Archived Story

A not-so-tall tale about traveling to Texas

Published 10:05am Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pothole Prairie by Tim Engstrom

In Texas, everything is big. That even applies to automobile breakdowns.

My 7-year-old son, Forrest, and a local disc golfing buddy, 25-year-old Matt Friedman, returned from a spring break adventure Saturday afternoon. While we are divulging ages, let me say I am 43, which explains why Matt usually can beat me at disc golf — but not always.

Yes, we planned to get south of the snow and head to Kansas and Oklahoma during spring break. Looking at the forecast, it seemed we needed to go all the way to Texas to avoid a cold spell early in the week. We changed our plans to hit Texas, then Oklahoma as the weather warmed.

So on the first Saturday of spring break, the three of us left in my 2005 Subaru Outback with the goal to make it to Texas in a day. We were headed to camp at Selah Ranch, home of the two top-rated disc golf courses in the world. If you are a cartophile (map lover), it is near Mount Vernon, though its mailing address is Talco.

If you are a disc golfer, you already know about Selah Ranch. People can camp there or they can stay indoors at Selah Inn or at one of the cabins they have on the 1,000-acre property owned by Dave and Candy Hickerson. The upscale place is a prime example of the emerging popularity of disc golf.

The speed limit on two-lane country highways in Texas is 75 mph. We were going about 68 or 70 about five or six miles west of Bogata when I needed to speed up to pass a slowpoke. I got in the left lane and accelerated and suddenly the engine began making a clackity noise. No oil light. Nothing. No sound of lifters like old cars sometimes have. Just out of the blue. We pulled over in Bogata (Texans pronounce it BUH-go-TUH), checked the oil and put two quarts in it. We made the last 14-mile leg to Selah Ranch.

It was 71 degrees outside, and we made our camp.

The next day, we began playing from the long tees of the No. 2-rated course in the world, Creekside, and at the Hole 13 tee we saw lightning and heard thunder. In Minnesota, that means there is time for five more holes. In the South, it means beat feet or get wet.

We got in the Subaru and headed for Mount Pleasant to take in a movie. The car was running fine, and our fears were allayed. At one point, two or three miles south of Bogata, I accelerated gently from 55 to 65 mph and the noise returned. I pulled over. It died at idle. It wouldn’t start. We were stranded inside the Outback on a cold, rainy Texas day.

Fortunately, Dave back at Selah Ranch came and got us, and he called a flatbed tow truck, which hauled the Subaru to Gandy Automotive in Mount Vernon. Dave then drove us around the town, which was the home of “Dandy” Don Merideth, former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and former commentator on “Monday Night Football.” In fact, Selah Ranch, or at least part of it, used to belong to Merideth. We were playing disc golf on Don Merideth’s former property. How cool is that?

The rain turned to ice and accumulated on the ground like snow. Dave and Candy generously allowed us to stay indoors at the camping rate. The next day, it stopped, but Texas schools were canceled, temps were in the teens and 20s, and people couldn’t get to work. Our car diagnosis would have to wait a day.

As Minnesotans, a slippery ground and cold air didn’t stop us from playing disc golf. Matt and I (Forrest stayed inside watching cartoons) might be the only people to play the world’s No. 1-rated course, Lakeside, during icy conditions.

Where are these courses rated? Players rate them on a website called Disc Golf Course Review. Minnesota’s Blue Ribbon Pines in East Bethel is among the top 10.

On Tuesday, John Gandy of Gandy Automotive told me the crankshaft in the engine was shot. I was disappointed to lose an engine at 125,000 miles despite regular care and maintenance. I spent part of the day trying to sell my car. Pretty much, Subarus, with their all-wheel drive, are more popular in snowy states. No luck in Texas. Rental car? Companies will rent pickups but won’t let people haul trailers behind them. My only other option was to rent a U-Haul truck with an automobile trailer.

So I ordered one for Wednesday. On Tuesday afternoon, we played Lakeside once again, this time from the long tees.

We finally moved out of Selah Ranch around noon Wednesday. Forrest enjoyed the U-Haul truck. He could sit up front and see better than in the back seat of a station wagon. We had four days, if we wanted, to get to Albert Lea. This meant we could continue to disc golf, but we had a limited number of miles in which to accomplish it. We began to plan.

Over the next few days, we played an old-but-fun course with grass tee pads in a run-down neighborhood of Paris, Texas. It was called Walker Park. We played a course near a rodeo arena at Nichols Park in Henryetta, Okla., with poles instead of baskets, and the poles were a tube that made a tone when discs strike. I guessed E flat.

We played many nice Tulsa courses in 55-degree weather, with actual bare ground beneath our feet and blue skies and sunshine above our heads: Haikey Creek Park, Hunter Park, two courses at Chandler Park, Redhawk and Blackhawk. The two “hawk” parks were outside the Tulsa Zoo at spacious Mohawk Park.

We had half our stuff in the car, and the other half scattered in the almost-empty truck. You might think we were crazy, but recall we had planned to camp all week. Instead, we slept inside the U-Haul at Walmart parking lots, where truckers and RVers often stay. Why pitch a tent when the truck acts as a shelter? It never dipped below freezing at night, and we were warmer than we would be in a tent.

My approach to cars has been to pay them off and own them for as long as possible. That is thrifty, but it risks mechanical problems. Considering the events of the week of spring break, I might change my thinking. Being without wheels is an empty feeling, even if it did make for a Texas-sized adventure.


Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.