The Day I Lost My Toad

“Hey Buddy!  Whatever you think you are towing ain’t there any more!”

Grandpa, (my wife’s dad) lived for 17 years at a very remote desert ranch that he developed near Lucin, Utah.  It was 50 miles to his mailbox and 100 miles to the nearest shopping.  No phone, no electricity….. but this is another story.  When he was ready to retire from his retirement and move back to the city, he asked us to help him move.  Other family members were helping and there were lots of vehicles to drive to the new farm in Shoshone.  Packing went on for many days and finally it was time to make the final trip.

We spent all morning loading up the last things.  It fell our lot to drive the big farm truck,  loaded to the gills with stuff piled high.  Others were leaving with their loads but we had to linger in order to hook my car, a 1985 Renault Alliance,  up to the back of the farm truck.  The Renault had broken down while we were there and would not run.  Jim helped me hook it up and then he left with his pickup load as Susie and I finished up the rigging.  I was using my own professional quality tow bar, that was chained to the tow loops under the car and then hitched to the truck.  The tow bar connected at a higher angle than I liked because of the height of the truck.  In RV lingo, a car that you tow behind your rig is called a “Toad.”

Finally we were ready to leave.  Waving goodby to the empty ranch, we headed down the dirt roads following the dust of the of the others.  Taking the short cut to Burly, Id. meant traveling 100 miles on gravel roads. Since we could only make 30 mph with our big load,  we fell far behind and soon trouble began.

30 miles down the gravel road, there was a loud bang and the temperature gauge on the truck began to rise rapidly.  We stopped in time to see the last of the coolant draining out a large hole in the bottom of the radiator.  There was no help in sight and we had no cell phone.  We were stuck….but I did have my tools.  If we could just make it back to the ranch, may be I could scrounge up something to repair the truck.  The truck radiator was toast, so I removed it and replaced it with the radiator from the Renault.  It was 1/4 the size and I had to use a lot of duck tape to rig up the hoses but soon we were heading back to the ranch hissing and steaming all the way.  We used up all of our spare water making the return.

Upon arriving, I scrounged around in the farm “junk pile” looking for anything that would help.  I found an old dusty radiator that Grandpa had no doubt purchased at a farm sale.  I cleaned it out with water from the windmill and Jerry rigged a way to mount it in the farm truck.  It was too small for the big truck and it leaked a little but it would have to do.  We dug around and found every type of container we could find and filled them with water.  Old milk jugs, old gas cans, coffee cans, old pop bottles, ice chest….anything we could find.  In all, we squeezed about 30 gallons of extra water into every remaining nook and cranny of the truck.  It was too late in the day to start our journey so we ate some granola bars, jimmied a ranch house window and slept on the cold bare floor.

Next day, we started out again with the Renault in tow.  We decided to take the long way to Shoshone so we could avoid 70 miles of the gravel roads.  It was a 200 mile trip and now we could only make about 25 MPH.  We would drive for about an hour, then get out and add water, then drive some more.  We could not see the Renault in the mirrors but now and then, I would check the hitch.  The road was very lonely and nobody had passed us all day except for an occasional semi whizzing by the in other in direction.  About 2 in the afternoon, two guys in a pickup truck pulled up along side us on the two lane road.  The passenger rolled down the window and hollered, “Hey, whatever it is you think you are towing ain’t back there!” and he pointed wildly with his finger toward the back of our truck and then they drove off.  We stopped, and sure enough, we had “lost our toad.”  The car was gone and the tow bar was dragging behind us.  We never heard anything.  We never felt anything.  It was just gone.  We turned around and backtracked to look for it.  Fuel was becoming a concern.

We traveled back 21 miles and found the Renault about 50 yards off the highway down in a shallow ravine.  It had left the road and plowed a path through the sagebrush, and down the hill, coming to rest in a nest of brush.  It was a little scratched up but otherwise unharmed.  As we were surveying the problem,  the 2nd person that we had seen all day came driving up.  It was a sheriff deputy in a 4×4 SUV with his lights flashing.  He looked everything over with us and I asked him if he would pull the car out of the ravine and back onto the the highway for us.  He said, “I can’t do that.  I’m not allowed to drive this rig off road unless there is an emergency.”  I replied, “This is an emergency.”  “We need help.  Even if you called a tow truck, the nearest one is 100 miles away and we have no money and no credit cards.”  He agreed to help and backed his rig into the desert.  Soon we were back on the highway.  No ticket.  The officer gave us a few gallons of gas that he had in a spare can and wished us well, then he drove off.  We siphoned all the gas we could out of the Renault and put it in the truck.  Then we repaired the tow hitch and soon we were on our way again.  We made it Malta where we spent our last money gassing the truck, with just enough left over to pay for a cheap motel room for the night.

The rest of the trip was uneventful,  a routine of driving, and stopping to fill the radiator.  When we finally arrived, everyone was overjoyed to see us.  They had  figured out that we were missing and sent Jim all the way back to the ranch to look for us.  Of course, he took the short cut down the gravel roads and missed us.  He arrived later that evening and was glad that we were safe.  Grandpa was glad too, but complained saying that we had ruined his fine farm truck and now he would have to rebuild it…..and he did.  We later gave the Renault to some local kid who needed a car and then we flew home.


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