Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The van that blew a rod

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Back home after a Tennessee Christmas

There's no place like home. Even though our time in Tennessee this Christmas was wonderful, it is so, so good to be home.

We were very excited to have our former exchange student from Bolivia, Carla, join us for the holidays this year. She arrived on December 12, and is staying till January. She is delightful.

So, we had to rethink our Christmas plans a bit. The past couple of years the five of us have crammed into our Toyota Highlander, which seats five comfortably for short trips, but is a bit of a challenge for longer rides. Six would be impossible. So, Tim found a great van on craigslist for $750. 1985 Chevy van, but one owner, very clean, all the records available, and low (127,000) miles for a vehicle that age. We jumped.

Our ride down to Tennessee was very comfortable. Except when the cooler without a plug leaked water onto our daughter's purse and laptop. She was loudly unhappy until she discovered that there was no real damage (whew!).

We arrived the night before my dad's 80th birthday. All of us kids were there--my sister who had moved a block away from my folks to be nearer them, my sister from Chicago, and my brother from 3 hours away in Nashville. Sister Cheri (Tennessee resident) made a cake that we shared with the Sunday school class. Also, all the grandchildren were there with the exception of Cheri's three grown kids (and one great-grandbaby).

The day was wonderful with family. Sister Lori and her son Richard had to leave Monday morning to head back to Chicago, and sister Cheri headed up Chicago way with her husband to be with their kids/grandchild for Christmas. They had a flight cancellation but made it the same evening. We got to spend a little time shopping with Cheri, so that was fun.

A new crisis: our daughter's cell phone stopped working. We heard about this frequently and loudly. Finally she settled on a phone that was $10 and worked great, although it was definitely not her first choice.

We did some more site-seeing in the beautiful Smokie Mountains, and even did some hiking up past some beautiful falls. My Aunt Norma arrived from North Carolina, so we had more fun to look forward to.

Christmas Eve included some last minute grocery/stocking stuffer shopping and church which was come-and-go communion. Very nice and contemplative.

Christmas day I helped prepare a ham, green bean casserole, biscuits, au gratin/scalloped potatoes and pumpkin pie. Did you know there's been a shortage of pumpkins in the US? We finally found a can of pumpkin so we could make a pie. My aunt taught me how to make a fancy fluted crust by shaping it with your index finger. After naps and packing, we loaded up for the trip back to Minnesota, leaving about 5:30 pm on Christmas day.

As we drove through Kentucky, we noticed that the van was losing power going up some of the hills in the mountains. It wasn't too bad, so we didn't worry too much about it. But around 10 pm, the van started shuddering and Tim pulled off at an exit. It made a loud bang and started to smoke. Tim was able to pull over on the shoulder of an exit in the northern suburbs (Georgetown) of Lexington.

Fortunately, we had AAA, and we were within walking distance of a hotel (about 1/4 mile). Tim waited with the van, and the kids and I took the luggage we could carry and started walking along the shoulder and across a bridge to the Super 8. We checked in and waited.

Meanwhile, Tim was driving around town with the AAA tow folks (there were two of them). Aftere several stops, they finally found a place that had Saturday hours. Tim came back to the hotel, and we tried to sleep, but ended up on Facebook till the middle of the night, restless and concerned.

In the morning, Tim walked to the repair shop. Turns out they only do tires. He finally was able to contact a mechanic who determined that we blew a rod. Now we had to decide how to get back home. So we started looking for used vans on craigslist again. We finally found one, but it had a cracked windshield, a broken running board, doors that didn't close tightly, etc. But it had a great engine and at that point all we wanted to do was get home.

The owner brought us to his thrift store and had his mechanic replace a casing that had been removed when he put a new water pump on a few days before. It took the mechanic over an hour to do this. Meanwhile, Tim and the owner went to a US Bank (our bank--fortunately there was a branch in Lexington).

So, after hanging out in the thrift store with some friendly, mostly toothless Kentucky folks, we were finally on our way again! We found that it took a long time to fill up the tank--I don't know if there was an air bubble or what, but after about 10 minutes the tank was full. The windshield wipers didn't work so well, and neither did the heat. Somewhere in Indiana (just past Indianapolis), we found an auto parts store (thank you, O'Reilly--Auto Zon had just closed), and got new windshield wipers and a gallon of anti-freeze.

However, even after filling up the anti-freeze and the wiper fluid, we were still cold and the windshield was a challenge to see through. We were also running into some snow and wind and a bit of fog.

Finally, the heat seemed to give up almost completely. We had some blankets, and there was enough heat to defrost the windshield. But after driving for a couple of hours, the driver's left foot would feel like a block of ice. It was impossible to get warm, and our breath came out in frosty puffs. But it was the middle of the night on Dec. 26/27, and we were determined to get home. Besides, Christina wanted to be home for her birthday on Dec. 27. So, we swapped drivers every so often and kept on heading north. Fortunately, the roads and visibility improved. If we had arrived earlier, we probably would have hit more snow and icy conditions.

At 8:30 am we arrived home, after dropping Christina off. Raven and Kayla, our friend/dog-sitter/house-watcher were glad to see us. Raven gave us each a big hug, as only Raven can do. Luke was rather anxious to get on his way, but we had come home to over a foot of snow. Kayla and our neighbors had shoveled/snow-blown the driveway, but there was still a mound where the plow had come through. The van had come over it easily enough, but Luke's Camry got hung up on the mound. Really hung up. Finally, with some pushing, shoveling and chiseling, he was able to get out.

Mark's truck, also in the driveway, was frozen shut. After several attempts with a hair dryer, he was able to get in and get his truck started. He got out just fine (hurray for four-wheel drive!).

So, we were settling in--Kayla had left to go back home, and we were getting ready to go to church with Carla for the 5 pm service. Around 4, Mark called. He had a flat tire just off the highway. Tim took the Highlander's jack (apparently Mark didn't have one) and went to rescue Mark. However, the jack wasn't made for Mark's truck, so it broke as they were just getting the tire on. Fortunately, no one was under the truck at the time and the tire helped it from crashing to the ground. So, Tim called AAA. They came out, but their jack didn't work, either! Fortunately, Tim had his work truck with him, and eventually found enough material to put under the AAA jack to get it hoisted up enough to put on a new tire.

So ended (we hope!) the adventures of the trip home. I hugged my Highlander as Carla and I drove to church, thankful for a newer, reliable car with all wheel drive, heat and comfort. Tim met us at church late, and then we went to Chipotle with friends after church to relay our stories.

I slept this morning till Raven came in, barking, ready for his morning walk. Now I'm ready to face a week at home (don't have to be back at work till Monday the 4th) and hopefully will not have any more weather/vehicle challenges.

Merry belated Christmas, everyone! Have a very blessed 2010!!

Till next time,


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