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Ever Had a Road Trip from Hell?

About 15 years ago, our family decided to spend Christmas skiing in Park City, Utah. My brother’s decision to drive from the Bay Area in California made some sense; my decision to drive from Houston was on its face somewhat more questionable, but my devoted wife and children humored me and went along with my idea. We did see a lot of beautiful countryside (a commodity in short supply on the Texas Gulf Coast), and I had anticipated that it would be a hard drive (a couple of very long days each way). What I hadn’t fully factored in was the difficulties presented by not having snow tires.

I realized that I would need something on my tires once we got into the mountains, so I purchased snow chains and had them put on once we reached Park City. And they worked quite well just driving to the lifts and the grocery store. Then, one night after Christmas, I went to a store to exchange a gift that a family member had given me. Not being sure about the way back, I asked for directions, and following them religiously, all of a sudden found myself on the Interstate.

I had been instructed not to drive more than 35 mph with the chains on my tires, but being on the Interstate presented something of a quandary, since every other vehicle on the road was an 18 wheeler driving 80 mph. In addition, it was starting to snow rather hard, and I doubted that any of the trucks would even see me. Faced with the unknown of what would happen if I speeded up a bit, and what I thought was certain death if I poked along at 35, I decided to speed up to 55 or so to the next exit, which worked till I reached the exit. And then the chains on the rear wheels came loose.

In the Book of Revelation, there are descriptions of various aspects of the end of the world, but I don’t remember any descriptions of what it is going to sound like. Having had snow chains come loose at 55 mph, I think I can probably fill in this omission. Suffice it to say that it will be very loud and very scary.

There is a moral in this tale, children. When you live in the flatlands and are heading into the mountains in the winter, fly, don’t drive, and rent a car that is properly fitted for the area.

Caution: 1500-mile road trip after hemorrhoid surgery in 1972 not advised

In 1972, when Dad was suffering horribly from “piles”, there was no quick out-patient, zip-zap laser, almost bloodless hemorrhoid procedure that there probably is today. I think they were still using scalpels the size of a Crusader’s saber and sutures made of twine.

Nevertheless, about a week after Dad’s in-patient surgery, he was not deterred from driving from Malborough, Mass. to Carbondale, Ill. to visit my sister who was in graduate school in April of 1972. I, his youngest child and only son, was his navigator and assisted at the wheel, having had my license for about a year. (I flunked my drivers test the first time for rolling down a hill backwards in neutral, but that’s another story.)

Needless to say, Dad’s surgical incisions were not completely healed, and sitting for hours at a time in a 1968 Ford Galaxy probably did not accelerate the process. Every roadside hotel we stayed at, we asked for extra towels, lots of extra towels so Dad could bathe and tend to his wounds. I shudder at the thought of the chamber maids coming into our vacated room after we had checked out and finding “piles” of well-rinsed but still somewhat bloodied towels.

For comfort and practicality, and God only knows how this idea came about, Dad strapped a large absorbent feminine hygiene product to his recently operated on backside each day before we set out on the next few hundred miles. And I mean strapped, literally. There was a belt that came with such products in those days to hold the product in place.

We avoided any professional medical intervention until the return trip. By the time we got to Stanton, VA, Dad needed more supplies and he stopped at a local emergency room. Too embarrassed to live, I stayed in the car as he walked, I guess you can call it walking, into the ER. It was a beautiful spring day, peaceful and serene and I recall seeing many signs saying “Quite: Hospital Zone”. That tranquility was shattered when Dad, having forgotten an essential piece of his medical supplies, stood at the entrance of the ER, turned and yelled to me across miles of pastoral Virginina countryside “JIMMY, GET THE BELT!!!”.

To add insult to injury, wouldn’t you know, one of the ER physicians was from Marlborough and knew several people we knew back home. Oh great.

Over the years, Dad and I took several road trips together all over the eastern part of the US. We made great memories that I cherish even more, now that he is gone where hemorrhoids and belts don’t matter. But this trip in 1972, I am sure accounted for at least 2 of the 6 years I spent in therapy sereral years later.

Several years ago,in the mid 90’s, my husband and I were driving from WV to a NC beach with our four children. We were driving a 1969 Skylark Special, inherited from an elderly aunt. We stopped at a rest stop, and when we got ready to get going, I suggested I take a turn driving. I didn’t usually drive this car, because it felt like a boat to me!! Well, I did something while turning it on, and it wouldn’t start. Here we were with our kids, stuck at a rest stop. They were pumping their fists to the trucks on the highway, making them blast their horns. They were having a great time. To our great relief, a tow truck pulled in to the rest stop. They were there to pick up another vehicle, but said they could take us both to the garage “just up the highway.” It was a flatbed tow truck, so…They put the other vehicle, full of passengers, on the truck. They then proceeded to hook us up to the back, with us in our car. We took off, and wow! I was never so scared in my life! The kids thought it was great fun, continuing to pump their fists at the trucks as we sped down the highway. We swayed wildly behind the tow truck. The kids were hooting and hollering, and my husband was yelling, " This guy isn’t even old enough to shave. We’re gonna die! Be quiet! Shut up!" I just cowered in the seat, anticipating a fiery crash! Well, we went about 25 miles up the highway, now in complete silence, and finally got off an exit. Two miracles occured that day. One, we survived the ride and two, the mechanic of the shop figured out the problem and fixed it within 30 minutes. We were on our way, a bit more subdued, and with my husband driving.

My first car was a Geo Metro.  I received it as a gift my senior year of High School.  This small engine vehicle was not a sturdy enough car to endure my endless neglect and abuse; I was not mature enough to appreciate this new car purchased by my parents.  My freshmen year of college approximately 1 year after receipt of my blue Geo Metro, I decided to take a trip one week before spring finals to Oregon.  In a moment of clarity I decided to get an oil change before this adventure.  We started out in the late afternoon and after a stop in Moorhead to convince a drunken friend to accompany us on this adventure, we continued on.  Approximately 10 miles out of Dickinson, North Dakota my co-pilot stated, ?This little car is doing a good job.?  No more than 5 minutes later the check engine light came on and the car died.  Luckily right off the exit was a service station and upon brief inspection the service guy said, ?Looks like whoever changed the oil didn?t tighten the oil drain plug.? My engine oil had been dispersed all over Interstate 94.
After much deliberation over my ruined engine, I decided that instead of taking a rental car the rest of the way to Oregon, I should call my parents.  The first thing my mom said to me was, ?Are you pregnant??  Not much to do with the car but, I suppose she thought I was fleeing town?  Not sure.  
After a long bus ride home (not sure if any of you have experienced a bus ride, but a 7 hour drive easily turns into 12), a month long repair, and my father?s 500-mile bus trip back to Dickinson (yes, he was extremely happy), the car was fixed?  This car was never the same.   The next year I took this car across country and it did not enjoy the mountains (this car had 3 cylinders).  After an over night stop in Butte Montana and a couple hundred dollars later (clogged fuel line) I made it to the coast and back to Minnesota.
I demolished that little blue Geo Metro in 4 years.  Sorry Geo Metro.  Sorry mom and dad!

My boyfriend flew out to Bozeman, MT, where I went to college, to drive back to Duluth, MN with me for Christmas. I have done the 1000 mile/15 hour drive many times by myself and knew the route well, which is basically I-90/94 all the way through Montana and North Dakota. Once in Minnesota, you follow a state highway (210) from Fargo to Duluth. This is easy enough, but you have to make sure to follow the signs as there are a couple of key turns.

Somewhere between Miles City, MT and Moorhead, MN, the gas station food caught up with me and I was feeling ill. I threw up a few times and resigned to laying in the backseat while my boyfriend drove. By this time, we had 4 or 5 hours to go and I just wanted to get home ASAP. I slept off and on between throwing up in the backseat for a few hours. When I looked up we were about an hour north of where we should have been. Yes, my boyfriend did not follow the highway and went the wrong way. I was so angry, I got in the driver’s seat and by sheer will held off the next bout of vomiting for the rest of the drive to my parents’ house. As soon as we pulled in and told the story, I went to the bathroom to throw up again and was sick for 2 more days. I never let my boyfriend drive again!

Dear Click and Clack,
I have read that fire is quite popular in Hell, so a fire-related story seems appropriate:

When I was in high school, living in Cambridge, I took my mom’s new-to-us, cherry-condition, one-LOLITS-owner, 1961 Falcon to the Stop & Shop near the river. When I parked in front of the entrance, I noticed a slight wisp of smoke from under the hood. I opened the hood to investigate, and saw a small flame burning on a pool of gasoline in a cavity in the manifold, beneath the carburetor. I quickly closed the hood to reduce the oxygen available to the fire.

Being a teenager with the usual delusion of immortality, instead of leaving the car to its fate, I ran into the store to get a fire extinguisher. In the entranceway the first thing I saw was a soft-drink stand. Not thinking clearly yet, I ran up to the big-haired woman behind the counter and said: “My car is on fire. Give me the biggest cup you have full of water, QUICK!” She calmly turned around and started making me a medium-sized Coke, giving no indication that she had heard anything I had said. Apparently this was her default response to any unexpected input. There’s a rumor that she went on to become a senior software-development manager for Microsoft, but I have no evidence that this is actually true.

Turning around, I saw a large dry-chemical fire extinguisher on the wall – a much better tool to put out a gasoline fire than water, as I had by then realized. Running out with the extinguisher, and seeing that the smoke was about the same as before, I opened the hood a crack and sprayed the extinguisher under it. Once the cloud had cleared and seeing that the smoke was gone, I opened the hood. There was still a small amount of gas left in the cavity. I took the extinguisher back into the store and gave it to a manager for refilling, and bought a cheap pair of pliers along with the milk and the few other things on my list, giving the car time to cool. Outide, I wiped up the gas, tightened the flare-nut on the gas-line feeding the carburetor, started the engine and watched carefully for leaks for some time – there were none, and there seemed to be no damage except for a discolored patch on the hood.

Driving home with the car working fine, I thought of my temporary foolishness in asking for water, and the brain-dead response of the woman I had asked. Since this trip could have resulted in my arriving in Hell instead of at the supermarket, it seems worth sharing with your listeners.

Michael on San Franciso Bay

P.S. I’m happy to report that the engine on my sailboat is a Diesel…

"Thanks, Elvis!"
This happened in the early 80’s. It could have been a horrible experience, but it turned out very well because of a really cool tow truck operator.

I was driving my parent’s Ford Grenada into New Orleans on the interstate. My friend Gary was with me. We were both in our 20’s. Traffic was heavy but moving swiftly as we started making the big right turn towards the city out by Metarie Cemetery.

As we made the turn, the driver behind us started honking and gesturing and flashing his lights and pointing. Just then, the sound of the car changed. It didn’t sound good. I pulled over to the shoulder as soon as possible. We were under an overpass with barely enough room for the car to be off the road.

We discovered the right rear wheel was jutting out from the rear end by about a foot. It was on the axle, but the axle had somehow come loose from the differential and the wheel was poking way out from the wheel well. It was an alarming sight.

This was before the days of cell phones. Gary and I hoofed it to where we could scramble over barriers and get up onto the overpass. We walked to the nearest service station. They called a tow truck. We walked and scrambled back down to the car to wait. I was very concerned that all this trouble is going cost way more than I could afford. I was also thinking how we could have been killed if the rear wheel had just come off on the freeway.

Eventually, a tow truck arrives. It is a gleaming blue metallic flake behemoth. The truck is stunning. Lots of chrome. Lots of flashy stuff. It is extra shiny. Gary and I stare in awe. The door opens and the driver steps out. His black hair is in a perfect pompador, he has lamb chop sideburns, chrome sunglasses, shiny shoes, and his clothing is starched and pressed.

He gets busy hooking up the car. It is deafening under the overpass. We can’t speak. He gets the crippled Ford Grenada hoisted somehow without getting his clothes or hands dirty. All his tools are precisely stowed in tool bins. The tool bins are perfectly arranged and clean as can be. Gary and I are transfixed by the entire display of precision and professionalism.

The car is ready to tow. He motions for us to get into his cab. We climb in. The interior is spotless. It is a tribute to Elvis Presley. There are framed photographs, mementos, and other items all carefully arranged for display. Gary and I say, “Wow!”

The tow truck operator introduces himself and explains that he is also a ‘Tribute Artist’. On our way to the service station we talk about Music and Elvis. He tells us about how he keeps the music of The King alive because it is inspirational and important. He is a really nice guy and he is totally serious about being an Elvis impersonator.

As we are talking I realize this man is probably one of the most trustworthy individuals I will ever meet. Since everything he does is a reflection on Elvis’s image, he would never do something to make Elvis look bad. His presence and professionalism made me feel like everything would be alright.

By the time he unhooked the car at the service station, I became an Elvis fan. I can’t remember the tow truck driver’s name, but I remember him and his truck and his genuine devotion to Elvis very well. I hope he is still helping motorists in need . . . Thanks, Elvis!

It was the summer of 1976; I was a young woman living in Concord, MA who, as usual, was called upon to help my mother. In 1974, she had moved from my childhood home in Springfield, PA to New Salem, MA. After having lived in New Salem for merely two years, she decided that she needed a change and was looking for greener pastures. Since the parents of an acquaintance of mine were living in Sun City, Arizona, she decided she would give it a try and bought a house sight unseen. Much to her surprise there were no green pastures in Sun City. As a matter of fact, it was so bloody hot, that the tree trunks were painted white to give them a tad of protection from the unrelenting sun and green lawns were replaced with white gravel.
Mind you, like many mother-daughter relationships, we certainly had our differences. I got into the driver?s seat of her brown Chevy Malibu with a beige vinyl roof, which by the way was her pride and joy. She washed that car religiously. With my AAA trip kit in hand, we were off. We started our 5-day odyssey with yours truly behind the wheel. Not only was I going to have to drive the entire way but I also had to be the navigator as my mother couldn?t read a map.
The first state we entered after leaving MA was NY and within about the first hour or so of being on the highway, what to my wondrous eyes should appear but those dreaded blue lights flashing in the rearview mirror ? yes I had been speeding. I was so nervous about getting a ticket with my mother sitting inches away from me, that I drove the car into the guard rail. Now I was really nervous as I never would have heard the end of it had I done extensive damage. Fortunately, the car wasn?t worse for wear.
I soon learned that the driver?s of the big rigs would give me a heads up, if our men in blue were in the vicinity. So I pretty much kept up with whichever big rig seemed to offer the most protection.
Our next ?challenge? was that the fan belt either broke or came off somewhere in Nevada. It may even have been route 66, I can?t remember. In any case, there wasn?t much traffic and finally someone in an RV stopped to help and fixed it so that we could drive very, very slowly to the nearest gas station which was 35 miles away.
After 5 days with my mom sitting in such close proximity, I dropped her off at the home of my friend?s parents and took off for the Grand Canyon, so that I could unwind!
Epilogue ? after 1.5 years in Sun City, my mother decided to move back to MA. Fortunately, I didn?t get railroaded into making the trip again.

Many years ago I owned a Chevy Corvair. Since GM hasn?t made this model in quite a long time, that gives you an idea of just how long ago it was. You remember the Corvair, don?t you? That was the car that Ralph Nader called ?Unsafe At Any Speed.

My two children were very young then, perhaps five and seven years old. During the winter, we used to drive from New York City to West Dover, several weekends each winter to go skiing. Blissful in our ignorance of Mr. Nader?s opinion of the Corvair, and unsafe or not, that car served us well?most of the time.

Part of the trip was made on Route 22, then a rather isolated stretch of road. Since we always left after work on Friday, and came home late on Sunday, we always traveled it at night. During one such journey, as we reached the darkest and loneliest part of that dark and lonely byway, my engine suddenly died. There was no apparent reason for this to happen. It was as though I had run out of gas, although I had plenty. The internal combustion machine under the hood had, simply, stopped combusting. As I pulled to the side of the road and rolled to a stop, I was understandably concerned. It was very cold outside and, with the car not running, we were without a working heater. With my wife in the front seat beside me, and two small children in the back, in an automobile that was anything but mobile, my sense of the dramatic caused my mind to immediately flash to those grim newspaper accounts of people found frozen in stalled vehicles. This was long before everyone had cell phones with which to call for help. But not to worry, I thought out loud for the benefit of my family. Even though there was no house in sight, or any other signs of rural life, more skiers heading for Vermont were sure to pass this way soon. I would flag one down and get him or her to send help.

It is amazing how quickly the interior of a stalled vehicle chills when the temperature outside is hovering around zero. When the minutes multiplied without the approach of another set of headlights, my apprehension deepened. I decided that, when I got someone to go for help, I would send my wife and children our rescuer, to get them to some warmth. As it got even colder, I revised the plan to all of us going. I would return with whomever was going to deal with the car. Still, nobody came. Where were the myriad skiers I was certain took this same route? By now we were all wearing our heaviest ski clothing and Jack Frost was much more than nipping at our noses. Finally, perhaps out of desperation, perhaps just to be doing something proactive rather than sitting there and freezing, I reached over and turned the key in the ignition. Voila! The engine came alive. It had started as inexplicably as it had stopped. Joining in the cheering of the rest of the family, I pointed the car toward Vermont, making note of every house we passed along the way in case the engine conked out again.

Manchester, Vermont, was the first place we got to that had a service station, and I pulled in as soon as I spotted one that appeared to have a repair facility. Needing gas anyway, I stopped at the pumps. There was only one person on duty at that time of night. He appeared to be a mechanic as well as the pump jockey, probably the owner/operator of the station. While he filled my tank, I described what had occurred. He listened intently, responding periodically with ?Aiyuh?, Vermont dialect for ?Yes?, as in ?I understand?. I finished my account, including the fact that, once the car started again, it ran flawlessly the rest of the way to Manchester. He continued pumping gas and appeared to be pensively considering my problem, even going so far as to remove his cap and scratch his head. By the time my tank was full and I was paying him for the gas, he still had not volunteered any thoughts on my dilemma. Finally, I asked him, ?So. Do you think I have anything to worry about? ?Aiyuh? he replied, without offering any further illumination.
After what I considered an appropriate interval for him to consider and deliver his answer, with no such answer forthcoming, I queried, ?What do you think I should be concerned about?? Again lifting his hat and scratching his head with the same hand, he looked me square in the eye and said, ?Whether or not it?s gonna happen again.? Then he retreated to the warmth of his office while I continued our trip without further incident, all the time worrying whether or not it?s ?gonna happen again?. It never did.

Stuart Hersh
Douglaston, NY

It was the end of August, the trip was from Indiana to Oklahoma, the temps were record setting 102’s 103’s(Hottest week of the year) The travel group consisted of 3 women and a baby(sick 7 month old baby) Vehicles involved were a uhaul(15 or 17 foot??)and a litle chevy S-10 pick up with the air conditioning not working.
We started out as a party of 3 (2 women and 1 husband(now x husband) flying into Chicago Midway to move my daughter and grandson back to OK(that is a whole different story) Uhaul packed the course was set, mom and step dad in the lead in the uhaul, two daughters and baby in S-10 following close behind…suddenly no S-10 to be seen, we backed down an on ramp and retraced the route to find the girls,baby with an S-10 that had decided to have it’s clutch “go out”. Tow truck arrives, diagnosis confirmed, mechanic says he can have it fixed in a couple of days.
Step dad gets angry states if he had planned the trip no of this would have happened. Step dad walks off gets a plane and goes back to Oklahoma.(what a nut , this confirmed for me he had something wrong with his “gears”)Follow up with auto shop next day to find(and this is no story) a “one armed mechanic”(congenital defect)working on the car… He confirms repairs are well under way but it will take more that just a couple of days. About payment I asked, he replied we do not take credit cards or check… cash only… What’s the cost, he replied about $1,200.00(slap my face)We were stuck…so each day we would load up in the uhaul and make an atm run + cash advance on credit card to reach our 1,200.00 repair costs. Meanwhile baby gets sick, runs fever , quits eating and in the uhaul we make an ER trip. Baby has a bad case of thrush…mouth full of blisters. About 1 week later s-10 fixed, one armed mechanic paid, baby will only take liquids from a 5cc syringe, we are on the road to Oklahoma.
We did make it home,baby was fine, the clutch went out on the S-10 a few months later and the marriage lasted about one more year.
We are women…hear us roar!!
Mary K Brown

In February, 1971, my husband and I took our his two school-aged kids (my stepkids) to see their mother in nrothern California from our home in Tucson, Arizona in an older VW van. Needless to say it broke down in the middle of the night on a weekend. After finding a tow service and leaving the car with a note at the dealership, we got a ride to a nearby airport so we could fly the rest of the way. There was vomit on the floor and a few people hanging about with us waiting for a first morning fight. We finally arrived at our destination and were picked up at the airport by the kids’ mom and her boyfriend. We were exhausted of course, but agreed to see Half Moon Bay on a windy, cold morning. Of course there was no one about but us as we stared at the ocean. Suddenly I felt something leaning on my leg and then it got wet. A dog had come out of nowhere and peed on my leg! Everyone was laughing hysterically of course and the boyfriend said, “I always heard it was better to be pissed off than pissed on. I guess that’s true!”

Back in 1975, my husband and I had just finished a two-year stint as postdoctoral fellows in London. We had an old Austin Mini that we had bought for about $200 - not wanting to spend money on a car that we’d be using temporarily. We decided to finish up our time in Europe by driving around France for 2 weeks. We took the car over on a ferry and discovered that we had a radiator problem. We had to fill the radiator about every half-hour, and the car wouldn’t go faster than 50 mph. We managed to enjoy the trip anyway, until the day we were to return to England. There had been a major rainstorm, and as we drove the car off the ferry in Dover, we drove through a “puddle” that came up to the floorboards. (My husband says that the car floated across, but I think he’s exaggerated the situation in his own mind.) As we reached the bottom of the first hill, we discovered that we had no brakes! Our flight back to the US was scheduled for the next day, so we called a junkyard, paid to have the car picked up, hopped on a train for London, and made our flight.

In spite of it all, we have fond memories of driving the Mini through London with a view of the hubcaps of lorries.

Hi Tom and Ray,

My first car was a 1948 Packard which would have served well today protecting our troops in Iraq from roadside bombs.

It was 1962, I was 18, and with my father’s blessing (and gas credit card) I took off from the New York City area to visit my newly married cousins in Chicago.

I was on the PA Turnpike going 90 miles an hour, and at the top of a hill was suddenly confronted with red lights down below, barriers down, a train passing at street level, and a line of cars backing up. I instantly hit the breaks with all I had pulling on the steering wheel with all my might for more leverage.

My Packard tank stopped just two or three feet from the bumper of the last car in line. As I crashed with relief for escaping certain tradgy for the people in the other car, I saw in the review mirror smoke so thick I couldn’t see through it. When the cloud cleared I saw thick black skid marks for dozens of yards which were absolutely straight,and I experieced instant re-dedication to God.

Later the next night, while telling this story to George ,my new medical student cousin, another cloud of smoke came from Cousin Barbara’s roast burning in the oven. I jumped up to put it out but George restrained me saying, “She’s got to learn sometime!”

Such is youth and the random kindnesses of fate. May our troops in Iraq and Afhganistan be so pretected. God bless them.

Silver City NM

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.

Mark Hoffmann
3455 S. Russel Rd.
New Berlin, Wi. 53151

Back in 1984 my wife Nancy ( she was my girlfriend at the time) and I along with several others decided to rent a house in the town of Stowe Vermont for a week of skiing over the Christmas college winter break.

Our vehicle of choice for this particular trip was her 1978 Ford Fiesta. When riding in the car for the first time several months I noticed that the red check engine light was on. When I asked Nancy how long the light had been on she responded " I don’t know a few days or so". When presented with this answer I proceeded to explain to her what the other commonly used name for the red check engine light was. I then proceeded to pop the hood and checked the oil level or should I say the lack of oil level. 2-3 quarts later the oil came up to snuff and the engine light went off. Several months later the car was still running fine so we decided to use it on our ski trip.

Needless to say the ski trip and the car were excellent. In fact, the Fiesta was so dependable it was the only vehicle we didn’t have to jumpstart almost every morning as the temps dipped to 10 below or lower all week during the night time.

On the last day of the trip the Fiesta started running a little rough as we zipped around town. When this happened I made sure to check to see if we had oil in the engine and it checked out just fine.

We started the 4 hour trip home the next day and the car started bucking from time to time as we rode down the highway from Vermont into New Hampshire. As this was happening I thought back to the initial incident of the red check engine light and it’s explanation as to how long it had been lit up and feared for the possible worse case scenario.

As the car bucked along down the highway I explained to Nancy that I thought the engine was toast and I was afraid to shut it off and reasoned that we should just try to make it home ( remember we are just college students after all).

Finally about 15 miles outside of Concord, New Hampshire, the car bucked like a bronco, all the dash board lights lit up and we coasted powerless to the side of the road. I immediately popped the hood and we both got out to take a look. There, pouring out through the top of the engine block was the engine oil. Upon seeing this Nancy then turned to me and asked if we could just wait a few minutes and try to start the car again. In spite of our predicament this comment caused me to chuckle as I explained that I was pretty sure the engine no longer existed as it once was.

This being 1984 cell phones did not yet exist, and as we stood there trying to figure out our next move, out of the blue a man on a snowmobile ( who kind of looked like Jeremiah Johnson) appeared on the scene.

After a brief discussion, I left Nancy with the car full of ski gear and rode off into the woods on the back of the snowmobile to find the nearest house with a phone to call for a tow. After making the call, Mr. Johnson deposited me back at the car and we waited for our tow truck that would take us and the Fiesta to a garage in Concord. As luck would have it we met another nice older couple from Massachusetts at the garage who had car troubles as well. They had just rented a car and offered us and all our gear a ride right to our door as they were passing right by our final destination.

You will be happy to know that the Fiesta received a used engine transplant and continued to be a reliable car for several more years to come.

It was 1980. Our children were 6 and 3. We were driving our VERY used CORTEZ Motorhome(we found out HOW used when, while at a local shopping center, a fellow ran up excitedly to tell us he had put the FIRST 100,000 miles on the compact motorhome built by ClarkLift…we THOUGHT that is what it had on it when WE bought it…the odometer only went UP to 100,000 miles! )We took a big family trip OUT WEST, on the Northern route from Hartland,Michigan through Illinois,NEbraska, Utah,Colorado, Wyoming(these states are not in order!) and THEN Nevada. After driving all day through the desert, on the very edge of Winnemuca,NV, the COrtez stopped moving forward…this front wheel, stick-shift motorhome had broken its front axle! We got hold of a mechanic who towed it into his shop, helped us pack all our clothes in garbage bags(this motorhome had great storage so we had no suitcases with us),we gave the shop our groceries and got a ride into Winnemuca. We had to leave the motorhome there and ORDER a new front axle from Clark Lift in Michigan!Our 6 year old son was a kindergartner and had to keep a daily journal for shcool…His dictated response for that night was,Today was a good day. We got to stay at a motel with a pool, eat in a log cabin and tomorrow we get to take a bus ride! WE DID take a bus to Reno, where my sis-in-law lived a neat Victorina home w/ peacocks on the roof. In the end , parts were shipped to Winnemuca,installed and my hubies brohter , who was in colege in Montana, drove his motor cycle down to NV, bought a trailer for his bike and drove the motorhome back out east! We DID have a good trip…as my husband said, "well-the axle in broken.We cannot fix it, so let’s just keep going!) We did…and flew back,eventually, from AZ!

Several years ago, our young family decided to take a vacation road trip with our tent trailer from Lompoc CA (central coast) to Vancouver Island and driving the Pacific Coast Highway. We didn’t have a lot of time or money but were excited about our adventure. Enough things went wrong on this trip that we have since taken numerous problem free trips. This is a long story so it will be greatly distilled.

In Reedsport Oregon, our rear wheel bearing went out costing us $50 and 1/2 day.

At Port Angeles Washington, we expected to pay ~$50, immediately board a car ferry and head for Victoria B.C. but there was a 12 hour line for the ferry and it cost ~$115. More money spent, more time wasted in line.

We arrived in Victoria BC at 1AM, out of gas and no map for the area. Finally a RCMP helped us find gas and the road out of town. At ~2AM we were setting up our tent trailer in the rain.

The next morning, heading north Hwy 1, we were side swiped by a local driver. Minimal damage was done but we wasted 2 hours waiting for the RCMP to pass by the area so we could report the accident.

We finally arrived at our destination camp ground in Campbell River but found that is was not an isolated campground but one packed with campers. Oh well, we are staying!

The children decided that they wanted their pup tent set up so I went about that chore while my wife updated her trip diary. Just as she was telling the story to date and writing “What can happen next?”, I put a tent stake through the main water line supplying the campground. It flooded me, several camp sites and shut down water to the campground for about an hour. I was not a favorite fellow camper.

The next day we went to town for supplies and found with the exchange rate at the time, everything was more expensive than at home. Even though we had reservations fo five days, we gave up and headed home after three days.

We had planned to visit a cousin in Seattle but arrived at rush hour and were in the wrong lane at their exit so I kept trucking toward home.

That night we picked an excellent sounding camp ground, Sherwood Forest. When we arrived it was located by and under the main highway. We went to a Dairy Queen and our son ate too much ice cream. Little sleep that night due to road noise and sickness.

Camping the next night, it was raining again and I was broken out with a very red rash and hives.

We finally got home, unpacked and started to recover. The following morning I came out to go to work and smelled gas. The gas tank had sprung a leak and gas was all over the driveway.

I finally went to work. After a fairly short time at work, I stated having pains in my chest and left arm. I came home but it didn’t improve. I went to the Doctor, he did an exam, gave me a nitro pill and admitted me to our hospital’s Cornary Care area. After three days, I was told that I did not have a heart attack but they weren’t sure what caused my pain.

The Doctor suggested I take a vacation but after I told my vacation story, they suggested I not go on another vacation like that road trip from/to hell.

After release from the hospital, I visited our insurance agent and discovered that Canada was a no fault insurance country so I was on my own if I wanted to repair the damage to the car and tent trailer caused by the side swipe.

Very soon after that and under my wife’s threats of bodily harm to me, we sold the tent trailer.

Bob & Janet Hester
Lompoc CA

I?m not sure which trip could be voted worst, so here they are for you to decide.

Trip # 1:

During the ?artic blast? of December 2008, KATU dredged up some statistics to see how this December?s snowfall compared to snowfall in past years. December 1968 stood out with a record of over 15 inches of snow.

I do remember Christmas 1968 very well. My husband and I were both students at Oregon State University and we were also newlyweds. We had planned to spend the holidays with his family in Richland, Washington. Our first clue, which we paid little attention to, was that when we started out in the morning from Corvallis, Oregon, there was already packed snow on ?fast? lane of the freeway with 2 tracks of pavement showing in the slow lane only. By the time we reached the Portland, Oregon, ?Terwilliger curves? we pulled over to put the chains onto our Ford Fairlane. There we saw several vehicles that were not able to make it up the hills.

As we entered the Columbia Gorge we ran into a ?white-out? blizzard with visibility dropping to about 15 feet. (They closed the freeway behind us.) As we were driving at slow speeds, the carburetor froze up and our vehicle came to a complete stop towards the right edge of the highway. My husband set out hitch-hiking to get help. (Of course, there were no cell phones at the time.) I waited in the car. Through the snow, I could see headlights approaching the back of my vehicle. A VW Beetle came into view, then swerved suddenly to miss hitting the back of my vehicle, however a second car following closely behind the VW. The large Ford Thunderbird could not swerve quickly enough and smashed directly into the rear bumper of my Ford crumbling the trunk inward toward the wheel well.

By the time my husband returned, we needed a tow to Hood River where we patiently waited with several other stranded motorists for our vehicle to be hammered out enough for us to get back on the road. Our Fairlane was ?totaled? in the crash, but we kept going and finally arrived at our destination at about midnight. We bought another vehicle (Plymouth Fury II) in Tri-Cities for our return trip. We felt lucky that neither of us were injured.

Trip # 2:

In 1971 Spring Break, my husband and I took a road trip from Corvallis, Oregon to LaJolla, California, for the purpose of a job interview. We were driving our 1960-something, 4-door Plymouth Fury II. We decided to take ?The scenic route? diverging from Interstate-5 in Southern Oregon to the ?coast highway? in Northern California. The entire length of the winding coast highway down to the San Francisco area was enshrouded in fog, therefore the only scenery visible was the curves in the road 1 to 3 car lengths ahead of us. From San Francisco to San Diego was thankfully uneventful. Not wanting to take the same route home, we came back through Death Valley, CA. This was my first experience in a full-blown sand storm. Again, visibility dropped to next to nothing while our vehicle was sand-blasted for several miles causing damage to the front end paint job. Well, that wasn?t the worst of it. We decided to head North to Lakeview, Oregon to spend the night at one of my husband?s aunt?s house. Without the internet and Google, we had no way to know the following facts about Lakeview: 1) It is the town with the highest elevation in Oregon at 4,800 feet. 2) The average high temperature in March is 47 degrees F. 3) The average low temperature in March is 25 degrees F. Somewhere on Highway 395, we drove into a blinding snowstorm. We could not actually see the road, so followed the tail lights on semi-truck going North for a number miles. We arrived in the middle of the night. In the morning, we found out there had, unfortunately, been a crash of a small plane that involved a fatality into the moun tain side near Lakeview during the previous night. We felt lucky to have made it to Lakeview safely, in spite of the blizzard conditions. Following our harrowing trip, we did not hear back about the job position in LaJolla, CA.

Trip # 3:

Do you remember that job opening that we never heard back about in 1971? Well in June 1972, when our newborn daughter was 3 weeks old, we got the call that the position had been funded and they wanted my husband to begin working in 2 weeks, 1,200 miles away. This meant taking everything in our rental house, boxing it up, putting it in a rented moving van and driving to California. My husband drove the van with my brother and I following in the Plymouth Fury II; it was like following a billboard all the way to San Diego. My brother came along to help me drive, so I could care for the new baby daughter who was mostly in a ?car bed? in the back seat (how unsafe was that!). My brother was not that experienced in heavy traffic, so I traded places with him to make it through the LA freeway traffic, however we did arrive safely in Southern California after 2 days and went straight to my husband?s aunt?s house in Encinitas. The following day, we found a home to rent, so that we could unload the moving van into our new home.

Trip # 4:

Vacation to the Southwest; road trip with mother-in-law, in her car, starting from San Diego, CA.

Okay, first picture a young couple with a 1-year-old in cloth diapers going on a road-trip, birding excursion and camping trip through Arizona, New Mexico and Utah in June 1973. The routine was 2 days of tent camping, then 1 night in a cabin or lodge for a chance to take showers and also to wash and hang-dry the diapers. During the day, mostly Mommy (me) would carry the baby in the backpack, so that the 2 serious birders (Daddy & Grandma) could watch the birds without giggling their binoculars. Of course, I too saw some spectacular birds, in spite of being the one to wear the baby. For this trip, I?ll just hit a few of highlights:

  1. Leaving San Diego on the freeway going East, we passed a two-vehicle crash just as it was taking place which left a sobering image in my mind for the remainder of our journey. When another vehicle side-swiped a VW Bug, a small child was popped out the driver?s side door of the Bug with the vehicle landing on top of the child. Later on the radio, we heard that this was a fatality. To this day, I insist that all passengers in my car use seat belts/car seats at all times.
  2. The first night in a cabin, we heard some animal sounds outside. This was my first knowledge that wild pigs (Peccaries) run around in small herds in Southern Arizona. I was thankful that we had not encountered these critters the previous night in our tent camp.
  3. Somewhere in Chiricahua National Monument in an isolated canyon area, the only keys to our vehicle became locked in the trunk of the car. Good news: The car itself was not locked, we were parked in the shade of some large trees, we had potable water and I was still breastfeeding, so baby would still have sustenance. Bad news: no other vehicles or persons were anywhere in sight, it was before cars had the lever to ?pop? the trunk open from the inside of the car and it was before anyone had cell phones. Working at it for an hour or so, my husband devised a way of breaking into the trunk & retrieving the keys. The back seat was totally removed from the car, items from the trunk were pulled through the metal framing, the Styrofoam cooler was able to be broken into little pieces small enough to be removed and finally enough items were removed to allow space for my husband to crawl through the metal into trunk, reach the keys just inside the trunk closure, hand the keys out and have us open the trunk, so he could crawl on out. That done, all we had to do is repack the trunk, reinstall the back seat and we could be on our merry way.

Okay, by the time we got to that welcome sight of my grandparents? motel, Red Rock Lodge, in Moab, Utah, I decided to side-step the rest of the desert camping trip and go with my parents in their car back to Oregon for a short visit. Apparently, my husband and his mom had a fine camping trip through Zion National Monument and back to California in her car, while I stayed with various relatives in their houses using their clothes washers & dryers on my road trip to back to Oregon; later I flew home to California with my daughter.

Post log: I am no longer married to my first husband who was referenced in the above-listed 3 trips. I have rarely taken a road trip with my second husband. Perhaps taking him on a road trip from Corvallis, Oregon to Moab, Utah in mid-July 1989 was the last trip with my second husband; did I mention we were driving a 1985 Toyota Van without air-conditioning? BTW, we are still married.

In 1959 my family lived in Cazenovia, NY. I had four brothers, and that year we ranged in age from five (me) to 11. My father got the knuckleheaded idea that we should take an annual five week summer camping trip in the family station wagon. He had a plywood box custom made, which we mounted to the roof to carry all of our gear, and the seven of us shoe-horned into the car to take to the road. My dad liked to travel to the Rocky Mountains, and we often would drive 600 miles in a day. We did this every year until 1970, which should be Road Trip from Hell material on its own, but let me digress.

In 1961 my Dad decided that we would drive from Cazenovia to Fairbanks, Alaska on the AlCan Highway in our new 1961 Pontiac wagon. The AlCan had been completed as a defensive project only 18 years earlier. To call it a highway at that point was a ludicrous bit of national pride, as it was nothing more than a 1,522 mile single track dirt road.

The trip was adventure enough without a mechanical mishap, but as we were traveling south from Fairbanks on an unusually hot day at about 50 miles per hour the left rear wheel fell off the car. It didn’t actually leave the car, but suddenly splayed about 35 degrees away from true, and locked up when it encountered the fender well. Fortunately, we were on a fairly level and straight section of road, and my father successfully skidded the car to a stop.

In 1961 there were long sections of the AlCan that were total wilderness. We were in one of those. We pulled out the cooler, sat in the shade, and waited for someone to come by. After about an hour and a half the first car came along. It was a Ford Model A with what looked to me to be an elderly couple in it, but at seven years old anyone over thirty looked to me to be elderly. My Dad spoke with the driver about our options, told my mother he’d be back, and climbed into the back seat of the Model A to head south, leaving her with five young boys in the middle of nowhere.

As it turned out, the nearest telephone was about 50 miles away, and the nearest village was another 100 miles beyond that. My dad telephoned the garage at the village, and hitchiked back to where we were. Each vehicle that passed stopped to help us out. There was one every hour or two. My mother (with great trepidation) put her 13 year old and her eight year old in the first one to head to the motel in the village 150 miles away. The 12 year old and the ten year old got to ride in the back of an old truck with some chickens, and my mom and I went in a Buick. My dad waited for the tow truck that had to make a 300 mile round trip.

The next day the garage in town told my dad that they could have the parts to fix his car in two weeks. When he asked them to search for a more timely solution the owner said that ‘Bob’ had the same model Pontiac. After speaking with Bob my Dad concluded the deal. The deal was that the garage would canibalize Bob’s car, and put the parts on our car. When the parts showed up, they would put the new parts on Bob’s car, and my dad would pay for all parts and labor. Three days later we were back on the road, and headed home to Caz.

We had other tales that would also qualify, like limping across Alberta in our 1968 VW camper with a blown transmition. The only gear that would work was second, and that’s if someone sat between the driver’s and passenger seats and held the gearshift into place. There was also the time when all five of Dad’s new Firestone Tiger Paws suffered blowouts while crossing the nation’s midsection. He was so angry he tied all five to the top of the plywood box to take back to the dealership who sold him the car. They were great times!

This is a story of a station wagon, a radiator plug, an oil leak, a rolling hub cap, the Tappan Zee bridge and a Broadway show.
I was 15, growing up in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Even the slightest things embarrassed me. By the end of this trip I was red in the face.
We were planning a family trip to New York City to see the brand new musical “Buddy.” Just before we left home, while my dad and I were driving in our “family truckster”, we heard an explosive pop and saw a massive white plume billowing behind the station wagon. The radiator plug blew. We got the wagon fixed, but because of the delay we could only make it halfway to NYC. The next morning, sitting in a restaurant in Troy, New York, my little brother looked out the window and asked, “what’s that?” “That” was a giant radiator fluid leak under the car. We found a repair shop and the wagon was back up on a lift to get fixed. Eventually, we made it to the Palisades Parkway when all of a sudden we heard another explosive pop. My dad and I, experienced by now, looked out the back expecting to see a wall of white stuff… but there was nothing! At least not until we looked out to the side to see one of our hubcaps rolling along, as if it was following us into the city. We would have stopped to get it if a Mack truck hadn’t crushed it to bits. The wood-panelled wagon chugged along to the Tappan Zee Bridge. Another pop! And this time the white cloud was back. The radiator cap had blown again. So now, we’re standed along the side of the bridge with cars racing by us. The tow truck arrived, but with no room in the truck, we had to stay in the station wagon. So there I was… sitting in the back seat of the wagon with my dad, mom and brother, pitched at a 45 degree angle, getting towed to a garage in the Bronx. With every pothole, the back of the wagon smashed into the pavement so that by the time we got to the service station the exhaust pipe looked like the mouth piece of a tin whistle.
My mom had planned a great dinner and a show in Times Square. But by the time we got the wagon back, we only had time to race into Manhattan, grab a sidewalk hotdog and make the curtain.
By the way, the show was great.
The wagon is long gone.