Monday, October 17, 2016

F-F-F-F-FIRE!! OH MY GAWWWWD!

HI Kids!

I am late with this posting because, well, frankly I was not too excited to "re-live" it. But, I have been selfish, and so here is the deal; our trip took a fun-detour through a valley of UN-fun for a bit.

It must be said that because of my almost obsessive tendency to be prepared for anything, things could have been much worse than they were, so there is that.  It was confirmation from the travel Gods that yes, preparedness does have it's rewards. So let that be the take-away.

We left Los Angeles, with the familiar feeling we always have; "Let's get the heck outta here!".  There is a culture to Southern California that is oppressive; the aggressive drivers, the pollution, the distinct callousness of the residents there.  I don't mean to be critical, and we definitely came across some people that were the exception, but if you need somebody to show some consideration to, say, correct a turn lane error that you made because you are from out of town... Well, let's just say you may have along wait, and blaring horns.  Seriously, the overwhelming attitude of "screw you" down there is palpable. So, we jumped in our trusty truck and hit the road, heading for the desert and Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree is not a first-time for us, but we so loved it's "aura" that we were happy to return. The jumbo "Flintstone Era" rocks, and the quirky trees and the pristine desert with it's charms was a welcome change.  It was hot.  We were driving in temps in the high 90's, sometimes more. I can't fathom how people traveled before air conditioning. Unthinkable.

That's when the fun took a little vay-kay. As we entered the park and found our spot for the night, we distinctly thought we smelled the sweet, disturbing smell of engine coolant.  It smells like... waffles.  Nice, warm, sweet, disastrous waffles.

We pulled into our spot and saw with great dismay that there was in fact a slight drip, drip, drip from the front of the truck... it appeared to be clear fluid and there definitely wasn't much of it, thank goodness.  The truck was running fine and there were no hints of overheating.  A little upset about the leak, we decided to sleep in our spot and then drive to the nearest RAM service center first thing in the morning, it was only about 6 miles away as luck would have it.

Next morning, the truck seemed unconcerned and we drove in the cool morning air to the service center in 29 Palms.  By the time we got there, there was a noticeable dripping from the front, a more distinct coolant smell, and we were upset.  Coolant leaks are never good.  But, thank goodness, we were at a service center full of experts on our truck, so were thankful for that.  Now the truck was appearing a little more ticked off, and presented us a with a puddle of red fluid under it's chin, though no overheating of any kind.
Making the best of it in the HOT sun.

We were asked to remove the camper from the truck so they could diagnose what the problem was, and we did. We made the best of things and pulled our awnings out to try and shade us from the now brutal desert sun.  We were there all day until about 4:30.  Finally, they drove our truck back out to the lot and informed us that they weren't sure what was causing the leak (this surprised us) and that they needed a tool (a pressure tester or something) to further diagnose the origin of the leak.  They instructed us to drive the truck to their other service center in Yucca Valley, about 20 miles up the highway.  We felt uneasy driving the truck  (WITH the camper) when there was clearly coolant leaking out of it. They assured us that no harm would come of it, and urged us to do it. They had made us a 7:30 AM appointment at the other service center the next morning, which was a Saturday. So, we put the camper back on the truck and set out, holding our breaths.

We felt uneasy as we built up speed on the highway, knowing that the truck was limping.  Just as we started to get up to speed there was a terrifying "WHAM!" under the hood and Dad gripped the steering wheel, he lost power steering and power brakes.  Luckily, we were in the right lane still and there was some shoulder. We rolled to a stop and prepared ourselves for what was surely going to be very bad news...

I got out and walked around to see if more coolant was coming out. Nope! No coolant was dripping out, only globs of burning rubber and fire... FIRE!! Oh MY GOD!  Dad had popped the hood and I was frantically trying to find the hood latch and could not. I could now see flames growing behind the grill and I thought I was going to have an accident.  I could see Dad through the windshield on the phone calling the service center we had just left, I began pounding on the hood to get his attention. "Help me get the hood open!! There's FIRE!"  While Dad ran to the hood, I ran to the back door of the truck where I knew the fire extinguisher was. I just BOUGHT that extinguisher about 2 months before when I realized I didn't have one when I wanted to help a guy who had an engine fire... Thank GOD.

My beloved fire extinguisher
With the hood up, the flames were growing quickly and it was hard to tell where they were coming from. I deployed the fire extinguisher, and merciful God, the flames disappeared.  Such a relief!

Now we had a new problem. The service center told us they couldn't help us as they didn't have a tow truck (we later learned that they DO have a tow truck) and we were on our own.  Enter Coach-Net! I had just purchased a Coach-Net membership before our trip.  I was SO glad.  Let me just say, they were awesome.  They answered with "Thank you for calling Coach-Net, are you in a safe place?" I had to think about it for a minute. It was nice to have a friendly voice on the phone, you have no idea.  Well, we had a conversation about our situation and they told us they had everything under control and would call us right back, and they did.  They told us the name of the tow that was coming, the name of the driver, and when they would be there.  I was very impressed by their service.

About 40 minutes later the tow showed up. He had a flat bed, hydraulic truck and was going to winch our truck/camper combo up onto the bed of the truck.  Ok. Seemed heavy to me, but he's the expert.  Things seemed to be going ok, he hooked up poor "RAMMY" and started hauling his heavy butt up on the truck. It was such a steep incline, I kept thinking about how heavy that must be... and then "BOOM!" another mechanical expletive, hydraulic fluid pouring from under the tow truck, and our truck and camper are free-rolling backward off of the ramp back onto the road!  Well, you know me, by now my nerves are SHOT. But I vowed to be brave.  The truck was broken, and a defeated driver said he would be back with another truck.

Awwww... Poor RAMMY
It didn't take long and he was back with a wrecker-style.  I felt uneasy because I didn't think you could tow our truck that way without damaging the transmission... After a long time reading the manual in our truck with the driver which said in bold letters "DO NOT TOW THIS TRUCK WITH THE FRONT TIRES OFF THE GROUND ON A TOW DOLLY" (which was exactly what he was doing) he made a phone call.  Bottom line, they decided to disconnect our drive line and tow it like that, and Coach-Net assured us that they would assume all liability if our truck was damaged as a result.

Finally, after a hair-raising ride with our humiliated, sad truck following us in the dark, we landed at the other service center.  It was a much larger, nicer place and this felt a little better.  But now, we had extensive damage from the fire and a blown serpentine belt. Joy.

Yes, this is where we lived for 8 days. 
What followed was 8 days of misery.  We literally slept in the parking lot in our camper while they figured out what to do with our truck.  The first morning we were there, the lead mechanic came out (Mike, and I will never forget him) looked under our hood for 3 minutes and said, "Your water pump failed".  He was utterly confounded as to why the fire started, and was clearly in agreement with us (though he didn't put it into words) that we should not have been put back on the road to drive 20 miles on a failed water pump.  Now we needed much more than a new water pump, not the least of which was an entirely new wiring harness for our truck.  They were more concerned about who's fault this was, and who was going to pay for it.  WE WERE THERE 6 DAYS BEFORE THEY BEGAN WORK.  Even though I had told them on the first day that we would pay for it, just to START WORK, they wouldn't.  So, there's a whole other story to this that is ongoing, but it was a nightmare. We couldn't leave. We couldn't go home, it was awful.  We learned a lot about the capabilities of the Lance to keep us comfortable in harsh conditions. There were no hookups, no way to drain our tanks, we had to hand carry jugs of water to put in the tank... it performed SO well, and we were so happy with it. The ONE bright spot!

Finally, with a lot of phone calls, insurance inspectors and hassle, they got the truck finished. It took them one full day.  GOOD LORD what a nightmare.

We left Yucca Valley and vowed to probably never come back.  We are very unhappy with the way the repairs were handled, but are not sure who is at fault... YET. The staff at the service center were VERY nice, they got us a rental car and treated us very well.  No complaints there. It was as if their hands were tied.  Hopefully, after we get home, we can get to the bottom of what happened, but the moral of the story is: BE PREPARED! Make sure you have a fire extinguisher and that you KNOW WHERE IT IS. I know that if I had to spend more than about a minute to find it, we would have lost the whole thing as the fire would have become too big to put out.  Have GOOD roadside assistance. They can help you a lot.  And have LOTS of beer in the fridge, always.

Love you all; Mom.

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