Sunday May 3, 1998. Despite partying neighbors above my room, sleep is quick and deep arising at six a.m. I shower, pack the Volvo, enjoy a hearty breakfast at The Village restaurant, and onto Interstate 80 by nine o’clock under cool, sunny skies. Bound for the second stop North Platte, Nebraska 10 hours and 581 miles away I am apprehensive as an hour into the drive the temperature gauge indicates an engine running too hot but remembering a trick from high school automotive class, I advert trouble. By turning on the heater (I choose the window defroster deflecting heat to the top of the car and out the slightly cracked windows) the engine temperature cools however combining this with the hot, outside climate the passenger compartment becomes uncomfortable despite the cracked windows. Sacrifices must be made for it is easier to cool an overheated driver than an overheated engine! Three hours after leaving Davenport, I pass north of the Des Moines’ downtown core bisected by the Des Moines River and encircled by freeways and business routes and then a mere 76 miles west of Des Moines near the tiny hamlet of Walnut, Iowa the engine starts sputtering. Time tripping back to Michigan and the forewarning advice of the mechanic,”…everything checks fine Mr. Pykonen but anything can happen anytime.” Glancing at all the gauges through tired, overheated eyes the temperature is good check, the oil pressure good check, aha the fuel gauge is just above the red zone (that being your final warning before walking comes into the equation). On family vacations, Dad made announcements of low gas making me nervous and hoping to see a sign, “gas one mile ahead” so we don’t have to walk for help and lo and behold one appears rescuing us from that fate and now to the rescue a Shell station is indicated just ahead.
I just make it and steering toward the pumps, I switch off the engine but wait the starter is still engaged as if possessed and wanting to continue the journey! Turning the ignition on and off twice more fails to stop the Volvo as it crawls toward the gas pumps. What is happening? Why? Overcome with panic and visions of fireballs I keep calm and in control, pull up hard on the emergency brake which slows the car allowing me to leap out and dive into the trunk for the toolkit, throw open the hood, and disconnect the battery bringing the Volvo’s madness to an end. Whew!
Breathing heavily after avoiding a potential mess I stare at the engine, what the heck do I do now! I can imagine what would happen if a break down to one wagon of a train occurred, either having to downsize the wagon or abandon it and hitch a ride. The Shell Station is not full service but attached to a McDonald’s restaurant so inside I went looking for help and take my place in a slow-moving line quickly realizing no one here can assist so I leave and walk next door where a Super 8 Motel is located. All around this intersection are cornfields with few homes and I ponder the decision of a motel in the middle of nowhere but am darn glad it is here as I will have to book a room for the night. Modern conveniences you gotta lov’m! Well, no 10 hour drive today! The room window frames fields of corn that accentuate an anxious, lonely feeling which helps to formulate a solution, although rash. Grabbing the phone book my fingers run through the yellow pages stopping on car rentals, which I call for prices into Portland but what to do with the Volvo, who to junk it with. Moments later the idea vanishes because of the latter and the once checked anxiety creeps back up the spine so the next call I make is home to tell Dad of the circumstance. Fortunately, my sister’s husband is there and as he once helped me tear apart the dashboard of the same Volvo to fix the heater coil I knew he’d be able to find a fix and he did; we walk through the procedure to bypass the starter and push start the car. Leaving the car parked on a slight incline my fingers return to the yellow pages locating a mechanic in Omaha, Nebraska just 50 miles away then retire early for the coming day promises to be a busy one.