A Short Trip – 2005 I

It was time for a short August getaway trip like an evacuee escaping the torrid temperatures of North Texas. I entertained thoughts about stopping by the Lamberts in suburban Coppell for an overnight visit. However, I was well aware that there was no room at the inn since his daughter and son-in-law with their two kids were occupying all the guest bedrooms. That meant bedding down in Ol’ Blue with the aid of their floor-mounted fan. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really looking forward to that scenario since the humidity was relatively high. When I called Charlie, he informed me that he was headed to San Antonio to visit his son Chun. Well, that settled that. I’d have to make my own arrangements down the road. That was okay with me.

After packing a combination of warm and cool apparel (you never know in Colorado), I checked Ol’ Blue’s precious bodily fluids. All levels were AOK, but I had one of those “did I or didn’t I” feelings about whether or not I had sufficiently secured the radiator cap. I shrugged it off, but it was that mental lapse that eventually was my undoing down the road.

I headed west on old familiar TX 114 to the junction with U.S. 287. The 90 mile drive to Wichita Falls was such a drag, so I opted to continue on TX 114 to Bridgeport and Jacksboro, a somewhat scenic two-lane highway. The remnants of the Ft. Worth & Denver Western R.R. roadbed were still visible paralleling the highway. I stopped for petrol in Jacksboro, and as I was pulling out, I noticed the temperature needle was well past the normal heat reading. Stupidly, I didn’t think much of it until the needle went off the scale (I absurdly thought the temp needle had gone awry) when a steamy smoke started emanating from under the dashboard. It was apocalypse now. I had been looking for a shade tree to park under, but to no avail. I pulled off onto the shoulder under a scorching sun. For as long as I’ve had Ol’ Blue (24 years), I have always had a stash of three one-gallon jugs of water just in case of an emergency. And for 24 years I had barely tapped the jugs except for maybe an occasional top-off of battery cells or cosmetic maintenance like washing kamikaze bug remains off the front. Well now, those three jugs were going to be my salvation. When I lifted the hood, I could see how the loose radiator cap had allowed all the water and coolant to evaporate. I had certainly learned a basic law in physics: “Keep a tight lid on it.” After the smoke had cleared and I felt the radiator ….

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When I was sure the coils had cooled, I poured in my precious three gallons of water plus about two quarts of coolant. After an hour of this ordeal, I cranked her up and the temp gauge was back to normal. I was back on the road again, now driving topless.

I continued west on TX 114 through Jean, Olney, and Megargel (what picturesque names!), then north on a Farm-to-Market road to Mabelle and the junction with U.S. 183/283 to Vernon. Hey, this was 40 miles of new road in Texas! As a precautionary move to prevent any more overheating, I eschewed the use of the A/C in favor of an open vent window (a small, but convenient feature that has long since vanished in the world of automotive design). The hot western sun was tanning my left shoulder through the open window. It wasn’t all that unpleasant as long as air was rushing through. As I pulled in at The Village Inn in Vernon, Ol’ Blue had kept her cool, but I was definitely overheated. I would be hard pressed to remember any night that I had felt more comfortable than in that refrigerated room that night at The Village Inn. I always enjoyed highway driving on Sundays because it was the road repair crew’s day off. As I passed through Estillene and crossed the all-but-dry Red River, I had officially left North Texas Nation and entered the Panhandle.

I made my usual stop at the Pilot Gas Stop which was always packed with vehicles, but today there was nary a car or RV at the pumps. Maybe it was the inflated gas prices (up to $2.65 a gallon) that was curtailing highway driving, but whatever, it was a weird scene. Back on I-40, I passed the all too familiar Holiday Inn where I would always stop to call uncle Allen Early to rendezvous for a cup of coffee. Mr. Amarillo passed away recently, so another ritual of the road had died with him. I missed that grand old man and the stimulating conversations we shared. I especially reveled in his boundless familiarity with West Texas history. The drive from Amarillo to Dumas was only 45 miles and had an ascent of more than two thousand feet. The climb in elevation was almost imperceptible because of the downs and ups of numerous canyons one has to traverse. To illustrate the rise in elevation, I could see in my outside mirror the outline of an industrial facility just north of Amarillo some 40 miles away! Now that was an unlimited vista! Across the vast flatness of The Panhandle and into New Mexico, I finally end the 350 mile trip at my favorite rest area midway between Clayton and Raton. I sat in my easy chair watching coal trains rumble by and a theatrical display of heat lightning far off in the eastern sky. Oh, how I loved this spot! At 6,600 feet, I was assured of being cool and comfortable in the van bed.