A Rookie On Ice

I was 18 and working at Howard Motors, a Chevrolet/Buick dealership in Augusta, Kansas. It was winter and we had been having some lousy weather. It snowed and then the next day it warmed up enough to thaw a little. Then, that night, the water standing in the streets and roads re-froze and a little bit of snow fell and covered it. This resulted in roads so icy and slick you could barely walk or drive on them.

I had been told the night before that the next day, I would be delivering a brand new 1 ½ ton Chevrolet truck to Great Bend, Kansas, about 130 miles away and bringing back the trade-in. The trade-in was at a dealership in Great Bend and the dealer had already removed the livestock bed from the truck. That meant that neither truck I would be driving had a bed mounted on it so therefore there would be no weight on the rear wheels.

I got to work early and got my instructions and by 8:00 AM was heading out on an adventure. I had never been to Great Bend, had never driven so far, and had certainly never driven a truck that far. I was having an exciting time before I hit the city limit. Touch the brakes and the rear end slid out from under you because there was no weight to hold it down. Try to accelerate and the same thing happened. At that time there was no 55 MPH speed limit on the highway but it didn’t make any difference because I couldn’t get over 20 MPH and neither could anyone else who was on the road. Going west from Augusta to Wichita I never got over 20 miles an hour. When I got to Wichita and took Highway 81 North, it was the same story. I kept hoping it would warm up a little and the roads would thaw. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get home until midnight.

I finally got to Newton and stopped for some pie and coffee. I figured I could kill 15 or 20 minutes there and give the weather a little more time to warm up. I got back on the road and headed west out of Newton. After a few minutes, I was tickled to see patches of road that were free of ice. I was actually able to get up to 50 and 55 miles an hour for short periods of time but had to be careful of bridges because they were always shady and covered with ice. This was nice country with farm towns every few miles. Probably most of the farmers through there were Mennonites as they had settled the area many years before.

I finally got to Great Bend. As I recall, it was called “Great Bend” because it was located on a great bend of the Arkansas River. That’s not pronounced “Arkensaw” like the state. It’s pronounced “R Kansas River”.

I got the paper work taken care of and they showed me the old trade-in I would be driving home. It was a pretty well beat up old 1 1/2 ton with slick tires. They told me the engine had a knock in it and it was burning lots of oil. They also told me to stop and check the oil frequently and they put 4 quarts of oil up in the cab with me. I lit out for home and drove as smoothly as I could. I didn’t rev the engine or let it load up at all. I got it up to 50 miles an hour and held it steady. I watched my gauges and stopped and checked the oil often and was getting on down the road. I got to one of those little farm towns west of Newton, and the engine threw a rod! I pulled off onto the shoulder and looked under the hood. Sure enough, the party was over.

I could see a country store up ahead so I hiked on up there. The people that owned the place were real nice and let me use their phone for a long distance call. I called Kenny Markley, the Service Manager at the garage and my boss, and told him what had happened and where I was. Kenny said it was getting late so he had called the Truck Manager at the dealership in Great Bend and after hearing about the truck was surprised that I had made it that far. He told me to sit tight and he would get in the wrecker and come up and get me.

I hung out at that country store and visited with those nice people until Kenny showed up. We hooked up the old truck to the wrecker and took off for home. It was getting late so we stopped in Newton and Kenny bought me supper. It was a big day and I experienced a lot and learned a lot.

 

Dave Thomas
December 7, 2014

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