After the Festival - The Adventure Continues
Ready for a wild tale?
(More pics - some of them pretty wild - follow the story)
Okay, it was a very disappointing end to the 2011 season. Total expenses to go to Nevada Wild Fest were $2,300. Total sales were just over $600. That's for the entire five day event. Time to head home and figure out another way to get some money in the bank. With Tropic Hut securely loaded back in the trailer, I got two fresh cups of coffee and started the drive to Reno on Tuesday, October 18.
As I was heading north out of Las Vegas the transmission on my van started to slip a little. I'd had this trouble earlier in the year and it just needed some transmission fluid. I stopped at an auto parts store, got some fluid and poured it into the transmission. That seemed to take care of the problem, so I got back on US Highway 95 north for Reno.
About 100 miles north of Las Vegas I stopped in the tiny town of Beatty for fuel. When I started up the engine again I could hardly get the van moving to get back on the road because the transmission was slipping so badly. I bought yet more fluid (at almost $5 per quart, dang it!) and was able to get moving at least a little on lonely Highway 95. About three miles north of Beatty the transmission could go no further. In my rear view mirror I could see smoke pouring from under the vehicle.
It was late at night by then and I figured I should at least try to get back to Beatty for the night. It was downhill back to town so, even with a failing transmission, I thought I could make it. With much slipping and shuddering from underneath, I got the van and trailer moving on the northbound shoulder of the highway. I cut the wheel hard left and got the front of the van across the road when my momentum ran out and I was stopped, completely blocking the road. The van and trailer were horizontal across the highway; the front of the van hanging over the southbound shoulder and the back of the trailer hanging over the northbound shoulder. If a big rig came along and didn't see me in time there would be a horrific crash. It was perhaps the worst predicament I've ever got myself into.
I stomped on the accelerator, causing the engine to roar but barely causing the vehicle to budge. One pick-up truck came along on the northbound side, made no attempt to help and just drove around me on the shoulder. I hope I would never do such a thing if I came upon someone in such obvious distress. Now that I have been in just such distress I know I never will drive by a similar situation.
Anyway, I could tell I was almost over the hump of the road. With just a little forward movement the van and trailer would coast off to the southbound shoulder. The transmission was completely shot, so I did the only thing I could think of. I jumped out of the van and pushed with all my might. The van is rated at a weight of 10,700 pounds. The trailer weighs about 8,000 pounds. Under normal circumstances it would have seemed lunacy to think I could push that much weight. Amazingly, after three or four good shoves, the van and trailer started to roll on their own. I jumped back in the van and coasted off the southbound shoulder.
And there I was. Disaster was averted, but there I was, stuck on the side of a lonely desert highway after midnight. The nearest town was not even large enough for one traffic light. It took several minutes for me to calm down from the ordeal of blocking the entire highway. I walked around the van and trailer a few times and wondered what I must have done in a previous life to deserve so much bad luck with my little business venture. Beyond that, what must I have done to deserve the abuse I suffered in my last two jobs? What am I doing so wrong in my life? Why can't I get ahead, even a little bit?
I sat in the van for a good hour thinking about my options and pondering my state in life. The simple and obvious solution for the moment was to spend the night in my trailer and begin looking for help the next day. I had a few beers in the trailer, so I drank those and finally settled down enough to go to sleep around 3 AM.
I got up around 9 AM. Things could have been much worse, I began to tell myself. I mean, if I were to be stuck out on a lonely desert highway, at least I had a comfortable bed to sleep in. And when I woke up I was able to fix myself some hot cocoa on the stove of the trailer.
I called AAA, my savior on many occasions back in my touring days. Beatty does not have a AAA approved towing service. (It really is a small town!) The nearest tow service would have to come from Amorgosa Valley, about fifty miles away. Here's the thing: My AAA account is just the standard membership. It does not cover towing for over sized vehicles. I did honestly tell the AAA agent who took my call that my van was an over sized vehicle. I didn't want an undersized tow truck, specifically not a flatbed type truck, to show up and not be able to tow my van. She was not sure what I meant that my van was over sized and suggested I would need to work out the details with the actual towing company, which she would have call me shortly.
Sure enough, about ten minutes later a friendly fellow named Robert called my cell phone. I explained that my van was like the shuttle vans used by hotels and casinos. "You mean it has one of those flip open doors that passengers can step into, like getting on a bus?" he asked. Yep, I answered, it was that kind of shuttle van. He chuckled and said, "I'm looking forward to seeing that!" and he assured me he was bringing out a tow truck that could handle a large vehicle.
About an hour later the tow truck showed up with friendly Robert driving. His truck was not the enormous kind of vehicle used to tow fully loaded eighteen wheelers, but it was decidedly a large tow truck and not the flatbed type used for towing (or, to be more correct, hauling) passenger cars. Robert immediately explained that my AAA membership did not cover this kind of tow. I need to get AAA's Premium RV membership to cover my van in the future. But, since he didn't have anything else to do that day and he wanted to help me out, he would give me a tow and not report that my vehicle was over sized to AAA, which would have resulted in AAA not picking up the tab for the tow. I realized that, friendly as Robert was, he was angling for a big tip.
It took over an hour to get the van hooked up to the tow truck. That's because, in the anxiety of the night before, when I pushed the van and coasted off the shoulder, I had steered the van into some soft dirt and weeds. Robert used the tow truck's winch to pull the van up to road level while I steered. Robert explained that winch service also was not included in my standard AAA membership, but he wanted to do whatever it took to get me towed to town. The guy was really working the tip thing. I didn't mind. At least he was nice about it and, after all, he was helping me out of a pretty dire situation.
Once the van was securely connected to the tow truck, off we went to Beatty. The trailer was left in the dirt off the shoulder of the highway. As I had hoped, Robert knew a mechanic in Beatty who had experience working on big diesel vehicles. In fact, this mechanic had worked on the very tow truck Robert was driving. Robert even had the mechanic's number on his cell phone, so he called ahead and arranged to drop my van at the mechanic's shop.
The mechanic's name was John. He'd been a mechanic in the small desert town of Beatty for thirty years, and he fit the stereotype of such a character in every way. He was a wiry old guy with silver hair and skin like old saddle bags that had been exposed to years of grease and dirt. He chain smoked cheap generic cigarettes and seemed incapable of speaking an entire sentence without including at least one good curse word. If he were a character in a TV show you'd think he was exaggerated, but John was the real deal.
And, in further keeping with his character, John was a no nonsense fellow. I had barely said hello before John was on his back, under my van looking things over. "Holy #$%," came his voice from under the van. "Yep, this tranny is &*^%# burned all to %&$#. Ain't no repairing this @$#%. You're gonna need a @#$% new transmission for this @#$%." Next thing I heard was John on his cell phone, still while under my van. He obviously was talking to a parts supplier, asking if they had that specific transmission available and what it would cost. Then he crawled back out from under the van and laid out my situation. Less than ten minutes after first laying eyes on the guy, John had a general estimate of how much the replacement transmission would cost, how long it would take to get it (the part had to be shipped up from Los Angeles) and how long it would take to install it.
I told John I needed to secure funds before I could give him the go-ahead to get started on the repairs. Next thing he said was, "Okay, let's go get your #$%@ trailer." He was very generously offering to use his own pick-up to pull my trailer into town so it could be parked on his lot while the van was being repaired. He has one of those big GMC pick-ups with the extended cab and four passenger doors. The front passenger seat was occupied by John's one employee, a fellow named Ray, who was another small town stereotype like John. I opened a rear passenger door and found the seat and floor to be covered with several layers of tools and various auto parts. I cleared a space to sit and climbed in.
As we drove through town about every other car we passed was driven by someone who waved at John and Ray. When we reached the edge of town old John hit the accelerator and we charged up the highway going around 85 miles an hour. It only took a few minutes to get the trailer hooked up to his truck. John eased the trailer back up on the highway, which was a relief, but once on the pavement he again punched the gas pedal, so even with he trailer attached we raced back to town at 85 miles an hour. We dropped the trailer at his ranch house on the outskirts of town, and then those nice guys gave me a ride to a local hotel.
By the time I got into the hotel room it was early evening. All I'd had for nourishment all day was two cups of cocoa that morning. I walked to a Subway near the hotel to get dinner, then back to the hotel to eat and finally relax a bit.
Next day (Thursday) I called my folks. It's discouraging to be my age and have to ask my parents to bail me out of trouble, but, since the Nevada Wild Fest was a horrible bust, I was destitute. My dad answered the phone and I told him my story. He didn't hesitate to give me a credit card number that I could use to transfer funds to my bank using my Tropic Hut merchant account. It would take a few days to get everything done, but with those funds I would be rescued from my dilemma. It was a tremendous relief. I called John with the news he could go ahead with the repairs.
It took a couple days for the new transmission to be shipped from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. And by then it was the weekend, so the new transmission was not available for pick up until Monday afternoon. John, the Beatty mechanic, drove down to Vegas to pick up the new unit Tuesday and finished installing it on Wednesday. Everything seemed to be okay, so I hooked up the trailer and got on the road back to Reno Wednesday afternoon. This was October 26 - eight days after the trouble all started. I'd been going stir crazy in a hotel room in a tiny town for a week. And remember, this is an extra week away from home that I had not planned on. Fortunately the hotel did have a laundromat, so I was able to freshen up my socks and underwear!
Heading north from Beatty on US Highway 95 one encounters a long uphill incline. It also was a very windy day and, wouldn't you know, I was driving directly into the strong wind. The van was clearly struggling to pull the trailer uphill and into a strong wind, but I've driven in such conditions before without so much difficulty. Then I noticed smoke coming from under the van. I pulled off the highway immediately, looked under the van to see fluid spewing from the transmission. I had barely driven five miles. I got turned around and headed back to Beatty. With the wind at my back and going downhill I coasted most of the whole way.
John is almost comical in his stereotypical old curmudgeon personality. He was furious that the transmission was smoking and spewing fluid, but his irritation was directed at the problem, not at me. This was a big, expensive job he had done, and it was failing. He messed around under the van for a while, tried driving the van with the trailer disconnected, and finally determined the new transmission was flawed. He called Team Ford, the dealership in Las Vegas where the new transmission had been shipped, and explained the problem. They could not simply send up another new transmission without examining the problem themselves, of course. Their mechanics would need to take a look at the problem - at their dealership.
John does have a tow truck, but he is only licensed to tow vehicles to his shop. Nevada requires special licensing for tow trucks to haul vehicles to a secondary location, and apparently the state is very strict about enforcing this policy. The van was not smoking or losing fluid when we tried driving it on its own. Without the load of towing the trailer it seemed to be okay, and it's downhill almost all the way from Beatty to Las Vegas, so we decided I would drive the van to the dealership. My trailer would stay parked on John's lot.
It was late afternoon by that time. The dealership was closed when I reached Las Vegas, so I found one of those amazing Vegas bargains on a nice hotel room near Team Ford for the night.
Next morning I took the van to the dealership. Team Ford is a gigantic dealership. They got all my info and took the van into their shop and graciously gave me a ride in the company shuttle back to my hotel.
The following morning, Friday, the dealership called to inform me the transmission would have to be removed from the vehicle for further testing. Doing this required my authorization, which of course I gave them. It would be at least another day before they knew for sure what the problem was. If the new transmission was found to be flawed, they would install a another new one for no charge. If the new transmission had been improperly installed, and that was the cause of the failure, Ford would not honor the warranty. I would need to buy yet another transmission and again pay for the installation. Which meant I had to hope John would be honorable enough to refund the $3,300 I had paid him.
Now that it was Friday I had another problem to deal with. It was the weekend, and not just any weekend. Nevada is one of only a few states that has a holiday to honor the anniversary of its statehood. Nevada became a state on October 31, 1864. The last Friday of every October is "Nevada Day." It isn't a major holiday like Labor Day or Christmas, but enough folks have that Friday off that Las Vegas hotels see increased bookings for the last weekend of October. Also, Halloween was on Monday, and Vegas is a popular destination for young adults who want to costume party Vegas style. Oh, and one more thing, Las Vegas was the site of a state wide college women's softball tournament that weekend.
The hotel I had originally found was at a huge casino complex called Santa Fe Station. It's one of those Vegas hotels that offers beautiful big rooms for astonishingly low prices - during the week. I was enjoying a Hilton Hotel quality room for $29 per night! The inexpensive luxury ended once a holiday weekend arrived. Santa Fe Station was booked solid Friday and Saturday, and even if a room were available it would cost a whopping $199 per night.
With the help of the Internet I found a room at EconoLodge on North Las Vegas Blvd - the slummy area between The Strip and downtown - for about double what I had been paying at Santa Fe Station, and what a difference in quality. The hotel room in the slums smelled funny, had really cheap, beat up furniture and the wall paper was literally pealing off the walls. I was in the neighborhood of tattoo parlors, pawn shops, bail bond companies and adult book stores. What an adventure! (Photos below, after the story.)
Las Vegas had plenty going on for the weekend before Halloween. Casinos all over town were offering lavish parties. Even in the slums I could look out my motel window and see groups of girls in outrageously sexy costumes making their ways to night clubs. I was alone and broke, so I just stayed in my cheap hotel room and channel surfed. (I'll pause while you are consumed with sympathy for my plight.)
On Tuesday, November 1 (two weeks now since the ordeal began), it was time for a change in lodging. Cheap as it was, at least the EconoLodge had Internet access, so I had spent a few hours over the weekend seeking a good deal on a different hotel, and I found one. I took a bus from North Las Vegas Blvd down to Flamingo and walked about half a mile east to Terrible's Hotel and Casino, taking in the beautiful Bellagio fountains along the way.
Terrible's, despite its name, offers quite nice rooms at deep discount prices. The change of venue did wonders for my spirits. And there was more good news that day. Team Ford called to let me know their mechanics had discovered the failure in the new transmission was due to a flaw in the part, not a flawed installation. That meant Ford would honor the warranty and another new transmission would be installed completely free of charge. The only bad news was the new transmission again had to be ordered and shipped up from Los Angeles, so it would be yet a few more days before the job was completed. Oh, and since the repair was determined to be covered by warranty, Ford would likely cover at least some of my hotel expense.
At last I could relax a bit. My van was in good hands, the re-reinstallation of the transmission was covered by warranty, and I was in a nice hotel till the job was finished. For the next few days I enjoyed nice casino buffet meals, took walks, watched TV and doodled on my computer.
The following Tuesday (November 8, three weeks to the day since the ordeal began) my cell phone rang with the call I had been waiting for. It was Team Ford letting me know my new transmission was installed and tested and my van was ready for me to pick up. They sent the dealership shuttle out to get me at Terrible's Hotel. My scary, expensive, three week saga was over.
Next day, Wednesday, I checked out of Terrible's Hotel and got on US Highway 95 north - again. I had to stop in Beatty to pick up the trailer, but everything went fine without a hitch (nyuck, pardon the pun). The van performed beautifully and towed the trailer with no troubles all the way back to Reno.
But the fates were not done with me yet. Would you believe I got a speeding ticket on the drive home? And it was one of those really ridiculous tickets that irritates any driver.
Highway 95 is not an Interstate freeway. When the highway goes through a town it becomes a local street, so travelers have to slow down to local traffic speeds. I was approaching a tiny town of not more than six buildings when I saw the "Reduced Speed Ahead" sign. I took my foot off the accelerator and let the rig coast to start slowing down.
The first reduced speed sign I passed showed the new limit to be 50 MPH. At that point I had coasted down to about 58 MPH. Next new speed limit sign showed 40 MPH, by which time I had slowed to about 53 MPH. That wasn't slow enough for the nothing-better-to-do highway patrol, who had set up a speed trap at that location. No less than four highway patrol cars were guarding this tiny town to catch drivers like me coming through on the highway. The five or six buildings of this tiny town were all dark. It was on an Indian Reservation, I found out, because my citation had a penalty of $100, plus a "Tribal Assessment" of $82 for Walker River Paiute Tribe. I thought to myself, "Good one, Satan. I should have guessed you weren't through with me yet."
When I reached home at last, I decided to try putting a positive spin on the whole saga. Since 2011 was an exceptionally tough year, ending with an unbelievably horrible final event, it must mean I'm getting a bunch of bad luck out of the way. It's going to be smooth sailing and great business for the next several years!