It’s a good thing I gave myself three leisurely days to get from Atlanta to New York.
It only took four.
After breaking down in a thunderstorm at midnight Monday, I got back on the road Tuesday by noon. The good folks at Vic Bailey Ford got me fixed up for only $600. At first, the service manager was very skeptical about even dealing with a 1984 truck. I heard someone at the shop ask him who I was when they saw me hanging out in the waiting area. He said, “Some kind of writer going to New York.” The other guy replied, “I figured it was something like that.” I guess I have a certain look.
Anyway, Sam replaced the leaking coil, but he also had to replace the spark plugs, which were badly fouled with un-ignited gas because of the coil problem. (Sam played football for three years in high school, but the summer before his senior year he got a truck and a girlfriend. Suddenly, football didn’t seem that important to him, so he quit the team.)
And I made it a couple of hundred miles, into Virginia, before the next problem: No power on hills. Wouldn’t normally be a huge issue, except that western Virginia is kind of an up-and-down place.
I asked about a mechanic at a truck stop. The girl at the counter asked a friend who was walking by who asked another friend who pointed me across the bridge and up the hill to a towing outfit. Zack, the skinny kid working there, only knows on diesels, but he knew a guy named Rail who runs the towing shop back down the highway 10 miles in Wycliffe.
Loathe though we were to go backward, Honey sputtered back 10 miles going about 35 into a setting sun on the right shoulder. I had a little trouble finding Rail’s place, because I was supposed to turn right at the Dollar General. But there’s also a Family Dollar and another Dollar General on the other side of town.
After calling back to Zack and then back to Rail I finally found the shop. Turns out that the traffic lights in Wycliffe are numbered, which I had never seen before. When Zack, Rail and I got on the same page, I made the proper turn at Light No. 1. This is about 8 at night.
Rail’s shop is about 25 feet high with three or four bays and tools and trucks and motorcycles and RVS and ATVs and motor boats and quarts of oil everywhere.
Rail and his buddy came out and looked over Honey and reckoned I had dirt in my fuel filter. Rail crawled under Honey with a flashlight to see if she has a catalytic converter. Nope. Then he looked at the fuel line near the engine and looked at the carburetor to see if the fuel filter was there. Nope. Problem is, the fuel filter is inside the gas tank, he said, and you don’t want to take them down. His solution: Keep the tanks filled, and at my next stop buy two bottles of rubbing alcohol and pour one in each tank.
Danged if Rail wasn’t right. The fuel issue cleared up and I was back on the road.
That was late Tuesday night.
Interestingly, while I was at Rail’s he got a phone call from the local magistrate. Seems that a woman well known around those parts had been in trouble related to alcohol (the non-rubbing kind) and automobiles. Her car was at Rail’s shop, where it had been repaired following her latest escapade. The magistrate was calling Rail to tell him not to release the car to her under any circumstances, because she had some unfinished business with the judicial system.
Tried to keep driving Tuesday to New York to make my Wednesday morning interviews, but finally gave up about 1 a.m. near Blacksburg. I was talking on the cell phone to Lisa, the kindly neighbor lady, and she thought I should stop for the night. “Safety first,” she cautioned. So I stopped. Slept a bit at a rest area parked amid 20 or 30 tractor trailers, and set out Wednesday, again, for New York, which it turns out is a really long way from Atlanta.
Don’t get me wrong. I truly love Honey, my 1984 recreational vehicle.
She’s brought me 1,300 miles so far on my trip.
But sometimes I think she’ll let any dude with a wrench under her hood.
I was the lucky guy last Saturday.
While lost on the New Jersey Turnpike and several other highways Thursday night, I heard a loud cracking sound after we went over a bump, and the 354 Ford engine suddenly sounded like a nitro-fuel dragster. Nothing to do at the time except try to get on the right road, find the right exit and make it back to the Liberty Harbor Marina and RV Park on Marin Boulevard in Jersey City.
The next morning, Friday, I crawled under Honey and saw the problem: The bolts that hold the donut clamp to the tail pipe and header had come lose, so the exhaust and sound were coming straight out of the header without the benefit of muffling. Loud. Really loud. The kind of loud that the people in cars next to you stare at you and even point.
All I had to do (I love that phrase) was buy more nuts, lock washers and bolts to reattach the donut clamp.
I found a hardware store in Greenwich Village at the corner of Lafayette and Bleeker, where I bought what 5 needed. Of course it’s all prepackaged, so now I have ten of each.
Saturday morning I crawled back under Honey and re-secured the donut clamp.
Someone even took a picture.
Just another guy who eats problems for breakfast.
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.
Excerpted from Kevin Austin’s blog: 2010 UAA Ultimate Road Trip