Whoops, I squeaked too soon.
Remember that post about starting each day with “a giant roar and that diesel rumble that sounds like a UPS truck?”
I’m sitting in a library in Casper, Wyoming. It’s a lovely place to hang out, with wi-fi, desks, and big comfy chairs where you can curl up and read the local paper or the New York Times. It’s also walking distance from Thomas Crawford Auto Repair, where Squidley is getting a new fuel heater installed.
Things went awry at Burning Man, when Squidley decided not to start after 10 days of sitting in the desert. We had to crank and crank and crank the engine to get it primed, and finally, we made it out of there.
For the next week, we crossed our fingers every morning and drove our neighbors (and sisters) crazy with all the noisy cranking. I began to say prayers to the Gods of Starting Motors. Finally, in Burns, Oregon, we made our home at the Burns RV Park for three nights and Barry made friends at the parts desk of the Ford dealer. The morning we left, with a new valve on the fuel filter cap, the van started perfectly.
Things went great from Burns to Crystal Crane Hot Springs and then the World Center for Birds of Prey, outside Boise. We popped into Pocatello and Lava Hot Springs and Soda Springs, and it was there I pointed out the new problem.
The little puddle of diesel under the engine.
We made it to Kemmerer, where all we could find were RV parks with no bathrooms. Finally, I asked a couple on a motorcycle if there was a campground nearby.
“No, well, wait a minute, there is that place out by the dog pound…it’s kind of ugly, right on the highway, but it has a couple of porta-potties.” He painted such an awful picture of it, we were about to give up and go to a motel. Then our motorcycling friend insisted that he lead us over to the campground, and sure enough, it was a picturesque spot, far enough that the barking dogs were quite faint, and the “highway” was a rural Wyoming road with one car per hour. We had the place to ourselves, which is a good thing when you are doing car repairs to a big ugly old van. Motels and nice RV parks frown on that sort of thing in their parking lots.
But it was our anniversary, and though Barry tried to find the source of the fuel leak, he didn’t want to take the engine completely apart. So we kept going, to a campground in Casper.
That night, we sat in a Wells-Fargo parking lot, having a heated “discussion” (argument) about the new problem. “I don’t think we can trust just anybody with a ‘mechanic’ sign — we need a good referral,” said Barry. “Well, I don’t want to drive to North Carolina dribbling diesel the whole way!” said Meps.
That night, we asked the man who ran the campground, and he told us to check with Keith, the maintenance guy, the next day. “By the way,” I asked, “what are all those animals along the highway? We saw hundreds or thousands of them — they look sort of like deer?”
“Pronghorn antelope,” he told us, “the fastest animals in North America. But they’re not good eatin’. They taste like goat.” He made a face.
We looked at each other. “Oh, we like goat,” we said. He shook his head, “Antelope’s not even good for jerky. It tastes like the sagebrush they eat. I shot one once. Never again.”
We were a little skeptical, because the critters we’d seen seemed too big for antelope, and we hadn’t noticed the horns. But he was sure of his local knowledge.
The next morning, I found Keith and a couple of young folks standing around the bed of a pickup truck, staring solemnly into it. When I walked up, there was a dead antelope in the truck. OK, so they were antelope, after all.
“I heard they weren’t really good eating,” I asked the guy with the blood on his hands. This started a discussion of the relative merits of antelope-eating, with 33% in favor (the hunter) and 66% opposed (the hunter’s wife and Keith). The hunter said, “It makes good jerky.” I guess he’ll be eating a whole antelope worth of jerky by himself.
I wandered back to our campsite and gave Barry three pieces of valuable information: One, that I could personally confirm that we’d seen antelope. (How do you know? I just saw a dead one. You did? Where?) Two, the name of the auto repair place in town to avoid at all costs. Three, his recommendation for Thomas Crawford.
We were set. The only downside was when they told us the part wouldn’t arrive until the next day. “Oh, no,” I said in dismay, “We’re going to need a motel, I guess…”
Barry, who’s more straightforward than I at times, finished my statement. “…unless you don’t mind us sleeping in your parking lot.” The folks behind the counter chuckled. “You won’t be the first!”
So we took advantage of their “free” camping spot, a half block from a grassy park with porta-potties and picnic tables. Best of all was dinner — no antelope jerky for us. We went to Johnny J’s diner and ate a huge, gooey two-person banana split for our anniversary.
When the van is fixed, we’ll pay the bill and continue on, with a new soft spot for Casper, Wyoming. At 180,000 miles and 18 years, we’re just happy that the Squid Wagon is not B.E.R., or Beyond Economic Repair.