Meet Me In St. Louis? OK – Anywhere But Browning!

, ,

I got a call yesterday on the road from our X Roving reporter Paul Harrison. Now promoted to our NEW “Roving from the side of the road reporter”.. Congrats.. On your title here.. Please read comments, this story is changing by the hour AL BENTON TO THE RESCUE!

Reporting in from St Louis.

At the recent Sunnyland show, many people commented to both Matt and I that they liked the story of my being stranded in Browning this past winter. The images were great and the circumstance mildly harrowing, and my general reply was that these folks liked it because they were not the people stranded! Matt, seizing upon this, thought I might just become “that” guy who goes on trips and tries to do stuff, but somewhere along the line a spanner is invariably inserted into the works with distressing consequences. I said no way – I do not want to be that guy! I don’t want to be the foil for everyone who plans for every single contingency and it always works out for them. Once was enough.
So, poor naïve guy that I am, I figure it is no problem to drive a 1996 Chevy truck 3100 miles from Tavares, Fl. to Portland Or., pulling a combined 5500 lb. Sea Skiff and trailer, right? After all, the subject truck did get the boat down there in the first place, and it did transport the very engine that was the bane of my misguided effort at transport (with the Browning debacle being the result) home from the Warner Auction? It did all those rigorous miles without protest or problem, right? The truck is rated to tow 6000 lbs. What can go wrong?
Being suitably warned and prepared to take every possible precaution in avoidance of Matt’s wish coming true, I get EVRYTHING checked before leaving Tavares. New belts, hoses. Radiator and water pump replaced. Oil and fluids changed/checked, even new headlight bulbs so I can see where I am going and new speakers to make the stereo sound okay. I put heavy duty shocks on it, even a remote trailer tire pressure sensing system – the works. I am feeling good – and for a while it was good. After a long 850 miles yesterday, I am tired but pleased – everything is tickety boo. The engine didn’t burn a quart of oil, no problems anywhere. It Just sucked an incredible quantity of fuel, but that is mostly expected.
Then today, as I approach St. Louis, it happens. Through the din of Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 songs of all time serenading me as I go along – a single disquieting observation, followed by an almost rhetorical question – Why is the tach lurching up to 3500 rpm and back to 2100 and I am only going 62 mph? I quickly realize that really only ever means one thing, and it is not good. I nervously baby the rapidly failing rig about 10 miles through the maze of interstates and ramps and get it into DT St. Louis. Soon it is apparent that it will not move any further, just as I am able to get it into an empty Midas lot.
So, there it sits waiting for what will certainly be a new transmission and 2 days of lost time. As I sit here contemplating this latest development, I began to wonder – why am I doing this? It is costly and time consuming, this driving across the country in old iron with old wood on the back.
I don’t have to wonder long. We loved our time in Florida, the boating experiences there, seeing old friends and meeting new ones, and the excitement and convenience of having our own boat to use in a blissfully warm climate, after a hellish and yet continuing winter. This well used truck was the most practical way of transporting our Sea Skiff to Florida, and also for providing personal transport while there. It took some doing to get the boat there as the logistics permitting it were indeed unusual. It would have taken me the better part of a week to get home (more now!) but it was and is still worth it.
Some people would think me or anyone else reckless for taking an old vehicle with 140k miles on such an arduous trip, pulling a heavy trailer. But I went through that truck one end to the other and there was no hint of trouble. It just happened. I think the same thing happens on old boats – See this weekend sinking story here.. a fellow works on his boat and it is running great, then boom – a breakdown. A person goes on a long river cruise and boom – something happens and the cruise is over, the boat on a trailer, or worse. This happened on the St. John River Cruise we just did – to some very well prepared boaters with top quality boats. I happen to not mind running old equipment and if it is cared for, it can provide good, reliable service in most cases. This truck had done so until today. Most old boats do just fine, most of the time, until one day they don’t. A spare truck like this one is very similar. Do we quit using them, sell them or get mad? I hope not, just accept it for what it is and try to get back on the water or on the road. Kabot’s Habit was pulled from a long period of disuse, given the once over and it provided us with 35 hours of use at Sunnyland, with the only problem being the need to replace a glazed alternator belt. Took 10 minutes and cost $8. The return to use of that boat could easily have been a different experience, but it wasn’t. The good experiences outweigh the bad.
I am not thrilled about the truck breaking down and Matt’s sinister hope for me is regrettably one step closer to fulfillment. But the bright side is it happened in a big city where it is easy to get it fixed, traffic was light and I could actually maneuver it to a safe place without having to try to find someone to tow the truck and boat. It could have happened in any number of far worse places or circumstances – as it did in Browning. I could have left Tavares on Friday and ended up in the horrible storms in Georgia or Tennessee, but I didn’t. There is a bright side to most things.
The other bright side is that it is warm and sunny here and I am not in Calgary where there was so much snow today that Karen’s car is stuck in the driveway. The truck will get fixed and I hope it gets me home. It is pretty much the same experience as when I go out in an old boat – I hope it runs and doesn’t leave me stranded or looking like a dork at the ramp when it won’t start. If it does – what choice do any us have but to persevere. And Matt- I have a new GMC 2500HD Diesel 4X4 coming, so hopefully there won’t be any more of these episodes to chortle about. You might have to find a new foil! But first, I still have 2000 miles left to go.

16 replies
  1. Rick
    Rick says:

    It’s great that you have such a good attitude about this. Instead of screaming and cussing and kicking the doors you used your head, will solve the problem and move on. I would do the same but only after the screaming, cussing, kicking and then some more screaming. Good luck.

  2. Jack Schneiberg
    Jack Schneiberg says:

    Well, Ive done this. Not exactly this – but THIS. I once recounted a tale on my observation on how cords and hoses have a mind of their own. We all trip over this stuff and then we mutter, cuss, and move on – only to do it again.

    I like old things. They break. Take care of them and they develope character. And – of course – so do we who take care of them……………………………

  3. Alex
    Alex says:

    C’mon Matt.  With a role for Paul as important as you’ve assigned him, he needs a hat.  

    No, not a WB hat, even if you’ve got one stashed away.  Instead, he needs a custom one befitting his new title.  It should be insulated, for his Browning moments, and be festooned with extra tranny splines for his St. Louis ones.  

    Hmmmm.  It’ll already be too weighed down that way…  No, a hat alone won’t do it.  

    I’ve got it!  He needs a survival suit.  Equipped with climbing gear, scuba gear, and space gear, for all the future adventures that will no doubt befall him.  

    In the end, he’ll look like one of those one man bands.  

    Have at it, you god of instant Photoshop. 

  4. matt
    matt says:

    HA, yes a bright orange hat with flairs in it. UPDATE! The truck is being moved to a repair shop that AL Benton found last night. The woody boater world jumps in to help. They had a tranny in stock! Stay tuned

  5. Alex
    Alex says:


    By “a bright orange hat,” is this what you had in mind?

    C’mon, you buried Paul in a snowbank with Photoshop, so surely you can make him a Devo member.

    And Paul:

    When you get to the repair shop, be sure to “crack that whip!”

  6. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    I got Paul hooked up with a highly recommended transmission shop out in the suburbs away from the unpredictable city. Bob’s Transmissions towed truck and boat to their shop in Maryland Heights where a new transmission is being installed as we speak. He should be on his way west by mid-afternoon.

  7. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    Wow! – Phil – I just read the story of your sinking boat last week. I had no idea that happened – for some rason my browser would not open WB for the last week. I don’t know why, but I had not seen a story for about 6 days. I got on today through a facebook link. What a close call, unreal to see these pictures.

    When I wrote in my story today that bad or random things happen to even the best prepared, I had no idea what you went through. Your episode and my minor inconvenience serve to prove the point though. We all have to accept the potential for this kind of thing when we embark on these adventures in or on old equipment. We camn just do the best we can to mitigate the conseqences and forge ahead. Be safe and be prudent.

    I will consider a bucket and a hand powered bilge as Mike suggests. This makes me a bit uneasy about my decision to keep the original bottom on my SP – several professional and highly qualified assessments said it is okay, but I am leery now.

    I am glad to see you saved her and can bring her back. Yes, it gets much worse than my travails here, and in Browning, for that matter. But hey – we could all be at home attending to more pedestrian concerns, living a quiet life devoid of any risk or adventure.

    No thanks – I will trade that for these measured and transitory inconveniences any time. Best of luck on repairs, and boy, am I glad you are safe. That is the most important thing, lest we forget in our enthusiasm for the boats themselves

  8. Pat & Lea
    Pat & Lea says:

    What a great time in Taveres. Thanks for the ride and good time had by all. See you soon, baby the truck and keep in mind that the new one will be there soon.

  9. Mike M
    Mike M says:

    Paul failed to mention that in addition the the Skiff he also has a small “cache” of classic outboard motors in the back of the truck. Perhaps he omitted this for security reasons….needless to say, that old truck was fully loaded, and not in the good way.

  10. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    Probably 500 pounds of engines and other stuff in the box. At or slightly above the 6000lb. rated towing capacity but there is plenty of slop in those ratings. Trans was rebuilt in 2004, 60000 miles ago. Should have been fine – something just let go. It is just old and worn I guess. Not any more, with a brand new unit in there.

  11. John Martin
    John Martin says:

    About the same thing happened to me in Cut Bank, MT back in 2004. Took the family (5 of us) plus a 25′ travel trailer up to Glacier and rear end gave out coming back home. It was an embarassing site to have my Chevy pickup, and its trailer being towed to Cut Bank using a FORD flat bed towtruk. Grrrrrr!!!

Comments are closed.