Friday, September 09, 2005

Good Samaritans

We had just spent a nice afternoon on Labor Day (Sept. 5th) at the sheepdog championships at Soldier Hollow. (Click Here to Read About the Sheepdog Championships.) It was a little past 3:30 pm. We were getting a little tired, and a little sunburned, and mama was starting to get a bit of a headache. Besides, we wanted to go over the mountain via Guardsman's Pass to get home

After a short climb (about 1/4 mile) we huffed and puffed our way over to the car. I got the keys out of my pocket, unlocked the door, then turned the key a second time in the door lock, which is supposed to unlock ALL to doors on the car.

Next I went around to the rear of the car, popped open the trunk and started stowing the camera, binoculars, the souvenirs, and other paraphernalia. I got out the little Coleman ice chest with the cold sodas that would taste really good right about now. As I closed the trunk, I noticed everyone still standing by their respective car door - waiting to get in. I said: "It should be unlocked", and they said no it wasn't.

I opened the drivers side door, and hit the power lock switch to unlock the doors again -- nothing happened. Hmmm . . . the lock mechanism must not be working. I tried it a couple of more times, and still nothing. I climbed in the car and I had to actually use the manual (horrors!) door lock on the passenger side door. As mama climbed in, we reached behind us and unlocked the two back doors as well. This was not looking good. I noticed that the dome light was not coming on either. Normally the "door ajar" indicator comes on whenever a door was open, nothing appeared on the dashboard. There was no dashboard clock either. As Han Solo might have said: "I've got a bad feeling about this!"

I put my key into the ignition, but admittedly, I knew there wasn't much chance of getting the car started. Sure enough! Dead as a doornail! I quickly checked the headlights, and interior lights. I couldn't see where we might have left something turned on that would have drained all the juice from the battery. It was kind of odd too, that when I turned the key into the "Start" position, that absolutely NOTHING happened. Complete silence. Normally if a battery has been drained, it will at least give you a couple of Rrrr, Rrrr's as the battery tries to turn the engine over in vain! But nothing. Nada.

Well, it was clear that we weren't going anywhere without some help. We opened up all 4 doors of the car for some ventilation (can't roll down the windows with power windows and no battery!) The kids had their trinkets from the sheepdog championships to keep them occupied (Bryan had gotten one of the dog whistles, like the dog handlers use, and was rapidly gaining proficiency with it -- for better or worse.) Dawn Ann had brought her Nephite temple woodcarving project, so she sat there carving away. That's a good thing, something to keep her occupied, and to keep her nerves under control. (Think about it, 90 plus degrees, car broken down, Bryan blowing his whistle constantly, and Amy asking "How soon before we are going home?" every 2.5 minutes. -- Some nerve calming was definitely in order!)

So, I got out of the car, and walked up the hill toward the ticket booth - which was a portable trailer. I wrapped on the window, and the 17 year old ticket girl listened to my story. She had a two-way radio on which she contacted her boss. The boss said go over to the "lodge" and ask one of the full-time staffers there for help. At this time, I thought I simply had a run-down battery, and needed someone to give me a jump. So, I continued walking on up the hill toward the lodge.

As I approached the lodge, I noticed that there was a large tour bus parked there. Apparently the bus was carrying the members of a bag pipe band. They were assembling in the basement of the lodge for warm-ups (they were about to perform at the medals ceremony for the competition.) I looked around for the full-time staff member at the lodge. The only person that looked like an employee on-duty was the bus driver. I walked into the basement of the lodge, where the bag pipers were assembling still no staff member. I climbed the stairs up to the second level of the lodge, it was dark and locked up.

I went back downstairs, and into the basement one more time to check if the staffer was just way from the reception desk and had now returned. Still no one there. I went on to explore the entire downstairs of the lodge, thinking maybe there was an office in there somewhere. Didn't see a soul, except for those wearing kilts. Suddenly one of the bagpies went off! And then all the rest of them joined in. They started tuning their bagpipes, much like an orchestra would before a concert. The noise in the small room was incredible. I even had to plug my one good ear! (I really try to protect my one good ear when I am noisy situations, I only have about 25% hearing in the other ear. I bet if you had a decibel meter in that room it would have been well over 125!).

As I walked out of the lodge, I was still vibrating like a tuning fork from the bagpipes (kind of like Wile E. Coyote after running into a brick wall). I shook my head and regained my senses, and pondered what my next move should be. There was obviously not going to be any staffer there to offer assistance to us.

I saw a couple of people who looked like employees, with ID lanyards around their necks, approach the lodge. I watched them enter the lodge, look around and come back out. They asked me if the upstairs was open. Obviously they weren't the lodge staff members that I was looking for! As it turns out, they were temporary employees of the Sheepdog trials.

There was only one more place to try -- the golf course clubhouse. I walked up the hill a little further, and entered the clubhouse. There was a snack bar inside with a couple of girls waiting the counter.

I approached the counter, and explained to them that I had a dead battery in the parking lot, and that I needed a jump. One of the counter girls, named Colby, said: "Oh, Sure!" I thought she was going to get someone form security to come help me. But what she actually did surprised me. She went into the kitchen, and asked one of the cooks to come out. She then went to her purse, and handed him the keys to her own SUV! She told Steve (the cook) where to find the jumper cables.

I got into the SUV with Steve, and we drove over to our car in the parking lot. Fortunately, there was no other car parked directly in front of ours. That made it easier to conned the jumper cables. We found our car quite easily because it was the one all four doors open!

We got the jumper cables connected to the two vehicles. Steve got into the SUV and started it up. I got into our car. I put the keys in the ignition, and turned the switch to the "On" position. Normally at this point, the dashboard lights would come on, and the seatbelt alarm would be going off. But all was dark and quiet -- not a good sign!

Then the moment of truth came. I turned the key to the "Start" position, and nothing happened. Just like before. I tried it two or three times, and still nothing. Not a sound from the engine. Steve and I wondered if we might have a starter problem.

We got out and inspected the battery a little more closely. The battery is only a year and a half old. The posts were clean, with no corrosion on them at all. It looked like it should be making good contact with the battery cable. Hmmmm. . .

Steve started checking the battery cables, and Voila! The battery terminal connector from the positive battery post had broken. The battery cable was now completely severed from the battery. No wonder nothing happened when you turned the key. The battery was no longer connected to the car!

It looked like the replacement battery that was installed 18 months ago was a little too tall. This caused the battery post terminal connector to be very tight, with a lot of tension on the battery cable. Because the connector was continuously rubbing against the edge of the battery, vibrations from the car must have eventually weakened and finally broken the connector.

We removed the broken connector, and the attached the good connector from the other battery post to the positive terminal. We then connected the remnants of the broken connector to the negative battery post, and were able to jury rig the cable onto the negative side, at leas to make a temporary connection. It wasn't secure, but as soon as we hooked it up, the lights came on inside the car (all the doors were still open for ventilation, and the dome light came on). I hopped in the car, and it started right up. We could see that the negative connection was not going to stay in place, but at least we could get back to town, and try to find an auto shop to look at it, an hopefully get it fixed properly.

We got in the car, said a prayer of thanks, and then headed down the hill toward Heber, Utah.

The air conditioning felt good, we had been out in the heat for about 6 hours by now. We got some cold drinks out of the cooler, and they were very refreshing.

After driving about 5 miles or so, I could hear occasional disruptions in the a/c blower. I decided it would be best to turn off the a/c, and roll down the windows, just in case we were running on battery power. We would travel like we did when Dawn Ann and I were kids. Long, hot, windy, grimy, sticky car trips in the summer. (Can you imagine running around Las Vegas in the summer, with no air conditioning!! My stars! -- Actually they did most of their long distance traveling at night to beat the heat. Only in Las Vegas, its still over 100 degrees well past sunset in the summer!)

When we got to Heber, we started looking for auto repair shops. Ha! Good luck finding one open at 6:00 pm on the Labor Day Holiday! Well, there was nothing open in town. None of the car dealerships open, no auto parts stores, no independent mechanic’s shops – nothing. We decided to keep going. May be there would be something open in Park City.

We drove through Heber, and on up the hill, past Jordanelle Reservoir. We climbed a steep hill, and started going down the other side. Just before we came to the Park City exit, the anti-lock brake light came on. Then the check engine light started coming on, and going back off. A few seconds later, the car started misfiring, and I knew we were in trouble. We took the exit that takes you to Park City or Kamas. On our way down the exit ramp, the car died. I coasted over to the left-hand emergency lane, just before the intersection, and pulled to a stop. As it turned out, we had been running off battery power ever since leaving the sheepdog championships. Now the battery was really dead, this time!

It was actually a really safe place to be if you had to be stopped. We weren’t on the main highway, and it was an easy place to have someone come and meet us. I had Dawn Ann and the kids get out of the car, and walk on the sidewalk to the shade of the nearby overpass. That would be better than baking in the car, or blistering in the sun. Bryan took his new dog whistle, and Dawn Ann took her woodcarving.

I called my mom on the cell phone, and asked if my brother Mark could come an rescue us. He was there, but was in the shower. (He had spent the day helping my sister with landscaping projects at her new house.) She would have mark give me a call when he got out of the shower.

I lifted the hood of the car, and looked at what I needed to get the situation fixed.
A new battery terminal connector would be best. But if I had the right nut and bolt, I might be able to improvise a connection with the negative battery cable, using the parts of the broken terminal connector.

A few people stopped and asked if I needed some help as they went past us. I told them that my brother was on the way, and that we should be alright.

After about 15 minutes on the roadside, a lady from Georgia, named Pat stopped. I explained our situation and told her that I was waiting to hear back from my brother. However, she wanted to do more to help. I asked her if she knew of any auto parts stores that might be open. She said she knew of one in Park City, but wasn’t sure if it was open. I gave her my cell phone number, and she said she would give me call and let me know what she found out.

About 10 minutes later, Pat called back. The auto parts store was closed. She offered to take us to the local Home Depot, or Wal-Mart. Home Depot would have the nut and bolt that I needed. And Wal-Mart might possibly have some auto parts.

I still hadn’t heard back from Mark yet, and I wasn’t sure how soon he would be able to come up to rescue us. I thought, well, it would save some time if I went into town, and got the parts we needed. When mark arrived, then we could just go directly to the dead car, affix the battery cable, and hopefully be on our way.

Just after I hung up the cell phone with Pat, Mark called back. I explained our situation to him, and asked him to meet us out front of the Wal-Mart in Park City.

So we loaded the family into Pat’s SUV. On our way to Home Depot, we got talking and found out that she had been to the Sheepdog Championships as well that day. She and her husband live in Park City during the summer, and in Georgia during the winter. Sounds like a great arrangement to me!

We got the hardware we needed from Home Depot, and then Pat took us over to the Wal-Mart and dropped us off. We thanked her for her kindness. She just said, well, maybe you can repay the kindness to someone else down the road. Bryan and I went into the store to look for auto parts, and had Dawn Ann and Amy sat on a bench, in the shade, just outside the Wal-Mart to flag down Mark when he arrived.

Inside Wal-Mart, we found the auto parts section. Fortunately, they sold car batteries AND terminal connectors. I was able to find the exact part I needed, which later I learned was unique to Toyota. The cost of the part was $1.83 plus tax. Amazing that so cheap of a part can cause so much trouble.

We paid for the terminal connector, and 4 bottles of cold drinking water, and stepped outside the store. I had just handed everyone the bottle of water, when Mark drove up. Talk about perfect timing!

We all hopped into Marks 4 Runner, and took the 10 minute ride to where the dead car lay. A Highway Patrolman had also just rolled up behind our disabled car. I quickly waved at the trooper, and explained our situation to him. A Summit County Sheriff’s Deputy also stopped by for a moment (as a backup, I’m sure). They were cool with us. We told them we had the part we needed, and should be on our way soon (**fingers crossed**).

Mark got out his cool new road hazard vest (neon green, with reflective strips –He could have doubled as a fine highway construction flag-man.) Mark helped attach the new battery terminal connector. Then we hooked up the jumper cables again. Then for the moment of truth! If this didn’t work, we would have to call a tow truck (not cheap either, a 50 mile tow, and on a holiday at that!)

Mark fired up his 4 Runner. I took a quick photo before getting into the car. If you look closely, you can see Mark in his nifty green safety vest! I hopped into the car and it started right up. I revved the engine a few times, and it seemed to be running fine.

(Click on Photo for Larger Version)

We disconnected the jumper cables, closed the hoods of the vehicles, and loaded the family into the car. Mark was going to do a little shopping while he was in Park City. We were ready to head for home! If we ran into trouble, we could give him a call on the cell phone, and he would be along to rescue us. (Yet again!)

I remember offering a prayer in my heart as I discovered the situation we were in. I asked that we would find the help we need, and be able to return home safely. I never really panicked, as I went from the ticket booth, to the lodge, and then to the clubhouse. I was so grateful for Colby, the girl at the snack bar, and Steve the cook, who went out of their way to be of service to us.

And Pat, who can forget her determination to be of true help and service. She almost wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. She helped us to be more comfortable in our time of need, and also saved us a lot of time as well by ferrying us around. She was so concerned for our well-being, that she asked me to call Mark on his cell phone “just to calm my heart” before she dropped us off at the Wal-Mart to make sure he would be there shortly.

And Mark. He came to our rescue, answering the call. He had spent the day landscaping for Jeannette. I’m sure he was tired, and maybe had other plans for the evening. But he came anyway, with no complaining. He is a great brother, and a great friend. Thanks Mark.

When I got home I called mom to let her know we made it home OK. I called Mark’s cell phone and left a message for him too that we had made it OK. And, since I had Pat’s cell phone number on my incoming calls log on my cell phone, I gave her a call too, to let her know we had made it safely home. While I had her on the phone, I gave her the URL to this blog, and invited her to stop by. So if you see this Pat – Thanks again for your kindness!

When we arrived home, we offered another prayer. A prayer of thanks. The Lord had watched over us. He had moved people to go out of their way to extend help to us, in our hour of need. He truly looks out for us, and hears and answers our prayers. Now its up to us, to do as Pat said, and make sure that we, in turn, are of service to those who may be in need around us, as well.

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