The plan was to drive up North to our cottage in the U.P. Just the two of us for a 3 day weekend for our wedding anniversary. So after work on Friday we hit the road.
We are about 2 hours from our cottage. It was dark and traffic was moderate on the 2 lane road, but there is oncoming traffic and the headlights make it hard to see a lot. All of a sudden there is a buck crossing the road in front of us; I slam on the brakes, candles are flying all over the inside of the Bronco, (the wife apparently had ideas of a romantic weekend) but it?s too late and I center punch the deer perfectly.
After I get the truck off to the side of the road, I grab a flashlight to assess the damage. It?s about 35 F and starting to rain ? damn. I check the truck. The radiator is bashed in and also pushed into the fan. I also notice the water pump shaft is at an odd angle ? double damn! We are so screwed.
Then my dearest wife informs me she has got to use the ?facilities?. I said fine, take the flashlight and walk into the woods a little ways and take care of business. ?What do I use for toilet paper?? she asks. So being a resourceful guy, I hand her my pocket knife and tell her to cut her underwear off and use that. This does not go over very well. I offer to cut off my underwear and let her use mine. That?s when I got ?that look? that every married man has seen all too often. She gives a huff and proceeds to the woods. To this day I don?t know if she took my suggestion or not.
About 45 minutes later a State Trooper shows up. He takes down all the info and gives us a push 2 miles up the road to beautiful downtown Pembine. Pembine is not much more than a crossroads with one bar, one greasy spoon restaurant, and one small motel. We repair to the bar for a couple of stiff drinks. The place is deserted except for the bartender and a little old guy sitting in the corner, quietly crying. I ask the barkeep what was up with the old guy. He says ?Beats me. I guess he just likes to drink and cry. Comes in hear every Friday ? same thing.?
I get the name of somebody who might help us in the morning. ?Yea, Vern can help ya. Here?s his number.? So we walk over to the motel to get a room and call Vern.
The place was not exactly 4 star, but what are you going to do? We get into the room; it?s freezing. Turn up the heat and the boiler kicks in with the most god-awful clanking you ever heard. I dial 9 to get an outside line and hear people talking on the phone. Hang up and try again. Same thing. So I call the desk and explain my problem with the phone. The lady says ?Oh Hon, that?s no problem. We got a party line here. Just wait awhile ?till they?re done.? Can you believe it? I finally get through to Vern and he assures me he can help and will be there at 8 the next morning.
Now the wife wants to take a shower, but, you guessed it, no hot water. All this has not put her in a very amorous mood. Oh well, it?s not exactly the honeymoon suite anyway. So we prepare for bed.
The mattress is so soft we keep rolling into each other in the center of the bed. You have to lie on your side and hold onto the edge of the mattress to avoid this. The pillows are so heavy and hard, I swear they must have been filled with lead bird-shot instead of feathers. Between the mattress, pillows, clanking heat, and the sound of 18-wheelers going past not 20 yards from where we were trying to sleep it was not a very restful night.
After a breakfast of rubbery fried eggs and hash browns so greasy you could have lubed your wheel bearings with them, Vern showed up. Vern is a bear of a man dressed in bib overalls and lumberjack shirt, neither of which looked to have seen any soap and water for some time. For that matter, neither did Vern. It?s a little hard to understand Vern, ?cause he?s got not a single tooth in his head. But after much motioning and mumbling, he gives me to understand that he can have us on the road in no time; and oh, he was getting his new teeth next week. I was so happy for him.
Vern hooks up a chain from his truck to ours, and he tows us to his place. Now this chain is only about 12 feet long, and Vern is going 65 mph down the road. I can?t run my engine, so I?ve got no power steering or brakes. We thought we were going to die, but we arrived at Vern?s place without incident.
Vern?s place is a ways back in the woods. It?s really just a shack attached to the side of his barn. For some reason the movie ?Deliverance? crossed my mind. We get my Bronco into the barn where he has this huge wood burning stove that had to be 6 feet tall and 4 feet around. Vern throws in five or six 10 inch diameter pieces of wood, and I say, ?Isn?t that going to be kind of hard to start without kindling?? With out bothering to reply, Vern dumps a gallon of kerosene into the stove and tossed in a match ? WOOOMPFF. ?That should do ?er? he mumbles.
We got the radiator out. Vern says to give him some money and he?ll go to Iron Mountain and get a new radiator and water pump. In the meantime, I remove the old water pump. Vern returns with a new pump, but no radiator. ?All outta one for this model?, he says.
But Vern is not easily dissuaded. He pulls a radiator out of another pickup he was supposed to be working on for someone else and says, ?We?ll use this. Ya just gotta be sure to return it next time you come up, ?cause I gotta finish that guy?s truck.? I told him I?d be coming up in two weeks and would be sure to bring the radiator with me.
The radiator Vern was going use was ?horizontal? and the one in my truck was ?vertical?. Not the same thing at all. But Vern was undeterred. Using a combination of sheet metal screws, wood blocks, baling wire, and bungee straps he miraculously got the thing in. You should have seen it. It was a thing to behold, a tribute to backwoods ingenuity. It was in cockeyed but solid, and he had to use about 8 feet of radiator hose to get it hooked up, but there you go, we were ready to attempt the road again. My beloved wife was, shall we say, in a bit of a snit; continuing to the cottage was out of the question. So we were to head south, back to Milwaukee.
Vern only wanted $50 for his efforts, but after he spent the better part of a day with us, I gave him $100. He was pleased. As we pulled off, he waved and shouted, ?Don?t fergit ta bring that radiator back!? Good old Vern.
3455 S. Russel Rd.
New Berlin, Wi. 53151