July 14, 2008
Have you seen the movie, “The Phoenix?” A group of adventurers crashed a big twin-engine airplane in the Sahara Desert. Over a period of weeks they rigged together a single engine plane out of the pieces and flew off to a happy ending. That movie crossed my mind as I shouted down to Mel, “Follow me, I’ll get it rolling and coast to the truck stop!”
It all began Monday afternoon the day before. We had hauled dirt for four hours until the F750 dump truck that Mel had rebuilt and Elmo was driving, stalled while trying to unload. Mel popped the hood and Elmo climbed up beside him. Mel is a windmill man, well driller, mule man, machinist and tinkerer of heavy equipment. Elmo grew up in Mexico and can make anything run if he has enough rebar and duct tape!
“A solenoid …” they deduced. “Maybe the wiring. Rats, ya know. Wiggle the battery cable. Hand me that 7/8 wrench.” I did. He short-circuited the solenoid and you could hear the starter whine. It was 4:45 p.m. when I headed to town for a new solenoid and rebuilt starter. We agreed to meet at 6 a.m. the next day.
Tuesday morning with the new parts installed and the handy 7/8 wrench they kept it running until noon when it froze again at the dump spot … still loaded, of course. They diagnosed bad ignition. Then checked the fuses to find that the fuel pump was blown! Back to town for parts. The truck ran for the next 15 minutes, allowing us to unload and giving us the false illusion that we had it fixed. Enough so that we hooked up the trailer and loaded the backhoe. Mel babied the dump truck and made it a hundred yards, where it stalled again. Diagnosis: out of fuel.
Back to my shop, return, pour in two gallons, put in second fuse, short circuit the solenoid, and the parade of truck, trailer, loader and two pilot cars made it to the paved farm road, where it gasped and stopped again. Fuse blown, plus Mel and Elmo concluded it was the wiring on the fuel pump … rats, again. I go back to the shop to bring electrical wire and black tape.
When I returned to what now looked like a roadside attraction, they had concluded it was the fuel pump itself. Plan: to circumvent the fuel pump altogether! Mel and I arrived at the Auto Parts just before it closed at 6 p.m. He built a detour fuel line that began with a brass nipple that screwed into the carburetor inlet, followed 9 feet of rubber gas line and ended taped to the spout of a 2-gallon gas can.
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Back at the scene of the crime, Elmo is waiting for us. The 2-gallon can is suspended from high up on the side mirror with baling wire and the rubber gas line wending itself under the hood, around the moving parts and carrying gas by gravity into the carb. Voila.
Third fuse replacement, 7/8 wrench, and we are on our way. In the next mile it stalled twice more but at 7:30 p.m. I coasted the brave little dump truck the last 500 yards into the Truck Stop parking lot. As we swung off the four-lane highway in single file, hood not quite latched, and a gas can hanging off the right rear view mirror I thought of “The Phoenix” and of Tom Joad and the “Grapes of Wrath.” I concluded that if I had to drive from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl depression days in a beat-up Model A with four kids and a mattress on the top, the two guys I’d want with me would be Mel and Elmo. God bless ’em.