to launch an ambitious road trip that would take them down old Route 66 through the American southwest, with a stop in Las Vegas before heading up the California coast highway to San Francisco, back east to Lake Tahoe and over the Rocky Mountains, arriving at home base in Wichita.

To boost the difficulty factor just a bit, this collection of car hobbyists planned to do all this in five vintage vehicles with a total of 253 years of road service on their odometers. We’re happy to report they made it right on schedule, with only a few minor difficulties.

“It was 3,636 miles, is what it was,” said Ed Bolain, who completed the drive in his 1958 Pontiac Safari station wagon.

“We left May 11. We took off from the Quick Trip on west Kellogg. Our first stop was Greensburg,” said Phil Rapp, who was at the wheel of a beautiful aqua-colored ’55 Thunderbird.

Don Bolain made the trip in his classic 1965 Buick Riviera. The Bolain brothers organized the trip.

By the time they made it to Liberal, they had encountered their first challenge: two bad tires on the 1983 Chevy pickup used as the support vehicle and being driven by brothers Boone and John Reichenberger. A pair of new tires and they were on their way again, making it to Albuquerque the first night.

Following a stop at a collector car museum in Santa Rosa, N.M., the group arrived in the Las Vegas area, where the ’58 Pontiac had to have a new starter installed at a local hot rod shop.

“We spent two days there,” said Rapp, who said that, yes, there was some time spent in casinos. How did they do? “I don’t think anybody came out of there with a tax problem.”

The group made it through the Mojave Desert, overnighting in Bakersfield before heading up the scenic Pacific Coast Highway.

“We passed through the intersection where James Dean was killed in his Porsche,” Don Bolain said. They stopped for a break at Morro Bay, a seaside community that features a gigantic volcanic “plug” that rises over 500 feet from the water in the bay.

“Then it was on to the Hearst Castle,” Rapp said. “ It was huge … just so opulent.”.

“It’s one of those things, you have to see it to believe it,” Boone Reichenberger said.

Rapp apparently had an incident in Monterey, 122 miles to the north.

“Phil about got arrested because he refused to let the valet park his car,” reported Ron Bowring, who made the trip in his 1951 Mercury convertible.

After arriving in the San Francisco area, they toured the prison site on Alcatraz and got a first-hand look at racing yachts preparing for the America’s Cup.

The Kansans made their way north to Sacramento to visit relatives before making the turn back to the east and heading for home, spending a couple of days in Lake Tahoe. At one point, the air conditioner compressor in Bowring’s Mercury stopped pumping out cold air. A helpful mechanic stepped up and discovered the unit was overcharged.

“Every town had a story,” Rapp observed.

• “I paid $6.29 a gallon for gas in Big Sur (Calif.),” Ed Bolain lamented.

“We drove another 75 miles and it was `only’ $4.85,” chuckled Boone Reichenberger.

• They met a much larger tour group of classic Cadillacs and Packards on the way back. A total of 75 cars had left Times Square and were headed to San Francisco when their paths crossed. “Every one of them, without exception, honked and waved at us,” Rapp said.

• “A guy pulled up next to Ed in Denver and told him he didn’t have any brake lights. Ed told him, `That was optional in ’58,’” said Reichenberger.

• As the tour reached the home stretch after two weeks on the road, Don Bolain’s Riviera sputtered to a stop near Salina. Ed Bolain whizzed right past the stalled car, never even looking his way. “I had that dude on cruise control … I’m heading home,” Ed explained.

Luckily, the support truck carried a spare electric fuel pump and the other Bolain brother was back on the road in less than half an hour. “If I did another trip like that, I think I would check the cars out a little closer,” he said.

“It’s interesting how much you find out about a car after a trip like that. But it’s amazing we drove 3,600 miles and didn’t have any more trouble than we had,” Bowring said.

“We had a good time. The Bolain brother gave us a trip we’ll never forget,” Boone Reichenberger said.

“And my little T-Bird got about 24 miles to the gallon,” said Rapp, to the good-natured jeers of his travel companions.

Reach Mike Berry at mberry@wichitaeagle.com.

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