March 2, 2011



By now, you know that occasionally I make a hotshot run to Texas. Most often to Houston. I would just once like to make a trip that was boring. Nothing happened. Nothing to write about. I didn’t get lost. I found a room right by the highway. The roads weren’t icy. The traffic through Dallas was no worse than Manning. But, alas gentle reader, that hasn’t happened yet. And there is a load sitting in the yard waiting to go again.
But, one thing about my trips, I have the opportunity to meet some wonderful people. Like the girl I wrote about a year or so ago. At a Super 8. I was tired. Beat. I had a heavy load on, and my headlights were shining straight in the air. The traffic was horrific. I ducked off the highway and found a motel. When I asked the young lady if they had a room for a “fat, tired, old man,” she flashed a wonderful smile and replied, “Certainly! How far behind you is he?” I fell in love.
And this last trip.
Many of you are farmers and ranchers. And I suppose it isn’t just us. But how many of you have had a breakdown on Saturday afternoon? I’m betting that I am not alone in this. And the chances of finding a mechanic, machine shop, and parts store…Well, the chances are pretty slim.
Anyway, it’s Saturday afternoon. I’m south of Faith, S.D. Which is about as long a stretch of road with nothing but grass, wind, and cattle as you will find. I’m rolling along, thinking of, well, I’m not going to tell you. But anyway I was thinking. And then the pickup goes Ding! I look down at the dash. Something I guess I should do more of. The light says “Check Gages?” I do. My heat gage reads like a thousand! And since I was thinking, and driving in a straight line, I hadn’t noticed that I had no power steering.
Being of sound mind and body, I quickly deduced that I had lost a fan belt. I opened the hood. Which does me about as much good as jumping up and down and beating on the pickup with a shovel. There is a lot of stuff under that hood. It’s not like looking at the engine on an A John Deere. And it isn’t just a fan belt. It’s what they call a “serpentine” belt. It winds around a bunch of stuff. It is evidently the thing they start with when they build a pickup. And everything else is built around it.
Now, I’m pretty much a mechanical failure. But, from my shop days in school, I kind of recall that if a belt comes off, for no reason, after a quarter million miles, there is something else wrong. Somewhere in that jumble of pulleys, wires, and gadgets, there is a bearing out. Or something.
So there I sit. In the middle of South Dakota. I soon discovered, after I quit crying, that I had phone service. If I walked up on a hill a half mile west of the highway. I’m a good walker. Ya.
It was 40 above. A balmy day compared to what we had been having. And it was Saturday afternoon. Well, a rancher came by. And he knew much more than me. He determined that the tension pulley had come apart. Oh yeah. A dealer only part. Have you ever tried to reach a dealer 20 miles south of Faith on Saturday afternoon? Good luck!
He did have a mechanic’s number. I talked to his wife. He was north of town working on a tractor, and would be home in a couple hours. But there was no dealer within a hundred miles. The rancher had to go feed, so he left me there. Alone.
South Dakota is a wonderful state. There is not a lot of traffic on that highway. But I will tell you that nearly every outfit that came by, stopped and inquired if I needed assistance. The rancher gave me his cell number and his home number. The mechanic’s wife offered to bring me a sandwich. One outfit offered to tow me. I don’t know where to, but it was nice of him.
Eventually, Will tracked down a mechanic in Dickinson that took a part off a pickup in the lot and brought it down.
Four-and-a-half hours on what looked like the middle of nowhere. But I found I was in the middle of a bunch of friends. Thanks everyone!