It is now time for another true story from the glorious world of Drive-Away. This one is about an unplanned and totally stupefying MAJOR repair that had to made to our 1984 (?) Ford pickup – Gracie – back in the late fall of 1999. I think it was early November but I don’t remember fully.
This photo is going to get a lot of mileage in all of the posts regarding Drive-Away life before the trailer.
The towed vehicle configuration
I don’t remember where Joe picked up the trucks he had to deliver to the International Truck dealership in Dundalk, Maryland. I wasn’t driving then but I did do a lot of grunt work.
This trip was my very first time on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Hundreds of miles of road with steep hills and twisting narrow roads. Some sections of the highway are blocked in by mountains of granite. The dividers between the traffic flow are only concrete barriers. When it rains, which happens quite a bit in Pennsylvania, the water pools on the roadway near the barriers and makes driving treacherous. I was scared out of my wits on that trip. Joe, on the other hand, was his usual calm self. He even laughed at me a few times as I tried to find some hand hold to keep me from jumping out of the window.
Other stretches of the highway are lined with trees. When the granite mountains and thick forests give way the traveler sees rolling green hillsides dotted with farm houses and barns. Cows grazing on the hilltops or down in the low valleys. Horses are occasionally seen far off in the distance.
Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania
This portion of the US is full of Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields. Nearly every little town and berg along the Pennsylvania Turnpike have some kind of historical building or ground. Civil War enactment brigades are plentiful in Pennsylvania.
While traversing one of the tree lined stretches of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (and I don’t remember exactly where we were at the time) Joe said to me “Did you hear that?!” Now mind you, Joe has a moderate hearing problem. I didn’t hear a thing. For the next few seconds – which seemed like several long minutes – my head was swiveling back and forth. I was just about in panic mode already and he was edging me further into an outright fit of terror.
“What? What did you hear?” I asked Joe as I sat in the passenger seat with my right hand firmly clamped on the door pull. “I didn’t hear anything. What did you hear?” I continued, panic rising in my throat.
“I heard a bang” Joe calmly said. Just like we were having a normal conversation.
I then was hyper vigilant and listened to every single noise I could. Trying to hear the tell tale sound of anything “bang”ing. Nothing. Joe continued driving and it wasn’t long before I began to settle down. The Pennsylvania Turnpike was nearing an end at Breezewood and we would be getting off the blasted thing to enter the state of Maryland.
So far this road trip had been an all day affair. We started the day somewhere in West Virginia or Ohio. Entering Maryland meant that we were getting closer to our delivery point. That would still be the next day but at least we were closer.
Mid morning the next day we arrived in Dundalk, Maryland. A suburb of Baltimore. When we did arrive at the International dealership lot both of us were a little concerned. There was not enough room to unhook our trucks. There wasn’t even enough room to enter the driveway of the place. One of the men that works at the dealership said we could go about a quarter of a mile further along the road and unhook in the parking lot of a restaurant – Costas Inn.
Map showing International Dealership and Costas Inn
I had to get the pickup taken loose from the back truck and moved out of the way before Joe and I could take the trucks apart. We had been having trouble with the Remco Driveline Disconnect thing and I had to crawl under the pickup to get the driveline pushed back into proper alignment in order to back the pickup out of the way. That done I put the truck in Reverse and made ready to back up. Nothing happened. Push the gear shift back up into Park then down into Reverse and give it some gas. Nothing. Okay, well that’s not good.
I had to go find Joe. Calling out to him does no good. Remember I said he had a hearing problem? So I had to go hunt him down and tell him the pickup is not working properly. He stopped what he was doing and came to check for himself. He checked the driveline then tried to make the pickup move shifting it in Reverse and it didn’t work for him either.
I don’t know why he decided to look underneath the rear of the pickup. I seem to remember him telling me about the “bang” he had heard on the previous day. Well, he looked. And what he found was not such a very good thing at all.
The rear end had a hole blown out of it. This is someone else’s photo of a Ford Rear End. I don’t know exactly what it is called so I use the common name of it. The “Pumpkin”.
Rear End of a Ford driveline
This is sort of what Joe saw. Except the metal cover was still mostly on the “Pumpkin”. The inner workings could be seen through the huge hole.
Inner workings of a Rear End
We weren’t going anywhere. Not until this got fixed. We couldn’t even deliver the trucks until this major problem got fixed.
Joe, ever the resourceful man that he is, called the International dealership and told them of our problem then asked if there were a Ford Service Center near. There were several of them. Every one he called told him it would be several days before we could even get the pickup into the shop to be examined. Norris Ford was the last one on his list. They told him to bring the pickup in anytime he could.
Sounds easy. Right? Just tow the pickup right on over there and get it in the shop bays. No problem.
Only problem was we had to get there with the trucks still connected while towing the pickup behind. Most service shops are not equipped to handle 13 foot tall trucks that are about 40 feet long. Joe told them about our problem and he was assured they would be able to get us in yet that day.
Looking at the photo below, you can see the building is vast. You also can see, at the bottom where the red arrow is, we had to get the trucks in that door way.
Norris Ford – Dundalk, MD
We were the “Circus that came to town” that morning. Joe drove into the building and pulled far enough in for the mechanics to get a tractor with a ball hitch hooked onto the tow hitch of the pickup. I disconnected the pickup from Joe’s trucks and he drove forward more inside the building. The tractor was driven between the space that was left and connected to the pickup.
This photo is not of Gracie but it is of the hitch the tractor had to connect to.
Once Gracie was moved into a shop bay area and clear of the entry Joe had to back out of the shop. To do that I had to get in the back truck, take the seat belt off the steering wheel and get seated as though I were driving the truck.
In this situation there are no brakes for me to apply if Joe needs to stop. No matter how often I pumped the brake pedal nothing was going to happen except cause me to freak out more than I already was. So trying to remain calm and not let everyone in the shop know that this was only the SECOND TIME I would be “Fire Trucking” this crazy mess out the door because Joe couldn’t see back there, I just held onto the steering wheel and watched where the truck was going.
Of course, without the engine running, steering that dead truck was a task all by itself. No power steering. I had to watch the road in front of me while I kept track of the building’s doorway and walls. Joe backing the long trucks out while I steered from behind.
As you can imagine we had an audience. This was no time for a panic attack and lose my brain. I had to help get us safely out of there.
It took several minutes of Joe carefully backing and me making the steering adjustments to finally be free of the building and out in the open parking lot. Joe had quite a group of men around him that told him they had never seen anything like that. Thankfully there was nobody that came over to me to gush over the sight they had seen. I busied myself with getting the steering wheel tied back down and ready for Joe to drive out of there.
We had to rent a car to make our delivery then wait out the couple days for the repair to be made.
By the way. I want to tell you that Norris Ford was AWESOME! By the time that Joe called them to let them know of our blown out rear end and the added problem of having to enter there service area with the trucks then drive over to their shop, they had the repair already in the works. Someone had been tasked to go to a junk yard and find a junk truck with the proper rear end and axle to replace the one in our Gracie.
When we were ready to leave and make Joe’s delivery the junk truck was already in the shop and Gracie was well on her way to being taken apart for the work to be done on her.
That rear end repair made by Norris Ford lasted us for another couple of years. That story is for another time.