Friday, April 23, 2021

Deja Moose, Part Free

The Moose is back!!!

[This is Part Three of a Three Part Series, start with Part One here.]

Not quite a week later, I checked in with John. He had made an appointment with a Ford garage to straighten out the computer which still wasn’t performing properly. But he and Ford had disagreed he said. Furthermore, because his injury was slowing him down, and he was a bit stumped troubleshooting The Moose, he was taking the van to a friend of his who had been in the transmission business just as long. 

Call me Monday, I got. 

I was in a bit of a pinch. My resignation was effective Saturday and I had no wheels. Further, Nancy had volunteered to drive me north once again, but due to some family commitments she could only do it that weekend. 

Counting my blessings, I accepted and we planned another roadtrip. 

I finished my last delivery, cleaned out and cleaned up my truck, and turned it in with my fuel card and company ID. When Nancy arrived, I smiled ruefully and told her the van wasn’t quite ready yet. We dropped some of my truck stuff off at the storage unit and headed North anyway. 

Once again, my limit was about Brunswick. We had some really good Thai food and then a great breakfast the next morning; our second time at the Sunrise Diner. I highly recommend it. 

Back in Savannah, we took a nice walk along the riverfront and watched the tourists mill around and buy ridiculous things. The pralines, however, were not ridiculous, they were delicious. (Thanks, Nancy!) We had a snacky supper and I bought a few groceries to hang out in a motel for a few days and crossed my fingers to get my van back soon. 

Nancy headed back home and I settled in to hang out and write. Soon to be back to boatwork, I was going to start blogging again once I got to North Carolina. So I flexed my writing muscles by posting a true life trucking tale over at my secret other blog and began working on these Chronicles of The Moose. I got involved in my work on Monday, and called Tuesday when I hadn’t heard anything yet. I talked to Randy, John’s father, who often answers the shop phone. I didn’t get a lot of detail, but Ford apparently won the argument as another computer was on the way, will be here Wednesday, call me Thursday. 

And so I ended up hanging out in Savannah for a couple more days. I called Thursday, just as John had finished test driving The Moose. It runs great, but let me testdrive it a time or two today, just to be sure, call me this afternoon, he said. When I called back, one of his guys had just run to McDonalds -- in my van, a test drive, he said -- I'll call you when he gets back. But he didn't call. He had once called me about 7:30pm. So, I waited, but got no call.   

It’s now Thursday evening as I write this and I will have my van back in the morning. I think.

Epilogue [Friday, April 23]: 

I picked the van up this morning. The full tale of the van may never be told but the outline I got is flabbergasting. The original rebuilt transmission had been slipping, but the engine was also stalling. They just happened to have a matching transmission in the shop this month, so I got a new rebuilt transmission. However, the stalling problem persisted. The first replacement computer didn’t fix the trouble and John didn’t want to believe Ford that the computer he had found wasn’t any good. After talking with his friend in the business, apparently it seemed that Ford might be right. They ordered another computer, but when it came in, two days later, the stalling problem was still there. Rather than giving up, or setting the van on fire, John and his guys dove deeper. At some point Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, they finally solved it. A bad ground on a headlight [FFS!] had been causing enough electrical mischief to knock the nearby computer and disguise as a problem there.

I can’t explain it but I trusted John throughout this ordeal. I wasn’t always completely patient, but I understood that the van was in good hands and I had no choice anyway. This whole computer thing toward the end was pushing it, but what else could I do? In my humble opinion, a chain store transmission shop would have sent me packing a month ago. Not only did John and his wizardry fix the most unlikely problem, not only had he been working on my van on and off for nearly a month, he considered it under warranty and charged me nothing. I cannot, for the life of me, figure how a bad ground on a headlight would be covered under a transmission warranty -- but I'll take it. And John wouldn't consider taking any of my money (I asked ... but only once). Sometimes it pays to be a half-broke, weirdo vagabond.  

And how does it feel to finally be headed back to my boat? Call me Monday. 

Actually, I’m headed to Florida to get my stuff out of storage, then I’m headed to the boat. In case you’re keeping track, I came to Florida from Michigan in November 2019 to clean out a different storage unit and then head to my boat in North Carolina. I know the way. The Moose knows the way. And Ruth Ann is getting impatient with both of us.

I can't wait to get back to Life On The Water!!!

Deja Moose, Part Deux

Museum Garden

This is Part Two of a Three Part Series, start with Part One here.

Two weeks later. 

This is where the wheels start to come off of the story, but it’s only the beginning of the gonzo weirdness to come. John, the owner and chief mechanic of the transmission shop suffered a serious back injury. Nevertheless, he was still trying to keep up with his regular business and take care of a warranty issue for some weirdo vagabond and his camper van. He thought the van would be done the following week. I was chomping at the bit to get back to my boat, so I submitted my two week notice at work. Cheerfully assuming that I would have the van back by the end of the next week. 

I finally talked to John at the shop the day before Nancy and I were going to head back up to Savannah. He explained his injury had kept him from the shop for a few days but he thought the van was done. “Let me take it for a test drive and call me back in the morning,” he said. Well, ‘in the morning’ was going to be into my ‘weekend’ and I had already arranged a ride. I called Nancy to explain that I thought the van was going to be done by the time we got there, but I couldn’t be certain. We decided the worst thing that could happen was a nice day in Savannah and no van. So we hit the road; took the chance. 

The Thunderbird

Same deal, as usual, I ended my week early in the morning. The company I drove for was good to us drivers. If you drove that day, that day was a workday; your weekend would be the next two whole days. Many trucking companies think a ‘weekend’ is the 48 hours after you turn your truck off and expect you right back. We hit the road on my ‘Friday’ and made Savannah by evening. I tried to get us into the wonderfully quaint and cool Thunderbird Inn, but they were full; something about the azaleas being in bloom. We had a nice dinner on the sidewalk downtown and headed back out toward the highway. 

The next morning, however, I learned the van wasn’t ready. The same trouble with stalling in reverse had snuck back into the picture. “Call me back this afternoon,” he said. So, Nancy and I hit the Ships of the Sea Museum, enjoyed the museum’s garden, drove through the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, and wandered out to Tybee Island Beach and the Atlantic. Man, it was good to dip my toes into Mother Ocean. The beach, however, just wasn’t as nice as some of the sugar sand beaches I’m used to in Florida and Michigan. 

I talked to John near the end of the day and I could hear the frustration and exhaustion in his voice. Half crippled by the back injury, he was still working desperately to fix my van. He had begun to suspect it was the computer rather than the transmission that was stalling the engine. He had a similar computer in the shop and had hot-wired it into the van. It then drove fine. So he had ordered an appropriate computer online and the van should be ready the next week. 

Nancy and I had had a nice day in Savannah, but I needed to get back to work; with or without my van. So, we headed back south. I had a week left at work and no wheels.

Deja Moose, Part One

It was a pretty simple plan when it started. Nothing complicated. I needed to get my half crippled camper van, The Moose, back to a shop in South Carolina for warranty work. The shop is just across the river from Savannah. Then I’d need to go back and get it in a week or so. 


I have a terrific friend, Nancy, who just happened to be nearby. We’ve known each other since we were nine years old and have been through all kinds of adventures; with our families when we were young as well as later in life. She was going to follow me up as I tried to get the van back to the transmission shop. I was still working in Florida about five hours away. A week or so later, if all went according to plan, I would have my van back just in time to quit my job and head back to my boat, sv Ruth Ann, in North Carolina.  

In fact, Nancy knows me so well, the ‘Deja Moose’ part of the title of this blog was her idea; it fits perfectly with the story and even with my style. 

The transmission shop had installed a rebuilt transmission last fall but it had started acting up. Being so far away, I first took it to a local shop hoping that a tune up or a simple fix external to the transmission would do the trick. 

No such luck. 

The local shop confirmed my fear that there was indeed a problem with the transmission. It seemed to affect only the reverse gear but they couldn’t be sure it was only reverse or how and when it might get worse. Since it was under warranty, they recommended I take it back to the original shop. 

They also only gave me a 50/50 chance of making it back to Savannah if I tried to drive there. 

I considered all kinds of options to get the van to the shop without driving it but all were several hundred dollars. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend a bunch of boat money on the van. I’d already taken two hits last fall; buying the rebuilt transmission and I had lost almost three weeks to COVID.

I’ve been driving a truck based in Florida on a seven days out, two days off schedule, but I arranged to have an extra day off. I might need that extra time if there were any problems with the van on the way. I had decided to chance it and drive up, but I was being as practical as possible. 

I’ve been living in The Moose since November 2019. Full time until June and then just on weekends after I started truckdriving again. Before that, when I was working nights in Michigan while helping Mom and Dad, I actually slept in the van in the driveway where it was quieter during the day. So the van and I go way back. Further, I had lots of stuff in the van: clothes, food, boat stuff, and books. If the van broke down on the way to Savannah, I’d be stuck with all my stuff somewhere along the road. So I rented a storage unit in Florida and packed up my stuff in boxes the previous week. 

It was auspicious that Nancy happened to be nearby. She arranged to borrow her Mom’s car to follow me up (thanks, Elna). My week ended fairly early in the morning on what was, in effect, my Friday. So I nearly had an extra day -- almost a four day, three day weekend. When Nancy came by to join the northbound caravan, the first thing we did was empty the van into the storage unit. I just had to park it where I didn’t have to back out. I had already worked that day, then schlepped all my stuff into storage, and hit the road. We made it as far as Brunswick before I ran out of steam. 
Holy Shiitake!

The next morning, it was only an hour and a half to the transmission shop. We had a big breakfast at the Sunrise Diner and hit the road. The van made it all the way without a hiccup. It was a quiet Sunday morning when I stashed the key in the van’s grill and left a voicemail for the shop. Just then, we realized that I still had two more days off and we were halfway to my boat. I hadn’t seen her since the previous October and Nancy was keen to see her in person. 

So … why not? 

We took a leisurely ride through the low country, grabbed a Holy Shiitake pizza at the Mellow Mushroom in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, and got to the boatyard in North Carolina by supper time. [Editor's Note: Holy Shiitake pizza: 3 kinds of mushrooms, carmelized onions, mozz, and a garlic aioli swirl all on an olive oil and garlic base. YUM!]

When I was living at the boatyard last year, Sam, the owner, would often come out on Sunday afternoons with his family. He occasionally mowed the lawn, though he had a guy who did that. Also, his grandkids would sometimes ram around the outer edges of the boatyard on their fourwheelers. Sam was just leaving that evening when we arrived. He waved and smiled. 

The first problem I had was that in all the keys I had on three carefully curated keychains, not one of them was for the lock on my tool trailer, the lock on my ladder, or the one on the companionway to the boat. I could picture a lone key that I had found while packing the van. I had looked at it the week before and decided I didn’t know what it unlocked, so I packed it. Now, I think I know exactly what it was for. 

Ruth Ann has been out in a field since I left and was pretty dirty, but she was fine. I had some errands the next morning, so we headed into town. I bought a hacksaw and a pair of padlocks, then we grabbed some takeout from my favorite little family-run sushi shop. 

The next morning, in Wilmington, we grabbed bagels and Dunkin coffee. Back at the boatyard, I broke into my tool trailer. The tools looked fine; none missing and not much rust. I’ll be curious if my Milwaukee rechargeable batteries survived the idle time. But that will come later. With the trailer now open, I had access to my angle grinder. I lamented that there wasn’t any power way out here and Nancy reminded me that my generator was in the trunk of her car. 


I fired up the generator and was through the lock on the ladder in no time. Next stop, ladder in hand, was the boat. 

I set up the generator and threw an extension chord up into the cockpit. We climbed aboard Ruth Ann and I buzzed my way through the lock with a random piece of boatyard 2X4 behind it to protect Ruth Ann’s woodwork. We went down inside to take a look. I gave Nancy the nickel tour. All the boat parts I had bought were still there; solar panels, windvane, and electrical stuff. There were no bugs, no critters, and only about a half a cup of water in the bilge. That was a wonderful relief.  Life is good. I’ll be back here in a couple weeks, I thought. So we locked everything back up and headed south.
The Lil' Tool Trailer

Nancy had followed me to Savannah, we had road-tripped on to Ruth Ann, and then ran all the way back down to Florida so I could go back to work. It was a huge help and some good fun. And(!) she took my SPOT satellite messenger with her to update the firmware. I don’t have either the required Windows or Apple machine. It wasn’t very complicated but she was a computer savvy person I could trust.  

It was an awesome roadtrip and Nancy thought she could help get me back to The Moose when it was ready. Little did she know how complicated that might become; never boring, and more than occasionally fun. 

Homeward Epilogue

sv Ruth Ann in Beaufort, SC, 12/23 Ruth Ann is the last in a series of boats on which I was attempting to escape. I found her when I found a...