Archive for the ‘Breakdowns’ Category

The Magic Bug

It was an ugly, white, 1976 Chevy Suburban.  Sometimes we call it “The Ugly Truckling.”   Other times I called it, “Old Reliable.”  It never broke down and we used it to tow home every other car that we owned.  When I bought it for $400.00, it was parked up in the mountains under a fir tree and was covered so thick in green moss that I had to scrape the windshield before I could drive it home.bug

We used the Ugly Truckling to make many memorable trips to Utah to the Garrett Ranch that was located in the remote desert wilderness.  It was on one of these trips that we met the “Magic Bug.”

The trip started out pretty usual.  The kids and the dog were holding down the back, I was driving while Susie took up her usual position at shotgun.  We had no credit cards and just enough cash to make it to the ranch and back with little to spare.

Seventy miles into the trip we met with trouble.  The temperature gauge began rising so stopping to check, I notice a leak in the radiator.  When I say “leak” I do not mean that it was dripping coolant, or hissing steam.  I mean it was leaking a steady stream, shooting straight forward out of the front of the radiator and through the grill.  It was a small stream, and the radiator was large so I closed the hood and we kept driving until we arrived in The Dalles.  At The Dalles, I bought some stop leak and put it in the radiator, filled it up with water and we proceeded on our journey.

The leak grew and we had to pull into the next available gas station where I scrounged a few containers to carry extra water.  We refilled the radiator, and added another can of stop leak of a different brand.  We hit the road again.  I observed that if we drove at 70 MPH, the leak slowed down because the air pressure blowing against the hole in the radiator sort of held the water back.   When we stopped to refill, the leak had now grown to a 1/8″ diameter stream shooting out the front.  I loosened the radiator cap to discourage the build up of pressure and we continued.

More stop leak.  More containers.  By the time we were half way to the ranch (its a 700 mile trip) we were packing at least 20 gallons of extra water and stopping every 50 miles to top up the radiator.  I kept one eye on the road and the other eye glued to the temperature gauge.  5 cans of stop leak and many gallons of water later, we finally arrived at the Ranch and had a fun visit with the folks.  We pulled the radiator off and tried to patch up the hole with solder, but it would not hold.  There was a gash right in the middle about 1/4 inch wide and 1/8 inch high.  The best we could do was pinch it shut a little.

Old Reliable

The Ugly Truckling

After a week at the ranch we were ready to start the long trip home.  We gathered up all the containers we could find and filled them with extra water.  Dad let us fill the gas tank from the ranch supply.  We resigned ourselves to stopping every 50 miles to fill the radiator from our reserve of about 40 gallons that we were now packing.  Each time I was greeted with a steady stream of water spewing from the front of the car, and so it was for about 300 miles.  Then it happened!

We made a routine stop to get some gas and fill up the radiator.  I raised the hood and eased the cap off the radiator and to my surprise it was almost full.  It only took about a half gallon.  “Hmmph,” I thought, “What’s going to happen next.”  I reported the odd news to Susie and the kids and we zoomed off again.  50 more miles passed and I stopped for a routine fill up.  First thing I noticed was there was NO stream of water spewing out the front of the car.  I eased the radiator cap off and to my amazement, the radiator was FULL.  I told Susie and she and a couple of the kids got out to see.  We all stared through the grill of the car to check the hole in the radiator.  That’s when we saw “The Magic Bug.”  It was a little over an inch longs with a medium thick body and wings sort of like a dragon fly.  It was smashed against the radiator and its butt was perfectly aligned with the hole in the radiator so that the hole was complete filled by it abdomen.  It was a one-in-a-million shot.  The leak was plugged and we all praised the Lord for his magic bug.  Inwardly I though, “No way that this will last long.”  But it did last.  It lasted the whole trip home and it kept lasting for several more years that we had the car.  I never did fix it and it never leaked again.  Over time, the magic bug completely disintegrated leaving only a permanent plug in the hole that was no doubt made up of the remains of the bug’s butt combined with whatever stop leak that was left in the system.  I finally donated the Ugly Truckling to the church garage sale and the kids in the youth group sold it for $600.00, magic bug and all.



A Life Alternating Experience

Camping at Ike Kinswa State Park, what a blast!  On Monday we pulled our Fun Finder trailer to the park with 4 nights and 5 days of camping and geocaching in the plan. Our Trailer On the first night we found all of the caches that are in the park.  Tuesday we drove back to the freeway, leaving the trailer in the park, and found caches up and down the freeway exits.  We even went to Winlock and saw the world’s largest egg. Wow!

On Wednesday we left the trailer at camp and drove about 25 miles to Chehalis to cache the town.  Things were not going well, since it was raining and we don’t like to find caches in the rain.  We were running the windshield wipers, headlights, CD player, and heater fan to keep us nice and cozy while seeking the cache locations.  We found one, then passed up several others after seeing their poor choice of location.  Pulling into the parking lot of a mattress store we found a cache called “Cows, Cows, Cows.”  It was a very nice well planned cache and we found it easily.  Then our troubles began.

Mooo!!!We jumped back into the Jeep which we had left running and while glancing at the GPS on the dash to plan our next stop, I noticed that the BATTERY light on the dash was glowing bright red.  “That can’t be good.  Why didn’t I notice that before?”  I punched up my electronic gauges and was astounded to see that our battery voltage had dropped to 9.6.  We had to act quick.  The next minute or two strangely reminded us of playing Space Team.  “Check Battery Voltage!,” “Set Wipers to OFF!” “”Shut Down Entertainment System,” “Turn Fan to Zero,”  “Douse Headlights,” “Kill the Heater,” “Dim Dashlights,” “Unplug Gizmo Chargers,” “Astroid Shake!!!”  We were on the verge of a breakdown!

I did a quick search on the GPS for a NAPA auto parts store and found one just over a mile away.  We pulled into their parking lot where the Jeep promptly died.  We bought a new battery that was fully charged and a battery charger that was on sale.  After installing the new battery, we were able to start the Jeep and drive on battery power back to camp.  The battery light was glowing all the way.  At camp, we spent several hours recharging both batteries, ate lunch, hooked up the trailer and then headed for home early.  The park gave us a nice refund for our unused days and we arrived safely at home with a dead alternator.  I spent the next few days replacing the alternator.  It is supposed to be a 4 hour job but for me it took about 14 spread over 3 days with lots of interruptions.  In this model Jeep, the alternator is buried so deep that you can not even see it when you look into the engine bay.  Who says geocaching is boring?

Last gasp of a good ride!

It was 1980, I don’t remember the exact date.  I was working for myself doing handyman work and kept pretty busy.  On that fateful day, I had gotten home early and was working on some paperwork when the phone rang.  It was Susie.  She had taken the VW van shopping with the kids.  I answered the phone in my usual cheerful manner and she just said, “We need help!  It CLUNKED and I’m stuck in Hazel Dell.”  I left immediately to tow her home.

When we arrived home, I pulled the spark plugs to look for the tell tale signs of a broken valve.  Hmm…. this was something different.  The plugs were all OK with no sign of a broken valve.  What could it be?  That weekend, I pulled the engine and started taking it apart.  I was very good at it by now.  The first thing I examined was the valves and they were all OK.  Digging deeper, I finally found the cause of the clunk.  Two of the main bearings had spun loose on the crankshaft and the shaft was badly gouged and burned.  This was bad.  I just wagged my head, picked up all the engine parts and parked them on the floor in the middle of the van.

After counting the costs, I decided to try to sell our beloved VW van.  I put an ad in the paper and in a few days, I sold it for $700.00 to someone who had never worked on a VW before.  They towed it away and we never saw it again.  It was kind of sad.  The van held a lot of fond memories.

Being of sound mind, we replace the VW bus with this…… Doh!!81_07A14

Asleep on a Motorcycle

That’s right!  I fell asleep while driving my motorcycle and lived to tell about it.  Read on…

It was summer of 79′.   I was self employed as an “handy man.”   Work was busy so I could not take time off to go to Idaho to visit with Susie’s folks and she wanted to go, go, go.  Loading up our not so trusty VW van, she headed out with the kids to spend a few weeks.  Looking for the adventure of a “cruise,” I agreed to come for a weekend visit on our Honda 550, 4 cylinder motorcycle.  It would be my very first and very last long distance motorcycle journey.

Late Monday afternoon, I got a mildly frantic call from Susie.  “The van broke down!  You’ve got to come rescue me!”  Sure enough, she had made it to within 20 miles of the farm when it went “Chunk” and rolled to a stop with a grinding crunch.  Her dad came and towed her and the kids to the farm. I told her I would come right away as soon as I could make arrangements with my work schedule.  The plan was to ride the bike over, repair the VW and then tow the bike home.

Monday night, I juggled all my scheduled jobs explaining the situation.  Working all day Tuesday, I wrapped up my only job in progress, so I was free to depart.  I ate a quick supper, packed up everything that I could carry on the bike, and headed down the road by 7 PM.  I loved riding that Honda 550-4, I never dreamed that I might get tired.

Heading straight up I-5, I zipped through Portland, then Troutdale and headed out into the gorge on I-84 (back then they called it I-80.)  It was a beautiful day and the scenery viewed from the Honda was breath taking.  Once I was out on the open road, speeding was the order of the day .  80 to 85 was no problem for this bad boy.  As I approached Hood River, I spotted some guy up ahead riding a Honda 250.  He was really loaded down and struggling along at 60-65.  He didn’t look very comfortable and his two cylinder bike was vibrating so much that he was taking a beating.  I decided to have a little “biker fun” with him and down shifted quietly into 4th gear as I pulled up along side of him.  We nodded to each other and rode together for several miles.  Finally we waved goodbye and I made a big deal of gunning my engine and shifting into 5th gear as I left him in the dust.

The trip wore on and fatigue set in.  I whizzed through Pendleton and roared up the steep grade into the Blue Mountains in the darkness.  It was late.

1975 Honda 55 Four

Bike similar to mine

I’m not sure of the time, but I was zipping along somewhere between LaGrand and Baker where the road is nice and straight.  I think it was 1:30 AM or so, maybe 2:00.  I was cruising along at 75 mph when suddenly I “WOKE UP!.”  I have no idea how long I was asleep, it could have been a few seconds, or a few minutes, I just don’t know.  What I do clearly know is that I definitely “WOKE UP.”  You know how it is when your head is slumped forward and to the side a little, and you suddenly jerk yourself awake and think, “Huh?, what happened.”  That’s the way it was.  Asleep on my motorcycle at 75 mph.  This scared me so bad I immediately stopped the bike,  drank some coffee from my thermos, and paced around for about 10 minutes.  Jumping Jacks!  Stretch!!!  Remounting, I proceeded cautiously to the Baker exit, sipped coffee and dozed for the next hour in a diner and then headed back down the road.  I finished the rest of the trip travelling at 65 mph with a new respect for the bike and the road and thanks in my heart to God that this lesson had not been harder.  Few people survive falling asleep on a bike unscathed.

The repairs to the van went quickly.  I was getting real good at working on this VW.  It had suffered another broken valve, but I got it fixed with many trips on the bike to the dealer in Twin Falls.   Dad let me use his nice shop and tools for the repair and when we were ready to leave, he made a special towing hitch for the VW that would hook up to the motorcycle.  The front wheel sat tightly in the hitch as the rear wheel followed on the ground.  This was the third big strike for the VW van.  We loved it, but we were getting real tired of getting stranded.  It was a long trip home, but home looked mighty nice when we pulled into the drive.




Stranded in Sacramento

It was the summer of 1978.  My wife and I were missionaries for American Missionary Fellowship (formerly called American Sunday School Union.)  AMF is an old organization started by Francis Scott Key who wrote the national anthem.  I was the pastor of a tiny rural church near Salem, Oregon.  We were invited by several churches throughout the US to present the work and history of AMF for which I had a presentation with slides.  (Do you remember slides?)

We still had our trusty 1972 VW van, the same one that had made two previous trips to Florida.  We loaded up on supplies and took off.  Our stubborn daughter was still in diapers and our new son was only a few months old.  Having no credit cards, we scrounged all the cash we could for the trip and packed lots of food.  It would be a tight budget trip.  Our final destination was Brandon, Mississippi where we would meet my parents at my sister’s house.

Our first two presentations went fine.  I can’t even remember where they were now.  After the 2nd one, we wanted to do some sight seeing so we headed over to Glen Rose, Texas to see the human footprints alleged to be in the Paluxy River bed, right along side some dinosaur footprints.  (The human prints are gone now.  But we saw them and walked with our feet fitting the trail.)  It was HOT!!  The hottest day I think I have ever experienced.  We left Glen Rose and headed south on 281 but didn’t get very far.  We were zipping along about 70 MPH when there was this loud “BANG, CRUNCH!”  Coasting to a stop, we parked on the shoulder near a shady tree and tried the starter…. nothing.  We were stuck.  No Phone.  Nobody around.  We were out in the middle of no where.

I dug out the CB radio, turned it on, and started chatting with the local truck traffic.  We got a lot of honks and friendly waves, then finally some guy in a pickup stopped and towed us all the way into Hamilton where we parked the VW in the parking lot of the Baptist church.  After supper at a diner, we got a room for the night at a “Mom and Pop” motel.  Susie took care of the kids while I went to evaluate the VW.  Since the engine was jambed up tight, I figured it was bad.  Pulling the plugs revealed that a valve had broken in the #1 cylinder destroying that part of the engine.  There would be no fixing it this time, at least not here.

Using the phone at the motel, I cancelled our final engagement and called my Dad who advised us to take a bus to Brandon.  I called the pastor of the Baptist church and asked if we could leave the VW there for a week or two and he agreed.  There was a bus coming through the next day, so we took all we could carry in our bags and headed off on the long ride to Brandon.  By now you are wondering what this has to do with Sacramento…..  keep reading.

After a nice visit with my folks and my sister, my Dad and I went to Jackson to do some serious tire kicking.  We found a green, 1970 Chevy station wagon, the nine passenger type with a fold down rear seat and a trailer hitch.  Dad bought it for us for $300 along with a brand new “tow bar”, the kind that clamps to a metal bumper.  (That’s right, bumpers used to be made of sturdy metal.)  After packing up and saying our good byes, we headed for Hamilton in our Chevy “lifeboat.”  Upon arriving, I thanked the pastor, hooked up the VW using the new tow bar and we hit the road toward home.  This would be my very first experience towing a car with a tow bar, but not my last.  We decided to head down through San Angelo and then on down to Interstate 10 which would take us all the way to California where we could head North on Interstate 5 toward home.  We were rolling again.

It was early afternoon, Tuesday, July 4th as we were driving North into Sacramento on Interstate 5.  Traffic was heavy and it was pushing 90 degrees.  As we approached the center of down, I don’t remember exactly where, the car suddenly shut off…. no power.  Suddenly I was coasting in heavy traffic in the center lane, pulling a VW bus.  Somehow we managed to bull our way over to the wide shoulder.  Susie rolled down the windows and I raised the hood to take a look.  After checking a few things, I came to the conclusion that the fuel pump was broken.  I wasn’t sure exactly where we were.  We were trapped on the freeway by a tall concrete sound barrier wall.  Fat chance anyone would stop to help us, and if they did, what could they do?  We had to get out of there because we were cooking hot.

I spotted a steel access door just ahead built into the concrete wall.  It led to the streets below.  We grabbed the kids and the diaper bag, and headed down toward the door hoping it was unlocked.  It was!!  Some vandals had smashed the lock, so out we went into the streets.  You might say we were lost.  We had very little money left, no phone, no map, and we didn’t know anybody in Sacramento.  We just needed help.

We were in an older middle class neighborhood with large trees and old streets.  I tried knocking on a few doors but got no replies.  We picked a likely direction and started walking.  At each intersection we would look both ways trying to determine the best way to go for a store, a phone booth, whatever.  About ten blocks later, we looked down the street to the right and there was an old fire station a few blocks over.  I remembered the advice that Lou DeBee once gave me.  He said, “If you are ever desperate for help, find a fireman.”  He was a fireman.  He said police are too busy to be much help, but unless there is a fire or an emergency, a fireman is the person to ask.  Soon, we were pounding on the door at the station.

It was amazing.  There were several guys there doing what firemen do when nothing is happening.  They welcomed us in and listened to our story.  Most of the car part places were closed for the day….4th of July…. but one of the guys had a friend that worked for a parts place.  He got him on the phone and talked him into meeting us at the store.  Susie and the kids hung out at the station while the fireman (I’m sorry I can’t remember his name) drove me across town to the parts store where we bought a new fuel pump.  Then he drove me to our rig up on the freeway and helped me install it.  Soon, he was leading the way back to the station where we rested a spell, filled up our water jugs, took advantage of a few snacks and told the firemen our whole story.  We were thrilled that God provided these guys to rescue us in our time of need.  It is really true, if you are desperate for help…. find a fireman.

The rest of the trip was uneventful.  We finally arrived safely at hour home in Halls Ferry, Oregon.  The old VW had let us down big time but God provided through various means and we made it home.  It took me several weeks to get the VW running again.  It was a major piece of work involving new cylinders, rebuilt heads and new sodium filled valves.

1970 Chevy

This is the only picture I can find of the Chevy Wagon, taken later.  Ignore whiskers.

Busted in Ontario

It was 1977 and we had our 1972 VW van loaded way beyond the max.  We were making a trip from Salem, Oregon to Hollywood, Florida to attend summer camp at Florida Bible College.  My wife and I were the organizers of the trip.  Ronnie Schweitzer was along for a ride back to college.  My daughter was 2 1/2 and still in diapers.  Four teenagers were with us who planned to attend camp for a week.  That’s a total of 8 bodies in a VW van for about 3334 miles each way.

The VW was in good shape.  We had it rigged up inside so that 3 people could lay down and “sleep”, two could sit in back seats,  while 2 sat up front (including the driver).  My daughter just hung out where ever she wanted too, usually in Susie’s lap.  We were planning to drive straight through, with no stops to rest.  5 of us could take turns driving.  On top of the van we had a very large homemade luggage box that measured 4x8x2 and it held all of our stuff except the ice chest.  We were LOADED!!

We left early on a Saturday morning in August.  I took the first shift driving and drove from Salem, Oregon to Ontario, Oregon.  We crossed the state line into Idaho and made a long rest stop at the first rest area just over the bridge.  I decided that it was time for Ronnie to drive.  He had driven his old VW van all summer but this was his first time driving mine.  This one had the new “flat” engine made by Porsche.  It was pretty hot for a VW and it purred like a kitten.  The entrance to the freeway is a little uphill.  I laid down for a nap and Ronnie fired up the engine and started up the ramp.  I could hear the engine whine as he wound out first gear a little tighter than I liked.  I felt a little on edge.  Then he wound out 2nd gear as far as it would go.  The engine was screaming.  That’s when it happened.  When Ronnie went to shift into third gear, he accidentally put it back into FIRST GEAR and he popped the clutch.  The engine let out a very loud BANG!! and then over-revved like a screaming banshee.  In an instant I popped up and shouted, “Shut it off!  Shut it off!”  We coasted to a stop along the busy freeway.  The starter would spin, but the motor would not turn over.  We were stuck.   Grimly we got out and pushed the VW back down the ramp and into the rest area.  It was hot, and remember….1976…  no cell phones, no internet, nothing.

Everything was closed.  We spent about two hours calling around trying to find help.  I found a Pastor of a small church in Weiser, Idaho who volunteered to come pick up my wife and the girls, put us all up for the night and provide meals.  Wow, that was nice.  Finally I found a VW repair shop in Weiser, a mom and pop sort of shop.  They were closed for the weekend but the guy agreed to tow us to his shop and let us use his tools to repair the engine.  He would not help because it was his weekend. Besides that, we could not afford his help.  His shop was a dream…he had everything in the way of tools.  In two hours, Ronnie and Wayne and I had that VW up on jacks and the engine sitting on the floor ready to repair.  The problem is, there were NO parts.  The nearest parts for this model were in Seattle and not available until Monday and we were in a hurry to hit the road.

Damage report:  When Ronnie popped the clutch, it destroyed the clutch, and snapped off all 5 bolts that held the flywheel in place.  At the other end of the engine, it snapped off all 5 bolts that hold the cooling fan onto the crankshaft.  Amazingly, there was no other damage that we could see.  We were afraid we may have thrown a rod or blown a head gasket, but we could not turn the engine over because there was no longer anything attached to the crankshaft to turn.  We stood there pondering what to do.

That’s when I saw it….. right there in the shop’s back yard…. a VW van just like mine, same year and everything.  Joe the shop owner walked in to check on us since it was getting late.  I asked him what the story was on that van over there.  He said that it belonged to a lady who left it there for a week to get a clutch job.  BOING!! A light bulb went off in my head.  If we could pull her engine and take all the parts we needed off of it, we could be back on the road by morning.  I talked to Joe about the importance of getting the teens to camp on time and told him my idea.  He was reluctant, but finally agreed.  We would do all the labor of pulling the engine out of the lady’s van and remove all the parts from it that we need.  He would let us use the new clutch assembly that he had bought for her.  In return, we would pay full price for all the parts so that he could order all new stuff for her van and we would pay him the labor to re-assemble her motor and re-install it.  What a deal.  Joe said that the lady was a good friend and he was sure she would not mine….but I doubt he ever told her.  Joe went to bed and we worked all night.  There was no further damage.  All the cylinders had good compression.  At 6:30 AM on Sunday, we fired it up.  We settled up with Joe, had breakfast at the pastors house, gave them many thanks for their hospitality and hit the road by 8:00.  Whew!  What a deal.

We had replaced the clutch, the pressure plate, the flywheel bolts, the cooling fan bolts, and the fan belt.  I can’t remember anything else.  That is pretty light damage for having such a heavy load and such high RPM under all that stress.  Apparently there was no damage to the transmission or the intern workings of the engine.  We were all praising the Lord for that.  The rest of the trip was swift and safe.  We made it to camp 8 hours late, had a great time, and returned with no further problems.

Idaho rest stop




Florida Bible College

Arriving at Camp