Vacation Woes

by Wayne Heikkila

After reading Bob’s article in the February issue, it brought back a lot of memories about one of my trips back to Michigan. It was back in 1984 and my first wife Dawn and I had planned our first vacation, that was not a speedy trip to Michigan and back to pick up items—we moved here in 1981. But, just a couple weeks before we were to leave Dawn said she didn’t want to take the only vehicle we had a 1970 El Camino. So we started looking for a different vehicle to purchase. Well Dawn came home on the Friday a week before we were to leave and said she found the perfect car that one of the ladies at her work was selling—A 1974 Monte Carlo. It was blue with a white quarter vinyl top and black interior. The car was fully loaded. Air, cruse, tilt, power windows, locks 8 way power seat, rear window defogger and I’m sure I’m leaving something out. The car was a clean one owner with good service records. The lady had just had a complete brake job, replaced the belts and hoses, tune-up and it had only 60,000 miles on it. It looked like Dawn did well. So, we went and looked at the car on Saturday and checked it out and agreed to purchase the vehicle for the $1200.00 asking price. We picked up the vehicle on Tuesday, after they picked up their new car. Now I only had three days before we would leave on vacation. Well, like most great plans, I never got to check out the vehicle before we headed out on Friday after work. So, Friday at 4:00 we headed north on I35 towards Dallas. The car ran good and smooth, hummed right along. We reached Dallas and headed east on 30 towards Little Rock, AR. Things went good till we almost reached Mt Pleasant, TX. The car developed a wobble that was coming from the rear. We exited the freeway to a parking lot and found that the right rear tire started to separate. This would be the first tire problem we would have. I put the spare on which I‘m sure was the original to the car. After I changed the tire we were on the road again. We stopped for the night just east of Little Rock.

In the morning we had breakfast and across the street a used tire shop was opening up, so before we hit the road I purchased a replacement tire so we would have a good spare.    We picked up I40 east and continued on our journey that day. We headed north on I55 thinking the worst was behind us. Soon after, we picked up  I57 and northbound we went. This area is remote but you can make good time. After about 30 miles on I57, we heard a squealing noise from under the hood. I pulled over and opened the hood to find that the alternator bearing had frozen up. I loosened the belt and started pouring water on the alternator to cool it down. After about a half hour the alternator had cooled down enough to mess with it. I tapped on the alternator and was able to free up the bearing. I put the belt back on loosely and we were on our way once again. The first town we came to was Marion, luckily for us, they had a small auto parts store. I went in looking for an alternator, they wanted $125.00 for a rebuilt one and $10.00 to remove the pulley from my old alternator. After thinking about it, I asked if they had the front bearing for my alternator and if they would pull the pulley off for $10.00. They said yes, so I removed the alternator, replaced the front bearing and installed it. And off we go yet again. About 49 miles from I94, the left rear tire blew out—I changed it and on we went. Things went well till we got between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek MI. This is when the car developed a hard pull to the left. I pulled into a closed gas station and found that the left front wheel was smoking. I knew this was serous and not a simple repair. I called a friend Mark who worked at a repair shop and had access to a wrecker to tow the car. Dawn called a high school friend who lived in the area and the two went off to leave me to deal with the car. While I waited on Mark. I turned the car around and jacked it up and disconnected the drive shaft so the car could be towed from the front. Mark showed up and within 15 minutes we were on are way to Lansing. Once we got to the shop and got the car on a lift, I was able to access the damage. I ended up replacing the left front spindle and the inner and outer bearings on both sides. The right side was about to have the same problem. Someone had overtightened the bearings when the front brakes were done. I think this is what happened to the alternator also. I wanted to replace all four tires being we had two blow outs and purchased two used tires along the way. But, Dawn said no, only purchase two, due to the money we had already spent in repairs. I decided to keep one of the tires for the trip back just in case. The rest of our vacation went without any more issues with the car.

Early Friday morning we headed for home down I69 south to Indianapolis. We picked up I65 and headed south through Kentucky to Nashville. We picked up I40 and headed south west to Little Rock. The car was running good. Just as we were getting to the Arkansas boarder, I felt a wobble coming from the rear. I pulled into the Welcome area and changed the right rear tire with the spare. We continued on towards Little Rock picking up 30 and only stopping for gas and to have the tire changed. We stopped for the night in Texarkana. In the morning we continued towards Dallas and looking forward to getting back home. When we turned onto I35 and headed south from Dallas it felt great. Everything went good till we were just north of Waco when we developed another wobble. Yes, the last tire started coming apart. I changed the tire and we filled the tank with gas and we had $14 left to get us back to Austin. We made the rest of the trip home without any problems. The funny part is, the Monte Carlo got worse mileage then the El Camino. I think that was due to the 400 two barrel. But, it was a smoother and more comfortable ride. The one thing this vacation did teach me, was to take things in stride and try to enjoy the adventure—and to always carry a tool bag with me. This would come in handy during other trips. And those are other stories.