PART II: Through Fire and Water   2 comments

I was headed for Washington, 3000 miles away with no place to stay, no knowledge of the area, and no one I knew in the whole state, leaving midday Thursday intending to start classes on Monday (Kimberly would come 6 weeks later). I could drive my Honda and rent a place short-term–a cheap hotel or Airbnb–or drive my truck and live in the camper I had built on back.  It was a 1991 Ford with uncountable miles, and I had no time to fix it up and sell it in NC for a pittance.  If I made it to the Northwest where the survivalists love tiny homes, I might get a better price.  It was a gamble, especially through the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, but I could save a lot of rental money.

So I packed up the truck and headed out. I made it through the Appalachians but realized my camper was creating a serious drag  I was getting less than 15 mpg and putting too much strain on the engine, but I could think of no way to fix the aerodynamics while traveling.  All the money I would save on free rent was going into the gas tank—it would easily be over $1000.

By Friday night I reached South Dakota.  Ahead of me was the biggest thunderstorm I had ever seen, with continuous lightening across the whole black face of the sky.  I pulled off to get gas and a sudden wind shook my truck like a chew-toy.  Stepping out, I looked up to see the clouds swirling in a circle over me, and a tornado siren suddenly blasted.  The gas attendant gave quick directions to the shelter of the courthouse basement, and with a dozen others I soon found myself huddled there, wondering about my homemade camper, but it rode out the storm fine.

By Saturday evening I made it to Bozeman, Montana, when my engine suddenly died and would not restart.  Pulling to the side of the road, I called a tow-truck which dropped me at a repair shop parking lot where I spent the night.  The next morning I realized it would stay closed all day.  I was going to miss my first day of orientation if I couldn’t get the truck fixed, but how could I find an open shop?  Just then a car pulled into the lot and I went over to the couple to ask if they knew where I could go.  They gave me the phone number to a shop that was open, and when I called them, they agreed to work on my truck.  It was an electrical problem that took several hours to identify and fix, but I didn’t realize until I got the bill that they were charging me $115 an hour.  Money was slipping down a black hole on this trip, but at least I would make it to class in time if I drove all night.

As I pushed the old truck up the mountains, a flashing road sign alerted me “Caution! Forest Fire Ahead!”  I could smell it and see the smoke off to my left, but the road stayed clear.  Still, the Rockies were too much for my truck.  Going downhill it slowed to 30 miles per hour before I pulled over so as not to destroy the engine.  I called for another tow truck.  Again I was dropped at a closed shop where I spent the night, only to discover that this shop did not open on Mondays.  After filling it with oil and antifreeze, I started my truck up to see if I could coax it to another repair place, and discovered it was driving okay, so I decided to chance it and headed out.

I had almost reached the Western border of Washington State when I pulled over for gas and discovered that my engine was leaking oil all over, having splattered the engine, and puddled under the truck.  A young fellow who pulled in next to me offered help, crawling under the truck to see what might be the problem.  He told me the repair would be thousands of dollars, and when I told him I needed to get to Seattle he said, “If it was me, I’d buy a bunch of oil and just keep filling it until I got there.”  He told me about an auto parts store one exit down where I could buy it cheap and of a mechanic at that exit who could give me a real diagnosis of the truck.

I pulled in to Adams Automotive and asked him to take a look.  He told me that oil dripping onto the hot exhaust system was a sure way to start a fire.  When he could see I was going to push on, he told me to wait till after dark as it was 100F and to be especially careful going over “The Pass,” an ominous sounding ascent into the Cascade Mountains.  He told me that his fire extinguisher had passed its expiration date and he would need to get another one anyway, so he handed it to me to keep in the truck.  Under these desperate conditions I realized the best way to lose drag was to remove the front panel of my camper and let the air blow through to the back.  If I had thought of this two days before, I might have saved my engine.

I waited till dark to start the rest of my journey.  The Pass proved to be the longest, steepest climb I had made the whole journey.  When I finally reached the summit late at night, I pulled over to give the engine a break and lifted to hood to help cool it down.  The engine was on fire.  I jumped into the truck and grabbed the extinguisher, quickly putting out the flames before any damage had been done.  At 3:30 am, after 8 quarts of oil, I made it to the outskirts of Seattle and pulled into a truck stop to rest a few hours before heading for school a day late.




Posted December 27, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

2 responses to “PART II: Through Fire and Water

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  1. amazing!! cant wait to hear the rest 🙂

  2. That is one huge adventure! Glad you finally made it west…horse power finished and wagon in disarray. As with wagon trains crossing the country, God’s hand was with you, protecting and providing. Blessings….

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