Friday, April 29, 2011 By: Uwharrie Heirlooms

The van saga

Back in 2005, when I was still working at the NC Zoo, a co-worker offered me an opportunity to purchase a 1987 Ford Econoline van at a reasonable price. I had long wished to have a similar vehicle to carry my DJ equipment and anything else I could use it for, especially plants, since I was planning to leave the zoo to return to the greenhouse business.

I bought it.

For several years I used it, on the average, once a month or so, as I didn't need it as much as I had thought. In the meantime I drove my little Toyota pickup, which finally conked out on me in February of this year.

With finances being pretty tight, the pickup sits, awaiting for help from someone who has yet to take a look.

So, the old white van became not just a delivery vehicle, but a mode of daily transportation. I can honestly say that I have received my money's worth, as it has struggled to keep me on the road for the past couple of months.

But the old van is not without its problems.

As many of you who know me are aware, the highway in front of my place is undergoing some serious road construction, and has been in that state for a couple of years.

A couple of weeks ago, the old roadway out front was milled down a couple of feet deep, leaving something akin to an old-timey moat across the front of my property. The construction workers were kind enough to build a bridgelike connection of soil or gravel so that we and our neighbors could access the road, releasing us from our pinned in status.

So, I was the first one to attempt an escape.

I fired up the old van, and started across the moat via the "bridge." My front end immediately sank to the axles and I felt a crunch as the entire front undercarriage made contact with the ledge of pavement that had been left following the milling operation.

I slowly backed out and retreated through the rear driveway from the greenhouse. The potholes there aren't much better than the ill-fated front drive, but I at least know where they are.

As I drove toward Troy, to the Farmers' Market there, the entire van began to shimmy, shake and shudder. It felt as if I had four flat tires.

I pulled into the driveway of a friend and got out to take a look. I saw no flats and could see no damage. I assumed that the van had been knocked terribly out of line from the driveway bridge incident. With my untrained eyes seeing nothing, I continued to shimmy and shake on my way to Troy.

When I arrived at the Farmers' Market I could smell the odor of something about my van burning.

My next assumption was that the brakes had somehow become locked and I was driving while they were stuck in the engaged position. When the market ended I started on what I thought would be a long, slow ride home.

There was no shimmy. No shake. No shudder on the return trip. I actually was able to drive the speed limit. The van felt and drove fine.

This was not to last, however. I was soon able to recognize the feeling that would come when the shimmies and shakes would begin again. I learned to pull to the side of the road, drive backwards for a few yards, then continue on my way.

So into the mechanic's shop it went. I suspected brakes, they suspected tie rods and we both agreed it would need an alignment. Up on the lift it went, front tires removed.

The verdict: brakes are ok, but it might need a master cylinder for an amount of bucks I couldn't consider right now.

So the intermittant shimmying continued, but not as often. It seemed that when it would do the dance that it was a bit more severe than previously.

Yesterday I headed out to the Troy Farmers' Market again. No shimmy, no shake. But I was in for other problems.

The wind at the market was ferocious, and my plants took quite a beating. My tent, even with 80 pounds of weights attached and bungees in every direction, wanted to go wind sailing. It couldn't get any worse than this.

Or so I thought.

Following the market I started on a fifteen mile drive to the lake to eat dinner with my wife and boys, who are enjoying their spring break fishing, swimming and getting burnt to a crisp in the sun.

About halfway there the dance began. Shimmy, shake and shudder. I performed the routine of pulling over, backing up then continued on my way.

I enjoyed a nice spaghetti meal, then it was time to go home so I could take out the windswept plants and replace them with fresh ones for the Pinehurst market. I unloaded quite a few plants for my wife, who wanted to plant the damaged ones around her parent's lake house, then started on my way home.

About three miles down the road, the shudder started, but this time it was acompanied by a WHAP! WHAP! WHAP! sound. "Flat tire for sure," I thought.

I had my window down, then started hearing a new sound. It was the sound of bits of metal hitting the pavement as I limped along to a suitable stopping place. "I guess the tie rods are falling off now."

I pulled into a convenience store and moved to the far end of the parking lot. I got out and looked.

No flat tires.

I looked underneath the front end. All steering mechanisms were in place.

I was stumped. I thought that perhaps I had run over something that I hadn't seen.

As I stood there wondering I spotted something that sent a chill up my spine.

The left front tire was sitting askew and there was only one lug nut keeping it from coming completely off, and it wasn't far from abandoning ship itself.

Apparently the mechanic had not tightened the lugs. I could have found myself driving a tricycle if I hadn't pulled off the road when I did.

I called my wife to pick me up, then went inside the store to inquire if they sold lug nuts.

"You can look in the automotive section," said the clerk as she returned to her cell phone.

The "automotive section" consisted of a few quarts of oil, some hose clamps and some of the worst-smelling air fresheners you could imagine.

It looked like a trip to Albemarle to the auto parts store was in order.

I received permission from the clerk and her helper to leave the van parked where it was. My wife arrived with the two boys in the back seat. I had forgotten that my DJ equipment was in the back and there was only one available seat. Problem was that, with my oldest son along for my ride, there were two of us.

He crawled into the back seat between the two younger sun burnt boys who loudly reminded us all that second degree burns can be quite painful.

We returned to the house, deposited my older son, went to Albemarle, bought new lug nuts and a working jack, then returned to the van.

I jacked her up, secured the wheel, returned to the house for my son, then got home around midnight. No shimmy, shake or shudder,

There was no time to reload the van.

And that's why I didn't make it to Pinehurst this morning.

But I did thank the clerks at the store with a half dozen beautiful German Johnson tomato plants.


farmhousewife said...

Oh you all have had a rough time of it then! I'm sorry to hear of the trouble and so glad that the tricycle saga was not able to generate another blog post!

Sheesh! You deserve a break!

Stephanie said...

That's quite an adventure...Glad you got the van working again! Thanks for bringing the plants to Asheboro yesterday! It was great to meet you. We got the plants into the garden and I'm looking forward to seeing you again and getting more plants. They are all so healthy and beautiful.
Peace, Stephanie

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