Monday, September 10, 2007

An MGB and Coming of Age

The summer after my freshman year in college found me in Siloam Springs Arkansas hanging out with my brother. We shared a campus housing apartment at John Brown University with a friend of my brothers and did odd jobs to provide income for a month or two.

My brother's friend worked at a dairy counting down the days until his wedding, my brother was doing odd roofing jobs and I among other things re-caulked a log house.

It was my first extended stay anywhere south of Colorado and I was introduced to things like June Bugs, bugs in general and midnight tennis. Actually midnight tennis incorporated all those things at once. It was amazing to see the number of flying creatures surrounding the mercury lamps illuminating the tennis court. And it was predicable to watch our tennis game degenerate into "June Bug lacrosse" as a particularly large, low flying June Bug kept circling our game at altitudes from eight to fifteen feet in the air and sounding like a world war one bi-plane that was about to lose its motor. The motor would "catch" and the June Bug would soar up to his desired fifteen foot cruising altitude. His motor would then sputter and cough and he would drunkenly glide to within tantalizing reach of our rackets.

Our transportation at that time was a bright red 1970 something MGB. A small English two seater roadster with a very manual convertible top. MG's are fun, "cool," and finicky at best. This particular model was even more temperamental than most because we had actually built it when our family was still living in Grand Junction Colorado. An associate of my fathers had completely taken apart his MG to rebuild it, and then, at the height of dismemberment, lost interest in the project. My father had bought the "car" for $1000. He now had a project to work on with his boys, and we had a MGB body and suspension with four wheels attached to it and nothing else attached. We had seemingly a thousand zip lock bags of loose parts along with an engine, transmission, windshield, hood and the like and a Hayne's do it yourself car manual on MGB's.

Our standard working protocol when working on the car sounded something like this: "Where's that wrench?" "What wrench?" "The wrench I was using that you just borrowed!" "I don't have it." "Yes, you do!" "No, I don't." "Well were is it?" "I dunno." "Get up, you're laying on it" "No I'm not" "Yes, you are!" And then everyone would get up look around for a few minutes until the wrench was found. After resettling back to our work, about ten minutes later someone would say "Where's the screw driver" "What screwdriver"...and on.

When we were "done" it was disconcerting to have several bags of left over parts and no known place to attach them. It became common for us run up to some stranger with an MG in a grocery store parking lot and ask him to open the hood for us. "Oh, so that's where that goes" "Oh man, we had that backwards" and on and on.

Eventually we were able to use up most of the parts and the car was a blast to drive or ride in, except when it wasn't (running that is.)

This was our, or more correctly, my brother's transportation at that time. As he was getting more roofing work, an MG just became more and more impractical. My father then made him one of those "dad" offers. Dad had bought a 1960 something Chevy pick up truck that would be much more suitable for the roofing work and would swap it with my brother for the MG.
Only one problem: dad and the truck were in Berthoud Colorado and the MG was in Siloam Springs Arkansas. Due to my brother's need to continue roofing, the plan was made for me to drive the MG to Russell Kansas where I would meet my father and swap the MG for the truck and drive back to Siloam all in one day.

This was a drive of about three hundred miles one way that would take me through Tulsa Oklahoma, Wichita Kansas and then other less populated Kansas destinations like Newton and the left turn onto interstate 70 in Salina. The route was mostly highway, but for me this was heady stuff. There was a significant task at hand and I was being trusted to hold up one end of it.

Bright and early on the Saturday swap morning I headed out. I had the passenger's seat loaded with cassette tapes and was marking the time by the number of tapes that were run from the seat through the tape player and then deposited on the passenger seat floor board.

About seventy five miles past Tulsa it happened. The MG made like that June Bug and sputtered, coughed and then died. I was sitting on the side of the Cimarron turnpike in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma sitting in a lifeless MG. There were no cell phones at this time. There was nobody else, no traffic, no gas station, no nothing.

I was at a loss. I tried the ignition. Nothing.


And I prayed. I sat there and I prayed because I didn't know what else to do. My heart was pounding, I would have probably cried if I had thought it would help. And I sat there for about a half hour wondering what to do.

A few cars zoomed by, but not many. I didn't attempt to flag anyone down.

And then on a whim I turned the ignition again, and the MG roared (OK purred) to life. Relief and thanks to God poured through my veins.

I put the car in gear and my journey continued.

Some eighty to ninety miles later, I had just entered the middle portion of Wichita, when it happened again. The MG died again. I was on the side of interstate 135. Wondering what to do. And I prayed.

And a guy in a flower delivery van pulled over and offered to tow me to the only garage he knew of that might be open that day. Not every morning in Wichita do you see a flower delivery van rope towing a bright red convertible MG roadster down Interstate 135 in Wichita. He pulled me to a gas station/garage and I profusely thanked him for his help. I was at a place that actually worked on cars, they would be able to diagnose and fix the car and get me on my way.

Only the garage guys wouldn't be able to even look the car until Monday and didn't think that they could do anything quickly for a 1970 something English (foreign) MG.


So I sat in the parking lot of the garage and pondered and prayed some more. It came into my head that the car might be either vapor locking or having some other fuel line issue (fuel pump?) that seemed to "correct" itself when the car cooled down. As being towed and then sitting at the gas station/garage had burned over an hour, I thought that the car's problem might have been "corrected" again.

So I tried the ignition.


Actually less then nothing, the starter didn't even turn the engine over. But this was a "known" feature of the MG and I knew how to deal with this one. One of the advantages of a small two-seater roadster is that it can be push started by a single person even in a flat gas station parking lot. I took the car out of gear, opened the door, got out, put one hand on the door the other on the steering wheel and pushed. In no time the car was rolling at a steady clip. I jumped into the car slamming the door closed, pressed down the clutch, threw the car into first gear, popped the clutch and the MG coughed to life once again.

As I pulled out onto Interstate 135 leaving Wichita I thought I must be insane. I had been at a garage that could had fixed my car (albeit on their time table) and I was driving away from that safety net.

Normal interstate highway trips are a lesson in controlled boredom, especially driving through Kansas. Figuring out how to pass time while mile markers pass by. This trip had gone so far from normal that every cough, sputter and hiccup the MG made (which are the normal sounds emanating from an MG) caused me to jump.

Being preoccupied with wondering when the car was going to die again, I missed a turn on interstate 135 as it passed through Newton. I found myself off the interstate in residential Newton without a clue as to where the interstate had suddenly gone. I am not certain how one can actually exit an interstate and not know it, but I accomplished this incredible feat in the middle of Kansas.

I panicked. I pulled a u-turn on the residential street I was on and began rapidly attempting to retrace my route and find the lost interstate.

And I rapidly got pulled over by one of Newton's finest for doing 45mph in a 25mph residential area. The lady officer asked for my wallet, and I realized I had left it in the truck of the MG and could I please get it out of the trunk? She allowed me to extract my wallet from the trunk, tell her my story of woe, and then went to her patrol car. I used the trunk as a seat and waited for my fate.

After what seemed an eternity she came back, only gave me a warning and graciously gave me directions out of Newton and back on the interstate.

I made it to Salina and took the turn West onto I-70.

Only 60 something miles left to Russell. I came over a rise and a magnificent (and horrifying) site greeted me from the Northwest. A massive thunderstorm was barrelling towards me over the plains. As I was in a convertible car, the top was down. As this was an MG, the process of actually putting the top up would take at least fifteen minutes. The convertible MG top had snaps and buckles in abundance and large doses of grunting, pulling and shoving were required to convince the top that it was actually designed to cover that car.

And I didn't have fifteen minutes anyway.

I decided to drive on through the storm with the top down. One of the other features of convertibles in general is that one can actually drive through significant rain storms sans top and not get more than a misting from the rain. The windshield actually removes most of the rain drops.

Just as the storm struck in all its glory, it hit me: the car was going to die in the middle of that storm. With all the certainty of a prophesy from God I knew it would happen.

And it did. I was about ten miles outside of Russell, lightning flashing, thunder rolling and torrential rain pouring down and the car died. I frantically got out. Unfurled the cover from behind the two seats, pulled enough of it over to at least cover the majority of me and the car's interior and waited out the storm.

As the late afternoon sunlight finally began streaming out from under the last vestiges of the thunderhead, I got out and attached the cover to the car. The car had waited its required thirty minute rest and I was able to push start the car and finish the last ten miles on the journey to Russell.

As I was exiting the interstate I saw on my immediate right the McDonald's that was our meeting point. Nothing ever looked so welcome as that sight. I was over four hours late, soaking wet and would have probably given that MG to anyone who had asked for the car at that point.

Just before I turned to enter the McDonald's parking lot flashing lights behind me showed one of Russell's finest on my bumper. I was stopped, in full view of my father at the McDonald's and given a $75 ticket for not stopping at a stop sign that I hadn't seen. I guess I was too busy looking at the McDonald's and searching for my dad and the truck.

After being given my signed piece of history from the officer, I related to my father the events of my day. My dad looked at me and said, "Son, today you became a man."

Now, I do not know all that is meant by a statement like that but I do know this. I had had an important task, my brother and father were counting on me, there was much adversity and I completed my task. I am sure I could have done things differently and probably better. But it had been done, and my dad had said the I was a man.

I got in the truck, drove back to Siloam.

But the rest of that day truly faded into unimportance.

God was with me and I was a man. Because my father told me so.


Victoria said...

You've done it again, Rob. What an adventure, I was right there with you as you described your harrowing experience. You also have a wonderful dad. Praise God! Victoria

Mrs. Hart said...

I have to reiterate what Victoria said: I felt like I was going through it with you. What a heart-rending, soul-stretching experience. And how affirming that your dad also understood and realized what a "man-making" experience it was. To think, after all these years his blessing still affects you: "Today you became a man."

Rob said...

Thanks for being there with me.
God has definately made there to be something about a "blessing" from a father to a son in that way that is very important and doesn't leave the son.
I agree that I have a wonderful dad.

Steph said...

Rob, you simply must keep on blogging! I cannot wait to relay this story to my dear husband who collects British cars! You know, all I could keep thinking was that God will ALWAYS take you through the just have to keep on going! And you did! Blessings upon every endeavor brother!

Rob said...

Thanks for your encouragement. The blogging time comes and goes and it has been "goes" for the last while. I haven't worked out how to take the time to blog and still get done a lot of the little things around the house that need to be done. But I don't intend to stop blogging.

Rob said...

Also Steph (and husband),

Although not British, we also had a Fiat Spider roadster after that MGB. It however was somewhat reliable.