Monday, May 4th 8 a.m. The free continental breakfast Super 8 offers energizes, and, standing alongside the Volvo with the transmission in neutral, key in the ignition and switched on, parking brake released I push. Come on, come on, come on, yes! The Volvo breaks its stationary bond with the ground as I run alongside building forward motion then jump in, shift into third gear, and with a lurch the engine sputters then a mighty roar as all 4-cylinders come to life and it is good-bye Walnut, Iowa with Omaha 50 miles distant. In no time I arrive at the repair shop (easily located with the directions obtained before leaving) the starter situation is explained and the most important part can the work be completed today as I am driving to Oregon. Nail biting moments pass as the mechanic checks the shops schedule for the day then, yes, we can have your car repaired today, and it will take about four hours. Al Right! Because I am eager to get back on the road, the four hours pass slowly over breakfast and a leisurely stroll about town. Aaaahhhh, the modern blacksmith calming concern and getting the motorist back on the road, those migrating west in the 19th century had to be their own blacksmith or suffer. North Platte, Nebraska here I come.
One hour down Interstate 80 I pull into a rest stop near Lincoln, Nebraska and after a brief snooze give the ignition key a turn to fire up the engine. Traditionally, there is cranking, compression of gas and air, spark, and bang the engine is idling however, the new starter refuses to co-operate and instead a clicking sound is heard. Wait this is a new starter, I scream fists above my head! What gives? Two catastrophes within 24 hours Portland is getting further and further away! Cars come and go at the rest stop as I remember to breath and keep turning the ignition in hope that, then suddenly VROOM the engine fires up. “Turn-a-rounds” they were called, pioneers that gave up the journey because of a “mountain of fear” of the unknown my mountain now grew with a semi-functional starter added to the overheating engine. Do I go back to Omaha for another starter and lose one more day or press on to Portland? Returning to Michigan even comes up but quickly dismissed. Well, just like most hardy 19th century travelers I stay the course and plan to park on inclines if the Fred Flintstone method of starting becomes necessary. Loneliness and thoughts of walking through this sparsely populated land now join me as a breakdown from overheating or the problematic starter overshadow the historic landscape I pass through. With the window defroster still on and the outside temperature hot and humid I reach Kearney, Nebraska. Southeast of here Fort Kearny (sic) once stood where emigrants heading westward picked up needed supplies and where numerous trails met including the one to Oregon. Kearney is named after Fort Kearny with the different spelling for the city due to postal workers errors; I so want to investigate portions on “The Trail” but not wanting to chance further mechanical problems nix the idea instead, look forward to North Platte and relaxation.
Even though an extra day has been tacked on because of the starter repair this inadvertently broke up the 10 hour drive between Davenport, Iowa and North Platte, Nebraska and I could not have been in a better mood as I arrive in North Platte around 6pm. Nonetheless mentally fatigued from events over the past 24 hours I am glad to be out of the car, and, after phoning Dad with updates I walk to a nearby Mexican restaurant then off into the evening for a good stretch of the legs along US Highway 83. Stopping on a bridge over the South Platte River the setting sun reflects off the water seducing my imagination as this river flows through parts of James Michener’s novel Centennial. The book, a favorite of mine, follows the people that made up and settled the west many of them traversing the Oregon Trail, of the cattleman that drove cattle north, and of the fur trappers that preceded. One of the characters in particular named Pasquinel, “a Coureur De Bois, one who runs in the woods,” trapped and traded for beaver pelts along the Platte River selling the goods in St. Louis. The story also depicts problems with the river that runs so low not even empty canoes can traverse it resulting in portaging canoe and goods. In the book, two of the main characters join a wagon train to Oregon but turn back because of wagon failure and that “mountain of fear” ending up in Colorado and settle the fictional town Centennial. The book comes alive in mind but darkness has fallen and I must return to the motel but the opportunity taken to reconnect with the past is refreshing.
To be continued…
If you have not done so already, check out Parts 1 & 2 of Modern Pioneer