Got a terrible tale from the open road? If so, we want to hear about it! (If you can bear to recount the sordid details, that is.)
For the next few weeks, we’ll be gathering your favorite or, rather, least-favorite tales of road trips gone by. Stories of 2,000 miles spent with a brutish Mother-in-Law ordering you to slow down, every single mile. Tales of roadkill in the grille, engine fires, and vacation days spent in lonely backwaters, waiting for that new fan belt.
You can post your road trip from hell stories right here. We’ll pick a few of our favorites, and share them with our listeners in a few weeks.
And, as always – thanks!
Tom and Ray Magliozzi
Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers
Got a terrible tale from the open road? If so, we want to hear about it! (If you can bear to recount the sordid details, that is.)
When I was a kid, my family went camping every summer. When I was 12, my Dad ordered a new, much larger tent. Well, it didn’t arrive until the morning we were supposed to leave, so we threw it into the box trailer without ever even opening it to check the parts, stuck the car-top boat on top of the heavily-loaded trailer and loaded me, my sister, my friend Carol, Dad and Mom and the cat into the station wagon and off we went.
As we got close to the campground, in the late afternoon, one of the tires on the trailer blew out. We didn’t have a spare, and the jack in the car couldn’t lift the heavy trailer anyway. So Dad unhooked from the trailer, drove back down the road to the last gas station we’d passed, and left Mom, 3 kids and the cat in the coffee shop while he and the station owner drove to the nearest salvage yard, bought a used tire and rim of the right size, then drove to the trailer and jacked it up using the station’s portable jack and changed the tire.
While they were gone the rest of us had a meal and the station owner’s wife, who thought the cat was just wonderful, gave the cat lots of milk.
When Dad got back, he grabbed a sandwich and off we all went again. By the time we arrived at the campground, it was well after dark and the ranger was gone for the night. So we prowled the campground until we found a space that looked promising. Dad put up the old bell tent and put Mom and my sister (age 5) in it to blow up air mattresses while he and I and Carol put up the new tent. Our only light came from a couple of flashlights and the kerosene lantern. Remember - we’d never seen this tent before.
Somehow we got it up and my parents and sister slept in it overnight while Carol and I shared the old tent with the cat.
In the morning we discovered that we had pitched the new tent on the side of a hill and overnight the second room of it (intended to be an eating area) had collapsed, althought the sleeping area was OK. That day we moved to a flatter space. But in the meantime, the cat had gotten sick as a result of all that milk and for the next 3 days she had to spend her time outside the tents tied by a long leash to a tree in case she had an accident. Fortunately there were no bears or wolves or coyotes so she survived this experience.
Now it is 50 years later and my sister told me this summer that she still had that tent until about 10 years ago and sold it to somebody for $150 - which was probably more than Dad paid for it back then.
Around 1984, my soon-to-be Wife and I took a circular trip from San Francisco to Mt. Lassen, then down 395 on the east of the Sierras past Mono Lake to Mammoth, where my Brother lived. We did a combination of Car Camping and Hotels. We stopped in Reno for a Hotel Night.
Living in San Francisco, we ALWAYS lock our cars. No options there.
We pulled into the El Dorado Casino and Hotel in Reno and there was a line we had to wait in, as all parking (at that time) was valet. I let my sweetie out of the car to register at the hotel while I waited in the hot sun - no AC, and it was mid-August in Nevada.
I inched forward until a valet could handle me - “Please leave the keys in the ignition”. I did so and exited the car - locking it as I always would.
HORRORS! I’ve locked my keys in the car! The line BEHIND me was growing and there were now no other cars in front of me! I asked for a “Slim Jim” and got a blank stare.
They dispatched someone to find the ‘Security People’ and a guy returned, holding a Slim Jim - like a dead fish - in front of him. He came up to me and said, “I hope you know how to use this thing!” My brother was a tow-truck operator and I had some inkling of how it was done…so I tried.
…and people gathered around, scrutinizing my efforts (…was it hook to the left and pull to the right and up?). Finally, I unlocked the door to great applause.
My car was whisked down the ramp to the parking structure and I - sheepishly - went into the casino reception area where my honey had a drink in her hand, “What took you so long?”
I noticed a sign right behind her: “The El Dorado Welcomes the Auto Theft Investigators Association!” (I may have forgotten the exact outfit, but I think that was “Western States” - it may have been a National convention).
I bet there were hundreds of Slim Jim’s in the hotel and dozens of experts that could have cracked my car in an instant.
The Car: 1977 Datsun B210
The Irony: Priceless
When my 2 daughters reached that magic age, we planned a trip to Disney World in Orlando. The first leg of the trip was from our home in Houston to Mobile on I-10. All was progressing smoothly until we were about 70 miles west of Mobile in swamps along the gulf coast. Suddenly and without warning, the engine in our Ford van stopped. We went from 70 MPH to 0 as we coasted to the shoulder. We had just filled the tank and I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, but I knew it was serious and beyond my ability to make roadside repairs. I told my wife and daughters to lock the doors and stay in the van until I returned. I started walking. I had not gone 10 paces, when a tow truck appeared out of nowhere. It pulled up to the front of the van, the driver jumped out, and began hooking up to our disabled vehicle. I have never been so happy to see anyone in my life.
As he finished hooking up the van, he apologized for taking so long to respond to our call. I told him that I thought his response time was excellent and that I hadn’t called (since this was way before the advent of cell phones). It was about this time that we both noticed a driver 200 yards down on the west bound side of the freeway jumping up and down waving his arms. The tow truck driver realized he had hooked up to the wrong vehicle. But since he was already hooked up to our van, we just waved as we went by the west bound driver. When we reached Mobile, the tow truck driver called a buddy to go out and rescue the poor shmuck who had called.
Come to tnink about it, I think the east bound driver should be submitting this story.
In 2002, I owned a 1985 Volvo 240 Wagon that was my fist car. It had been in a couple of accidents and I had slowly rebuilt the exterior over the years, including repainting it from gray to Coca-Cola red (that was the actual name of the color). The car had 292,000 miles on it, and I had discovered that Volvo would send you metal decals for being in the “high mileage” club. I had my 100,000 and 200,000 mile decals proudly attached to the grille and wanted my 300,000 decal.
I was finishing my first year as a teacher at a private boarding school, and the Volvo had no air conditioner and my hour drive in North Carolina was pretty hot. A friend of the family was offering to sell me their Camry wagon and I had decided it was finally time to retire the Volvo; but not before trying to get those last 10,000 miles. During a week long spring break, I decided to get a large chunk of those miles in one long road trip.
My father and brother and I have an informal contest to see who can go to all 50 states first. I plotted a trip that would take in Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Everything went as planned until I stopped at a rest area in Fargo. I stopped to stretch, but also to check out an annoying rattle in the back of the car. I found a loose piece of plastic trim work and, lacking a screw driver, pulled out my key to tighten the screw. As I twisted the screw to tighten it, the key snapped in half.
I was under a pretty tight time constraint, needing to be at a cousins wedding at the end of the trip. As I looked at the two parts of the key in my hand I thought that I had two possible choices. I could call AAA and have them make a new key, but that would take hours; or I could stick the two pieces of the key in the ignition and see if the car would start. If it didn’t, I would still have to call AAA to have them get the key out and make me a new one and I would be in the same position. It wasn’t until later that I realized there was a third option.
Of course I decided to put the two pieces of the key in the ignition. Nervously, I turned the key and the car started right up! Knowing that if things went wrong later I might not be in such a great place to wait for AAA I turned off the car and pulled out the half of the key that I had access too, put it back in the ignition and turned it again. For a second time, success! I got back on the road and continued on my way.
I ended that day at a hotel in Madison, Wisconsin. I locked all the doors except the tailgate, since I didn’t have a key to open the door. I slept well and got up the next morning ready to knock Michigan off my list and head back east. I drove from my room to the office to check out, and when I came out and put the key in the ignition I couldn’t turn the key. My luck had run out.
This is when I discovered my third option, which was that AAA could not get a piece of a key out of the ignition without drilling the ignition and needing to buy a new one. Now I wanted those last few thousand miles, but I was about to buy another car in a few days and as hard as I tried I could not justify spending hundreds a dollars on a car that I was trying to get rid of anyway. I tried sticking things in the ignition with glue or tape or anything I could think of to get the key out. When I finally admitted defeat I had to undergo the indignity of paying $50 to a scrap yard to come and pick up my car and take it away.
The tow truck driver was kind enough to give me a ride to the Greyhound station and I was able to watch my Coca Cola red Volvo, with nothing wrong other than a half a key stuck in the ignition, as it was taken to the scrap yard. After a 25 hour ride on the bus back to North Carolina, I bought my Camry and drove to Pennsylvania for my cousins wedding. The final odometer reading was 292,840.
When I was about 8 years old, my Father bought a new (to us) station wagon. A Buick I think. This was the early sixties, and he never bought a new car so I bet it was a late 50ish car.
We had owned another station wagon before, a Ford, but this was the first time we had a luggage rack on top! “Wow, what goes up there Dad?” He explained that when we went on a trip the suitcases could go up there so my brother and I would have the run of the whole back of the car and not be cramped into the backseat the whole trip. "SWEET!!"
Later that year, we planned to take a trip to visit our Grandmother in Rochester, we lived in Hickory , NC.
The morning of the trip we all brought our suitcases out of the house for the ceremonial packing of the car. We lined the cases up and my Dad grabbed them and pitched them up on the roof of the car inside the luggage rack which was nothing more than four rails in a rectangle about four inches high. My brother and I exchanged querulous glances and then jumped into the empty back of the wagon to stretch out and enjoy the ride.
We took off with my Mom and Dad in the front seat. All the windows were down as it was hot and there wasn’t any AC then. We were flying along on a four lane road with a large grassy median. My Dad was in the left lane passing everyone and I was sitting in the back looking at the long line of cars falling behind us. Just then, something rattled on the roof of the car and then a suitcase went flying toward the car behind us. It disappeared under the drivers side of the car and EXPLODED out the back side.
My brother and I hollered for our Dad to stop and he jammed on the brakes and pulled to the side of the road.
We all got out and ran back to where the car that was riding behind us had stopped. They got out and were obviously shaken by what had happened. When we began talking about a suitcase that had flown off the top of our car they breathed a huge sigh of relief because they thought a kid had fallen out of our car and they had run it over. WHEW!
Then we started looking around at the mess all over the side of the road and my Mother nearly cried. “Oh no!! That was my suitcase”, she said when she saw her bras and panties spread all over heck and half of NC.
The folks who hit the suitcase helped us gather everything up that looked like it came out of it, and we threw it all in the back of the car, along with the rest of the suitcases from the luggage rack and we were off down the road. My brother and I had to spend the rest of the trip in the back seat.
Living on an island in southeast Alaska, our road trips begin with an overnight ferry boat ride. Thus, we booked a berth for a trip north his spring. After boarding the ship, my wife opened the door to our cabin leaving the key in the outside lock, a mistake I failed to notice.
Within minutes she had locked the door from the inside and hopped into her bunk. Still wide awake, I decided to go out on deck only to discover I couldn?t unlock the door from the inside with the key in the lock on the outside. We were prisoners in our room.
No amount of wiggling or prying the lock through the crack in the door with my knife would release the lock. Usually there is someone in an adjacent room on these trips so my wife hopped out of bed au naturel and started banging on the walls and door yelling help. No response.
There we were faced with 18 hours locked in our room with no food and a dog in our car that would need a pee break at our next port of call. And no one could hear my naked wife pounding on the walls while yelling yoo hoo at the top of her lungs. ?This is not a good omen for a trip,? I muttered.
Maybe she was lucky no one heard her and opened the door to discover her dress code. Ultimately, a lot of prying with my knife while wiggling the lock worked and we were free. Once on deck, I told my story to the seasoned night watchman who responded, ?that was a first.? ?That?s my wife.? I responded.
Around mid-July, 1995, a group of us decided to rent an RV and travel from the DC area up to Connecticut to attend a gathering of crazy people that love to play the fife and drum. You Car Talk guys should be familiar with this unique experience since you are in the Boston area. This is an annual event called the Deep River Fife & Drum Muster. Anyway, there were about 7 of us in what could be called a basic RV - small kitchen, uncomfortable seats, teeny bathroom and just enough room to fit everyone. We soon discovered that the gas tank was small and ate that gas at an alarming rate but what really started this hellish trip was when we just filled up and on the NJ Turnpike, the poor engine started to chug, then sputter then finally quit - fortunately, we were able to pull over to the side. We frantically called the 800 number given to us for emergencies from the rental company and they said they would be right there! Actually, it only took about an hour but in the meantime, humans being humans, we had to relieve ourselves of food and drink (this will be important later…) The wonderful mechanic showed up and it turned out that fuel filter had eaten itself and little bits of filter clogged up the system but somehow, he fixed it and we were on our way again. By this time, someone had noticed a strange odor eminating from the teeny bathroom. It turns out that the flusher did not flush properly so the teeny toilet was now chock full of “stuff”! So, when we arrived at our camping area, we made a mad dash to the porta-potties. But returning to our home away from home, the odor was still rather awful - until a couple of us were goofing around the drivers area and bumped the horn - and lo and behold, we heard the potty pump start to work! So, we always had to beep the horn when visiting the teeny bathroom. Needless to say, we all knew who was doing the potty dance. And fortunately, we returned to our respective homes in the DC area none the worse for wear but with a road trip story we would not soon forget!!!
A few years back, my kayaking buddies and I decided to take a long weekend out in the mountains of Virgina. We were determined to tackle Balcony Falls on the James River, though my ambitions were bit more modest; like tackling a six-pack. The plan was to “caravan” out there, each driver with their boats and cars staying more or less in a pack on the highway during the six-hour drive. The lead car was driven by an older gentleman who was extra, extra cautious and drove well under the speed limit. I wasn’t expecting a prolonged trip and I ran out gas, as did several others, as there was no stopping allowed. (I can tell you about the horrors of trying to use a marine toilet in a car, but that’s another story.) Several calls and a long time waiting for AAA to arrive with gas later, we were on our way. But my 2005 Jeep Liberty (“Libby”), pushing 80 tho and cantankerous at best, didn’t like the sludge she had sucked up at the bottom of the gas tank I guess. She did this bump and grind thing in protest. And horrors! I hadn’t thought to check the straps on my kayak. It’d been sitting on the top rack of my car for almost 12 hours now. The straps had apparently loosed. My bucking car sent the kayak flying off the roof. It rear-ended the car in front me. I stopped. The car in front of me stopped. And once again, the long caravan ground to a halt. The damaged car’s passengers disembarked. I didn’t know them. And they were some really mean-looking, biker, surfer dudes with lots of snarly tatoos. This is when being a “girl” really helps; I flashed a…" did I do that?" grin, which eased some of the tension. My kayak had seriously dented the back of their SUV, damaging the bumper too. I touched it and it fell off. But the carnage didn’t end there. My kayak ended up in the opposite highway lane and got promptly creamed by a semi. I was left with some very interesting wall art, an aborted kayak trip and some really unhappy dudes.
Years ago Jim and I headed from California to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving with 3 little kids in the primer black 70’s Econoline Van we had bought from his brother-in-law. The first thing to go was the heater so we took turns driving in double sleeping bags which didn’t prevent frostbite of the toes. Somewhere along the East Coast Jim looked over and saw an old high school buddy beside us on the freeway. We all pulled over and he gave us a kerosene space heater which we fired up to warm us so we could continue to drive. After a few days with the relatives, we headed home with half dozen gallon jugs of water in case we overheated. Less than an hour out, we did overheat but Jim decided to drive on to the next exit where he hosed down the scorching engine compartment, cracking the block. As we waited at the coffee shop to be rescued by his relatives, he realized he had left his wallet at the pay phone and all our money was gone. After returning, we towed the van with a chain, he and his friends rebuilt the engine in an unheated carport with money from selling my wedding rings to his friend who said she would sell them back to us. We eventually made it back to California but he never bought the rings back. We are divorced.
Does a 30-minute ride from Ridgewood, Queens to East Williston on Long Island in New York count as a valid 'road trip"? Well, hell comes in all shapes and sizes and duration so…!
About 20 years ago, I was on a yearly visit to my family in NY where I hadn’t lived for a good ten years so I had to borrow my sister’s car to get to see the cousins. My sister’s last words to me were, “Don’t forget to fill the radiator before you leave there!” I did.
On the way back, on the Grand Central Parkway, I happened to notice a red light on the dash but, since I only needed glasses for reading, I didn’t have them on and couldn’t see what the red light indicated. I drove on in blissful ignorance but then, even without glasses, I could see smoke escaping from the hood and went onto the exit ramp and then the shoulder. Evidently, somewhere between East Williston and the Grand Central, the radiator cap got lost. No one stopped to help this poor damsel in distress and who had a cell phone back then? I decided to walk up the ramp and find a phone before the sun set. Halfway up, a Volkswagon Beetle inched slowly closer to me and asked if I belonged to the car back there. The driver, a tall, lanky, clean-cut looking man about in his 30s, told me he was a cop and would drive me to a phone booth. Yes, I got in! I shouldn’t have but I did and sat as close to the door as I could. He told me his name, showed me his badge and ID but, of course, without my glasses… What I could see looked authentic and so he took me to a pay phone near a set of apartments and kept waiting for me to finish the call. I thanked him and told him my sister would arrive soon. After a while, he finally left.
My sister, however, was more concerned about her car being stripped and went to check on that first. The sun slowly set and the area around the pay phone was getting lonelier and lonelier. Finally she showed up and, in typical New York fashion, could not believe I would accept a ride from a complete stranger. So I explained he was a policeman etc. She asked me his name and, only later, did I understand why she screamed when I told her he said his name was Norman Bates!
P.S. I checked with the precinct he said he was with and was informed there was no one there by that name and that a ‘real’ policeman would have told me to return to my car while he called for help. Who knows? Maybe because the name “Norman Bates” made no impression on me…?
Well, this one is actually fairly new. The beginning of last month, my wife my daughter of 3 and I started on a trip to Temple Texas from Tampa Florida, for my wifes daughters high school graduation. Now my daughter has never been in a car for much longer that 1 and a half hours. everything was going well for the first 3-4 hours my daughter was sleeping. We got just outside of Tallahassee and she woke up. About 2 hours later, she started throwing the mother of all fits, so we got to stop and spend the night in a hotel.
We took off that morning after filling up and got to just outside of New Orleans when all of a sudden, I was getting no gas. Pulled to the side of the road and let the van cool down a little and was able to get it started again. After about 1 mile, the van conked out again. What I figured was that the fuel pump went out seeing that we were getting no fuel to the injector rail.
I called a tow truck and 3 and a half hours later, he finally showed up. He took us to a hotel, and then took me and the van to a mechanic he new. I’m thinking, good this isn’t going to cost to much. Not a major chain.
Well, I got back to the hotel and being just outside of New Orleans the room was almost 2 times what it should have been. Well we got the room and went to sleep. The next morning, I got a call and was told that the mechanic was going to pick me up. So we checked out and waited. He picked us up and we stopped by the parts store so I could pay FULL price, not cost; for the fuel pump.
I’m thinking good, we can get back on the road fairly soon. Well the mechanic got the fuel pump in and we stopped by the bank so I could pay him the 100 dollars for the work. Great, this is going fine. I’m in 300 dollars for a job that should have cost closer to 600.00.
Well we filled the van up and got on our way. about 35 miles down the road, I noticed that I was on a 1/8th of a tank. I found a off-ramp and took it. A mile down the road was a little convenience store with a gas station. Pulled up and noticed I was loosing fuel at a better rate than Nascars do. I backed up on a curb so I could get underneath. After parking with the but end of the van in the air, looked underneath and noticed that the mechanic that did the fuel pump didn’t replace the sleeves or the clips that held the fuel line from the filter to the pump. So there was my problem. Well at least one of them. I tried to jerry rig the lines with no luck. Then called the dealership and they told me that it would take 4-5 days to get the sleeves and the clips from Dallas. No place closer.
Well did some more calling around and actually found someone that had stopped by that new what I needed. So I ended calling up a parts store and ended up having to by a brand new fuel filter. Now, the problem was finding a way 30 miles to get to the store. Luckily, someone that stopped by offered to take me to the parts store and back. Well I got back to the van about an hour later with my wife and daughter not in a good mood, after sitting in 95 degree heat waiting for me.
Finally got the sleeves and clips on, so now no leaks. Filled up the van that cost me another 60 dollars and took off.
I do have to say one thing, and that is once I got the pump replaced and all the other problems that stemmed from them; my mileage went up by about 6 to a gallon.
Figure that one out. This out of a 98 Plymouth Voyager van.
Have a nice day.
Back in 1974, we took a monthlong adventure from the Chicago area, up to Alaska, traveling the Al-CAN highway in a pickup truck camper. Now, back then, the highway had an 1100 mile section of gravel road. Travel was rugged to say the least. We bought headlight covers to keep them intact & a non-broken windshield on a car, indicated it had only recently been driven of a dealer’s lot, where ever that could have possibly been. Relaxation along the way included a stop at Laird Hot Springs, where one had to walk 1/2 mile from the campground to the springs, which seemed to be guarded by mosquitos the size of small sparrows, as well as the dreaded no-see-ums, which had nothing to do with the level of discomfort they inflicted with a bite.
Anyway, the particulary low point in this trip occurred somewhere in the middle of the Yukon, when dad, acting on a tip he received from one of the locals in a gas station (perhaps they HATED Chicago drivers up there as well). The tip was in the form of a logging road shortcut one could take, which would shave off 20 miles (about an hour). We ventured out into the rain, slogging along. Dad tops the crest of a hill & due to the severe road crown, begins to slide off the side. He stops the truck, we get out to survey the situation. There’s no way to get back onto the road as this is a 2wd truck, with the radials packed slick with red mud. By the grace of god, a school bus with local indian loggers shows up, who jump out, push us back onto the road & we both head our separate way. Well now, 2 miles further, we have to negotiate a 15% grade down a hill, banking left, then a right dogleg, finishing up with a shot through a one lane bridge. One could almost picture judges standing on the other side of the bridge holding up the score cards if you were fortunate enough to clear the guardrails. Poor dad, feeling the camper slide again, freaked a bit & hammered down on the brakes. Managed to get it stopped, but had to quick deploy the camper jacks to keep it from going all the way over.
About 1/2hr later, a pickup truck bearing a guy who was a cross between one of the Donner party & Charlie Manson shows up. He says he has a friend who has a tow truck, but he’s about 45 minutes away. Ok, let’s send Mark & mom with him to bring the friend back. Makes perfect sense! I fully expected my life to end that day. Long story short, he wasn’t an ax murderer, we did eventually get to our campsite, albiet now 4hrs later than if we stayed on the highway. Made it all the way to the Artic Circle. That truck had mud in the groove in the steering wheel ten years later from that fateful day, serving as a reminder of the folly. Still, my dad & I would reminisce about that trip on & off until his passing 3 years ago at a spry young age of 90! I want to do it again!
Cedar Falls, IA
How to run out of gas not once, but TWICE - with not one, but TWO full gas tanks.
During the summer of 2004 I worked at a West Texas Girl Scout camp. My aging 1988 4-wheel drive Toyota 4-Runner broke down. A local mechanic and I decided it best to tow the truck home and have it repaired there. But how to get it home?
I called my faithful friend Debbie. She offered to come out and pick me up and, together, we’d tow my truck home to Bandera in the Texas Hill Country, a 350 mile trip. On the closing day of camp, Debbie showed up in an old truck with tow-bar borrowed from her country mechanic.
While heading to Alpine, Debbie told me some important things her mechanic insisted we adhere to, like not ever driving over 50 miles per hour. We picked up my truck and got it attached to the tow-bar. It was mid-afternoon, but Debbie didn’t want to leave Alpine without stopping in Front Street Books, a MUST stop for a librarian. I waited in the mechanic’s truck.
By 3 or 4 o’clock we were finally off, heading for Hwy. 90. Eventually we arrived at what was probably our “Last Chance” gas station for quite some time. So we pulled in. Being my truck that was out of service, this trip was on me, so I got out and filled up. Off we went down Hwy. 90 - at least for a little while. All of a sudden, I had no acceleration. “Gee, Debbie”, I said. “It feels like I’ve run out of gas.” I eased the old truck, with my 4-Runner trailing, onto the shoulder.
“I think there’s something I forgot to tell you”, mused Debbie.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“There’s two gas tanks in this truck, and one of them can’t be accessed.”
“Great. I’ve filled up the wrong gas tank”, I said, and we just looked at each other.
Well, I didn’t have a cell phone in those days and Debbie carried one ‘for emergency purposes’ but didn’t know much about how to use it. I don’t think she even knew her own cell phone number.
But, always the optimist, Debbie shares that there is no problem; she has Triple-A. Finally getting hold of an AAA agent, the agent explained there is no service in our area. We were simply too remote. Debbie’s next idea was to call the state police.
“They’re coming out with some gas for us”, was the final conclusion after lengthy discussion and a couple of calls back and forth.
We got out of the truck and milled around; wandered down the embankment to pee; watched the sun about to set; even got out my camelback water bladder, detached the hose, and tried to feed it down the full gas tank. Debbie, of course, was the one who sucked on the hose. Remembering that I also had a full tank in the 4-Runner, we tried again on my gas tank, but no luck.
Finally the state trooper showed up. She had 5 gallons of gas for us. Debbie and I looked at each other. “There’s no gas station within 5-gallons worth of gas from here”, we offered to the state trooper.
“Sorry, that’s all we’re allowed to give out”, she stated matter-of-factly. “Just drive 'til you can’t get any farther, I guess.”
So we did. In the dark. With the juice to the blinking lights on the 4-Runner dead, dead, dead.
At midnight I hit the Lake Amistad bridge. “Ooh, this is scary,” I said, “crossing this looong two-lane bridge at 50 mph with no tail lights on the vehicle in tow and all these 18-wheelers flying down Hwy. 90.” And then it happened - we ran out of gas again, ON THE BRIDGE!
I jumped out of the vehicle and up on the little narrow walk next to the rail in a panic. Debbie sat in the car for an eternity, then calmly got out while on her cell phone. I ran off the bridge, turning to see Debbie still standing by the trucks.
“Get off the bridge,” I yelled! “It’s gonna blow!”
I implored. I pleaded. There Debbie stood talking to the state troopers again. I just knew an 18-wheeler was going to careen into the back of TWO trucks with TWO full gas tanks and the whole mess was going to explode.
All of a sudden, here came a border patrol vehicle followed by the same state trooper that brought us our original 5-gallons of gas. With colored lights spinning, I finally felt safe again. Adding more gas to the old truck, the border patrol agent explained we’d be able to fill up at a station at the end of the bridge even thought it would be closed as long as we had a credit card. No Problem!
We filled up and arrived home at 4:00 AM.
“Oh,” Debbie offered as I was ready to fall into bed. “We have to have the mechanic’s truck back to him absolutely no later than 8 AM or it’s gonna cost us big time! So we’ll have to leave your house by 7.”
It was September, 1990. My husband and I rented a spiffy new Cadillac in Indiana with plans to pick up my parents in Erie, Pa. for a road trip through New England and reservations at an historic B&B. When we arrived in Erie, my mother had hurt her back and they had to cancel. So we had this expensive rental car, with gas prices soaring due to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. But we motored on, looking forward to a lot of great sightseeing, unaware of the weather forecst.
The first day of rain was no big deal, since we were driving through New York state - familiar territory - and not really “there” yet. But of course, the rain never stopped for a week. We saw the “scenery” in-between rain drops, and the BB-sized hole that a stone had made in the windshield of the Cadillac.
We decided to stop at Kennebunkport, Maine - to see what attracted the Bush family - on our way to shop at some outlet malls. The nice officer said “have a nice day” after he wrote out our speeding ticket, and my husband smiled and gave a 1-finger salute behind the door.
And the rain never let up. At one point, we looked at each other as if to say: “It’s still you sitting there, isn’t it!” But we soldiered on, hoping for the diversion of the outlet malls. One of the last nights of the trip, the rain had finally stopped, so we went for a walk after dinner. There was an old stone fence that I attempted to jump over and landed on my hands. We spent the next morning at the Medical Center for my broken finger.
My husband refers to this “vacation” as our “Hell on Wheels Trip”. The final insult-to-injury was: the only outlet store we ever found was a Battery Outlet!
This is one of many memorable moments of adventure from long ago with a 1958 MGA.
Around 1972 while in college in Austin, Texas, I purchased my first of three MGs. This was a 1958 MGA in a combination of British racing green and rust. As anyone knows who has ever had an MG, they were invented early in the 20th century and made no discernible technological progress since about 1927. This “A” model was about as primitive an automobile as ever existed - plexiglass sliding panels instead of windows, a pull cord instead of door handles and even a crank to start the engine when the batteries failed (yes, there were two six volt batteries located behind the seats).
In the first of these adventures, my first wife and I (guys who like MGs invariably end up with ex-wives) left Austin headed west to San Angelo along Highway 71. At that time, 71 was a two lane road that twisted through the desolate hills between Austin and Llano. Around 9 p.m. as we motored through the night 30 miles outside of Llano, the fan belt snapped. That belt kept the water pump and generator turning and there was no going on without one. As luck would have it, the belt let go just as we were approaching a small roadside rest stop. I pulled in and contemplated our fate. Very few other motorists were on the road that night, about one car every few minutes and none of them would likely stop at night for someone flagging them down in country once known for its Comancheros. As I assessed the situation, I realized I had very little to work with. What I did have was several feet of extra nylon rope about the diameter of clothesline rope and i had a pocket knife. I cut about six feet of rope from the luggage rack on the trunk, wrapped it tightly around all the pulleys where the fickle belt had been and tied it with my best Boy Scout knot.
We started back up, crossed our fingers and steered back onto the road. The gauge showed that we were getting some output from the generator, but not enough to keep the battery charged for very long. As we wound through the hills for the remaining 30 miles into Llano, I cut the headlights off and drove by moonlight until another car approached, turning them back on briefly until we passed. Finally, we made it into Llano and found a convenience store open. The proprietor had three or four automotive belts hanging from nails in the wall over the counter and I picked one that looked about right. Under his awning at 10 o’clock at night I put on the new belt and it fit just fine. We completed the rest of the trip uneventfully and that belt stayed on the car until I sold it a couple of years later.
Some time ago my wife, children and mother-in-law made plans to travel between Grand Rapids, MI and Pittsburgh, PA to attend the fiftieth wedding anniversary of MIL’s sister.
Late in the morning we were to leave my wife called her cousin and told her that we would arrive in plenty of time for a pizza dinner at her home in suburban Pittsburgh.
We loaded and gassed the '86 Aerostar and headed east on I-96, and due to construction on our usual route of US 23 to I-80, I decided to use I-75 to catch the Ohio Turnpike.
Somewhere between Ann Arbor and Monroe the right rear tire suffered a near blowout as the tire’s internal structure failed. I changed the tire and found a tire shop at the next exit. Our luck turned briefly for the better as they had one tire left in stock to match the one that was now good for only a boat fender and with a little priority treatment we were on our way once again, down something over an hour.
We motored down 75 for a bit and noticed construction warnings through the Toledo area; no biggie how bad could it be? We were soon to find out.
Traffic began to slow, then bunched, went into the bungee phase and then came to a grinding halt. After about fifteen minutes I shut engine down and shortly after the semi’s began shutting down and setting the parking brakes. The minutes stretched to an hour…ninety minutes…two hours and then almost two and half hours after stopping we herky jerked on down to I-280 and the interchange with the Ohio Turnpike.
Well, I could tell you about my trip from California to NAS Memphis in a 61 Fiat Cabriolet. I had just finished rebuilding the engine (14th time I think) about an hour before I left. By the time I got to Memphis, I had blown the intake and exhaust manifold gaskets and the starter quit. The engine blew just after I got on base.
Then there was our honeymoon trip from NAS Memphis to California in a 64 Rambler. I stopped in Oklahoma to get an oil change and I asked for 6 quarts of oil to take with me. Unfortunately, that was the only oil I got. A couple miles down the road, all the dash lights came on. I put the oil in the engine and filled the radiator with some water I always carry. I got about 50 miles to a quart after that and had a top speed of 45 mph. Took six days.
But this trip trumps any of mine. This guy has guts and a serious sense of adventure.
This story happened in the summer of 1995 when we lived in Houston and were taking our kids to see Grandma and Grandpa in Michigan. I wrote a poem “Stuck at Stuckey’s” about our adventure and included it in our holiday card to family and friends later that year.
We left on a Friday with joy in our hearts,
But our early departure was doomed from the start.
We zipped through the traffice up I-45.
After Chinese buffet Ron said, “Your turn to drive.”
How could I know that my cookie was true.
We’d laughed at the words, "Adventure awaits you!"
Up through north Texas to the state that’s O.K.
Past O.K. City, making good time today!
When all of a sudden the car started jerking.
We looked at each other–something’s not working.
We limped to the exit to look for the trouble.
This unplanned event was bursting our bubble.
Got stuck at Stuckey’s–transmission was gone.
Way out in nowhere a long way from home.
Called up a wrecker. “Where are you?” he said.
“I’m stuck at Stuckey’s–please hurry–burn tread!”
We stayed at HoJo’s three nights and three days.
Their shuttle van trips helped ease our delay.
We laughed at the chimps when we went to the zoo.
We walked in the garden and read by the pool.
We shopped at the mall, time and again,
And cried at the wall where the bombing had been.
Called up the folks, “We’re a little unlucky.
We’re Michigan-bound, but we got stuck at Stuckey’s.”
Then, “Come get your car,” they called from the shop,
"Everything’s fixed, you’re ship-shape, tip-top!"
With a lot less money and a few days late
We finally arrived at our favorite state.
Our vacation was saved. A good time was had.
When we drove back for Christmas we phoned Mom and Dad.
“We’re ready to start, but pray for good luck.
When we drive by Stuckey’s, we don’t to get stuck!”
As a child in the 50s, I heard about the fabulous Great Salt Lake in Utah. Other kids shared their stories of floating effortlessly on the saltwater waves - it sounded like a beautiful vacation spot. So when our family took a road trip to the western national parks in the early 90s, I insisted that we must include the Lake in our itinerary.
We couldn’t find much tourist info about the lake, but this was before internet websites.
As we approached the lake on a very hot July day, I was surprised there were only a few cars in the parking area. It looked like a long walk out to the docks, but off we went over some slick black terrain.
At the dock structure we still weren’t at the lake. There were almost no other people at this beach! It smelled awful.
We waded in. My daughter and I screeched a little - we had just shaved our legs before swimming and the salt water stung us. The slippery beach turned out to be dead brine shrimp, with masses of tiny flies hovering above.
I soon had to admit to my family that my dreams of floating in the the clear blue water had dried up, just like the fabled lake. We returned to our motel, where I cleaned the fetid beach residue out of our new van.
That evening on the Salt Lake City news, there was a story about the spiders infesting the Lake beach, having arrived to eat the blackflies, who were there to feast on the dead brine shrimp. Too bad I hadn’t heard about this before the trip, but I probably wouldn’t have believed it.