January 10, 2012
Tour group at Yellowstone National Park
Photo courtesy Jim Ruen
Our Yellowstone tour group takes a break outside our minibus.

You never know when a little mechanical training will come in handy. Back when I was a young man just out of high school, I joined the U.S. Army. When I chose the training I would undergo after basic infantry training, I selected mechanics. I spent two months in Missouri learning wheeled-vehicle maintenance followed by two months in Oklahoma working on track vehicles.

Then the Army found out I could type (thanks to Miss Boyer and a high school typing class) and assigned me to a data-processing center. I never touched a wrench to a track vehicle again … until two weeks ago.

With our son and daughter both home from college, my wife and I recognized this was a unique opportunity to take a family vacation the week after Christmas. We had always wanted to see Yellowstone National Park in the winter and headed west.

The classic way to see the park in the winter is a tour in a Bombardier snow coach, a 12-passenger minibus with skies on the front and tracks on the rear. Built in the 1970s, the cramped but rugged units are a bit worse for wear and scheduled for replacement. We were excited to have the chance to experience plowing through several feet of fresh snow in one of these rigs, going where other vehicles, even those on tracks, simply couldn’t go.

The excitement intensified about 8 hours into the 10-hour ride. We had been stopping at scenic sites in the park, watching coyote, bison, elk, trumpeter swan and even river otter in the snow and open waters. Then the noise started. A rhythmic thumping on one side of the bus grew in volume. One of the rubber track pads had begun to split.

Next week: The Fix!

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