The economic downturn had hit Frank’s hometown in northwestern Illinois hard. The manufacturing plant where Frank worked was closed. He had been out of work for almost 8 months.
Frank’s efforts to find another job were stymied by the high unemployment rate in the area – it seemed that everyone was looking for a job. He had managed to find some part-time work with a commercial construction company out of Philadelphia, but when investors stopped building strip malls that job dried up too.
Frank’s wife, Karen, had worked as a Teacher’s Aide at a nearby elementary school. Sadly, budget cuts by the School Board had eliminated her position.
They had two children – Nicky and Samantha. Nicky was 12 and Sam had just turned 14.
It was rough. With no jobs, Frank and Karen had fallen behind on their home mortgage. Without a job, the bank would not refinance the home. Frank was looking at a Foreclosure Notice laying open on the kitchen table. How could this happen to them?
Frank had a buddy from college that had bought a campground just outside of Lake City, Florida. Hank had offered Frank and Karen a job at the campground taking registrations and doing odd jobs. They would have to work as a couple and would be paid $100 a day plus their RV site.
An aging Winnebago Brave that had belonged to Frank’s Dad sat in their back yard. They had used it for family camping trips before they fell on hard times. The tires looked good and the engine still ran smoothly. That and Frank’s 1999 Chevy pick-up were the only vehicles that had a clear title.
In almost total desperation, they held a yard sale to get rid of anything in the house that might bring in a few bucks. Frank took the pick-up to an area used car lot and sold it to the owner’s way below its wholesale value.
With the money from the yard sale and the truck, Frank and Karen packed what they wanted to keep into the Brave, loaded the kids and their dog, Muffin, and hit the road for Florida – leaving their longtime home behind.
They meandered down I-57 to I-24 and crossed into Tennessee. Just outside of Clarksville, the the dash light indicating the engine was overheating came on. Frank decided to take the slower paced drive down Route 12 hoping the lower speed would help to drop the temperature of the aging V8 gas engine.
They were on the south side of Ashland City, not too far out of Nashville, when they drove past a large motor home on the side of the road. The motor home was pulling a small SUV. The right rear tire on the SUV was literally torn to shreds. Standing on the side of the road, looking at the tire, was a woman.
Frank hit the brakes and pulled over on the shoulder in front of the crippled motor home. He told Karen and the kids to stay in the Brave, and then slowly walked back toward the woman. When he was close enough for his voice to be heard he asked if he could be of assistance.
The woman looked as if she was nearing what one might call her senior years. Frank could see the desperation that she must have been feeling in her face and eyes. Now, she was being approached by a strange man that could very well be intent on doing harm. It was a scary situation.
Frank heard footsteps behind him. Surprised, he turned quickly to see who was approaching. It was Karen. She had decided to follow Frank — in spite of his directions to stay in the Brave.
Karen’s appearance obviously helped to reduce the fear the woman was experiencing. Seeing that it was a couple rather than a single man gave her some reassurance that she was not in danger.
Not wanting to leave her alone on the side of the road, Frank and Karen offered to drive her back to Ashland City and help her to either find a road service to come back and replace the tire and wheel, or get her a new tire and wheel and change it out himself.
At first, she refused. But when she saw the kids and the dog inside the Brave she decided it would be safe to take Frank and Karen up on their offer. She introduced herself as Marge from Paducah, Kentucky. On the way back into town, Marge shared that she was recently widowed. She was traveling alone to Florida in hopes of selling a RV lot she owned along with the motor home.
They found a used auto parts yard right outside the city limits. The guy there said he did not have anyone to go back to the disabled SUV but he did have used tires and wheels that would fit the vehicle. Marge bought two wheels and tires (one for a spare). Frank loaded them into the Brave and they all drove back to the stranded motor home.
There, Frank changed out the flat tire with one of the junkyard purchases. Marge offered to pay Frank for his time and gas to help her find the replacement tires. Frank refused her offer, electing to tell her it was his pleasure to help her in a time of need. Karen agreed, saying that they were not really in a hurry to get anywhere and their reward was getting to meet Marge.
Unknown to Frank at the time, Marge slipped a $100 bill into his open toolbox.
Frank and Karen decided to spend the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot off the beltway that runs around Nashville. The next morning they drove to a local auto repair shop to see if they might be able to get the overheating problem repaired.
The mechanic at the garage ran some tests. His conclusion was a blown head gasket that was letting hot combustion gasses into the cooling system. He showed Frank an old head gasket that he had recently removed from another vehicle so Frank could see what the problem was. Frank asked him how much it would cost to fix the head gasket. The answer was about a $1,000.
There was no way Frank and Karen could afford to fork out that much money. If they did, they would be unable to buy food and fuel to get to Lake City. Frank asked the mechanic if there was someway to temporarily fix the problem so they could get to their destination.
The mechanic told him there was a sealer that he could put into the radiator that might stop the leak for a little while. He called the sealer “water glass” and said it would run $100 to complete all the steps required to see if it would work on the Brave’s engine.
Frank gave the mechanic the go-ahead, understanding there was no guarantee the process would work. The mechanic told Frank the engine really needed to sit overnight after the water glass was run through the cooling system. It was sort of like waiting for concrete to set. This meant that they would have to stay in a motel close to the garage. Yet another chunk of cash they did not have to spare.
Frank decided to take his toolbox with him rather than leave it in the Brave. His tools were about the only thing of real value that they had left and he certainly didn’t want to risk having them stolen.
The motel had a pool, game room and an exercise room. The kids played in the pool all afternoon and Karen got a chance to use some of the exercise equipment. Frank enjoyed lying in the sun by the pool keeping an eye on the kids. But, he continued to worry that the “fix” for the Brave’s engine might not work. Failure would leave them stranded in a strange place, unable to continue the trip to their new jobs.
Frank opened his toolbox that night to retrieve a flashlight. Inside, he found the $100 bill.
To be continued……….
If you have been reading my blogs, you have most likely noticed that I change genre frequently. Partly because I am searching for a “niche” that readers find enjoyable and the rest because what I write is often a reflection of my mood at a particular time or an “idea” that just seems to pop into my head.
This story is based on true events. The names of the characters and the locations have, of course, been changed.
I will post the final chapter of the story next week — most likely sometime Thursday.
If you like this kind of blog and would occasionally enjoy reading some different true-life or totally fictitious stories related to RVs and camping, I would really appreciate your letting me know.
It is extremely difficult for me to write a weekly blog to an audience I cannot see or hear. This is probably due to spending my life as a teacher and always watching and listening to my students to determine how well they were following a particular lesson or lecture.
HAPPY AND SAFE CAMPING TRAILS TO ALL!
Do you camp with a pet? Please visit my No Pet Add-On Fees website at http://vastateparkscamping.com/ or by clicking on the blue highlighted and underlined text above for information regarding camping with pets in Virginia State Parks.
Private e-mails can be sent to: RandynNancyageeatgmaildotcom (substitute a @ symbol for the bold at and a period . for the bold dot when entering the address into your e-mail program).