Writer Kevin Austin and Honey, his untrusty 1984 recreation vehicle, are touring universities for Austin’s upcoming book on the University Athletic Association. If you see him, stop and help him work on Honey, or at least wave.
Honey, my 1984 recreational vehicle, is breathing fire. Not a good thing when you have 4,200 miles ahead of you. I decided on Saturday to get the leak fixed in the manifold gasket (It’s not really a manifold, but a “header,” which is a customized exhaust manifold designed to increase power). Two mechanics had told me to go ahead with the trip and “whatever will be will be.” They reasoned that the risks of attempting to remove an old header and replace the gasket outweigh the risks of simply driving on. Lisa, the kindly neighbor lady, thought I should get it fixed.
Now, Honey is at an exhaust shop on Lawrenceville Highway. My savior is Meriwan Abdullah, who is from Sulymania in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Meriwan has nimble fingers, patience and a love of exhaust systems. He removed the eight bolts without breaking a single one and is getting ready to install the new gasket. Minh, the Vietnamese owner of the shop, recommends the sturdier aluminum gasket to the paper ones.
Should be on the road by mid-afternoon, Meriwan willing.
If any of you had Spartanburg, S.C., in the pool (how far Honey would go before breaking down), you are already a winner.
We made it only 179 miles. After two hours of driving through pouring rain, I pulled off on an exit ramp to make a phone call. When I got back on the road, Honey lost power. I tried to crank her a couple of times, and she made a feeble gasp, but never got started.
In my bones, I don’t think it’s serious. Good thing I have Good Sam Club Emergency RV service. Hope to be back on the road Tuesday morning.
In about an hour, Jerry Waters showed up, driving a Peterbilt heavy duty tow truck. It had more lights than a Christmas tree. Jerry said it weighed 40,000 pounds and that the heaviest thing he ever towed with it was an overloaded semi that weighed 110,000 pounds.
I want one. Talk about a muscle ride. And the cockpit looks like a 747. Peterbilt is the Cadillac of tow trucks. Jerry said the owner buys Peterbilt because he wants his drivers to be happy on the job. And it was as tricked out and comfortable as some purple Land Rovers I’ve been in.
But I think the real reason for the breakdown late last night was so that I could meet Jerry.
One of the first heavy-duty jobs he went out on was to recover a ready mix truck loaded with 10 yards of wet concrete and lying in a field after tipping over. The boss told him that if you want to get your feet wet you might as well cross the river. Jerry rigged it up just right and pulled it back up onto its wheels. Then the boss told him that he was going to tow it in, too. That was OK with Jerry. He’s been recovering heavy duty rigs ever since.
And he had a few kind words for Honey, which is built on a Ford 3/4 ton chassis with a 454 cubic inch engine, even though every mechanic in the world calls it a 460.
“If someone told me I had to spend time in an RV, I’d rather do it in yours than one of those new ones,” he said. High praise for Honey.
Turns out the transmission is bullet-proof, and the engine’s not bad, either. When Jerry worked for U-Haul in Spartanburg, he said they’d regularly get 300,000 miles out of those Fords. I’ll be happy if Honey makes it to 4,000.
So here I sit, in the middle of the night, in the lot of a Ford dealership waiting for sunrise and the shop to open. Jerry says Rex is a good guy and he’ll fix me up.
I told him about growing up in a construction family and riding in concrete trucks and the Lima crane I once saw pick up a GE locomotive and set it gently on an ocean freighter bound for Africa. We talked about how Mack trucks used to be the gold standard, but not anymore. The automatic transmissions suck and they’re really uncomfortable. And I told him about Meriwan Abdullah, the Iraqi Kurd who replaced Honey’s header gasket (Jerry says next time I should get the copper gasket instead of aluminum because it’s worth the extra cost).
And Jerry told me about the gift he had from God when his wife died. She hit a deer not far from their house and was messed up pretty bad. As a tow truck driver, Jerry has seen a lot of hurt people. When he got to his wife, he held her. She squeezed his hand twice. “When she did that, I knew it was going to be alright,” he said. She died in the next couple hours.
“God put us here to go.”
Excerpted from Kevin Austin’s blog: 2010 UAA Ultimate Road Trip