So my girlfriend, Sarah, and I thought it might be fun to take a day trip down to Sikeston, MO and visit Lambert’s Cafe. For the uninitiated, as I am, Lambert’s Cafe is a pretty famous restaurant that serves Cracker-Barrel esq. food in ridiculous amounts, but is best known for their fun atmosphere and a staff that throws fresh rolls at tables when the patrons request it. Sarah loves the food there and I’d never been, so it sounded like fun. But Sarah and I were both a bit nervous about it, because my truck, in the last year, has been known to spontaneously develop some issue whenever I go out of town. As long as I’m in-town it’s fine. But as soon as I take a trip, every time, something happens…
Well, I was determined we’d be fine this time. Sikeston is only about an hour and a half drive from where we are, and it’s a very scenic and pretty trip, but it’s not anything really far. I checked everything out before we left. Everything looked good. We get about half way to our destination when we start hearing a grinding sound every once in a while, like we were weaving into the road div-its on the sides of the roads that are put there to help wake up drivers that are falling asleep. After the third time hearing such a noise, and this time not being anywhere near either side of the road, we both mentioned it didn’t sound right, so I pulled off at the next available exit into Ozora, a little town where the only real thing off the highway is one large lot with an Exxon station, a cafe, a small motel, and, lucky for us, a large truck tire place.
So I get out of my truck and start checking the tires to see if we might have a flat. I get to the front, passenger-side tire and I notice my grease cap is missing and the center where it should be is smoking like Satan’s butthole, complete with nasty tar-like substances leaking from it. Satan apparently had Taco Bell for lunch.
So I see a Firestone sign on the building next to the Exxon with a garage attached so I think we might be in luck and that they had a tire place right there. I pull the truck over to their lot and at this point the tire is starting to screech. Now, I know nothing about cars at all- I was always a tech-geek, not a car guy- but I know enough to know that a screech like someone is trying to give a pterodactyl a prostate exam is not a good sign. It looked like the tire place might be closed, but one og the garage doors was open so I walked inside and yelled like an idiot. We got lucky and a mechanic was in- Mike.
Mike is a tall guy. I’m a smidgen over 6’2, but Mike was a good two inches or better taller than me. I stammered out what had happened and couldn’t think how to explain what I had seen because I’m a moron when it comes to car stuff and had never seen a tire do a Satan’s butthole impression before. Mike humors me and follows me out to my truck. By the time we got there the smoking had stopped a bit, but there was still plenty of wheel diarrhea everywhere. Mike knew what the problem was right away and spelled it out using small words so I could understand. Basically, we weren’t going anywhere without at least another grease cap and some new grease. Unfortunately, Mike didn’t have any parts on-hand, but he told me he’d make a few calls to some part shops in a nearby town and see if they could run what he needed out to us. Sure enough, there was a place that had a cap that might fit, and they agreed to bring it right down. Mike told us we could pull the truck into the garage and he’d get the wheel off and get everything set. He said by the time the part guy got there he’d have everything ready, and he’d charge us the garage minimum of $50 to get us taken care of and on our way.
I pull into the garage and the screech is even worse- as if the doctor giving the pterodactyl the prostate exam forgot to use lube. Mike winced the entire time I was moving and said, “Has it always made that noise? Sounds like we need to check your bearings too.” At this point I took comfort in the fact that he’d already told me that he had grease, so I knew that at least lube would be available for me when the reaming began.
This is the point where Mike ran into his first problem with my truck. Apparently the mechanical genius that owned the truck before me put the wrong size tires on the truck all the way around. This didn’t really come as a surprise to me since we were talking about the same genius that decided to not replace a bad distributor cap and instead just installed a second, high-power ignition sparker (don’t remember the technical name) so the two arcs would connect and start the truck. As a result, over time, it burned the crap out of everything in between. Found that fun little fact out during Christmas, and spent almost half of what I’d made working my seasonal job getting it fixed.
So, Mike spent a good ten minutes with a sledge hammer just trying to get the tire off. When he finally did we discovered that my tire had been about to explode…probably literally. It had been ground down to the wire in several places- by what, I have no idea since the other tires were fine. The bearings, too, were trashed. Mike made another call to the parts place to add to the order.
But the truck wasn’t done…not by a long shot. When Mike started taking things apart to get to the bearings (found out the brakes were shot to hell too), he ran into his next major problem- not only were things locked up, the bearings had fused from the heat.
Sarah and I walked around for about an hour as Mike tried increasingly larger hammers and chisels, trying to beat my truck into submission and let him inside. Sarah, God bless her, spent most of the time keeping me hydrated and being supportive. What she feared would happen, had, and her plans were all ruined. Not to mention the fact that I’m broker than M.C. Hammer and whatever money it was going to cost to get us out of there she’d end up having to lend me. But she never complained. She just loved on me and wanted to make sure I was okay. I love this woman.
Well, eventually Mike gave up and told us that the only other option he had was he could take a torch to it and try and cut stuff out and replace everything.
It wasn’t worth it. So now we were stuck with a few really sucky choices. Mike offered to tow the truck back to Granite City for us for $200, which was a lot cheaper than we’d get anywhere else. He also said I could leave it there for the weekend until I could scrounge enough money to have it fixed. But with my truck dead, and me with no money to fix it, there wasn’t much reason to have it towed, and Mike was going to have to close his shop in about an hour. I sighed and asked if he knew anyone that might want to buy a truck. I had the title in my glove compartment and I really didn’t see much else I could do. Ends up he had a friend that needed a truck for work. Mike made a few phone calls to his friend and wife while I called my grandparents to mount a rescue mission. We eventually made a deal for what Mike and his friend could afford. It wasn’t as much as the truck was worth, problems and all, and we both knew it, but it was what he had and, like I said, something was better than nothing. So I signed over the title.
You never really know just how much crap you have in your car until you find yourself having to clean it all out and then carry it. It took us about ten minutes, and Mike donated a heavy duty trash bag to the cause, but we eventually had all our stuff out and were ready to go. We looked like hobo refugees as we made our way to the diner next door to wait for our ride.
After drowning our sorrows with sweet tea, and stuffing ourselves with truck-stop burgers and pie, our ride showed up and we headed back home. We still managed to have a lot of fun after getting back, and I at least have a little money to help me get by for the next few months, but the whole thing was not exactly what we’d hoped for. But still, it could have been a lot worse. The tire could have blown and caused us to have an accident going 70 on the highway. We could have stopped someplace where there wasn’t a mechanic at all. I could have been completely hosed and stuck with a truck, and the bill to tow it as opposed to finding someone that could just buy it from me outright. So things worked out in the end. But just remember…