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FAMILY GATHERING


I had planned to take some pictures on our trip over but was far too busy just trying to get to our destination.

   

We had a family gathering on the west side of the state and left town after a very difficult week.

   

THINGS GOT COMPLICATED.

 

One of my part-time money making activities is house, dog, cat, horse, cow and donkey sitting. We'd been planning to go to a family function for a couple of months. Things started to get complicated when one of my clients called and said they'd be out of town during that same time period. I'd be available for the first four days but the last four we'd have to find someone to take my place. Finding someone who's dependable and honest is more difficult than it would seem. The owners found a couple at the last minute.


HOUSE SITTING IS GOOD FOR FREELANCERS.

 

Actually, house and animal sitting is probably one of the best part-time, extra money situations for a freelancer. You have time to write, process photos, sketch or do whatever your freelance activities are. Usually you're the only one there, most animals don't require a lot of time, you have a nice house, generally wireless internet and it can pay quite well if you have the right clientele. One thing that's absolutely necessary is: you need to be squeaky clean as far as your honesty and integrity are concerned. If you take loose change, do drugs or drink you'll find yourself out of a job.


BEST LAID PLANS.

 

We were planning to leave on Tuesday. On Friday my wife went to visit a friend in a neighboring town. We live in a fairly remote area and the next small town is fifteen miles away with a steep mountain to go over between us. The next closest fairly large town, just under 10,000, is 53 miles. While going over the mountain on her way to her friend's house, the engine got hotter than it normally runs. She checked the water in the radiator and it took about ½ a gallon. On the way home the truck ran hotter than normal again and she called me.


WE HAD PLANNED TO LEAVE ON TUESDAY BUT AUTOMOBILE PROBLEMS CHANGED THAT.

 

We were planning to leave on Tuesday. On Friday my wife went to visit a friend in a neighboring town. We live in a fairly remote area and the next small town is fifteen miles away with a steep mountain to go over between us. The next closest fairly large town, just under 10,000, is 53 miles. While going over the mountain on her way to her friend's house, the engine got hotter than it normally runs. She checked the water in the radiator and it took about ½ a gallon. On the way home the truck ran hotter than normal again and she called me.


NOT GOOD NEWS.

 

Diagnosing and repairing car problems aren't something new. I'd been in the automotive business for 25 years. I'd had 5 stores that had parts departments and two that also had service departments. I drove road race cars professionally from 1968 until 1979 and maintained 11 race cars for others. All the indications were that the head gasket had blown but I needed to check it out before ordering any parts and couldn't do that until the next day, which was Saturday. I drove one of my client's cars to our house and the check verified my suspicions: bad head gasket. Problem was, I'd have to wait until Monday to order the parts and they wouldn't be delivered until Tuesday, the day we'd planned to leave.


GOOD NEWS: THE HEAD WAS NOT WARPED.

 

On Sunday I removed the cylinder head and checked to be sure it didn't need to be surfaced. If it had, it would have taken another day and a trip to the larger town, we have no way to do that type of machine shop work where we live. On Monday I ordered the parts and hoped they'd arrive the next day. On Tuesday the parts showed up at 2:30.


NO DISTRACTIONS, PLEASE.

 

Everything had been cleaned and ready to reassemble but it would take about four hours to replace the gasket and it was too dark to work in my client's carport after about 7:00. So, everything had to go exactly right or we would be in town another day while I finished the work. A friend of mine wanted to come up and watch/help but I didn't want any interruptions and didn't call. I had been the go to guy when things needed to get done without delays on the race cars and knew anyone else being around would be a distraction, answering questions, etc. I


IT PAYS TO CHECK AND RECHECK.

 

got the head on and the head bolts torqued about 6:00, ran the engine for a few minutes to heat it up and then let it cool down so I could recheck the head bolts to make sure they were at the correct spec's and that none of them had loosened up or had been bound up when first torqued. As usual, I found a couple that were a little looser than I wanted.


IT WAS DARK BUT THINGS WERE BACK TOGETHER.

 

It was dark by the time everything was back together and ready to go and I left the house sitting, animal feedings to my replacements after showing them the routine. By the time I got home it was too dark to load the car and I was too tired anyway. My wife had been busy with her life and we both went to bed early with the intent of rising with the sun and leaving as early as we could get things winterized, the pickup loaded, the cat in her travel carrier, pick up some eggs from the lady we normally get eggs from and then get out of town. But, everything always takes longer than you think it will.


OH NO, NOT MORE PROBLEMS.

 

Going over the mountain on our way west, the engine began to misfire Getting water in the tank has been a longtime problem with the truck and that's what I suspected to be the problem. Normally all I have to do is put my hand over the top of the carburetor and rev the engine to suck the water through the jets. We don't drive new cars, the older ones have more class and are easier to work on. After doing the carburetor thing a couple of times, we drove over the hill with no problem. I knew I'd have to change the fuel filters but didn't want to do that until we got to our reunion.


WE CHOSE THE LESS TRAVELED ROUTE.

 

When we got to the fairly large town, we filled up with fuel, made a bathroom stop and headed west again. Some years before, we'd decided that even though it takes longer to go through the mountains and over the passes, it's better than taking the heavily traveled route.


30% CHANCE OF RAIN, SNOW WASN'T IN THE FORECAST.

 

The weather report was for a 30% chance of rain but the sun was out off and on and everything looked like we had smooth sailing ahead. 150 or so miles down the road, the engine started to miss slightly again.


LUNCH, SOME CARB CLEANER AND A LITTLE GAS DRIER.

 

We had scheduled a lunch stop at a state park where we almost always stop on our way west. I went into an auto parts store on our way though the closest town, bought some gas drier and carb cleaner with the plan being to put the drier in and drive to the park, then clean the carburetor while we ate lunch. After lunch and a minor fix-it were over, we headed west again.


THEN THE RAINS CAME.

 

Another hour or so down the road it started to rain slightly, then harder and harder. We have six major passes to go over on our way to my wife's sister's house where the family was gathering and had only gone over two at that point. It was raining very hard and even with the windshield wipers on high, it was difficult to see through the wind driven rain on the two lane, winding road. And, the rain was turning into a rain/snow mix.


EVEN NEW CARS HAVE PROBLEMS.

 

We passed a new car that was going slower than we were and they were using their four way flashers. Apparently, we weren't the only ones having problems.


CAN'T DRIVE IN A HEAVY RAIN/SNOW MIX WITHOUT WINDSHIELD WIPERS.

 

A few miles down the road, the plastic piece that holds the passenger's side windshield wiper blade to the wiper arm broke and the wiper blade turned sideways. If it was left running, the metal arm would scratch the windshield. My wife had her head out the window, I was staring through the rain and snow as best I could, I had the four way flashers on and everyone who came up from behind tailgated us. After driving for four or five miles on the narrow, winding road, we finally found a place where we could get off the road, into the entrance to a dirt forest service road and out of the traffic that was flying by. At least I didn't feel in danger of being run down.


BULLS, RED FLAGS AND FOUR WAY FLASHERS.

 

In almost 60 years of driving, I've only used the four way flashers two or three times. This trip convinced me that four way flashers are to a lot of drivers like waving a red flag is to a bull, they want to charge, get as close as they can and maybe even run you down if you get in their way..


TAPE WORKS.

 

I pulled the wiper blade off and taped it back together with electrician's tape. The other choice would have been to flip the wiper arm up and not use the wiper on the passenger's side. The tape job worked and we were on the road again.


A few miles down the road we saw the other car that was having problems limping along with the four way flashers on.

 

On the next pass, the engine began to misfire again. The mostly rain had turned to mostly snow. If I held the throttle in just exactly the right position, we could go about 45 mph up the steep sections.


THANKS ZACK.

 

In the next town, we stopped at an auto parts and got a pair of wiper blades. The man, Zack who was working at the Baxter's Auto Parts, was very knowledgeable and helpful. Generally, if the part isn't in the computer the majority of the people anymore who work in parts houses have no idea about how to fix anything or find something that will work. After putting the new blades and adapters on, we stopped for gas and then headed west into the black clouds that were rolling over the mountains.


ONE MORE TO GO.

 

We'd made it over five of the six passes with the most heavily traveled pass still ahead. Some small towns and two highways intersecting the road we were on had added quite a bit of traffic. And, the engine was still misfiring unless I could hold the throttle at exactly the right place, which proved difficult when you're being tailgated.


BLACK CLOUDS ARE NOT A GOOD SIGN.

 

We drove into increasing snow. When we topped a rise that had a clear view ahead, all we could see were very black clouds, not a good sign. When we got to the town that was on the east side of the final pass, there was a flashing highway department sign that said, “CARRY TIRE CHAINS OR TRACTION TIRES!” We had neither.


WINTER TIRES OFF, SUMMER TIRES ON, BAD DECISION.

 

I'd been looking at the weather reports for days before we were scheduled to leave and, since only a slight chance of rain and no snow had been predicted, I'd taken our winter tires off and put the summer tires on, two days before the head gasket blew. I could have thrown the winter tires in the pickup bed, but there didn't seem to be any reason to and we were pretty full with more stuff filling available space on the return trip. Since studded tires are an option where we live, chains are difficult and can be a problem to install and aren't nearly as good in ice as studs, we haven't carried chains for years. When we saw the flashing sign, my wife said, “What are we going to do?” I pointed straight ahead and we went west.


IMPATIENT DRIVERS.

 

About ten miles down the road it began to snow very hard. We followed a Knight Trucking semi but I slowed down and let him go. I'd left enough room for two or three cars between us and the truck but cars were passing us four or five at a time and trying to squeeze into the space between us and the truck when cars came from the other direction. The truck was clearing the road quite well but it wasn't worth taking the chance with impatient drivers.


HIS TRACKS WERE COVERD IN 30 SECONDS.

 

A few more miles and the new snow was about a foot deep on the sides of the road. We caught up to the truck who now had his four way flashers on and was doing about 25 MPH. I slowed to 25, flipped the four way flashers on and dropped back far enough for about 3-4 cars between us and the truck. In just a couple of minutes there were 15 or so cars behind us, all with their nose up the tail pipe of the car in front. Every time we came to a passing zone we, and the truck, were passed en-mass. I was reluctant to let the truck get too far ahead because it was snowing hard enough that the tracks the truck was leaving changed from blackish pavement to white snow in about 30 seconds. The engine was still misfiring and 25mph was a good speed for us.


THE LAST SUMMIT.

 

Finally, we made it to the summit and the snow began to turn to a snow/rain mix. On the other side of the road a state policeman was stopping cars and checking to see if they had chains or traction tires. We were lucky that we hadn't had to stay overnight in the small town on the east side of the pass. A couple more miles and the truck turned off heading southwest and we went straight ahead. It was a lot later than we had hope for and twilight is a bad time to be driving west.


WAS IT THE GAS CAP?

 

My wife had asked me why the pickup always seemed to run OK after we stopped for awhile? With that and a few other clues the problem appeared to be, in my mind at least, that the fuel filter was plugged up, the gas cap wasn't venting and letting air in the tank or the fuel pump was dying. We stopped at a wide spot and I replaced the gas cap with some rags. That seemed to make some difference but it was hard to tell since we were going down, not up, and didn't need as much fuel to keep a reasonable speed.


BLUE LIGHTS ON BRIGHT.

 

Driving into the increasing darkness and oncoming bright lights, especially the blue lights, made the next 40 miles uncomfortable on the two lane, winding road. A car with blue lights on high came up fast from behind and then followed us for the next few miles even though there were places to pass, including a passing lane. When we got to the next passing lane, I slowed down to about 20 MPH and the car with blue lights finally passed us. In the next small town, the car was pulled into a parking lot in front of a closed store. About two miles down the road, the car was behind us again but I didn't wait for a passing lane, I pulled over on the shoulder. After passing us that time, we never saw the car again. Thank goodness.


NOT THE GAS CAP.

 

We finally got to our turnoff after dark in a downpour but were glad to be less than10 miles from our destination. Going up the steep hill to our relative's house, the engine misfired and the gas cap was eliminated from the possibilities. Maybe the fuel pump was going bad, only a thorough check over the next day would tell the answer.


NO WONDER IT WAS HARD TO SEE.

 

I was wired and it took a couple of hours to de-stress after getting to the in-laws. The next morning the hunt for the misfiring problem would begin. And, the late news said that the old record for rain during a 24 hour period had been broken. The old record was from 1947. I'd bet the snow record was at least threatened.


I'D RATHER TAKE MY CHANCES WITH THE WEATHER.

 

Even with the problems we had, we're still convinced the more scenic, less traveled route is the best.


To be continued.