Day 34: Tomsk to Novosibirsk

Number of tie wraps: 8 (2 added since last post)

Countdown: 4021 miles down, 4564 to go

Roadster Shock Absorber Score: Russian Customs: 2, World Auto Tour: 0

Quote of the Day: “C’mon baby, spin!”

It was raining when we left Tomsk at about 8 a.m., but the weather improved later in the morning as we approached Novosibirsk. We encountered some construction on the way, but the drive was smooth overall, and we arrived at our hotel at about 1 p.m.


Rainy day in Western Siberia

Rainy day in Western Siberia (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We saw this house on chicken legs when we stopped for rest and gas. The design originates from a Russian fairy tale.


Play house on chicken legs

Play house on chicken legs (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Despite the relatively easy drive today, we received some bad news during the trip. The shock absorbers for the Roadster that we thought would be waiting for us in Novosibirsk never left the U.S. Apparently there is no way to get them through customs in a timely manner, so we’ve reverted to Plan C, or D, or maybe even E.

After checking into our hotel, we caught a taxi to an auto supply facility on the edge of town. The nondescript building in the photo below houses dozens of dealers of both new and used auto parts and accessories, sort of like an auto parts flea market. We figured if we couldn’t find the shocks there, we’re not likely to find them in Russia.


The shock search continues

The shock search continues (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We found the front shocks on our second try, but the rear shocks, being air shocks, proved more difficult.


Front shocks -- we're half way there!

Front shocks — we’re half way there! (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Luke and I went up to the second floor,


Stairs up to the second floor at the auto market place

Stairs up to the second floor at the auto market place (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

and found a vendor who spoke a little English, who tried to help us find a suitable substitution for the rear air shocks, since air shocks are virtually nonexistent in Russia.


Searching for the rear air shocks

Searching for the rear air shocks (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After much consultation and attempts by at least four other vendors to find an alternative for the rear shocks, we gave up. Once again, everyone we encountered was extremely friendly and willing to go the extra mile to help us. The man on the right in the photo below, Aleksey, even offered to open his auto repair shop tomorrow (it’s a holiday here) to help us out. And our taxi driver waited patiently for 45 minutes for no extra charge while we sorted things out.

Aleksey, on the right, one of the many people who tried to help us out

Aleksey, on the right, one of the many people who tried to help us out (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We arrived back at the hotel about 5 p.m. to begin installation of the front shocks.


The precious cargo

The precious cargo (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

First the right shock came off,


Taking the right shock off

Taking the right shock off (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

then a loose bolt had to be tightened,


Tightening the loose bolt

Tightening the loose bolt (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

and then Luke and John wrestled the bushing from the old shock to put into the new shock so the attaching bolt would fit right,


Pulling out the old bushing

Pulling out the old bushing (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

and then Luke installed the new shock. I’ve never seen a more beautiful shock in my entire life.


The new shock absorber

The new shock absorber (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

They then repeated the process for the left shock, although the old bushing on that shock proved to be a bit more challenging to remove, but nothing that a little WD-40 didn’t help take care of. This is also where we got the quote of the day from Luke: “C’mon baby, spin!”


The stubborn left shock bushing

The stubborn left shock bushing (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Finally, Luke tested the new shocks by jumping on the bumper.


Testing the new shock absorbers

Testing the new shock absorbers (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Two more tie wraps have joined the Roadster, this time to make the sole windshield wiper work better.


Two more tie wraps, this time on the windshield wiper

Two more tie wraps, this time on the windshield wiper (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Tonight at dinner, we debated what to do about the rear shocks, and we now have a plan that involves getting some air shocks to Moscow, an aerosol can of flat tire repair, several large pieces of heavy rubber, and lots of duct tape. As I believe Dave Barry once said, no problem is too large that it can’t be fixed with a hammer, a can of WD-40 and a roll duct tape. Before this is all over, I think we will have used all three. If anyone out there has any other ideas, please let us know!

Tomorrow we look for some things to help fix the Roadster further and perhaps visit a railroad and car museum before we join the Russian holiday festivities in the evening. Assuming we survive all that, we head to Omsk on Friday, a drive of about 420 miles, the second-longest drive of the trip.

Days 32-33: Krasnoyarsk to Tomsk

When George Schuster and the Thomas Flyer arrived in Tomsk on June 27, 1908, the Flyer had again caught up with the German Protos, but the Americans were still unable to take the lead. The Protos had arrived on morning before the Flyer arrived, but the German team delayed their departure until the following morning for some repairs, making it possible for the Flyer to catch up. But due to various logistics issues, the American team wasn’t able to leave until 3 a.m. on June 28, so Schuster continued to drive all day and night to catch the Germans.

During the portion of the trip from Irkutsk to Tomsk, the 1908 racers had relatively few problems. However, the Flyer had to be pulled out of about five feet of water when crossing a river near a village because so many curious bystanders had crowded onto the small improvised ferry used for the crossing that the raft sank. But the villagers came to the rescue and pulled the Flyer to shore.

The Flyer also encountered some problems due to the road conditions, and the New York Times reported that, “The tremendous bumping the car had met with on part of the road had bent the spring hanger.” As a result, Schuster ordered his guide, Captain Hansen, and the Times correspondent to take the train to Tomsk to lighten the load until they could get the spring hanger repaired. After pointing this episode out to John at lunch today, he briefly considered putting Luke on a train to Tomsk as well.

Click here to read the original New York Times article.

We left Krasnoyarsk this morning about 7:30 for our 400+ mile drive to Tomsk. We are now officially in Western Siberia, and I’ve noticed a shift in the terrain from forested hills to flatter country with shrubs and scrubby trees that look like small aspen.

Terrain in Western Siberia

Terrain in Western Siberia (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We had excellent roads for driving this morning and we were nearly at the half-way point at lunch time. About 1:45, we arrived in the town of Mariinsk and followed the signs that pointed to Tomsk, which put us onto a different route than the one Ksenia had planned to use. But my map showed a big fat highway line to Tomsk that looked significantly shorter than the planned route, so between the map and the signs in Mariinsk, we decided to take the shorter route.

Everything was fine for the first 20 minutes on our new route, and then we ran into some awesome potholes. Another 20 minutes later, we considered turning back, but then Ksenia asked someone stopped by the roadside when the road would improve and he said another 30 km or so, so we decided to stick with it.

Representative road conditions this afternoon

Representative road conditions this afternoon (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We bounced around for another two hours, but I’m pretty sure the route we took was probably closer to the route used by the 1908 racers as they drove to Tomsk. We also traveled through many small villages we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. One thing that amazes me is how many of the houses in the small villages we’ve passed through have satellite TV. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition of an old way of life with new technology.

Satellite dish in Siberia

Satellite dish in Siberia (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We arrived at our hotel about 7 p.m., about the same time we probably would have arrived if we’d stuck with the original route, which was longer, but probably easier to drive. But we all agreed that the route we chose was much closer in spirit to the original race!

Tomorrow morning we head to Novosibirsk, a short 268 km drive that we hope will end with a box of four new shocks for the Roadster waiting for us.