Monday, July 14, 2008

The Praying Mechanic

On our way back from Yellowstone one fall, we decided to detour through the Badlands. A dozen miles south of Wall, South Dakota, we spotted some goats high on a butte, and I pulled over to check them out. My daughter Maggie was only four years old and needed a little exercise anyway. I was at the top of a steep grade. It was a beautiful autumn morning, and everything seemed right with the world. I was hauling a 31-ft. Airstream travel trailer with "Old Blue" our old Chevy Suburban with a lot of miles on its 350 engine. It had been having a hard time pulling in the mountains on that trip, and I was looking forward to some flat land driving. After enjoying the view and watching the goats, we climbed back into our rig and started down the grade into the heart of the Badlands. The engine began to knock as if it were doing all it could to throw a rod. I coasted into a scenic pull out at the bottom of the grade and sat there wondering what to do. I have discovered from past experience that with automobile mechanical problems, the first thing you always do is lift the hood and stare at the engine. I don't know why this is. It must be mind over motor or something because everyone does it. I stared at it for several minutes and concluded that I didn't have a clue what was wrong with it. As I continued to stare, a small-size Toyota pickup pulled up, and an old mountain man-looking character jumped out and hurried over to my truck.
"What's the problem, son?"
"I'm not sure. My engine just started knocking like a woodpecker."
"Fire it up and let me listen."
I thought, "Great, here's a guy who understands motors! He can help me." I started the engine and hurried back under the hood to hear the diagnosis.
"Yep, she's knocking all right!"
"Well, thanks," I said. "At least now I know I'm not just hearing things."
The old man started back to his truck. "I've got a tow rope. I'll pull you back to Wall."
"I don't think your pickup will haul this Suburban up that grade."
"Oh, yeah. It's a diesel. It will pull the teeth right out of your head."
Again, I thought, "Oh, great! Now he's a dentist."
We dropped the trailer out in the middle of the Badlands, hooked the truck to the little diesel pickup and as the old man and his grandson hauled us back up the steep grade, diesel fumes were blowing out both sides of the "Little Truck That Could."
They pulled us all the way into Wall, and we found the only mechanic in town. He couldn't look at the engine for a half hour, so we all milled around under the hood and stared some more. We began to find out more about our rescuer. He was videotaping us, so he could show his wife when he and his grandson got back to Tennessee. We found out that he was a retired Baptist minister, and he and his grandson had been traveling around the West, talking to youth groups and sleeping in churches all summer.
They couldn't stay while we waited for the mechanic, but they said they would like to say a little prayer over the engine. So Gaila, Maggie and I held hands with our two new friends and huddled in front of the truck while the old man prayed about our problem.
Soon they bid us goodbye and there we sat, just down the street from Wall Drug, still staring at our broken, but now blessed truck.
The mechanic finally found time to come out and listen to the knocking in the engine and quickly said, "No question! It's a rod."
"We're a long way from Michigan. What do you think we should do?" I asked nervously.
"Well, I've seen them go five miles, and I've seen them go another 50,000. If I were you, I would put some heavyweight oil in it and head for Michigan."
Since I had about enough money left to buy a nickel glass of water at Wall Drug, that sounded like the most fiscally feasible thing we could do. I bought some heavyweight oil, poured it in, and we headed back into the Badlands. Just a few miles outside of Wall, things got real quiet. The knocking had stopped, and the engine started purring like a tomcat in a creamery. We hooked onto the trailer and made it all the way back home. We then drove that truck for another four years and sold it to a farmer who wanted the engine to drive a wind turbine.
I told my wife, Gaila, "Had I realized the full potential and power of prayer, I would have asked for a paint job too!

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