“What was that?”
The truck lurched.
Was that a pothole in the road?
No - the road was smooth. New, in fact. We were in the middle of the construction zone doing the repaving work.
It lurched again. When I pressed on the accelerator it spit and sputtered. Like we were running out of fuel - except I had 2/3 of a tank showing.
We were halfway through a 75-mile move in West Michigan. Trailer attached. With a schedule full of appointments and expectations.
The truck kept running roughly.
We were going to come to a full stop, it was just a matter of when and where.
The construction zone was full of semis, dump trucks, and paving equipment. I didn’t want to be in their way.
An exit sign loomed.
I grabbed it.
We’ve been in this area a few times over the years. I knew there was a small town off this exit. There would be help available.
- Be prepared to make some quick decisions
- Trust your gut
- Try to get to a spot where you’ll have space
We made it to the bottom of the exit ramp. We were in the middle lane - blocking the view of left-turners and in the way of right-turners.
I didn’t like it. I wore the battery down trying to start the truck enough to move us around the corner onto the shoulder.
- Sometimes you just aren’t in control of where you end up.
Commence Phone Calls
We needed a tow truck.
Two, actually. One to get the truck to a repair shop and one to get the trailer somewhere we could set it up while the truck is repaired.
MsBoyink grabbed her phone, found the insurance papers, and called the insurance company to start the process of getting tow trucks lined up.
I used my phone to start researching local repair shops and campgrounds.
- Having two phones is handy
- Yelp is great for finding nearby repair shops
- Allstays is great for finding the closest campgrounds
Progressive Insurance covers both our truck and RV. While they’ve been great to deal with overall, the challenge is they are separate policies and for all the world they are handled by separate companies.
You have to call two different phone numbers to log two different claims and never the twain shall meet in a database or share data. If you start with the wrong agent and they pass you off to the another agent, you have to start all over again.
MsBoyink still isn’t sure the auto agent understood that we needed two tow trucks. He spoke his “script” so fast she couldn’t understand him over the road noise.
She had trouble even getting him to understand where we were.
I can drop a pin on a Google Map and send that to my son’s smartphone, but can’t do that with a company whose business involves getting help to people stranded in unfamiliar places.
MsBoyink hiked back up the exit ramp to confirm the exit number. The insurance agent told her it didn’t exist. He couldn’t even find the town name.
Finally I found a street address on a nearby building and gave them that instead of the exit number and that worked.
So one tow truck was on the way.
- You are stressed, but the insurance company reps are just having another day - expect frustration
- Try to find an exact address of where you broke down, vs. describing where it is
In the midst of our flurry of phone calls a diesel dually pickup pulled up behind our fifth wheel. I waved him over - letting him know we were stranded and he could go around.
He got out and asked if we were having trouble. When I described what was going on he brought over a booster box to attach to the now-dead battery. Our hope was to get the truck running long enough to get us out of the intersection.
It didn’t work.
So he got a chain, hooked up to my tow hooks, and pulled us around the corner.
Angel #1 was John from Colorado. His father-in-law is here in Michigan, just went on a ventilator, and isn’t expected to live. John and his wife are here to say goodbye and settle his estate.
After John left we were still finding a repair shop for the truck and a campground for the fifth wheel.
Angel #2 was Mike, owner of the plumbing business we were in front of. Mike came out carrying cold water bottles and told us we could park the RV in his yard if need be.
All the campgrounds I was finding were 8-10 miles out of town and away from any repair shop where the truck could go. We have bikes - but being able to stay closer to the truck would make it easier all around.
I thanked Mike and told him it was likely we’d take him up on his offer.
After Mike had walked back to his house another young man walked up. I didn’t see where he came from.
He asked if there was anything we needed or anything he could do. We had a tow truck on the way and a place for the trailer so I thanked him and said we were set for the moment.
I didn’t see where he went, and didn’t think to get his name.
Angel #4 was Chad.
Chad drove up in his lifted red Ford truck and asked if we had help on the way. I said we had a tow truck coming but didn’t know if it would also be able to move our trailer.
He said “I wonder if that’s my buddy?” He got on his phone, called his buddy and yes, confirmed it was him coming to tow us. No, he doesn’t have a fifth wheel hitch.
That’s OK. I’ll run home and get my hitch.Chad
He roared off, and a yellow tow truck showed up.
Angel #5 is Dan - the tow truck driver. His shop was just around the corner and he was onsite in less than 20 minutes.
We quickly agreed on a plan:
- Disconnect the trailer
- Pull the truck into Mike’s parking lot
- Hook Chad’s truck up to the trailer
- Get the truck towable by the tow truck
- Have Chad park the trailer in Mike’s yard
We chatted at times while setting the trailer, telling Chad and Dan our story, about homeschooling and traveling. They outlined various businesses that were within walking and biking distances of where we were.
With the trailer set, they left and took our truck with them.
Who said you could park there!?Jim
That’s how my conversation with Jim started. He owned the gravel business behind Mike and wasn’t around when we setup.
I explained our situation and let him know I understood his concern. I’d be asking that question too if an RV showed up in my yard.
By the end of the conversation Jim was offering us power and water from his shop. I said we were good on batteries for now, but we’d see how long the truck was going to be and let him know if we needed power or water.
Lessons Learned from Angels
- Humility - we (mainly I) pride ourselves on self-reliance, but God used this breakdown to remind us that he’s got our backs
- Nice people exist
- Help can appear seemingly out of nowhere
- People will take time out from their own issues to help - maybe we should be more like that
- A smile, a look in the eye, and introduction, and a calm voice can go a long way to diffuse a potentially stressful conversation
With the trailer setup and our angels all gone, we collapsed. I laid down and was immediately asleep.
We didn’t know how long we’d be here. This all happened on a Thursday. The shop could “probably” look at the truck on Friday, but any delays and it would be Monday before any repairs were done.
We’re good on batteries for maybe 3 nights. I didn’t know how much fresh water we had on board. I could see a plug and a hose on the side of Mike’s building but hated to take advantage of his hospitality.
We went into extreme conservation mode. We played games and read while the sun was out. Once the sun went down we went to bed.
- We need to learn patience
- Unplugging is good - even if forced