Thursday, October 29, 2015

How not to tow a car...getting from IA to MO, badly

So, it was Sunday morning, October 11 and although the long weekend technically had another day I'd scheduled us to drive to a park near Hannibal, MO, home of Mark Twain so we'd be there on Monday to be able to get more time in visiting town for 3 days.

We left at our normal mid-morning time after the normal routine:  hooked the car up, installed the brake system and started to pull out.  The MoHo "bucked" so we stopped and I looked in the car window to see if I'd left the brake on.  Nope, it was off.  We started again and more bucking but Don said it was probably related to the recent alignment and the fact that we'd been sitting for a few days and I went with that.  At the next stop sign the MoHo bucked again but only a little bit and then it did it again when we stopped for gas.  But, it didn't happen again so then we thought perhaps it was related to the gas.  We stopped along the route and left the motor running while we ate a quick lunch, because turning it off involves turning off the car and then restarting the brake system.  

We made good time to the Mark Twain State Park campground in Florida, MO although, as is the case with all these state parks, the directions were to the office and NOT the campground so we had to maneuver a bit to get to the campground.  The park surrounds Mark Twain Lake which with rugged bleached cliffs beautifully highlighted by fall colors, as we drove across both the north and south sections.  We then found the campground and did our normal routine of unhitching the car and filling with water.  I then drove the MoHo to our site and Don was to follow in the car.  

When we'd arrived, the check in booth was closed but the main campground host was right there and told us he thought we might not fit in the spot we'd reserved.  I drove up to our site and waited for Don...and waited...and waited.  Now, my husband is a friendly guy and I thought perhaps he'd just gotten involved talking to the host so I backed into the spot and found I agreed with the host.  We fit, but not well and the site was not at all level. I figured I'd go ask if we could pick another site since there were quite a few empty ones. 

Don still hadn't appeared so I drove back to the entrance.  He was there with the host and a ranger. "The car won't start. And it's not the battery."  Ugh.  He had started it, driven about 50 feet and it stalled.  Completely.  It turned over and the battery sounded strong (and with a new starter we knew it wasn't that) but there was no starting it.  Time to call USAA (our car insurance company.)  Phone reception at the entrance was better than up at the site so I called from there.  Since it was 5pm Sunday  we knew it wasn't a good idea to call a tow truck since all the car places would be closed but WHERE were we even going to tow?  USAA told us we'd be covered for a tow but Hannibal, a not small but also not huge town, was 40 minutes away. The question was not getting the car to a mechanic but being so far away.  The ranger then told us he would go get a list of car mechanics closer by and we could call the tow in the morning.  Of course, FIRST we'd have to find out if they were going to be opened or closed.  

The camp host told us we could leave the car where it was as the campground was not busy and it was out of the way.  The bikes and kayaks were still on it and he said they'd be safe so we left them there for the night.  I left Don there talking to the host and went to find a spot.  After backing into 2, neither of which were level, I found a nice spacious and level one and parked.  The host for the campground we were in (there are 3 there) came by and was very nice about our changing the site and we talked for awhile about the car.  When Don came up later we leveled the MoHo and set up and then the host, Wayne, came by to tell us that regrettably we'd parked in a "family" spot which is actually 2 sites and a premium price: $12 more a night.  At that point we were too tired and worried to care so we said fine.  The ranger then drove up with a list of car mechanics on a sheet of paper and wished us luck, saying he'd do what he could to help.  At that point there was nothing else we could do.  Wayne said we could "settle up" in the morning so it was time to relax.

It was beautiful there.  It faced the lake, the sunset was looking beautiful and I ran down through the trees to the lakeshore to capture it.   It was time to appreciate what was a beautiful spot on a beautiful day.  It had been in the low 80s/ mid 20C all day and now the evening breezes made it like a beautiful summer's eve.  After running back and forth to get the sunset pictures and cook dinner, we sat with our plates outside and hypothesized about what could be wrong with the car.

YEA! I called the first place on the sheet from the ranger the next morning and he told me that he would be open.  Don unloaded the bikes and the kayaks and hauled each kayak up behind his bike (they are on trolleys) and then we rode our bikes up.  The tow truck came, loaded up the car and off he drove.  The mechanic told us he'd call later.  Then we decided to ride our bikes around to see if there was a cheaper spot that was level.  After looking at several we came up with 2 alternatives.  Wayne said since we'd only been in the other for the night and with all trouble they were not going to charge us and we could book this spot as if we'd been there the whole time.  Phwew.  He also offered to lend us his car to drive to Hannibal if we wanted to!

Now, as hard as it is to believe that someone we'd met less than 24 hours before was willing to lend us his car, it is not as much of a surprise when you've been RVing for awhile.  RVers get a bad rap in many places.  I know there is the attitude that we are a step removed from "trailer trash" and many people think we're environmental hazards.  Neither could be further from the truth. Environmentally, sure our rigs guzzle gas BUT we tend to drive and then park for days or weeks at a times.  We have a 78 gallon fresh water tank that takes us a week to 10 days to use, although admittedly we each take 5 minute showers 3-4 times week in the campground showers.  In our case, we have a composting toilet so we produce no "black water" and when we can, we run off solar power (safely now.)  We tend to stay in state parks where we find that many "locals" come for the weekend-bringing their families to enjoy the outdoors.  As far as who we are-everyone from retirees to young couples with newborns.  People who have pop up trailers they use for the occasional weekend off to those of us who live full time in anything from a modest rig to the most luxurious 42 (and over) foot class A's.  What we have found is that across the board RVers will help you when you need it, are friendly, do not care what your politics are, or how fancy your rig is.  They are interested in what you've seen and where you've been and, if local, what you think of their town/state.  They are, as a group and individually some of the nicest people either of us have ever met and we feel like we've made many new friends in just 6 months on the road. Now, don't get me wrong, it was INCREDIBLY generous of Wayne to offer his car but after 6 months on the road, I have to admit I was not shocked.

So, Monday after saying goodbye to the car and spending the morning washing the rig inside and out, including the roof, and moving into our new spot I called the mechanic.  He had not had a chance to look at the car but would call us in the morning.

Tuesday at midday we heard from the mechanic.  Inexplicably (he still need to figure out why) the spark plugs were "gunked up" and drenched in gasoline.  For those who are not familiar with the way a car engine works...spark plugs should NOT be drenched with gas.  He promised to call later.  And call he did.  The ignition module was bad he said and should he order a new one?  He could have it by Thursday and have our car to us by Friday he thought.  We said yes.

On Wednesday we decided to take Wayne up on his generous offer and drive into Hannibal to do some sightseeing.  First we needed to drive in the opposite direction to Monroe City, where the car was, to pick up some of Phoenix's things we'd left in the car and check in with the mechanic.  Both Travis and Charles were working on the car when we arrived and said they wanted to make sure there was nothing else that needed to be done.  We left for Hannibal.

It was time for lunch when we arrived so we ducked into a restaurant and ordered a local plate-a Maid-Rite sandwich which is basically a sloppy joe without the sauce -a loose hamburger sandwich if you will.  It -they! we each got 2!- was filling and we left feeling stuffed.  The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum was right down the street so we wandered through it for close to an hour and then walked around town and down to the river.  There we stopped to talk with a guy who's been full timing for 14 years and rarely stays anywhere he has to pay.  It sounded attractive (thinking as we were of our looming car repair bill) but a bit TOO peripatetic for us.  We like staying in state parks and look forward to be where there are federal lands that are free or half price but a new parking lot each night for weeks on end is too much.  We drove back "home" to get the car back to Wayne but on the way received a phone call from Travis.  They'd found another "problem."  The intake manifold had had a fire and a valve had completely melted.  This part he could also order BUT it was going to be expensive.  Knowing full well that a car does not run without its "lungs" we knew it had to be ordered.  I could hear the kaching kaching ringing in my head and STILL we didn't know what had caused this.  Was my car, that is 11 years old but has been treated well and still low mileage, suddenly dying? He thought he could have it done by Friday afternoon...

So, Thursday and Friday we hung out, hiking and biking and I decided to do laundry.  The hike we took was beautiful with the colors of fall all around us.  Our site was also right next to the fish cleaning station.  There was a boat ramp into the lake used by fishermen who then clean their fish there.  Every afternoon with the sun low in the sky we would see dozens of buzzards circling the parking lot. Sun reflecting on their wings they looked beautiful. No surprise that the picnic area just down the road from the campground is called Buzzard's Roost.  Cadbury would watch them warily but they were interested in fish and paid him no mind staying high in the sky.

On Friday, Wayne's wife, Gayle, who'd been visiting her daughter in Calgary, returned to the campground, and we spent time talking to them and then got a call from Travis saying the car was ready and we could pick it up.  Wayne offered his car again so we drove over to get it.  Travis did not sound 100% convinced that it was running perfectly and then told us that the gears sounded awful when shifting into reverse which hardly worked and THAT was when I had my eureka (and stomach crashing) moment.  When we had hitched the tow set up in Davenport the tow bars-both of which need to lock before towing-were not locking.  I took the brake system back out and reversed the car and then set the brakes back up.  That was when I must have forgotten to put it in neutral. When I checked to see if the brake was off I hadn't even thought of the gears because I "always" put them into neutral first.  We paid the bill and discussed the idea of taking the car to have "the gears looked at" once we got to St Louis and headed back to the park.  Halfway there the car was rolling along but I was getting NO gas.  I called Travis and he said he was afraid maybe the VTEC solenoid was bad.  He suggested I turn it off and restart.  I did...6 more times in 5 miles.  I could pop the clutch and get some gas or that, but clearly the car was in trouble.  I could not blame Travis as he had only been able to drive the car after the other things had been put in, he knew we wanted to get going and he knew we'd need a bigger place to address what was wrong...In the next post I'll tell you what we did.

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