Sunday, December 19, 2010


We were so proud of our progress -- making it into Indiana by mid-day. The kids happily busy with their early Christmas presents in the back. Then the gear shift pops out of fifth. A few minutes later, it happens again. Wil's face goes ashen while unmechanical me looks on, completely clueless. After tying the shifter down with a bungee cord he patiently explains to me the repercussions of a failing transmission. We pull into a little garage and Wil asks about diesel VW mechanics as I sit tight in the car still not fully comprehending what it all means. He comes back out and suggests I use the garage's internet connection to try to find a diesel mechanic in St. Louis, the next big town on the map. The mechanic and his two teenage boys are scheduled to leave the garage but allow Wil to jack up the van so he can crawl underneath to check the transmission fluid. The mechanic doesn't have the right sized allen key but very kindly gets out his welder to weld the right sized hex bolt to a scrap of metal. Wil couldn't get it open. The mechanic didn't want to charge us for his time. Midwesterners are definitely a courteous lot. Off we go to an auto parts store in Effingham, Illinois and ask about any VW guys in the area. He provides us with the number of a guy in Sumner, the midwest's VW guru. It is all feeling a bit too familiar, this search for diesel mechanics bringing back some very vivid memories of similar hunts in Mexico last year. We pull into a parking lot and Wil calls up the guy in Sumner while the kids and I go and buy some lunch fixings.

When we get back to the van Wil is beyond grey. He and I step out of the car and he explains that the guy on the phone said that our very custom engine and similarly custom transmission means that the problem is essentially unfixable. There is a chance that the bungee cord will work for a time and there is a chance that it won't. The idea of the transmission suddenly failing and being stuck on the side of the road as night is falling on some country road in Mexico basically means that before it started our Mexican road trip is over. Our all-night drive has left me feeling completely unable to swallow the bad news. Or maybe I'm just being brave for my distraught husband, who has spent every shred of spare time since we got home from Mexico last year fixing the van's every last hiccup. The only sliver of hope the guy offered is an unnamed garage in California that specializes in transmissions for customized VW vans and their engines.

Some of the options we came up with:
- dump the van, find a house for rent in Argentina
- drive back the way we came, park the van closer to home and fly to Mexico for a backpack adventure.
- head west, try to find the transmission guys and hope to get it fixed.

We decide instead to get a hotel room and enjoy a night out in St Louis -- stop worrying for a little while and figure out our next move after a good nights' sleep. At Wil's encouragement, we all kick the van before going into the hotel.
Is it meaningful that this is happening as we cross over the mighty Mississippi?

We head out for dinner to Lombardo's for ridiculously massive portions of artery-clogging pasta as St Louis fans don their jerseys and head out to the game.
We crash. By the time I get up at 8, Wil's been in the lobby for two hours and is now armed with a list of west coast custom transmission specialists. We decide to take our chances, kill a couple of weeks taking in some of the beauty the southwest has to offer as we chase down a new transmission and see if our Mexican road trip is at all salvageable. As we step out the door of the hotel, we are met with a beautiful view of the impressive Gateway Arch -- the symbolic gateway to the west.

Some of the things we chose to pass on today:
Vacuum Cleaner Museum
Jesse James's Hideout
World's largest rocking chair
32oz Coca-Cola - $1
and, for you ma,
Buffalo Run Casino: Where winning comes natural


Jenny Wren said...

Go for it one Cobb and four Murrays. I cannot think of a family who is more suited to face this challenge. Love you.

Annabelle said...

Your post is incredibly stressful reading it from my dining room at home, so can't imagine the stress from your end. Stupid stupid transmission, stupid car parts. You will figure it out, you have each other, and you are OUT OF THE SNOW BELT. That should cheer you up. love and hugs - annabelle

Unknown said...

Will I know a lot of VW guys. What kind of tranny is it?

Peter C said...

Gotta figure there are mechanics that could work on this in the great state of texas. All the way to california is a serious detour. Can you supply some technical details and I can see what I can find ? Good luck !

A Friend Indeed said...

Dreamt about you last night. You were crying and so was I.
We are pulling for you, you most-resourceful-people-that-we-know.
Breathless(ly) awaiting the next instalment.

Jenny Wren said...

Thinking of you - hope you are managing OK. Sending hugs and love to you all. We are all with you in spirit.