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Tell Us Your Road Trip from Hell!

Here?s another in my series of open road horror stories in a ?58 MGA.

In 1974 after college graduation, we were moving from Austin, Texas to San Angelo about 200 miles to the west. It had come down to driving our two cars over to the new city and we struck out with my wife driving ahead in our 1970 AMC Hornet and me driving the MG. We had barely reached the outskirts of Austin when the MG mysteriously quit as if the ignition switch had turned off. I coasted to the shoulder and the wife circled back around to see what was wrong. After several minutes of trying everything I knew to diagnose the problem, we gave up and decided to tow the MG the remaining 195 miles.
Now, being in our early 20s and not as smart as we might later become, we figured it would be OK to tow the MG with a rope, chain or cable of some kind, using the Hornet as the tow car. We found a nearby sporting goods store and the only thing available was nylon ski rope – the braided yellow kind about a quarter inch in thickness. We bought about 20 feet of it and drove back to the disabled MG. Being cautious, we decided to triple-up on the rope, threading three six-foot lengths of rope between the rear bumper of the Hornet and the front bumper of the MG. Tying it securely, we negotiated ourselves back into traffic on the two-lane highway with my wife piloting the tow car and me gripping the big steering wheel of the MG, staring unblinking at the brake lights of the Hornet. Still feeling cautious, we decided that we should not exceed the posted 70 mph limit.
For the next 195 miles, I kept a death grip on the steering wheel, my right foot poised over the brake pedal. Amazingly, we made the trip along the often twisting two-lane highway without incident until we were within three miles of my in-laws? house in San Angelo. As we approached a stop sign at the edge of town, my wife decided to make a California stop. Expecting a full stop, I hit the brake just as she gunned the Hornet through the intersection and the tow rope parted. We managed to knit it back together to cover the last few miles and finally pulled up in front of the in-laws? house. As the MG rolled to a final stop, I crawled out, walked into the bathroom and threw up.

My fiance took me to Crater Lake in Oregon to propose. That part went well, but he had planned a tour of the Oregon Caves National Monument the following day and on the way from Crater Lake Google Maps tried to kill us.

We were supposed to stay in the Caves Chateau that night so we could get up bright and early to tour the caves. I had printed directions from Google Maps before leaving on the trip but I hadn’t really looked at them. The directions sent us on the scenic, rural route, which was nice at first - pretty small towns and farms. Except then it started to get a little MORE rural. And then even MORE. And finally we were on a narrow bumpy (but still paved so far) Bureau of Land Management road. And we noticed that the rest of the route was all BLM or National Forest (NF) routes. And then we ran out of pavement and there were no signs on any of the turnoffs. My traction control kicked in on the gravel road (first time ever and I’d owned the car 4 years!), we were pretty sure we had passed where the turnoff should have been so we went back and took the turnoff we thought was correct… but it turned into dirt ruts about 0.2mi in and I wasn’t sure I had the ground clearance for it, I wasn’t sure it was the right route, and if I was wrong I wasn’t sure I’d be able to turn around if I went much further. It was super-frustrating since according to the directions we were less than 5mi from our destination! So we backed up to a point where we could turn around and drove back to Grants Pass where we got dinner at a mediocre pizza place and called the Caves Lodge to tell them we would not only be missing dinner, we’d be there quite late. We ended up driving a much longer loop to get there but at least there were no dirt roads. Once we got to the park it still took us another 20min to figure out where the Caves Lodge actually was - we thought it was outside the park but it was actually just inside it and we walked around a service facility for several minutes trying to find someone who could tell us where to go - despite lights being on in what looked like a house, noone came to the door. When we finally got to the lodge a nice man got up in his Sponge Bob slippers to let us in.

The next morning at breakfast we told the story to some other guests at the lodge and found a guy who had actually managed to get there by the BLM and NF roads we had tried to come down - his advantage was he actually had a GPS! The caves turned out to be gorgeous and two years later we’re still together so it all worked out in the end. But now I ALWAYS check my Google directions before I leave for a trip and I warn all my friends about the time Google Maps tried to kill us!

1978 I bought a 1966 Volkswagon minivan/camper. It sounded very loud when I bought it but figured I could fix anything that went wrong and that it was probably just a muffler. I did have to change the clutch plate after about a week though. So, without having the car checked out, and with my Sears Craftsman $59 tool kit and a spare clutch plate, I proceeded to drive to California from New York via Canada.

The first indication of trouble was in Montreal when the car became so loud that children actually held their hands over their ears as we passed. Also, the top speed going down hill was about 50 MPH. At one point in Canada the clutch plate had to be replaced again so whenever I passed a car parts store I picked up a spare. (They were $10 in Canada and $20 - $25 in the US.) The noise became progressively worse, so we decided to head back to the States via Sault St. Marie Mich.

At a campsite in Mich. (Where I learned the State bird is a mosquito) I pulled the engine, resting it on a milk crate, to checkout what was going on. I found that there was a one inch hole in one of the cylinders. So, knowing there wasn’t much I could do, I proceeded to put the cylinder back on, snapping the long post that secures the cylinder and the head to the engine. I think it should have been tightened to about 12 -15 ft. lbs but I wanted to give it a little extra; SNAP. So, now with no engine, I hitchhiked 100 miles to Deluth Minn. to get a new post. Since they were only $1.25, I bought four just in case.

After re assembling the motor in the rain, I proceeded on Hwy 2 into Northern Minnesota where at 11:00 PM there was a loud bang and the van rolled to a stop. The engine ran but the car would not move. Nothing but blackness and a dome of stars. Just by chance a car full of drunks pulled over in front of us to use the roadside field facilities. They didn’t even see us and were startled when I approached. They were kind enough to drive me into town where I called AAA. AAA towed us into Purham Minn. and dropped us in a gas station lot.

Figuring we could make the best of it we stopped in the local tavern where they called last call on Sat night at 11:30 PM.

The following morning (Sunday)some teenagers happened by and started a conversation about the van. I told them I thought I needed a transmission and they suggested we get in their car. They knew where to get one on a Sunday. After about 45 minutes of driving through fields of nothing and assuming that our families would never find our bodies, we happened upon a farmhouse (with no running water). The yard littered with no less than five Volkswagon Vans just like mine. There was also an old school bus painted in psychedelic designs and reeking of patchouli oil. An older (35) hippy named Mike greeted us with a smile. We stayed with Mike and his son for a week and he helped me rebuild the engine. A local shop also let us use his tools where I re-honed the cylinders and had the heads rebuilt. The source of the clutches breaking was a missing bearing inside the flywheel gland nut.

After a week, we continued on our way and eventually left our Van in San Francisco where my brother in law sold it for us. seven years later we received a letter from the state of California stating that they found our van on the side of the road in
Los Angeles and that it was in storage for us to pick up. Apparently, brother in law left the NY plates on the car, as did the new owner.

jamie d

Just took another road trip with the kids…post coming soon :slight_smile:

So it’s Thanksgiving weekend, 1975, and I’m a college student in Chicago. My girlfriend (and later, wife) has a brother going to the University of Colorado in Boulder. We get the bright idea that we should visit for the holiday weekend with a few friends. We will bring all the fixings for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner (down to the butter and salt, since GOK what was in his kitchen) as long as he buys the turkey (which he did, 24 lbs worth).

I acquire my mother’s '72 Chevy Impala, without really mentioning where we were taking it. (After all, who in their right mind would drive 22 hours each way for a single meal?) Two hours outside of Chicago on I-80, we run into the worst snowstorm of the season - the state police shut down the Interstate completely, and we exit in the middle of nowhere (OK, there was a truck stop). We call my girlfriend’s brother whose first words were “but what am I supposed to do with a 24 lb turkey?!?” to which the obvious answer was “cook it!” (Of course, we had all the rest of the food!)

So we cross the interstate and wait at a very icy stoplight to get back on the highway to return to Chicago. We’re all pretty bummed out, but as we’re sitting there, I glance up in the rearview mirror and realize some idiot is sliding towards me, WAY TOO FAST, and of course, he slams right into my rear bumper! I get out of the car, and his defense is “you didn’t get out of the way!” I was restrained by my friends, the police had bigger things to worry about, and we managed to limp back to Chicago.

We then proceeded to spend most of the next few days drunk, and cooking all of a huge Thanksgiving dinner WITHOUT the turkey. I tried to explain how the car got in an accident on I-80 in a blinding snowstorm. And my future brother-in-law had turkey sandwiches for the rest of the school year.

I have to say to my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law that I love you and that I would never share this story if it wasn’t (now) funny. So please don’t hate me…

All the names have been changed to protect the innocent (me).

My brother-in-law Boris is a well-to-do mechanical engineer who was able to retire very early from a large truck engine manufacturing company in Chicago. He and my sister-in-law Natasha always wanted to move to the Carolina’s to get away from the cold Chicago winters. Well, this is where the trip through Hell begins.

Boris, being the “thrifty” individual that he is, opted to move his family himself instead of paying a ton of money to a moving company. So he rented two 24’ Ryder trucks and enlisted the help of myself, my wife (Anastasia), and his brother (Rocky) to load the trucks in Chicago, drive, and then unload the trucks in North Carolina. We all thought that this would be just a stupendous opportunity to get away for a few days and bond with Boris and Natasha. Rocky even offered to pick us up in Columbus, OH and drive Anastasia and myself to Chicago. This was going to be perfect!

Once we crossed the Ohio Indiana border, it started pouring rain. Not your usual heavy stuff. More like “Noah, is that damned ark done yet?” kinda rain. We’ll Rocky had put in a long day before picking us up so I took over driving duties which was fine. About halfway to Indianapolis, I was trapped in the fast lane and couldn’t get over fast enough to satisfy the guy behind me. He kept flashing his brights to get me to move but I couldn’t see anything and traffic was heavy. Anastasia was sleeping in the back seat and was really starting to get irritated by the bright lights, you see the angle of the rearview mirror was shining those lights into her eyes. She can get a bit cranky if you wake her up the wrong way which is why I now lock up the knives at home. But that’s another story.

Anyway, back to the aggressive driver and his bright lights…

After about the ninth time of flashing the lights to get me to move over into the right lane, our friend, I’ll call him Barney, turns on his red lights. Turns out Barney is an officer of the law (We couldn’t see that he was driving police car before because of the heavy rains). Apparently Barney is ticked because I couldn’t get out of his way quick enough and the Ohio plates on our car presented him with a revenue generating opportunity he couldn’t resist. So off to the left shoulder I go since I can’t see to go to the right shoulder. First mistake. Did you know that the convex mirror on mid 80’s Chevy sedan, when it strikes a metal reflector stake at 55 mph, does a really good job of destroying the driver’s side door window? It does. Barney was pretty impressed with the destruction, too but significantly less impressed with Sleeping Beauty in the back seat. It seems my ever lovin wife (Boris and Rocky’s sister), unbenounced to Rocky and me, decided to express to the nice officer, that she felt he was “number one”! Second mistake.

Who knew that in rural Indiana, off duty officers, with their families in the cruiser for a night out doing who-knows-what, take exception to being flipped off by angry, half sleepy females from Ohio?

However, Barney, being the good fellow that he turned out to be decided to let us go with only a warning to our expressive passenger (who, at this point, was enjoying her dinner for a second time on the side of the road). Of course this was only after Andy pulled up in support of Barney to see why the idiots from Ohio pulled on to the left shoulder instead of the right. For what it’s worth, Andy was pretty impressed with all the broken glass, too.

The only good news is that the skies parted and the rain stopped as we finished our drive to Chicago in complete silence with the ambiance of upchuck in the still night air.

I could end the story here and probably should but the trip to Chicago was just an omen of the real troubles to come. If I stop now, you’ll never know that Boris diagrammed the entire contents of his home on a legal pad. He had everything arranged precisely to fit on both trucks. You’ll never know about the leather couch that the diagram said would fit but didn’t and had to be left behind and the dead plant and broken, three legged high chair that did get loaded. I won’t be able to tell you about the 60 mile detour on the drive from Chicago to get sunglasses that were on sale for 99 cents or the tornado in Indianapolis. You’ll never know that Natasha turned out to be a cruel taskmaster making us drive on and on and on through the mountains, depriving us of sleep and how Rocky and I took great pleasure in leaving her behind at a rest stop when she let Fluffy (not her real name either) the dog take a potty break. The look on Natasha’s face as we cruised past was priceless but we paid dearly for it later when we found out that the driveway to their new home was 90 feet long and had a 90% incline. We had to unload in the street. It was Ok until we unloaded the baby grand…

Sometimes road trips (and breakdowns) let you see the good (and the less good) in the world. In July 2004, I moved back to Washington, DC from St. Paul, MN stopping along the way to visit various relatives.

My 1995 Dodge Intrepid (white, named Moby) was packed to the gills and equipped with a few days worth of snacks and the same mix tape that had been stuck in the tape deck for the past six months. First stop: Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

Correction. First stop: somewhere in the wilds of Wisconsin. Moby, with impeccable timing, overheated on a stretch of country road where cell service was unavailable and no buildings were evident. In a characteristic belief that all will go well, I abandoned my car and started walking. Soon I came across a small housing subdivision and started knocking on doors. (What was I thinking?) At one house, a young couple (just married they said!) invited me in to cool down before setting out to cool down my car. Instead of just handing me a phone book to call a tow truck they grabbed a jug of coolant and drove me back to my car. They refilled the radiator and accompanied me to the nearest gas station?still miles away from a garage. The couple waited for a tow truck with me and the gas station attendant even let me recharge my cellphone.

Not the end of the story! I made it to my aunt?s house in Fond du Lac and after a short visit and a surprisingly long mechanic bill I set off to pick up my brother-in-law in Gary, IN. In a complete highway-driving haze (or perhaps I was distracted by the vitriol of Indiana?s conservative talk radio) I drove right past the exit and wound up going an hour out of the way. When I finally made it back, my brother-in-law nicely offered to take over driving. Instead of enjoying the ride and napping I found myself cringing when he started to drift a bit into the shoulder with increasing frequency. He was falling asleep at the wheel! I offered to take the driving responsibility back but he declined…at which point I yelled ?PULL THE HELL OVER AND GET OUT OF THE CAR!? I am nothing if not subtle.

The road trip still held a little more excitement. I had to make a desperate pit stop for ?lady products? and explain to my brother-in-law why exactly I needed to borrow 50 cents. AND after dropping him off in Pittsburgh, my car broke down again a half an hour outside of DC. Resigned to my fate, I packed an overnight bag, left the rest of my worldly belongings (and my car) at the mechanic, and hopped on a bus to a friend?s house. Not quite home safe: he had forgotten I was to arrive and wasn?t home. I slept on his back porch braving the 900 degree heat and a swarm of eagle-sized mosquitoes.

No exaggeration. Except for maybe that last part.

In 1988 my sister and I took a trip to visit our other sister in Pelham, MA. We had been dieting and ate sensibly all they way there from Michigan. The nature of my sister (you know how siblings can be) and her family in Massachusetts caused us to leave a day early to save our own sanity. We left right after dinner and bee-lined it home driving all night across Canada in my new 1987 Escort EXP. On the way we stopped at a store where I grabbed tons of comfort junk food and stuffed it down all night. Early in the morning we approached St. Catherines, Ontario and I was doubled over with a horrible stomach ache begging my sister to stop somewhere. We stopped at a red light at a desolate intersection trying to find someplace to stop. In the rear view mirror she sees a pick-up truck coming up quickly behind us realizing it was NOT going to stop. It rammed us launching us into the middle of the intersection. Amazingly no one was hurt and the car was still drivable. I got out of the car doubled over from my stomach ache (looking injured from the accident)and talked with the truck driver. He claimed he was late for work, exchanged information with me and sped off. A police car passed by a few minutes later and helped us out by taking us to the truck driver at his job, issuing a ticket (reluctantly I might add) and most importantly directing us to a nearby doughnut shop where there were bathrooms. As my sister pulled into the parking lot I dashed out running into the doughnut shop panicked that I wouldn’t make it before I had another kind of accident. The patrons in the doughnut shop looked stunned as I ran into the bathroom. I didn’t care as I was on a mission. I walked back to the car a few minutes later and told my sister the bathroom was visible right when you went in the door to the left. She casually walked in and realized that the bathroom I had seen and used was, in fact, the ladies room. The mens room was another 30 feet down the hall. She exited the doughnut shop laughing with tears in her eyes and we continued home to Michigan laughing all the way. It was the best, worst time I’ve ever had.

A few summers ago, we decided to do a road trip. Bay Area to LA, see some friends, go to Universal, see some other friends. One of us was in between chemo treatments, the other had broken a foot a few months earlier and was still in one of those moon boots. We were quite a pair, but set to have some fun in the mountains, in the flatlands, at Univeral and everywhere inbetween!

In that we expected to need a lot of stuff and do a LOT of driving, we rented a van. We’d done it before, some places were better than others, but we thought we’d found a decent rental place. Picked up the van, all seemed fine. Packed it up, headed out.

We got about 4 hours south of the Bay Area, pulled into a rest stop, did our thing and then started back out. A mile or so out of the rest stop, we heard a BANG! I thought it was the truck next to us. I soon realized, I wasn’t the truck. It was the tire. Doing 70mph (the speed limit there), it was exciting trying to get pulled over carefully. An offramp came upon up, so we took it. Got out of the car and it sounded like an old western when vultures were circling overhead—nothing in sight but dirt and tumbleweeds and the highway.

I went back, looked at the tire. It looked like someone had taken a knife, in perfect unison, and given us two slashes in the sidewall. No one had slashed the tire—the tire had just failed, badly. I was ticked. The tire HAD to be old—they don’t fail like that and when I looked closer, the tire was pretty worn and oh yeah, didn’t match all the others.

I looked for the spare. Nothing. We called the rental place (a nationally known, usually well thought of company). They finally explained we had to lower it from between the driver and passenger seats (a dodge van).

Did I mention this was summer, in the desert? It was 100F already. We were both sweating.

We then asked the rental company how they were going to repair THEIR tire. They pretty much told us to do it ourselves and they’d get back to us on giving us a refund of that money.

In that I KNEW we didn’t cause the failure—if one of us had driven over something, I’d had driven it into town, gotten a new tire and been on our way. This was a systemic failure, something the company could have prevented by doing proper maintenance.

The only other option they gave us, was to drive to Fresno, LA, Ontario or back to the Bay Area, ON THE DONUT TIRE, not rated for more than 50mph and more than 50 miles of driving (it was 150-200+ miles to get to any of those choices), for them to trade out the vehicle or change the tire for us.

We explained one of us was in between chemo treatments, one of us had a broken foot and we were BOTH women—standing near a sign that says “DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS—FEDERAL PENITENTIARY NEARBY!”. Did they REALLY want us to be stranded out here?

They suggested the 200 miles of driving, or that WE could use OUR AAA card to have the vehicle towed back to the service yard. They weren’t authorized to do anything to help us.

About that time, we saw a highway patrol car. I explained to the rental company that we’d go over and explain to the highway patrol officer that the company was suggesting we VIOLATE STATE LAW and operate the vehicle unsafely, as they directed (on the donut for more than 50miles, and WITHOUT a spare tire). And THEN, I was going to call the local TV station (we happened to know the name) and put it on air what the company was expecting us to do—including playing up the cancer and broken foot and oh yeah, the locals ALL know about the penitentiary, and make the company REALLY sorry they’d stranded us with defective equipment. You can’t BUY bad advertising like that. I explained we had a contract for a fully functional vehicle in GOOD condition, operational condition. AGAIN—had WE done something to make the vehicle malfunction, I’d have taken care of it. They had rented us a dangerous vehicle with dangerous tires–and oh yeah, I had taken pictures of the tires at this point for further proof later, in case they wanted to know how serious we were about exposing their hideous vehicles and treatment of customers who paid good money for a vehicle that didn’t work.

Eventually, they got back on the line. They SUPPOSED they could send a tow truck from the Bay Area, with a replacement vehicle. We just needed to hang out waiting for it to arrive. No charge.

We limped into the nearest town on the donut tire, with the hazard lights flashing all the way and parked the heap. This was more than an hour after the incident.

So we hung out in a big box store, in the AC, for about 5 hours—thankfully. If I NEVER hear that store’s catchy tune on their TV’s again, it will be too soon. We shopped, we ate, we sat reading, we killed time the best we could. We called the friends we were going to have dinner with and explained we wouldn’t get to LA before bedtime, assuming the replacement truck was even close to on time.

We waited. And waited. And WAITED. And WAITED. We have known each other for 20 years, even WE ran out of things to say to one another!

It got to over 108F outside while we waited—we were VERY glad to have been able to get to the store, or the tow truck driver would have found two fried women waiting for him, assuming an escapee hadn’t killed us first!

Eventually, the truck arrived, they had an SUV for us, with Texas plates (not something most people in California care for too much—out of state Texas drivers…oy!). The driver did the transfer paperwork, we unloaded and reloaded from the van to the SUV (I had taken 3 hours to pack the van carefully to start!) and eventually got on our way. Lunch in Santa Barbara turned into dinner at a drive-thru, we pulled into our destination something like 18 hours AFTER we started. Missed dinner and festivities with friends, but did get going.

We vowed to NEVER use that company again. Filed a complaint with the BBB (which, btw, we never heard back from). Never an apology from the company. Zip. We managed to enjoy the trip after all that tsuris, but we haven’t been on a big trip like that again since!

Many moons ago, when I was young and single with an edge for adventure, I traveled to Ecuador to work and travel. Toward the end of my 2-year stay, I met the man of my “suenos,” and we decided to have a shotgun wedding.

Every car in Ecuador is basically an import, so even the oldest heap is not cheap. My prince charming owned a car - a Russian-made Lada. Lord knows what year it was. It only had one window crank and so we’d have to pass it around to get each window open and closed. You could see (and feel) the ground whiz by under the stick shift. I called it the Flintstone’s car, knowing we could always stop the car with the heels of our feet if we needed to.

Needless to say, I was a little nervous taking this car on our honeymoon. No Lada was going to ruin my fairytale trip. Car troubles in Ecuador go with the territory, and we were going to remote territory. No worries, my new husband said. We could take his brother’s car, a Ford Fairmont. Believe it or not, this was a HUGE upgrade in comfort and safety.

To impress his new bride, prince charming got it tuned up and we left straight from the shop. We drove for hours to the most remote beach we could find and spent a long, lovely day there. When we returned to the car, we could not find the key. We looked everywhere, for hours. I started crying, realizing that car troubles would indeed ruin our honeymoon. Plus, who was this guy I just married? I still barely knew him!

We searched the mountains, sand, water - nothing. Finally my prince said we should just try turning on the ignition without the key. Oh boy, I really had made a big mistake here, I thought. This guy’s nuts. But the car turned on like a dream. In fact, we soon realized that we never had a key to begin with, since driving it straight out of the tuneup shop.

So, anyone could have stolen our fancy car at any time, but you know how fairy tales work out. We had a lovely honeymoon, and will celebrate our 16th year of marriage next month.

In July 2001 I was moving from Iowa to Oregon. I packed everything I owned in a 92 Cutlass Calais that had a tendency to overheat. My dog was in the front passenger seat. Because of the heat, the heater ran all day to keep the car from overheating. On the first day we got into South Dakota, looking for a KOA campground to stay the night. On the horizon I could see a black line of a big storm. It ran horizon to horizon. We stopped, set up tent and ate dinner. Soon the storm sirens went off. Being from Iowa, I ignored them. Then the camp personnel came around telling everyone to head to the storm shelter. I debated about ignoring them, but decided that Soda (my dog) would probably rather be in the shelter. Well, the winds got over 70 mph! It was a crazy storm. Thankfully it lasted only about 45 minutes. We walked back to the campsite and everything seemed OK in the campground. That is, until I got to my car. I couldn’t see it. A tree had fallen on top of it. The car was covered from bumper to my bike on the bike rack on the trunk. Thankfully the bike was unharmed. At that point I figured I’d deal with it in the morning and looked for my tent. No tent. It blew away with my sleeping bag and mom made quilt. The KOA people were nice and let us stay in the lodge overnight. Next morning they removed the tree with the tractor and no damage, other than my antenna was bent. I wandered to the creek, and there was the tent held in place by the water soaked sleeping bag.

This was the late 70s and my dad piled my mom and the four kids into the Volvo station wagon to drive from Eastern Mass. down to West Virginia for a week. My dad was attending a professional conference at a resort hotel, but being a cheapskate, he booked the family into a dinky motel for the week and planned to get us the odd day pass at the resort. The ride was just long enough that everyone was on edge by the time we pulled into the motel parking lot (except for me, since I opted to ride in the back with the luggage, sitting facing the back with a pile of books - thanks to loose 70s parenting re: car safety I had a lovely trip!).

I believe we spent exactly one night at the motel, when my dad’s conscience got the better of him and he creaked open his wallet wide enough to get us a couple of rooms at the resort for the duration. We had a great time - swimming, horseback riding, tennis - and babysitters on the ready, so my parents could free themselves for a few hours a day. To my father’s consternation, my younger brother made friends with another little boy who had much more experience staying in such fancy digs and who promptly showed him the trick of signing for meals. A couple of $15 hamburgers later (a fair amount back then) and my dad was beginning to regret his change of heart about the motel.

Anyway, the real road trip horror comes on the way back. We got a somewhat late start, which didn’t bother my dad too much since he was a night owl and didn’t mind driving in the dark. Plus, it ensured that he’d have some peace and quiet, since after a week of swimming and $15 hamburgers, the kids would be asleep.

In preparation for this trip, my dad had picked up a CB radio, thinking it might provide some safety on the road in those pre-cell phone days. He didn’t use it much on the way down, since my siblings provided enough of a distraction, but on the way back when it was quiet, he flipped it on and started listening to the truckers jabbering. He even got into the spirit and gave himself a handle (thankfully lost in the annals of time) and picked up the mic a couple of times to ask for directions to the nearest gas station. Somewhere in New Jersey, he flicked the dial and picked up a heated discussion some truckers were having about a CBer on the road who was fouling up the airwaves with some pretty robust language. The truckers were apparently very upset about this guy and they started working up a campaign to extract some kind of vigilante justice. One of the truckers then says he’s able to identify the guy and that everyone should keep an eye our for a white Volvo station wagon with Massachusetts plates! My dad is now driving in fear, cringing at every approaching semi-trailer, wondering what “vigilante trucker justice” might take the form of…

But, he never did have to find out, because by the time he headed the car over the Tappan Zee bridge, the chatter had died down. Either they had found the real culprit, or we had safely made it out of the range of the ticked-off truckers. The CB went back in the box as soon we got home, and my dad retired any Smokey-and-the-Bear notions he may have had. And we pretty much stuck to day trips, after that…

We were off from Wilton New Hampshire on a world wind tour to promote my children’s books The Winged Monkeys of Oz and the Astonishing Tale of the Gump of Oz, doing Wizard of Oz festivals in Chittenango, N.Y, Chesterton,Indiana, And two shows in Kansas( of course). We had bought an old 1979 Georgie Boy Cruise Air RV. Crossing the mountains in Vermont, Pennsylvania and even Missouri was a scary project as the old girl didn’t really like up hill climbs. But slow and steady we trudged along. Then as we were on our way home, we had just entered Missouri,“Toto I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” the fuel pump broke off its bearings on the engine, and while it continued to work (amazingly) the holes left by the bolts allowed all the oil to spray out. Get where this is going?
A freak accident and then whammo! The engine got super hot, and we pulled over and put 5 quarts of oil in ( we kept plenty on board ). We tried to continue cos we had no idea the fuel pump was just hanging on by a hose, but somehow the timing belt got loose (maybe the heat maybe gremlins) anyway we got towed to an RV park, and then they called an old guy up the road to stop in and have a look. He saw the fuel pump and thought ah ha that’s the problem. He replaced the pump at the RV park but when we started up it made a grinding noise and he decided he had to open the oil pan and see if anything had broken and was sitting in bits inside.
To do this he had to tow us with his old John Deere tractor and a heavy rope. (This was very fun, cos when the RV isn’t running the steering and brakes are like lead)
He discovered that to get the oil pan off LOTS of other stuff had to come off first. Pumps, radiator, transmission, exhaust system, etc, etc, etc. and each thing was rusted on and had 30 years of time to attach itself permanently. Anyway. He finally got it all off and found NOTHING in the oil pan, but he did discover that the fly wheel wouldn’t turn. That meant the part inside the engine that worked the pistons was jammed, and therefore BUSTED.

It was decided the only real solution was a new engine, but getting it out and a new one in would be a chore and he was afraid he wouldn’t get paid cos it was running up such a bill. We emptied our check book, and then he started taking apart the last few bits and bobs he hadn’t already removed.
We had to make it clear to him we would pay his $50.00 an hour fee no matter how long it took before he would continue. (he really was starting to worry that we weren’t gunna pay him) At this point $5,000. wasn’t an unrealistic estimate, and I was kinda sick about it all. (not to mention broke)
The mechanic spent days taking the old engine apart to get it out. We were treated to expletives such as “Gol Darnnit, and Gosh, and dag nabbit !” To Yankees like us I had not heard such lines since watching old Deputy Dawg cartoons! The front of the RV is solid and so it had to be dropped and removed from underneath, but to do that even more stuff had to be removed including the propane tank and tons of stuff that was under the hood from when the RV used to be run on propane. Eventually we had to hack saw open a bigger opening and use a cherry picker to lift the engine out.
But it wasn’t all bad… We got to live for three weeks, shut up,in a greasy old garage between a gravel company and a discount bread store. Vito( our new rat terrier dog) sat inside trapped all day until I could carry him outside and take him for a walk. And we were only a few miles to the nearest grocery store I could walk there any time I wanted. After a few weeks we were practically residents of Missouri a thousand miles from home and friends, and many miles from anything we’d call civilization.
Weeks in an RV inside a garage racking up a bill that we could have been in a 5 star hotel in NYC. When we finally pulled out, we hung around to be sure all the bolts were tight and nothing was going to come loose. The next morning our radiator was leaking, so we returned to the mechanic, and we found the hose was cracked. That fixed we finally headed for home. Broke, frustrated, and 3 weeks late. A few small mishaps as we traveled but nothing insurmountable, and then we reached the New Hampshire Border.
Now what was that line I was trying to recall… oh yeah, There’s no place like home!!!
Oh BTW, when we got home two good friends felt my experience needed to be immortalized in song, and created this gem. To explain, we made up the word Clantes as our version of redneck, long story, no one needs to know, but it will make the song make sense.

I was 19 and my sister was 25 when I went to New Orleans to help her move her belongings to Omaha. She rented a hitch for her little Mustang and a UHaul trailer to cart her things north. We were told to ‘check the hitch’ every hour. So we took off and we dutifully pulled over every hour and got out of the car, went to the back of the car, looked at it the hitch and hopped back into the car to continue our adventure. I was driving in Nashville during rush hour when I looked in the rear view mirror and to my horror I realized our trailer was gone. At the same time we noticed a lot of honking! I looked in the side mirror and, again, to my horror I saw our trailer in the next lane. It had slid over on the hitch and we were now taking up two lanes!! Luckily, I was able to pull into a parking lot. A disbelieving crowd quickly gathered and some good samaritans helped us slide the trailer back into the ‘center’ position. We couldn’t understand what had happened because we did just as we were told - we checked the hitch every hour. An older man rubbed his chin and asked, “Did you ever tighten the hitch?” “Tighten???” we asked. We just thought we had to ‘check’ it. So much for that fancy graduate degree from Tulane my sister had just received!

Chris Jones

It was early June in 1972 and we were off to see Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on the recommendation of a friend we had met while in Germany, courtesy of the U.S. Army. We loaded up our two-year old and headed out in our VW bus which we had bought while in Germany and shipped back to the States. As we left St. Paul, Minnesota our daughter got carsick and we saw an albino squirrel–we should have taken it as a sign. We no sooner got on Interstate 90 heading west when news came on the radio regarding a flood that had taken place overnight in Rapid City, SD, but details were sketchy at that point. Our route took us right through Rapid City so we had a little discussion about continuing, but thought “how bad can it be?” As we traveled on and reached the South Dakota border the news of the flood was taking over the airwaves. It turned out to be one of the worst floods in U.S. history with over 200 fatalities. Needless to say, long before we reached Rapid City there were detours in place and we found ourselves driving along 2 lane roads with no signs in the middle of nowhere with empty prairie as far as the eye could see.

Now the previous May while still stationed in Germany, we decided to pack up the baby and take one last big trip before it was time to head back to the good old U.S.A. We drove down to Italy and toured Venice and Florence, got sideswiped in the middle of a traffic circle and bumbled into the middle of a Tour de Italy type of bicycle race. It was time to head back when an engine valve blew. We limped into the nearest army base and waited around several days while it was fixed. So as we are driving through the back roads of South Dakota, you guessed it, we blew another valve. We eventually reached Sundance, Wyoming and found a mechanic who could replace the valve. By this time we were in no mood to continue to press our luck and returned home post haste.

It took a move to Wyoming and 30-some years, but we finally did get to Coeur d’Alene. That VW bus blew a total of 2 valves and then dropped a valve. Our car trip was a failure, but in retrospect, our little inconveniences were far outweighed by the tremendous tragedy in Rapid City.

It’s 1978, I am fresh out of college, and a newly minted second lieutenant in the army. Uncle Sam ordered me to attend the Infantry Officer Basic Course in the Benning School for Boys (aka Fort Benning, GA), so I load my duffle bag and brand new uniforms into my (wait for it) 1973 MG Midget, and head off down the New Jersey Turnpike for the 700-odd mile trip from Dumont, NJ, to Fort Benning.

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in September. The hot sun overhead gave the Turnpike its late-day shimmer, rendering Port Elizabeth and its environs into its usual noxious, haze-baked summer oppressiveness. I had the top up to keep out the sun. (Anyone who’s owned a ragtop will understand.) The “thunka-thunka-thunka” of the pike’s expansion joints was suddenly punctuated with a “clank-BANG!-eeeeeekkkkkk-ROARROARROARROAR” that changed the rhythm to “thunka-BANG!-thunka-BANG!-thunka-BANG!” overlaid with the distinctive roar that only a dropped exhaust confers. All but the roar diminished in intensity and frequency as I frantically pulled over to the shoulder.

The Midget stopped. I rolled down both windows to offer marginally less MG-resistence to the wind wake of the hurtling behemoth trucks beside me. Popping the hood, I saw that the exhaust pipe had separated from the manifold at the collar. As the elbow was resting on the Turnpike, there was nothing for it but to rip the whole thing out from under the car; the rust-induced quick-disconnect hanger brackets made the rest of the job a snap. After loading the salvageable metal parts (85% of the muffler, and a one-foot section of pipe) into the trunk, I got back on the highway and left the pike at the next exit.

In the best of circumstances, a late Saturday afternoon is not the ideal time to show up at a M—s shop. The guy at the counter said he could have it fixed for me Monday afternoon. I had to be at Benning at 6 am Monday, so I had to get a move on.

For a little four-banger, that unmuffled engine had an audible presence that had K-Worth drivers craning to see what was that little noisy thing hidden by their tank-steps. Furthermore, I would have appreciated the heat flooding back through the firewall a lot more were the outside temperature already not in the mid-80s. What’s more, I was grateful for the army-inspired buzz-cut I’d gotten because my hair remained remarkably neat in the over-the-windshield slipstream; y’see, I put the top down to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

The trip had a number of low points, but I’d rather dwell on the highlights:

  1. The “sensurround” effect of that no-pipe engine in the tunnel portions of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel were simply astounding. I am quite sure the vibrations somehow changed the prescription in my lenses. I was not able to see properly out of those glasses ever again.
  2. I was so stupid with the noise that while refueling in Virginia, I almost pulled away with the hose still in the filler neck. Fortunately the clamor of pulling into the station woke the attendant, and he came over to see what little monster had just invaded. When I got out of the car – I am 6’2" tall – all he could talk about was that “the circus car had come into town.” He yelled at me before I yanked the hose out of his pump.
  3. Arrival at Fort Benning was fun. The Bachelor Officer Quarters were in a series of brick buildings that had galleries facing onto the parking lot. As I unwrapped myself from the Midget, each and every one of my alleged buddies pointed at me in derision and mocked me by mouthing all manner of silent epithets. I responded with a silent hand gesture of my own. I learned after several hours that they were not silent at all; I was literally deaf. Fortunately temporarily so. Full hearing did not come back for a week.

I really miss that car.

Mark Curiale
Albany, NY

A boss of mine told me this story about driving in Chicago years ago, back in the days when cattle were still being hauled to the Stockyards for slaughter.
My boss was waiting at a long stoplight, with other cars and trucks waiting on all sides around him. In front of him was a dapper fellow in a shiny white convertible – gleaming chrome, white leather seats, top down.
Next to this fellow was a cattle truck, one of those with the open slats on the sides. You can guess what happened next… a cow had to answer the call of nature, and spewed out a powerful arc of urine which landed directly inside the open convertible. My boss says the fellow let out a howl of rage, leaped out of the car and jumped up and down, screaming obscenities at the cow. The cow continued to pee in blissful ignorance of the problem, to the point where urine was now flowing off the leather seats and out of the open car door.
The cow was still peeing into the car when the light changed to green, but all the nearby drivers were so busy laughing at the scene that no vehicles moved for another full light cycle. Talk about adding insult to urinary injury!

Back in 1969, my wife and I were married in Taiwan. For our honeymoon, we decided to drive our old VW Beetle all around the small island of Taiwan on coastal roads. Here is a small part of the trip which years ago I termed ‘The Highway From Hell’, excerpted from a longer, more complete narrative of our honeymoon driving trip on my website.

We started down Taiwan’s East Coast Highway, thinking we could get to Taitung by mid-afternoon and stay there overnight. Unfortunately, when we got to the east coast fishing village of Suao, we discovered that the East Coast Highway, as narrow as it was, was a one way highway. From Suao to Hualien, it was only wide enough for one vehicle, being carved out of steep mountain sides hundreds of feet above the sea below. The direction of the highway was controlled so that during certain hours traffic would flow from north to south,and during other times, the flow would be in the opposite direction. At designated times during the day, entry to the highway would be prohibited, and vehicles arriving at the gate would just have to wait. A control gate worker would note the total number of vehicles he let enter the highway and the make and the license number of the last vehicle allowed through, which he would then relay to the control gate at the other end. Once that final vehicle passed the exit gate, waiting vehicles, some lined up for hours, would be allowed to proceed in the opposite direction. Thus, when we got there, we found ourselves waiting in a line of trucks wanting to go south, waiting for the last northbound vehicle to exit the narrow, winding, dirt road which was the East Coast Highway.

We were the only passenger car in line. This ‘highway’ wasn’t a tourist route. It was, in fact, a major truck route connecting the southern cities on the east coast with Taiwan’s capitol city, Taipei in the north. Not a lot of people owned their own personal cars back then, and travel between the cities in the south and Taipei was usually by train. Our little red Volkswagen must’ve looked quite out of place amongst the long caravan of large trucks waiting at the gate.

It was sometime after noon when we were finally allowed to begin our southbound odyssey. I had no idea the road would be in such bad shape and so scary. It was just a dirt road with deep ruts, ruts much wider than the distance between the tires of our little VW, ruts which made handling our little bug somewhat difficult. For most of the length of the highway, sheer cliffs dropped steeply down to the sea just outside my driver’s side door, and on the passenger’s side, the landscape rose sharply to wooded hills. As it wound down the east coast, I found myself crawling along at a snail’s pace, my hands tensely grasping the steering wheel, trying to always maintain control of the car plowing along the rutted road. Only moments after entering the highway, the trucks in front of me disappeared from view as they, powered by drivers who were quite familiar with the terrain, having travelled it day after day, quite fearlessly lumbered to the south. And behind us, trucks honked repeatedly, demanding that we either speed up or let them pass.

Fortunately, every several miles along the highway there were pull-offs, little spaces carved into the mountains on the right or jutting out onto overhangs on the left, where one could park for a while if necessary. As soon as we spotted the first one, I pulled off to the right and let all of the trucks behind me pass, which, once back on the road, greatly reduced my anxiety. I felt we could just continue on at our own pace now and enjoy the beauty of the mountains and the sea, a vast panoramic view which extended for miles ahead and off to our left. And we did just that.

From Suao to Hualien can’t be more than 50 miles as the crow flies. But along this scary, winding road, it seemed like the distance must’ve doubled. Or tripled. Crawling along as slow as I could (so as not to fall off the mountain into the sea below!), it eventually started getting dark. We kept wondering just how much farther we had to go until we reached the southern gate and got back onto a real road. I was quite tense; the darkness caused the mountain road and the sea and the horizon to all blend together into one big black vision ahead of us. Suddenly, out of nowhere, something popped into my headlights. It was a big dog, wolf-like in appearance, which jumped out from the side of the road and into my field of vision. It instantly began barking wildly at us. Since I was going so slow, it was easy to stop in time, but the suddenness of the appearance of this wild creature out of the quiet, intense darkness had my heart racing and my adrenaline pumping wildly. I just wanted to get off the mountain as soon as possible. It took quite a while before we were able to laugh about it.

The ‘wolf’ (as we still refer to it to this day!) eventually left us alone, headed back into the woods, and allowed us to continue on our way. It was getting late, and I knew we should’ve been at the south gate hours ago. As I came around a sharp bend in the road, I suddenly came face to face with a northbound truck. Because of the sharp curve, he too was going quite slow. Apparently, the gatekeeper at the south gate got tired of waiting for us and started the next wave of northbound drivers up the highway! (I always suspected they thought we probably drove off the mountain into the sea. No one ever took that long to make the trip!) It took some maneuvering, but I was able to jockey our little Beetle as far to the left as possible, right up to the edge of the cliff. (If I would’ve opened my door and stepped out of the car, I would’ve headed straight down into the water below.) We sat there for quite a while as numerous trucks passed by and disappeared northbound into the darkness. I thought these guys must be either the greatest drivers in the world, or just plain old crazy.

We had no way of knowing when the last northbound truck went by, so we waited until fifteen minutes or so passed without any trucks, then once again continued our trek towards the south gate. We still had no idea how much farther we had to go, but figured it couldn’t be too many more miles. We did encounter a couple of more northbound trucks, but each time there was always enough room to pull over and let them pass.

We were scared, anxious, and tired and hungry by the time we finally saw a big cluster of lights in the distance, way down below off the mountain. It had to be Hualien, Taiwan’s major east coast city which had become our new target for the day. We were finally there (although our original goal for the day was Taitung, many miles farther down the coast)! Coming around the last bend in the East Coast Highway, we spotted the south gate control station. What a relief! I didn’t know for sure, but I suspected that the road on the other side of the south gate must be better than what we had just endured for the last eight hours. We drove through the south gate without stopping (I imagine the gatekeeper probably had a good laugh), and sure enough, we found a two-lane blacktop road ahead of us. Our ordeal was over. We left the Highway to Hell behind us forever.

moving from reston, virginia to aspen, co. 2 girls: 9 & 14. 1 large sheltie, 1 cat and 1 guinea pig.
Before we begin: the girls tell their dad that if he goes ballistic on us, we’re putting him on a plane and we’ll drive out without him.
Getting ready: husband to cheap to rent a clamshell for top of car, so the volvo station wagon is packed to the roof (and you know how big those wagons are)!
Packed: dog jammed between the girls on back seat; guinea cage not level and prone to slide around; cat roaming in back and screams for first 24 hours (we finally put her in a kitty box and she quieted down)
The day from Hell: First nite…we spend the nite in some little town in west Virginia. We’re on the road less than an hour, Dad has to take a pee break, girls get out to buy junk at little market. Dad hurries them back into the car as tho’ we’re late to be somewhere important. In the process, as Dad is slamming the door after hurrying the girls into the car, he forgot to remove his finger…ouch. Blood spurts everywhere! I get my husband to get into the passenger seat; ask about a hospital (there are none) but there is an emergency facility. I start the car. Dad starts to pass out. Older daughter is holding her dad around his chest from the back seat asking if he is “dying”. After several wrong turns, we make to the emergency room. He survived. Finger not mortally wounded…chipped bone and stitches.
At least I got to drive the rest of the way…
and now say that I’ve been happily divorced for many years …

It was September of 1986 and my wife and I were moving from Lincoln, NE to Sacramento, CA. My wife flew ahead with our infant son and my dad was helping me drive our car and moving van out to California. The van was pulling a trailer with my prized possession, a 1971 Porsche 911T. We made it as far as Salt Lake City wihtout incident. We were gassing up at a Texaco station and my dad was driving the U-Haul at that point. As we left the gas station, I pulled out first. I was watching my dad in the rear view mirror. He got a little too close to the pumps and the leading edge of the trailer caught one of the pumps, nocking it over. A large fireball and mushroom cloud erupted from the hole in the ground where the pump used to be. I watched as the 2 young gas station attendants ran for cover as the inferno raged between my Porsche and the U-haul that contained everything my wife and I owned. Within a few minutes the owner or manager came out from the office and hit the cut-off switch turning off the flow of gas to the pumps. The fire department put out the fire and after the police completed their investigation, they let us go. The truck and tailer were a little singed but the Porsche was fine once I cleaned the soot off. Oh and the stuff in the U-Haul was fine too. Dad was worried that I would never let him forget his little incident. He nearly destroyed my Porsche, all my personal belongings and put a major Texaco station out of business for a week, but I told him don’t worry about it, I’ll never mention it again. To this day, we still call him Fireball.

Larkspur, CO