Monday, January 06, 2014
A Highly Skilled Stranger Saves My Butt
You want a "feel-good" story for this new year? Here ya go.....
My two daughters and I were driving our 12-year old Subaru Outback wagon home to Evanston IL from Santa Fe NM, having finished a great visit with my eldest son, his wife and baby. Santa Fe to Evanston is a 1,352-mile journey. The old Subaru cruised through the long drive on the way out to Santa Fe. The car was working well as we hit Highway 40 to go home on January 3.
We crossed the New Mexico border and around 4:30PM, I noticed that I no longer had power steering. We pulled off the highway into a gas station and topped up the power steering fluid. This did no good. I was worried, but got back on the road. Immediately, my car started freaking out. The gauges all went to zero, all the hazard lights went on and the engine began to cough and sputter. I got off the highway at the next exit, pulled over and called the roadside service folks.
We waited an hour for the wrecker to arrive; the bearded good ol' boy winched the Subaru onto his flatbed and drove us to the teaming metropolis of Clinton OK - population under 10,000 located 100 miles west of Oklahoma City. The good ol' boy dropped our car at K&S Tire and drove us to a motel near the highway where we piled into a couple of adjoining rooms for a restless night.
I was convinced that the alternator was dead. I began to worry about finding an alternator for a 12-year old Subaru in Clinton OK. I worried about the quality of mechanics employed by a tire shop. I worried about being stuck in the middle or rural Oklahoma for quite a while. Flying back from Oklahoma City would be impossible because we were traveling with Tai, the one-eyed wonder dog. I would never put Tai in the cargo hold of an aircraft.
I begged a ride from the motel desk guy and showed up at K&S tire at 7:45AM on Saturday. At about 8:05AM, the guy pictured above loped into the store. His name is Martin King, a new resident of Clinton originally from Austin TX who is the lead mechanic at K&S. He looks like an Austin guy - lean, shaved head, scraggly goatee, and a tattoo on the back of his neck that traveled halfway up his skull. I wasn't sure if his appearance indicated extreme expertise or extreme incompetence. I took hope in the guy's demeanor - he moved purposefully and confidently. I crossed my fingers - really needed to get home to meet scheduled obligations...
Martin went into the shop, popped open the Subaru and took off the engine cover to have a look. He came out to see me and said, "Sorry dude - I can't fix this. Your idler pulley threw a bearing and the serpentine belt is shredded . Nobody in this burg has the parts and it will take until Tuesday to get them delivered. You could tow the sucker to the Subaru dealership in OK City but I think their service department closes at noon."
Well, this wasn't happy news, and I fell silent while I absorbed it. I finally asked the mechanic to show me the problem so I could better understand it. He took me into the shop and pointed out the wrecked bearings in the pulley and showed me the shredded belt (it looked like black, rubbery spaghetti). Martin held up the pulley and stared at it and said "Hey, wait a second." He turned abruptly, threw open a drawer in a cabinet and started rummaging through used parts. He made a triumphant noise and held up a part - another pulley. "Took this off an old Chevy truck I was re-building." He held it up to the Subaru pulley - it looked about the same! "Let's see if this sucker will go on your car." He bent over, whirled his wrenches, and said, joyfully, "Sumbitch!!" The old truck pulley fit perfectly.
"Now we need a belt." He started working the phones, talking to various sources of parts. One of the local auto parts stores had a belt that was almost the right size - just a bit shorter than the original, but the right width. Martin dispatched a sleepy-looking kid to the parts store to fetch it.
Once he had the belt, Martin called up the diagram of my car's pulley and belt system on the internet. He, threaded the belt through the various rotors and pulleys. He got in the car, turned the ignition key and Presto! It worked!! Power steering functional, all gauges working, all systems go!! Time elapsed from Martin's statement of defeat to his glorious victory - 30 minutes.
This service cost me about $50. I drove 900 miles to Evanston IL on a rigged repair job with a junked part.
So I tip my hat to Martin King, mechanic extraordinaire, Austin hipster in a small Oklahoma town, just fixing cars and feeling justifiably confident in his ability to rig and hack his way through problems. Martin, you rock!