Someone on some blog was telling a car story recently and it made me think of this epic story.
Back in 1994, my husband and I decided to do a road trip from Sydney down to Melbourne and then catch the ferry to Tasmania and drive around Tasmania for a little bit. We set off in our white Cortina and soon after leaving home we started to have some trouble keeping the battery charged. The first couple of times it failed we got a jump start and carried on. It became obvious that we would need to replace the alternator so we got hold of a reconditioned one at one of our stops and my husband put it in the car.
After a little while we started having trouble with the new alternator and away from his tools, my husband was not able to fix it any further. By this time we were in Tasmania, heading toward the South West Coast. It was the middle of winter and we were coming into a declining mining town. I have never before or since seen a place so grey and God forsaken. The skies were grey, the houses were grey, there was not a blade of grass or a green leaf to be seen. The air was cold and there was a bitter wind blowing.
We stopped at a local garage where the mechanic was burning old engine oil to keep warm. He agreed to fix our alternator and with nowhere really to go, we hung around waiting. The mechanic was in no hurry and having swapped the alternator on the car a couple of times before, my husband had it down to a fine art. He got tired of waiting and when the alternator was ready to be put back in the car, my husband informed the mechanic that he would like to do it himself. ( It has been interesting for me to note that something like 13 years later our son aptly dubbed his dad "The Captain") My jaw hung open just slightly as The Captain all but snatched the part from the hapless mechanic and bolted it in.
Our alternator troubles continued on and off until we got home at the end of a two week holiday but once back in Sydney, there was no more drama and it was soon forgotten.
It was a couple of years later that we were taking the long drive to Queensland for a funeral and as it happened, my parents were following in their car. Towards the end of the day I was driving and though I wasn't aware that I couldn't see well, I later found out that Dad thought I was driving as though I couldn't see. It didn't take too long before my headlights were noticeably weak, a couple of torches on the front of the car would have done a better job, and when we stopped the car didn't re-start. The battery was completely drained.
I had a toddler in the car, was six months pregnant, many kilometres from home and had a funeral to get to the next day. When the friendly man from the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland arrived and asked what the problem was I had a small rush of blood to the head and told him that "the alternator is rat shit".
He looked a bit surprised. I don't know if Dad laughed at the time but he hasn't stopped laughing about it since.
The RACQ man got in touch with an auto-electrician who made the drive down a mountain in the dark to see what was happening. I explained to the sparky that every time we drove a distance, we had this problem with the alternator. He took a long look under the bonnet and explained that when the (after market) air conditioning had been installed, the alternator had been moved and in it's new position, a long trip would cause enough vibration from the body of the car to disconnect the wiring.
It was a revelation and the hassles of the past were suddenly all explained. I thought he was an angel in overalls.
We went and got pizza for our dinner while the auto electrician worked on the car.
The charge for his service was $35. I was never in the habit of giving any kind of tip but I refused to take change from a fifty and even then I thought it was the best deal I ever got in my life.
I don't think either of those men would remember us but I will never forget them.