A funny thing happened on our way to Burning Man… Brigid, our 17-year-old Chevy S10 pickup, suffered catastrophic engine failure while going 75mph on I-80 about 20 miles east of Sidney, Nebraska. Lots of banging and shuddering, then the engine was dead, the dashboard lit up, and we coasted to a stop on the shoulder — out in the middle of nowhere. I got out and looked under the front of the car, and various fluids were gushing from the engine.

“Oh, that can’t be good!” I moaned to Treesh. I felt sick — we had these $300 tickets to the Burning Man festival in Nevada, we were just halfway there, and now our fully loaded pickup was kaput. Would we really not make it to Burning Man??? And how would we get home? What about all our stuff? We even had a couple bikes in there!

Goodbye Brigid

Goodbye Brigid

Treesh remained surprisingly calm and chipper, which was helpful. We called our emergency number for Better World Club (roadside assistance) and arranged for towing to Sidney, NE. An hour later Brigid was in the shop, and we got the verdict: engine not repairable. It had thrown a rod which punched holes in the oil pan. Judging from fluids, transmission was damaged as well. We had already been on the phone to the local Uhaul and only big trucks were available, and there would be extra charges for taking more days and many more miles than a typical Uhaul move. It would cost $2,500-$3,500 to get a replacement (used) engine for Brigid, and that would take at least several days… so we would miss Burning Man completely!

So we grasped at the only option left — Buy a Used Car. But not just any car. It had to be able to haul all our camping gear, bikes, food and water for five days of radically self-reliant camping in the Black Rock desert. As it turned out, Brad the auto repair guy knew Dan the used car guy, who might have something that would work. He drove us over to “Dan’s Auto & Metal, LLC” where we got our first look at one of a very few cars on the gravel lot — a dusty 2000 Chevy Suburban 1500 that had been used as a rural school bus. It had a big antenna and a flashing safety light (inoperable) on the rooftop. Dan had just bought it from the local school district. We talked price briefly, and then Dan gave us the keys to take it for a test drive. We rode around town, and returned, and asked if we could take it on the highway. Dan said sure, and gave us directions.

That is a BIG car!

That is a BIG car!

That allowed us to test the Suburban at highway speeds, and also gave us time to look up the Blue Book value on Treesh’s iPhone. Dan’s price was fair and reasonable. Except for that big jagged crack across the top of the windshield — that was a little unsettling. When we returned, we told Dan we’d like to buy it, negotiated the windshield repair, and discussed how to pay for it. Since he didn’t take credit cards, we would need to wire money to his bank account. By now it was too late to start that — our bank back home in Indiana was closed. We asked about a place to stay, and Dan recommended a hotel in town with a steak joint across the street, and even let us take the car overnight in order to get there!

So far, everything seemed to be working out pretty well. We had dinner and drinks at “Dude’s Steak House” (especially funny since we are both vegetarians), and told the waitress our sad story. When it came time to pay our bill, she told us the owner was giving us dinner for free (but we still had to pay for our drinks.) Nice town, this Sidney Nebraska!

Early next morning we were on the phone with the bank, arranging the wire transfer. I asked Dan if he had a vacuum cleaner we could use, and he offered his “washing bay” and put an employee to work cleaning the car. He also offered to buy our dead Chevy S10 as a trade-in, which brought the price down some. Dan also said he knew a guy in Sterling, Colorado, about 45 miles south, who had the right windshield in stock and quick-setting urethane glue for the replacement, and that would be done on his tab. Nice! He sent us over to the local GMC dealership to get a second key made, and even allowed us to load up the car with all our stuff while we waited for the money transfer to complete.

And by noon, about 24 hours after Brigid died, we were on our way again! We were going to Burning Man! With just a slight detour to Colorado first for the windshield repair.

Meet St. Christopher Car!

Meet St. Christopher Car!

In Sterling, we had some trouble finding the windshield repair shop — it was a real hole in the wall with no sign out front. But they took us in and got right to work. The replacement took all of about an hour, the owner was real friendly, wanted to show us a better way to get to Reno (no we weren’t going to Reno, but we let him pull out maps and show us anyway) and then we’re backing out of the garage… when I notice a squeaking sound.

I pull forward, same squeaking sound. Hmmm. I asked windshield guy what he thought it was. “Might be a U-Joint,” he said, listening. “Yeah, rear universal joint.” I asked if he thought it could be an important thing to get fixed and he said it oughta be fine. “Even going another 3,000 miles to Nevada, and the return trip home?” I asked. He thought about that a moment, and then said, “Let me check with a guy I know.”

Windshield repair place was right next to a very busy auto repair shop, with several bays and employees hard at work. But when windshield guy waved us over, the owner of the repair shop took time to hoist our newly purchased Suburban up and dismantle the rear u-joint. It was completely rusted out, and didn’t even move on one axis – totally shot. He made a call to see if he could get a replacement part. Yes, it was available, and he could get the repair done in about an hour. He sent us down the street to a coffee shop to wait.

This had all been quite an adventure. At the coffee shop we told the waitress we just wanted drinks, and asked if we could wait there while our car was being repaired. Sure, she said. The place was busy but not completely full. Treesh ordered a coffee and I had a lemonade, and we talked about getting to Burning Man. We had a reservation for that night at the Cadillac Inn in Lovelock, Nevada. No way we could make it that far with what remained of the day, we’d be lucky to make it to Salt Lake City. So we called them and cancelled our reservation. But we would need to get as far as we could…

Here comes our waitress. “You the folks getting your car fixed, right? They just called to say it’s done.”

Sterling car guy had completed the work in under an hour and for less than a hundred bucks. All-in-all it seemed like everyone was helping us at every step, not taking advantage of our misfortune, not gouging us. Instead, people were going out of their way and taking the trouble to help get us back on the road as quick as possible. It gave us a really good feeling. And now, once again, we were on our way!

We named our new Chevy Suburban “St. Christopher Car,” after the patron saint of travelers, and it proved to be a dependable vehicle, getting us to Burning Man and back home again safely with no further repairs needed. It got pretty dusty again from driving on the desert playa in Nevada, but when we put it through the premium car wash here at home it came out nice and shiny! It served its purpose but it’s really way more car than we need. The next day we took Christopher Car to Concord Cars Inc., south on Lincoln Avenue, where we had seen a Smart Car for sale. Smart Car? Yes, that’s our kind of car! We test drove the Smart Car, and enquired about a trade-in. While they did not offer as much as I had hoped they might, it’s still an attractive possibility…

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