Even island pioneers have to maintain the motor pool

IMG_20200409_155950732-1Ranger Rick at the Hunter Bay dock: All spiffed up with no place (much) to go.

IMG_7955IF YOU’RE NOT A GEARHEAD, this might not be the blog post for you.

But one of the challenges of this “island pioneer” life (tongue only lightly in cheek) is maintaining motor vehicles so that we have mobility when we leave our island.

The modest Cantwell fleet includes a Honda sedan, for trips to Seattle and the mainland, kept in a private lot at Skyline Marina in Anacortes, and our “island car,” a 15-year-old Ford pickup we call Ranger Rick. It’s parked adjacent to the Hunter Bay county dock, three miles away on Lopez Island.

The biggest challenge is maintaining the pickup, which hasn’t returned to the mainland in two years. Jiffy Lube, Midas Muffler and Les Schwab haven’t arrived on Lopez yet (and I’m fine with that). There are a couple of homespun auto-repair shops around the island, but getting the truck there and leaving it would require bicycling back to Hunter Bay (which is doable, I just haven’t found the need yet).

With the return of dry and warmer weather, it was time for me to change Ranger Rick’s oil — and that ambition quickly expanded.

The truck had driven just 2,000 miles since the last oil change. (There just isn’t that far to go on Lopez.) It had been more than two years, longer than most experts recommend with such light driving, but the previous oil change was with a top-quality synthetic motor oil, so I hope it was OK.

One boon is that the Lopez marine chandlery, Islands Marine Center, also has a NAPA auto parts counter, so I had a good source for quality motor oil and other supplies, including a pair of jack stands I purchased so I could do the project safely.

Another challenge for us Outer Islanders (as we’re called in the San Juans) was where to stage the project. I decided I could park Ranger Rick at the far edge of the county dock’s parking strip, away from other vehicles and out of anybody’s way. I’d be extra careful about spills but would spread a big tarp, just in case.

While I was at it, I looked at a “needed repairs” list from the truck’s last trip to a Seattle auto-repair shop. One suggested item I hadn’t sprung for at the time was replacing the fuel filter. I’ve changed automotive oil many times, but had only changed fuel filters on boats. After watching a few YouTube DIY videos (you can find anything on the Internet) I added this to my project list.

I also really wanted to give the truck a good scrub. Lopez has no car wash. I’ve wiped the truck down now and then, but after two years without a proper wash it was (quite literally) getting mossy around the edges.

Other jobs I hoped to accomplish in one marathon day if all went well: replace some turn-signal lights; spray Rust-Oleum paint on a rusting black metal bumper, and apply color restorer to faded and streaked vinyl trim.

OK, I realize all this is likely too much information about my auto-repair ambitions, but it drives home a point: When you live on a remote island, simple things get complicated.

A big challenge was ensuring that I had all the supplies and tools I might need. It reminded me of Old West pioneers on wagon trains who had to have everything with them when they left Missouri. If I forgot the right wrench, it would mean a 6-mile round-trip boat ride and a 1 1/2 mile round-trip hike to our cabin to get it.

So I spent half a day organizing my supplies in advance. The cartful I loaded in to the boat included a tool chest, two 5-gallon jugs of water, a bucket with sponges and brushes, a tarp, five quarts of oil, and a boxful of other parts and materials.

Yesterday was Ranger Rick Project Day. Barbara packed me a lunch. It was a pristine spring morning with calm waters as I sped across Lopez Sound in WeLike, our runabout, to get an 8:30 a.m. start. I guess I was breaking the stay-at-home order, but I was on my own all day. It gave me another day of meticulous, intensive work to keep my mind off the worries of the world.

I checked off every project on my list and was home by 5, feeling every bit the manly man and savoring a sense of accomplishment.

A hot shower never felt so good. A cold beer never tasted so good. No wonder the Old West pioneers were so happy when they got to Dodge. 1-anchor

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