Friday, August 17, 2012

The Golden Cord

Day 2.  Yesterday Paul realized he had forgotten to bring his laptop's power cord and we sorted through all the possible solutions and finally settled on his taking an early morning trip to Staples to see if they had one that would fit.  No luck.  That meant heading to an electronics superstore called Fry's that was sure to have it.  Given the thrills of guiding the Land Whale through urban traffic, I had hoped there was a different way to get there, but we couldn't come up with it so off we went. The Land Whale's finer points do not include economical gas mileage, either, but the cord was a necessity if Paul was to deliver his presentation to his first scheduled group of fans and interested permaculturalists.

We had finished at Frys and were back on I-405 N when a huge racket started under the engine cowling between Paul's seat and mind.  I suspected we had lost a belt and made a bee-line for the nearest exit which, as luck would have it, was right there.  I cruised us into an ARCO gas station right off the exit and commanded only four or five parking spaces.  Since Paul and my combined automotive knowledge and skill amounted to being able to locate the front and rear end of a vehicle 99 times out of 100, we knew we needed help.  Paul called everyone he knew in the area to see if they could come help.  After a couple of hours trying to see if my AAA would help (it wouldn't), and Paul's friends drawing a blank, we finally settled on calling a wrecker.  In the mean time, Paul had a presentation to tweak and headed home to Jocelyn's to work on it, leaving me in the 95 degree parking lot to get the Land Whale road worthy once more. [To acknowledge that we had learned our lesson about planning for emergencies, Paul had me join the "Good Sam" roadside rescue and repair service so that the Land Whale would be covered where my AAA would not.].

Steve from Quality Towing showed up in his primary blue monster tow truck.  He sized up the situation and began to go to work.  I looked at the Land Whale and its weird wheel base and enormous length and began to worry that he was going to tell me rigs like ours couldn't be towed, that they had to be hauled out by Chinook helicopters.  Instead, he got to work changing out his tow bits and making all fast.  It was hot work on hot asphalt and it reminded me once again how many people in the world do tough work to make the rest of our lives function.  [Thanks, you guys.  You know who you are.]  At long last after a thorough and careful job of getting the Land Whale up on the hoist, Steve looked at our exit route and saw it plugged with selfish drivers who lives required getting themselves someplace more urgently than allowing the half a minute it would take to get us out into traffic.  I was about to offer to go stand in traffic to create the gap we needed when Steve put the whole shooting match into reverse and backed up about the length of the Land Whale and turned in the lot and exited out the other side.  You won't hear me bragging about what a skillful driver I am after seeing that demonstration.  As we pulled out into traffic, Steve remarked, "I'm taking you to Moe's. We do a lot of business with Moe's and I trust them."

Once at Moe's Steve got the rig parked on the street and proceeded to unhook it and put everything back the way it was when he picked me up at ARCO,  The bill for hauling Land Whale to get fixed: $335.  The value of seeing a good-natured, hard-working man do his job well in the blazing hot sun: Priceless.  Well done, Steve.  You are the man.

It was 4:00 and I found out the people at Moe's carried that same theme.  Scott Moe, the owner, is a man who has exemplified what America is known for: one guy who started out with his skill and some tools who used hard work, competence and fair dealing and parlayed it into a successful small business with a good reputation.   Scott and his people had plenty to deal with before the Land Whale landed in his lap and, yet, he put a couple of guys to work on getting me back on the road.  John and Jered took a look and confirmed my diagnosis of blown belt and tried to match the remnants with a belt that would get the Land Whale's 1990 454 cu. inch Chevy heart beating again. 

While waiting for NAPA to deliver the part, I asked Jered to take a look at the power steering fluid levels and to top it off it was low.  Later he mentioned that it was below the minimum fill line.  So now maybe a little more response?  Meanwhile,  NAPA had hard time confirming a delivery that late in the day so Scott sent Jered after it in the company truck.  When he got back with the belt, it was the wrong size, so he had to go back.  Because it was the end of the day, Scott took off and assured me John and Jered would get the belt "slapped on" as soon as it arrived.  Sure enough, around 6:00 the belt was on and the Land Whale roared to life. Again, two guys doing their job to get somebody's life back on track.  Not complaining, not flinging insults at the Land Whale--just getting it done.  Taking my cue from Steve of Quality Towing, I trusted Moe's Truck Repair--I gave Connie, the accounts manager, my credit card and told her to charge us whatever it cost.

Paul got to his lecture and delivered his suitably tweaked presentation.  On balance, it was probably best that the belt failed when it did rather than somewhere desolate and remote. Yes, it was an errand that ended up costing several hundred dollars, and, yes, it would have been better if Paul hadn't forgotten his cord, but the hassle was not nearly as bad as it might have been.

I hung out at the Land Whale until they picked me up around ten.  On the drive back to Jocelyn's, I was astonished at the responsiveness of the Land Whale and felt some comfort in the fact that the beast was now better-mannered and sounder in it's operation.  As I pulled in and shut down the rig, I noticed that the fuel gauge, full just yesterday in Spokane, was almost to E.  To quote Firesign Theatre "While E has always stood for Excellence in my life, I guess it mean that little red needle is pointing to "empty."  We haven't solved that problem in the Land Whale yet.     


  1. Aaaaack. The harpooning of the Land Whale. No, seriously: It's nice to hear about honest mechanics going far out of their way to help stranded travelers. Write on, Geoff!

  2. Thank you, neighbor. I am still looking for Land Whale manure to put on the compost heap at the Fifth Street Estates.

  3. Paul and the rest of us, frankly, are lucky to have a whale manure toutin' sidekick! Steer on, Garth!!

    1. And I will be on the lookout for Dubaic Dinosaurs, although I may be in one...

  4. Hello Geoff,

    As a long time RV owner/driver (1994 Airstream Land Yacht 33') I'd like to advise that one VERY important thing to look at before you go hauling the Whale over numerous mountain passes and such is to have the brakes checked just to ease your mind. I realize you picked the Whale up as was and assumed all systems were go but you are driving a 33000 lb hunk of fiberglass & metal on wheels that needs special care and attention when driving over mountain passes. You want to be very careful with your brakes when driving the downhill run of a pass.

    You might Google "mountain driving tips for RV's" and do a little reading BEFORE you conquer anything of substantial height. I get the feeling this is your first endeavor driving such a beast and it wouldn't hurt to have a few tips before you get into a white-knuckle situation. As you have already learned, this thing doesn't drive like a car.

    If the mechanic didn't go through all of your RV systems when you had it repaired it's something you might want to have done at an RV service center when you have a day of downtime. It's much better to have an idea of what might be lurking than to wait until you're in the middle of nowhere. Extra belts, fuses, lights, etc. are something I always keep on hand before starting out on a trip. With so many complex systems it's good to keep spares on hand. Do you happen to have a owners manual?

  5. Dark Wolf--Words to live by! Thank you, my friend, for your wise counsel. By way of background, I did some truck driving in Montana and in New York when I was younger. I am going to follow your suggestion about reading about RV tips, though. We came down Snoqualmie Pass in the dark the first day of our trip and although that was incident-free, I would love to do it with a lower stress level.

    Paul's brother--who is very handy and mechanical--was asked to go through the Whale before we picked it up. He showed me some stuff, too. I have read the Owner's manual but found it was only partly useful. I am learning something new and important every day.

    I can't forget that this rig first took the road back when I had hair, and none of it was grey! Thanks again.