Rob's Blog Archive

December 16, 2012

Fresh Air for My ATV










I have an old ATV.  How old, I’m really not sure.  I bought it as part of a package deal from Bob Chlupach when he left town---a 4-wheel ATV that actually worked, a dead 3-wheeler he held onto so he could pull the engine and use as a cart (I did), and a snowmobile that, in fact, I’ve never used.  I’m only pretty sure I know where it is.  Altogether these cost me $900.  That was in May, 2004. 

I closed on Silly Lake, house, 20 acres, and a pond that shows up on a USGS Topo map, about a month after Bob left town.  Gary Kyrouac helped me move the ATV’s here, but the snowmobile stayed put.  The snowmobile would meander around and, if my intel is correct, end up in Seeley Lake proper at one of the two auto shops I’ve used.  I still have to check.

That summer, I dropped the engine from the 3-wheeler.  With only six dogs, it would still be heavy enough to control them adequately and if and when I wanted to run a larger string, I had the 4-wheeler. 

The 3-wheeler proved to be a fine training vehicle---usually.  The weight was never an issue.  However, the inherent instability of 3-wheelers reared its ugly head several times.  Happily, I wore a bicycle helmet when I used it and this saved my noggin.

The scariest of the falls happened at the turn-around I use for my 7 mile loop.  The 3-wheeler hit a stump and flipped.  In spite of being on a narrow trail cut through trees, I was fine.  At first, I hung onto the ATV, just like mushers are supposed to.  Then I assessed the situation.  Even if the dogs dragged the ATV on its side, I could keep up with them, so I let go.  As I would have guessed, the dogs gave the line a yank.  What I didn’t guess was this would right the ATV.  I could have kept up with them if they were dragging the thing on its side---on its wheels, not so much.  I watched it fly away. 

Two things saved me.  First, we were in the middle of a teardrop.  Second, when the dogs reached the end, they turned toward home---the route they knew.  I had a split second to decide what to do.  I didn’t know if I could make it, but there was a shot I could just cut across the teardrop and catch the team heading home.  If I tripped over a dead tree, it would have been game over, but somehow I missed all of them.  I hit the road exactly as the 3-wheeler passed, grabbed the rear rack, and convinced the dogs to stop.  Adrenaline is a good thing.  This time, as I went to get back on the seat, I didn’t let go.

The following year, I ran 12 dogs.  The 3-wheeler was no longer an option. I had to use the 4-wheeler.  Of course, this had and has an engine that needs maintenance.  I’ve replaced the spark plug and performed other basic tune-up tasks to keep the engine running.  And it has, though each year, it’s taken just a little more coaxing to keep it going. 

I really don’t need a lot from the ATV’s engine, mostly something to move it around before and after runs.  Usually, I have the dogs pull against the engine while it’s in gear but without giving it any gas.  I’ll give them gas if we’re passing through really bad snow or mud, but that’s about all. 

Still, I do like keeping from stalling out—something it started doing regularly several years ago.  Over the years, I learned several tricks to keep the engine going.  The first was to loosen the gas cap---it’s between my crotch and the steering column so it is easy to get at while I am running dogs.  After a couple of years, this became leaving it ajar all the time.  Another of the other tricks I started doing was putting the ATV in neutral and revving the engine. This year, I discovered yet another trick:  choking it off.  Actually not totally choked, but a finger less.  The only issue I ran into while doing this was jarring tended to open the choke up so I was adjusting it continually. 

It must have been while I was cleaning the dogyard (see Great Times to Think: Scooping the Dogyard in the Blog Archive) a month ago that a virgin thought crossed my and perhaps several of my dogs’ consciousnesses (virginity refers to the thought, not me or my mind).  Perhaps the reason I had to keep the lid to the gas tank ajar was because in the eight years and several thousand miles of dusty road since I got the ATV, I haven’t replaced the air filter.  Hmmm.

I mentioned this to my friend, Roy, who is much more familiar with ATV mechanics than I am.  I then asked the all important question, “Where’s the air filter?”  Ends up, in most ATV’s, it’s in a pretty normal air filter housing right underneath the seat (I had previously figured out how to remove the seat ALL ON MY OWN!).  Okay---I can deal with looking for a housing that’s not too different from the air filter housing on my car engine. 

So a couple of days later, I throw on enough clothes to hang out in my unheated Montana garage in the winter, and head out to see if I can find my ATV’s air filter.  Actually, it takes less than five minutes to remove it---four wingnuts hold an absolutely normal housing right smack-dab under the seat.  The filter is an oily mess, but is smaller than a car’s, so I grab a 1 gallon ziplock bag and stick it in it and then in my truck. 

True to form I hit Kurt’s Polaris, the local ATV and Snowmobile shop, about 3 minutes before it closes on Saturday.  They look at the air filter quickly then ask what year my ATV is---I say I don’t know, but ask if they can figure it out from the VIN (I don’t know this either, but should be able to find it).  They say sure, but that they can’t order one until Tuesday anyway.  Honda isn’t open on weekends and Kurt’s is closed on Mondays.  Then they look more closely at the filter.  It’s not a paper filter but foam and meant to be reusable.  They tell me I just need to pull the foam off of the mounting, wash the thing out in soapy water and then let it dry, which I do.  Happily, there’s no moisture in the air inside a Montana house in the winter, so even though it’s evening before the foam feels warm water and soap, it’s dry for my morning runs.  In spite of my best efforts to get it wrong, the filter can only go into the housing one way and in less than five minutes, I’m putting the seat back on (I figured out how to do this about the same time I figured out how to remove it…).

Sunday’s runs went absolutely great, at least regarding the ATV.  This ran better than it had in years.  Many years.  I didn’t have to coax the engine at all.  I could even close the gas cap.  Once again, the wisdom of the dogyard paid off.

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