Too Damn Low!

by Ben N on November 2, 2013


“Honey, the good news is that I’m not hurt.”

No good phone conversation ever starts that way, but I found these words coming out of my mouth while standing on the side of the road on dreary October afternoon. But to get a better sense of this story, we have to start back a few months.

Part of why it seems like I haven’t progressed on too many of my projects lately is because of lack of reliable transportation.

Yes, I have an array of electric vehicles at my disposal, but what I need for my work is something that can drive great distances at any time while carrying bulky and heavy equipment. That means that most of the time, my work vehicle is my Chevy S10 pickup truck. However, there comes a certain point where no amount of will-power can hold back the savage progress of rust. In this case, the truck actually snapped in half. Yup. Broke the frame right in half while on my back lawn with a load of good compost from a friend’s house.

That was earlier this summer. What followed  was a scramble for something I could afford and still meet my work needs. I first borrowed a Toyota T100 4×4 truck from a friend of my father’s who was currently out of state. After that, I found another S10 for a deal. It was high mileage, but the frame looked great, and it was an extended cab. The body was red and the bed was extemely rusted. I swapped the bed, followed by the doors and hood from my project truck.

Then THAT truck blew a gasket. Checking with the mechanic, it would cost far more to fix that what the vehicle was worth. I now had THREE non-working trucks in my driveway, a motley mix of red and white sheet metal, blown engines, and rusted frames. *Sigh* I sold off, donated, and push/pull/dragged the frustrating trucks out of there.

All of that, and it finally brings me to the START of this story.

So at this point, I figured I would try to get something a little nicer that shouldn’t just die on me right away. After perusing Craigslist for a while, I found a 1998 S10 extended cab. It had a great paint-job, tinted windows, and was even lowered. I went and took a look at it, and thought it was a fair deal. There were a few quirks about it, nothing I couldn’t fix, but in the back of mind mind, just HOW LOW it was seemed like trouble.

The truck was great. I could get where I needed to go, and the extended cab gave me space to lock up my tools and gear. The 2.2L engine and 5-speed manual transmission were what I liked, getting respectable fuel economy. However, there were a few times where I would go over a pot-hole and BAA-BUMP would rattle my teeth a bit.

IMG_2422A week ago, I took the truck (carrying my motorcycle, solar-power-wheels, and the solar death ray) down to the Milwaukee Makerspace for their Makerfest. Rich was there, a friend who has helped me out on lots of projects, and who I hadn’t seen for a while. “Looks like you’ll have to un-lower that thing if you don’t want trouble in the winter,” he said.

I couldn’t agree more. As much as I liked the look of the lowered truck, (and it was easy to get in and out of too!) it  was just too damn low for snowy winter roads, pot-holes, and any type of unpaved parking.

So, I had decided that I would take the time to un-lower the truck – just as soon as I had time. I was pretty busy with following Rob Hopkins around town, doing homework for the two college classes I’m taking this semester, and helping out with a friend’s wedding. I decided that I would do the lowering on Monday, since the weekend was so full.

On Saturday, I was coming home from the Sustain Jefferson ReSkilling Fair. I had just stopped at the gas station. (There was a leak in the top of the gas tank, like my old truck had too. No problem, it just meant that I only filled up about 7 gallons at a time…) I pulled from the side road onto the main road into town, making the left-hand turn when the light was green, when WUMP-0WUMP-WUMP-WUMP! BAM! BAM! BAM!

The front-left corner of the truck jerked violently up and down. I cranked the steering to the right, forcing the truck out of traffic while only my seatbelt kept me from being knocked unconscious against the roof of the cab. The truck lerched to a halt at an angle on the side of the busy state road. The tail of the truck still stuck just a bit into the right lane, but with enough room for traffic to pass if it slowed.

I pulled out my phone and called my brother, the tow-truck, and my wife – in that order. I often ask my brother, Wayne, for car advice. He’s local, so he can come over and help look at it, and he’s worked in a garage and a starter repair shop. In this case, I think I more needed somebody to commiserate with. Talking to him on the phone was really just me talking to myself realizing how bad the truck was – the front driver’s-side tire stuck out at an obtuse angle, and the nose actually sat directly on the pavement.

So, it was time to call a tow-truck. I looked up the number for Bulldog Towing. They were just a couple of miles away, and I knew they would do a good job. When I started exploring building an electric car, I hired them to transport a forklift for me. They did a great job plopping it right where I wanted in my driveway.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can, but I have to figure out how to get around the parade,” the disembodied voice crackled on the phone. Of course there was a parade. There’s always a parade in my town. And since the town is built around two lakes, and the parade route goes right down the one road that goes BETWEEN the two lakes, every parade pretty much shuts down the whole city. I swear, for Arbor day, I once saw a pine tree and some shrubberies walking behind a marching band.

IMG_2654I called Kristin and told here that I was fine, but I would need a tow home. While she’s a natural worrier, she’s also been through enough of my bizzarre situations to know that everything usually comes out pretty well in the end.

The tow truck finally showed up. I only noticed one or two pieces of trick-or-treat candy stuck in the front grill. “Looks like you broke a ball joint,” mumbled Garrett the driver, who looked mildly inconvenienced. “I’ll have to back it in.”

The driver was good at what he did. While obviously not hired for his warm and fuzzy people skills, he was pretty amazing at being able to quickly spin the huge flatbed around, dropping the platform within inches of  the back of the truck. He tied a cable to the rear springs and pounded wedges under the wheels with mechanical efficiency.

Right about then, the police showed up. A single officer stepped out of the squad car, walked over, and eyed the situation. “Were you driving this?”

“Um, yeah.” Seemed like a weird question. Not sure how the truck would have gotten where it was if I wasn’t driving it.

“Looks like I’ll have to give you a ticket then. Your plates are suspended.”

“What?” This was the first I’d heard of it. I wouldn’t be driving it if I knew the plates were suspended.

“Yep. 1996 Chevy S10. Failure to pass emissions testing. Plates are suspended.”

“Uh, officer, this is a 1998 Chevy S10. I just bought it about a month ago. I still haven’t even gotten the title in the mail yet.” I went to the glove box and grabbed my copy of the application for the new title and proof of insurance. The title registration form even noted the date I mailed it in along with the check number of the payment sent with it. I handed the paper-work to the officer and explained as such.

“Be right back.” The officer went to his car, spent about three seconds looking at his computer, and then returned.  “Well, your plates are suspended, so I have to give you a ticket. You can always explain it to the judge though.”

“I’m explaining it to you right now!” are the words that I furiously wanted to say, but instead held in. I know when NOT to get argumentative with the law. The guy was just doing his job I suppose. Had I lost the ball joint on the freeway, I could have been killed. Instead, I was safely on the side of the road getting a ticket for not passing pollution control in a vehicle I sold two months ago. I’ll take my mixed blessings as I could get them.

By now, the tow-truck driver had winched, jacked, and shimmied my slammed S10 into proper position, but a quarter of the weight of the vehicle was resting solidly on the wheel, with no way to slide it or roll it. So here’s the part that really impressed me. I’d never seen this done with a tow truck before. Garrett put his truck into neutral and took up the slack on the cable. The entire truck with it’s wedge of a bed angled down, was slowly being wound towards the S10. The fish was pulling in the fisherman. As it did, the S10 sat EXACTLY where it was. It couldn’t roll, so it didn’t. The pickup simply rose vertically as the angled bed was pulled beneight it.

The four-mile ride home was uneventful. From shotgun position in the big truck, I watched middle-schoolers, too old to really be trick-or-treating chase through the streets in cheap costumes, dodging between light and shadow of the waning daylight. We got to my house and backed into the driveway. My brother pulled up in his green and rust Geo Metro and parked on the street. A floor jack was needed to get the pickup off the end of the flat-bed, but in the end, Garrett dropped it right where I wanted it, and $85 later, my truck was back in my driveway.

Wayne took a look at the damage. Remarkably, it wasn’t that bad. The front tire was shredded, but still held air. There was a small crack in the bottom front bumper cover where it scraped on the ground. Some paint was missing from the front of the door by the hinge where it was now rubbing the fender. As for the ball joint, it WASN’T actually broken. The threads on the end of it were stripped, and the whole thing was bent. It looked more like somebody forgot the cotter pin on the castle nut, or perhaps all the bumps on the too-low suspension were simply working away at it.

The sun was setting. It was getting dark and cold, and I asked Wayne if he could come back tomorrow and give me a hand with the truck. He agreed.

I was just glad to be safe at home.

The story continues…. tomorrow.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Ben's Pimpin' Purple S10 - Page 2 - Fuel Economy, Hypermiling, EcoModding News and Forum -
November 2, 2013 at 8:04 pm
The Lowdown on Getting Jack’d Up
November 3, 2013 at 11:19 am

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Randy November 3, 2013 at 9:20 am

I have had day like that, good luck getting the S-10 back on the road.


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