Day 3: Austin, NevadaBy the time we hit Austin, Nevada, the next day, the transmission in the Challenger had developed a thirsty leak past the pump seal. A call from the chase vehicle over the two-way radio the night before had alerted us that something was dripping onto the hot crossover pipes on the exhaust, evidenced by telltale white smoke trailing beneath the car. Ted was prepared for such an emergency and had brought along several bottles of transmission "miracle goo," some sort of thick blood-red salve with the consistency of rubber cement on a cold day. By now, the travel on the brake pedal had also begun to grow, and there was a good distance between depressing the pedal and the brakes responding.

The sign along the road into town proclaims Austin "The loneliest town on the loneliest road in America." We've already been to Cisco, but that can't be considered much of a town anymore, so we had to agree.

Kowalski blasted through Austin, barely spending more than thirty seconds in it. In real life, just doing the speed limit gives you the same experience. Austin, like many towns in this part of the country, is a dying boom town.

"We're a small town, and it's nice," says the keeper of the Lincoln Motel, Austin's only inn. "We're so small, we know everybody's pets' names and recognize them when we see them."

Everyone in town remembers Vanishing Point and comments on the Challenger. The cast and crew were in Austin for a time during the filming, staying at the Lincoln and eating across the street at the Frontier Hotel and Caf. Barry Newman stayed in Room Number 5, and that's the room Ted and Jackie request. The brown shag carpeting and green glass lamp with a tasseled shade lead us to believe that not much has changed since Newman turned the dials to change channels on the television set. But the price is right, the rooms are clean, and there's just something right about staying in a small-town motel instead of a Holiday Inn Express.

The Frontier is no longer a hotel, but it's easy to imagine the upstairs rooms and saloon girls from a century before. The Civil War-era bar is well stocked, and like the film crew, that's where we spend our evening. Breakfast the next morning is remarkably good, and we encourage Will to eat up, as it's a long time until lunch.

Unlike most of the towns we've gone through on the trip, Austin is fighting for a second chance. Some enterprising residents have gotten grants from the government and the town now hosts several downhill bicycle races a year, and a 4x4 off-road recreation area is in the works. Small businesses catering to the tourist industry are beginning to pop up, and buildings on the only street in town are being renovated. Austin has learned that the new economy of the old west is tourist dollars, and they're taking advantage of it. It's good to see.

Day 4: Goldfield, NevadaSuper Soul, the movie's well-remembered DJ, has long since stopped broadcasting from KOW's studio on the first floor of the Goldfield Hotel, but the hotel still strikes an imposing profile, visible over all the other buildings from a couple miles out of town. Several years ago a restoration of the hotel was started, but money, along with most of the town, dried up and the project was never completed. A small group of local folks are determined to see the restoration through, but a multi-million-dollar investment in a hotel for a town with nothing to do or see leaves one wondering.