Thursday, January 05, 2006

Home again, home again, jiggedy jig

So my sister and I went for a drive...

I can't show you the photos till I get back to my own computer, but the summary is that we visited all the towns on our list (yay!), drove through a heatwave (boo!), and had a few little adventures along the way (equal measures of yay! and boo!).

The big finale to the trip was blowing a head gasket. I don't know what the thing is or what it does, just that your car needs one. And probably somewhere around the time of the gasket's demise (before or after, I don't know), and somewhere in the region of Werris Creek NSW, and somewhere in the middle of the last day of 2005, the poor car's thermostat also consigned itself to car parts heaven. Steam started hissing from under the bonnet, the temperature gauge jumped up into the red, and suddenly we were off the road.

And that's when Good Samaritans started appearing. A couple nearing the end of their travelling days (or so they said) found us the number for NRMA (the NSW motoring organisation), though before we had a chance to ring (and be told they couldn't help because the car was registered interstate where membership of the equivalent organisation covers the person rather than the vehicle), another couple who were headed for a New Years Eve party stopped to help fill the radiator (clues: treat a hot radiator cap with great respect; run the engine while you're pouring the water in if the engine is already hot; and be aware that an open radiator can spew like a geyser without warning).

We rang our Dad and then he rang our uncle (a person pretty handy with cars), who advised us to drive without the radiator cap on until we'd made it safely to Tamworth. When the temperature gauge went back into the red we had to pull off the road to refill the radiator and this happened about every 5 or 10 kilometres. Finally, sweating (the car doesn't have air-conditioning and the temperatures were hitting the high 30s and low 40s Celcius), we limped into sunny Tamworth to find that every mechanic in the world had gone on holidays for three days, thanks to New Years Eve.

Okay then. Air-conditioned motel (oh the joy!), showers, dinner, watching a very crappy New Years Eve thing on television, and soon it was a new day and a new year.

A fellow customer in a servo carpark had told us the car's thermostat needed to be removed, which is exactly what our uncle had predicted, but there were no mechanics or handy people available to do this. We bought nine 5 litre plastic buckets, filled them with water from a tap beside the very scenic Tamworth cricket ground, and armed with the eight 1.5 litre drinking water bottles we'd previously stuffed in the car (already overloaded with my sister's stuff from moving house) we set off once again.

This time we made it to Guyra, which equates to moving at 20 km per hour. Yes.

Another motel, though sadly not air-conditioned. We did have a groovy meat pie dinner at Guyra Bowling Club though, where some youngsters were apparently celebrating the absence of serious bowlers by bowling across the green diagonally. Very cool :)

Overnight Dad and our uncle decided to drive up to rescue us, and thank God for them doing so, because next morning about 15km north of Guyra the car started billowing white smoke, and that was the end of that. We only just managed to get off the road, and then couldn't go any further. It took our guardian angels about four hours to reach us, and we used the waiting time productively: my sister sorted through her phone accounts, did a bit of work, and rounded out the hours with crosswords; I did a roads use survey, counting and recording numbers and types of vehicles going past, and I mean counted them for four hours, and loved it. I think I have mental problems.

Our uncle took one look at the engine and confirmed the diagnosis: the thermostat needed to be evicted. Thereafter followed a few hours of wrestling with the bolts, trying to get the damn thing out. He and Dad finally achieved this - much joy and relief - then reconnected something or other, filled the radiator, turned the car on, and... bad news. Water spurted from a gasket.

Dad then decided to try towing the car, and we did this successfully for a few kilometres before the chain (would you believe it) broke.

For our next trick, we went to the farmhouse adjacent to ask if we could leave the car there until it could be towed away. But we hadn't reckoned on the Good Samaritan factor: the lovely couple living there had gasket paper in their garage, which my uncle then used to fix the engine. Again.

So off we drove once more, over the hills and far away. And all was going well until we got to Glen Innes and suddenly the car was clattering again. We pulled into the main street and decided to first recover over lunch, before opening the car bonnet and drawing a small crowd of amateur mechanics who clucked over the engine and finally reached a consensus: the head gasket is dead.

The short end to the story is that the car is still in Glen Innes, waiting repair, and the final leg of our road trip was spent sitting on the floor behind the seats in Dad's two-seater ute, which was surprisingly comfortable except for some numb-bumness.

So! We made it home alive, thanks to the kindness of strangers and loved ones, and it's nice to know that's possible. And even the heatwave wasn't so bad - 42 degrees Celcius in dry heat? No problem. It was almost but not quite pleasant. (Until this I hadn't realised just what a HUGE difference humidity makes.) And now, if only the owner of the car will forgive us for killing his poor baby, all will be well.

Fingers crossed :)