A Piperguy48 Production

So there I was, in the early morning hours of Saturday, September 6th, cruising north on the New Brunswick stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway. I was about 100 km south of the Quebec border and with no trace of civilization in sight (nor had there been for the last 20 minutes). I was alone and the van was empty after delivering daughter Arran and all of her things to start a new life in Moncton. Earlier in August, eldest daughter Jennifer & I had travelled to Thunder Bay to load up as many things as possible to help Arran & Sean make their transition from Ontario’s northland back down to the Maritimes where they planned to settle. Then, on the Labour Day weekend, Arran flew to Toronto for a few days before she & I loaded up the over-worked van once again and headed east. The trip was uneventful and after 4 days of helping them settle into their new place, it was time to return home. So by 9:00 am I was already 3 hours on my way, speedometer steady on 120, a few Beatles tunes on the stereo and another 14 hours behind the wheel still to go. Not a town in sight. Not another vehicle in sight. No trace of civilization anywhere. Just me and the open road.

An ominous “Clunk” from under the hood was followed by an unsettling change in the steering wheel response. A quick scan of the gauges showed that I was running on battery alone and had no power-assist of any kind and the temperature was rising. The van had thrown a belt. Now, the 1994 GMC Safari 4.3 litre V6 has a single serpentine belt that drives everything. High-speed handling became a real issue, real quick. First response was to power off all electrical accessories. The spark plugs were going to need every volt & amp I could spare. I could have pulled over and rung up CAA immediately, or gambled on reaching an off-ramp before everything died. It made little difference. The van was semi-manageable and whether it died here or 20 km from here was of no matter. After 15 minutes, I could see a few rooflines in the distance and an exit ramp appeared. Now, stopping a full-sized van without the benefit of power-assisted brakes as you roll down a ramp at about 80 km/h is a bit of an adventure. It takes both feet and I learned that pumping the pedal is not a wise choice. Brakes fade quickly under those conditions. The sign read “Perth-Andover” and they didn’t bother posting the population. The first gas station I stopped at only pumped gas, but they advised that there was a mechanic down the road, to the left and over the hill. The van died as I rolled into the parking lot.

Picture Mayberry, North Carolina and Gomer Pyle sauntering out from his two-bay garage, clad in his greasy overalls and wiping his hands on an oily rag, calling out “Well, Golly-gee!” I figured I was in big trouble here, but I didn’t have a lot of choice. From this vantage point overlooking the Aroostook River, even the town of Perth-Andover was out of sight. My first instinct was to hand over my wallet while a Deliverance flashback had me wondering if I could “Squeal like a pig”. This was not good.

After a few phone calls, the proprietor assured me that, while he didn’t have one in stock, he could have a new belt from the nearest NAPA store shortly, but they were a tad busy. An hour later the belt arrived and after it was installed came the inevitable “Oh-Oh. You got another problem here”. As the belt applied tension on the alternator, it tilted forward revealing a broken support bracket. This turned out to be a very big problem. A few more phone calls revealed that the nearest OEM replacement part was in Quebec City. This was now 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning in the middle of absolutely nowhere, Northern New Brunswick”. Gomer’s grin was getting bigger & bigger. A few more phone calls had Gomer’s brother arrive with a possible replacement part that he had intended to install on another GMC truck. No luck – different configuration. But the brother (who at least had all his teeth and fewer tattoos) said he would scour the local junkyards and see if he could round up a replacement. By now it was noon and my friendly neighbourhood mechanic informed me that his VISA machine had been acting up and he would really prefer cash. The nearest bank & ATM was in town, just down the road and over the bridge. I grabbed my hat & walking stick and set off.

An hour later, I staggered into Perth-Andover, emptied my chequing account, then retraced my steps back to Hurley’s Auto Electric Ltd. I made it but my hip joints were screaming at me. Gomer #2 arrived with the necessary component that he found after searching four local scrap yards. Gomer #1 cleaned it up, reassembled all the accessories then installed the part and settled down to tally up the bill. At this point, he could have taken my shorts if he felt so inclined and I would have cheerfully given them up to be on my way. Perth-Andover and I were not meant for each other.

Maybe it was because I had cash, maybe it was because I had taken out my bagpipes to play on the banks of the Aroostook River, maybe it was just because I stayed out of his way, or perhaps he was just an honest mechanic who took pity on a stranded traveller. I got away with a total bill of $300 – $150 for parts & the same for labour. He gave me his card and invited me to drop by for coffee anytime I was in the neighbourhood or to call if I found myself in trouble in northern New Brunswick.

I counted my blessings.

May all lonely travelers be blessed with such good fortune when adversity strikes far from home.

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