I was born and raised in Parma, OH, a suburb of Cleveland. As I’ve stated in a previous blog I now live in Spokane, WA. I have 2 sons, Jared, born in November, 1981 and Ben born in October of 1984. My marriage came to an end in September, 1995. These things are noted as background. This was a letter I wrote in 1997, but I’ve gone through and updated to make the time frame current. Otherwise it’s the same letter.
I decided to take Jared and Ben to Cleveland for Christmas in 1996, and it turned into quite an adventure. We left Spokane on December 21st. I worked tour one, starting at 10 PM and getting off at 6:30 AM, and I left work, spent an hour at the office Xmas party, drove home and picked up the boys and left. I figured I could make it to Bozeman, Montana before I had to stop and sleep. We made it to Bozeman at 5 PM. We had a nice room, it was actually two rooms and a bathroom. The front room had two beds, a table and chairs and a TV. I had made reservations there because we were 3 blocks from 2 movie theatres, there was an indoor pool , and restaurants next to the hotel. I gave the boys $50 and told them to go see a movie, go swimming, eat dinner, watch TV and enjoy themselves. I went to sleep. I woke up Sunday morning, the 22nd, at around 2:30 AM. I packed, drove to a gas station and filled up, then loaded up the boys and we were off again. After we passed through Billings, my oil light started flashing on and off. There was nothing open in eastern Montana at 6 AM, so I drove on until I got to Sheridan, Wyoming. I pulled into a gas station and told Jared to run in and get a couple quarts of oil. I opened the hood and saw that the engine compartment was covered with oil. There was a restaurant attached to the gas station, so we went in to eat while I made phone calls. When I bought this car, it had 60,000 miles on it. The dealer offered me a 4 year/48,000 mile bumper to bumper extended warranty. I accepted. So, it was the extended warranty people I was calling that morning. They told me that the repairs had to be made by a dealer, and since all the dealerships were closed Sunday, it would have to wait until Monday. Remember, this was the 22nd, and I hoped to be in Cleveland on the 24th. So we drove to a motel, with an indoor pool, checked in, and my car was towed away.
The high temperature that day was 10 below zero in Sheridan. That day we went to the local movie theatre and saw the Beavis and Butthead movie. The next morning, I called the dealership, told them our situation, and was pleasantly surprised when they told me that they had replaced a bad seal in the engine block and that they were done so we were leaving town by noon that day. The dealership suggested, and I agreed, that I pay for an oil change and new filter. As we were driving through South Dakota , snow was blowing across the freeway, and according to the radio, the temperature was again below zero. We pulled into Mitchell, South Dakota around 7:30 PM to fill up with gas. The gear shift seemed to stick a little before going into park, but it went and I filled up and got back onto the freeway. This was the night of December 23rd, and I planned on getting to Sioux City, Iowa, before stopping that night. As we got onto the freeway, I noticed that the car wouldn’t shift above 2nd gear. I got off at the second Mitchell exit. About two blocks off the freeway, I saw a sign for, believe it or not, Dale’s transmission service. I figured this was an omen and I went there. I left the boys in the car, the car running and I went inside. It was about 10 minutes before 8PM, and I felt lucky find a place open. I called to the man working there, it was Dale, and told him about the transmission. He told me that he thought I was in a diesel from the sound. He went out, got in the car, with the boys inside, and drove away. When he returned, he said that I was correct about the transmission, but I had a bigger problem than that. He opened the hood and again it was covered with oil. He checked the oil and there was none. He gave it the gas and pointed out the tinging noise. I asked and he told me that that was a rod. I asked what the solution was for a thrown rod and he told me that I needed a new engine. I asked and he told me there were motels back up by the freeway. We got a motel with an indoor pool and I started making phone calls, again. I was feeling pretty low by this point, it was 10 PM on December 23rd, and we were 1,000 miles from Cleveland. The tow truck was coming at 8 AM the next morning. I woke up around 4 AM, did some soul searching, and by the time the continental breakfast was served, I was determined to be in Cleveland for Christmas. The dealer where my car was towed also rented cars. I rented one, and we were on our way by 9. We pulled into my parent’s driveway shortly after midnight, and had a super Christmas. While in Cleveland, I visited with friends and visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I promised the boys that one of their presents for Xmas would be a day at the Mall of America in Minneapolis and $150 spending money each. I kept in touch with the dealership in Mitchell, telling them there was no reason for me to leave Cleveland until my car was going to be ready. Finally, on January 6th, they told me that it would be ready on the following Thursday. Tuesday, Jan 7th, we drove to Minneapolis. We spent the 8th at the mall. I bought the boys all day passes at the amusement park inside the mall, Camp Snoopy, and they decided to eat at Hooters rather than Planet Hollywood. We shopped, they rode rides and we saw the movie Mars Attacks! The next morning, I checked the weather and the guy on Good Morning America said everything was clear through Wyoming. We went south, and when we reached I-90 we turned west. As we crossed Minnesota, the weather got progressively worse. The radio said that they had closed the freeways in South Dakota. When we got to Sioux Falls, there was a gate across the freeway. I asked the guy in the Blazer (State Patrol) if there was a way to get to Mitchell. He told me of a state route I could take. As we drove that way, the visibility got so bad that I had to watch the white line in the middle of the road so I wouldn’t off, and I had Jared watching for cars ahead of us. We got stuck in a snow drift and luckily someone came along and pulled us out. I told the boys that we would be finding a motel and stopping as soon as possible. We stopped at the next town and found out that the closest motel was 17 miles ahead. As we were driving that 17 miles, the rental car suddenly lurched. After that every time we hit a drift, we seemed like there was no power. The visibility was practically zero, and when we hit a snow drift, I knew we wouldn’t make it through another one. I told the boys to start looking for a house while I tried to stay on the road. Before they saw anything, we hit a drift, and stopped. As I started trying to figure out what we were going to do, Ben said he saw a mailbox. I wrapped Jared up in blankets, and sent him up to the house. He came back shortly and said that he knocked on the front door, that nobody answered, but he looked in through the front window and saw a woman inside. I said that she would have to let us in; we had nowhere else to go. I had two blankets in the car, so I gave one to each boy and we ran up to the house. We got in, met Urban and Mary Catherine Healy of Montrose, South Dakota, and called the dealership. The dealership said that they had my car ready the day before, but noticed an oil leak in the head of the new engine. They had transferred my car to the GM dealer, because it was a warranty problem on the new engine that had come in a crate from GM in Detroit. They said it would be the end of the following week before the GM dealer could get to it, in the meantime, they would stop all charges on the rental car at that time, but, since all roads were closed due to weather conditions, we would have to stay where we were until they could get to us. We spent the next three days with the Healys.
I can’t imagine having fallen into a situation with two nicer people. They fed us, entertained us, Jared even went to church with them on Sunday morning. Finally, Monday came; I called the dealership and said that we had been imposing on these folks long enough. The tow truck came, picked us and the car up, and dropped us off at the same motel we stayed at on December 23rd. We stayed until Thursday playing in the pool, eating microwave food, playing cards, and watching TV. Management at that motel bent over backwards to help us having heard about our situation. Thursday morning, the dealer called, said the car was ready, and we got on our way. The total bill for the repairs was $4,100, but since I bought the extended warranty, my cost was $50. We got home Friday afternoon, without further incident. The boys spent the weekend with their mother, who they hadn’t seen in a month, and we went back to our routine.
As I spoke to friends about our adventure several commented about our bad luck, I told them that we couldn’t have been luckier. If the cars were going to break down anyway, how lucky were we that they broke down in locations where easily found food, shelter, service and friendly people to help us in our time of need.