What it Takes to Make a Seven Hour Trip

It took three weeks, a few hundred dollars, lots of cursing, tears, several rusty cuts, and fears of contracting tetanus to get to a seven hour trip…

The trouble with being novice with vehicles and owning an older one is finding the right person to tinker with it and get it done right the first time.

First thing first, I knew Thelma needed a tune up. There’s an O’Reilly Auto Store next to where I worked so during lunch a couple days after acquiring her I went over and bought spark plugs and wires, a distributor cap and rotor, an air filter, fuel filter, oil and filter for an oil change, carburetor cleaner, and new headlights. When I was there I told the man behind the counter, David, about my newest vehicle and the trip I wanted to make with it. We spoke of Montana, the Rockies, and how beautiful Washington is. I told him how I couldn’t figure out if the high beams worked or not. When I drove it around previously I kept tugging on the lever where most switches for high beams are and nothing was happening. He laughed at me and said, “Come with me,” and went outside. He opened the driver door and pointed to a silver box with a button on top on the floor under the gas pedal. “See that? That’s your brights.” He asked for the key, turned the engine over and pressed the button. Sure enough, high beams! I squealed and wrapped my arms around his neck. I would have kissed him if it weren’t for the fact it would have made our new-found friendship awkward. How cool is that? Pressing a button with your foot to turn on the bright lights! I jumped in and did it over and over. Thing is I’m 5’2″ and can just reach the button. The seat is as far forward as it will go.  I asked David if he knew a mechanic who had knowledge of old Econos. He gave me the number to a man named Eloy. I’ve never mat anyone with that name before. I called when I got back to the office, it was Thursday, and Eloy said to bring it in first thing Monday morning. That evening I cleaned the carburetor and got a new battery. The one in there was from 2003!

Monday came and Thelma wouldn’t start. Eloy was in Cass Lake while I was in Bemidji – 20 miles away. I told him my dilemma and he told me to bring it in Wednesday. Later that day my boss let me know I had to attend training in a town 30 miles south Wednesday and needed to be there all day. I couldn’t drive the van and drop it off to Eloy because I wouldn’t have had a ride to the training and back. I told him that and he said to bring it in next week.That night I replaced the starter solenoid. I’ve been so proud of myself about all that I was learning by being hands-on!

Now, at this point I haven’t been driving the van much because it has been unreliable. It had a bad habit of dying upon turning or slowing down, in intersections, parking lot isles, and I didn’t want to get into an accident while I waited for the title to be transferred to me, insurance to kick in, and tabs to arrive in the mail. But I knew this could be a problem so left an hour before I had to be to work in case I was to be met with trouble.

*Side Note: It’s funny being in such a retro vehicle dressed to the 9s for work. I think people expect to roll up to an older person and then they see a cuteish brunette in a form-fitting dress and high heels.

I treated myself to a caramely coffee on my little walk to Thelma three blocks away. It was such a beautiful morning, warm, and hardly any bustle on the streets. I smiled and waved to people driving by and hummed a tune while I shimmied up into the van and got myself situated in the tall seat. She started, sputtered, and died, started, sputtered, and died three times, OCD-3, and finally stayed running the fourth. Down the road we roared, stop at stop sign, sssstrugggled through the intersection and…die. “Thelma!” I tried starting her again as a horn honked and nothing. She wouldn’t turn over. There would be a click and then the click was gone. I unhooked the battery and hooked it back up. Now it whined when I turned the key, but still didn’t start. I abandoned the van mid-intersection, walked down to my car, brought it around, and tried jumping it. Had to jump it in the night before so hoped it would work again. Still nothing. Did it again and let it run for 20 minutes. Nothing, so I parked my car and came back to the van. At this point a man on his way to work at an auto electric store stopped and asked if I needed a jump. I explained all that I had done that so he got out and took a look. He said it was probably my starter – that it might be stuck open. Great.

I called USAA, where I have my auto insurance, to ask for roadside assistance. I wasn’t going to be able to get towed to Eloy, it was too far away, so I opted to go to the dealership.

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I waited. In a van. In the heat. In the middle of an intersection. Door opened and waving traffic around. For an hour for a tow truck to arrive. Pretty polka-dot dress. Comfy high heels. Hair curled and up elegantly. Hands black as tar and broken fingernails. I slurped my caramely caffeinated beverage as kind people stopped asking if I needed a jump and rude people honked and flipped the bird. One and only one cop stopped. She came up cautiously with her hand on her holster. I furrowed my brow and said, “The only way you’re in danger is if I choose to throw my drink at you and right now that’s what’s keepin me together at this very embarrassing moment.” We talked awhile, I explained my situation…again, and she was off.

The gentleman who came to my rescue was very sweet. And very patient. And I think just a child. So young! He was quite good at what he did and the commotion caused a small crowd to gather. I felt more embarrassed, but joined in and took pictures. After all, it’s not every day you see your vehicle up on a tow.

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It’s not every day you get to follow it down the road either! At the dealership the technicians said I had a bad battery and they were going to keep the van for the day and charge it. One of the guys there, I think he had a bit of a crush on me, I used to see him in the casino when I was a guard years ago and we were always making eye contact and smiling at one another. He said he would make sure Thelma was looked over and the problem fixed. He’s so sweet. And so tall! Mmm, tall… Cute smile…ahem, too bad he’s married now…and likes the huntin’, fishin’, country music listenin’ lifestyle. Not that there’s anything wrong with that….

I was two hours late to work, wasn’t able to get the van to Eloy, and to top it off Ford kept her overnight. The next day after work they gave me the run around about the battery being a “bad battery” and I had to take it back to where I got it to exchange for a new one. In my very nice, not-so-expensive-dress-because-I-got-it-on-clearance, I lugged a heavy and incredibly dirty (yes, it’s new and dirty all at the same time! I poured Coca Cola all over it trying to clean off the connectors and it did NOT work like everyone said it would!) across town to Napa where I purchased it days ago. They said the battery was good and in the end we all discovered that Ford is either a little less intelligent with this vehicle and/or their equipment, or they were giving me the runaround. I scolded my gorgeous technician causing him to slouch into a much smaller man.

Then he charged me $30 for having him men pretty much do nothing to my van. That was the last time I went to Ford.

The next day Eloy had Thelma. Ford had managed to break my starter solenoid by tightening it so tight it cracked. Doing that caused her to go out of whack briefly and melted the positive wire to the battery. Eloy kept Thelma for five days. He was “too busy” to get her done in two and propositioned me twice to get her back earlier and cheaper. First he suggested we do some “over time” together and  several days later, when I was to get her back, he suggested I “massage” him for part of the payment. Yup. Neither happened. He asked for more money and I gave him what we first agreed upon. When he said he wouldn’t give me the keys unless I paid the rest I said I brought a spare and left. Now that I had challenged him and stood up for myself he was kinder to me and I’ve been able to turn to him when I have had questions.

So, at this point Thelma has been given new spark plugs and wires, distributor cap and rotors, air filter, fuel filter, battery, starter solenoid, starter, new headlights, oil leak fixed, fluids checked and replaced as needed, tires and breaks inspected, carburetor inspected and cleaned, and middle captain’s chair posts removed. Next came replacing the rusted pile that was the muffler.

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I fretted a great deal as I was first told it was the catalytic converter that needed to be replaced. Having a shop do that would have cost me a couple more hundred dollars. To save money I intended to do it myself. Once under there I saw the cat was in great shape, but I could see end to end from the holes eating through the muffler. Good thing mufflers are FAR cheaper than cat converters! Rusted mufflers, however, are hardly worth the DIY money-saving-scheme. OI!

I worked in a parking lot behind one of the more popular bar and grills in Bemidji. Poor patrons. While they attempted to enjoy the nice evening and their tasty beverages they had to endure bag fulls of the garbage that spewed from my mouth as I used all my weight, lifting my entire body off the ground, to loosen one nut after another. It took all the strength of two people, a blow torch, metal saw, a can of WD-40, and the rest of the daylight to get the old muffler off. Unfortunately what came with it was the tailpipe, but they had fuzed together and were impossible to separate.

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I threw them into the dumpster with gusto and a new muffler and pipe was installed! The next day the trip would begin!

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