Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bringing My Car Home

In the fall of the year that I was stationed on Cape Cod, I decided to go home on leave. I had a feeling that my grandfather had died (when my aunt wrote in a letter that he had left them his car, I had a hunch that he was dead!!), and I wanted to bring my car home because I had two vehicles and could only drive one at a time. At the time my enlistment had about 6 months to go (turned out to be less, but that's another post) and I thought I'd bring my car home and then drive the pickup home when I got out of the military.

I managed to get a leave OK'd because I had leave time accrued and I used the excuse that I wanted to go home to see if my grandfather had died. (Later I found out from my brother and others that they didn't notify me as they figured I wouldn't be able to get there for the funeral anyway. Hell, I could have gotten an emergency leave and flown home, and it would have been a break from the stupid military.) Anywho, I took off for home in Oct.

Most of the trip was uneventful, drove across Taxachusetts, and New York to Niagara Falls. Went across Ontario to Port Huron, MI. It was as I was heading toward the bridge that things started to get interesting. I seem to remember it was almost 100 miles south of the Mackinac Bridge that I ran into snow. My little Corvair had summer tires (back in the day of bias ply tires, you needed different tires for summer and winter, all-season tires started after they started making radial tires), but because the car was a rear-engined rear wheel drive, I figured as long as the snow didn't get too bad, I'd be OK. When I got to the bridge, it was icey, but I thought if I could get up to where the metal grating was, I would have enough traction to get over the top. Once I got over the top and was heading down, I thought, "Oh Shit, I got to stop at the toll booth!!" (Side Note: at the time the toll was $3.75 for cars and several years later the license plate fees were raised and the toll dropped to $1.50 for cars.) After the bridge, I had to go across the UP.

The Seney Stretch is 26 miles straight as an arrow through a swamp. Under good conditions it is tiresome. This time it was in the middle of the night and snowing hard. There was enough snow on the road that my car would slide all over when I had all the wheels on the pavement, so I drove with one set of wheels on the shoulder and one set on the pavement. Had to stop on the Seney Stretch to hack out the snow and ice built up in the front wheel wells as it was getting hard to steer. Every once in awhile I would see lights ahead and think I was almost to Seney and it would be an on-coming vehicle.

It was almost daylight by the time I got to Munising and the snowplows were out. Coming out of Munising there is a hill and the plow had scraped one stretch of pavement bare. My rear wheels were spinning coming up the hill and when I hit the bare patch, it almost stalled, but caught and continued up the hill. Several miles down the road, smoke started coming in the car through the heater vents (the car drew warm air from around the air cooled engine for the heater). I knew something was wrong, but there was nowhere to stop. When the idiot light for oil pressure came on, I pulled over on the shoulder. When I checked the oil, there wasn't any on the dipstick, but there was a lot of oil covering the engine. I hitch-hiked to the nearest gas station (I think it was the Laughing Whitefish Trading Post, a combination store, restaurant, and gas station). I got 3 qts of oil and hitched back to the car. I put in two and took off. Got almost to Marquette and put in the last qt. In Marquette I got a two gallon can of cheap oil. I put in a couple of qts. and drove to my cousin's house where I took a nap. Added more oil and drove to my brother's house.

While the car was parked at my brother's house, my nephew managed to break the shaft on the driver's side windshield wiper. Later we convoyed to the 'Ranch' (was an interesting drive as it was sloppy weather, sleeting, snowing and the wiper on the driver's side was missing) and parked the car there. All together it took 13 qts. of oil to go the last 100 or so miles. This was the second time my car broke down while on my way home, but both times was able to limp the cars home.

I then went to the bank where I had my car loan and notified them I was dropping the insurance because the car was parked as it broke down and then refinanced the loan (this was a last resort as I tried to get a personal loan at a local bank and was turned down because I was in the military) to have money to buy my plane ticket back to Cape Cod.

I was going to rebuild the engine after I got home from the military, but sometime after getting back home as a free man, I learned that my best friend from high school had crashed and burned in his Corvair. Decided against the rebuild but still have the car -- anyone want to buy a rusted hulk?????

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