A Winnebago-Automotive Confession
From: Guy R. Harper
Dear Click and Clack,
I listen to your show each week on the Internet and have been a fan for some time. I heard last week on your show about the guy who dropped the Porsche engine on his foot. I have a real doozy. It is one of my most vivid childhood memories:
Back in the early '80s our family had a mid-70's Winnebago camper. Being an adventurous family, we went to many interesting places. One time, we were driving from Silverdale, Washington, to a campground on the Olympic Peninsula, but we never made it (because the camper was built on a Dodge van platform, it was only a matter of time before it fulfilled the measure of its creation).
The camper had plenty of miles on it and the fuel pump started to get a bit dodgy (no pun intended) on our last trip. It was hesitating from time to time when accelerating, but ran better at higher speeds. So my dad bought a new fuel pump and then put it on a shelf in the garage before we embarked upon this trip. About half way there he had to take his foot off the gas to slow down for a corner because the camper was a bit top-heavy.
When he did this, the engine died. We rolled to a stop while my dad was cranking the engine and stomping the gas pedal as if it were a Stair-Master. All to no avail. We waited for someone to drive by so that we could ask them to take one of us to a phone. We waited for about two hours. Not one single car drove past and my younger brother and I were beginning to get frightened by the Sasquatch stories my older brother was telling us now that it was getting darker outside.
My dad was a creative man who had served as a submarine officer for about twenty years and took pride in being able to find solutions with limited available resources. He thought that if he could get the camper up to a high speed, the engine would run again. So, he took off the engine cover (the one inside the cab, between the two front seats), and removed the air filter to reveal the throat of the carburetor. Then, he crawled under the camper, disconnected the fuel line between the fuel pump and the carburetor and drained about a quart of gasoline into a plastic Kool-Aid pitcher. My dad sat in the passenger seat with the pitcher of gasoline while my older sister stood behind him, armed with a Purple K fire extinguisher and poised for action. My mom took the controls of the camper.
You are never going to believe what happened next, but Dad actually poured gasoline into the carburetor while Mom cranked the engine, which started roughly. She put it into gear, and with billows of smoke belching from the tailpipe and a few jerky thrusts forward, we were rolling again. My dad saw the fuel pump, which he forgot to reconnect, squirting fuel on the hot engine. The resulting fuel/air mixture was blown into the cab by the radiator fan. In his astonishment Dad stopped pouring fuel into the carburetor. This caused the engine to backfire... igniting the fuel/air mixture in the cabin with an impressive poof of bright orange light and black smoke.
My sister screamed as she sprayed the fire extinguisher everywhere in the cabin, and managed to extinguish all fires except for the one on the smiley pitcher. Mom slammed on the brakes as Dad threw the pitcher out the window and into the forest setting fire to some underbrush and a small tree. My older brother tossed my other older sister, younger brother, and me out the back door onto the side of the road, and jumped out himself while the camper was still rolling to a stop. We put out the forest fire with the remainder of the fire extinguisher, but not before a big gray cloud rose up to join the black one from the camper.
Dad set out on foot to find the nearest phone covered in chalky powder and polyester clothes shrink-wrapped to his body. Someone must have seen the smoke because after a few minutes, fire trucks started racing up and down the road, with lights and sirens going, as they looked for the fire. Dad figured Sasquatchs were probably friendlier and less threatening than EPA agents, so he ran into the forest to hide each time a fire truck sped past him. Thank God we all ended up OK ... except for the Kool-Aid smiley pitcher.
When we found it, we noticed its smile had melted into a frown making it even more difficult for my parents to convince my younger brother and me that inanimate objects have no feelings.
Specialist Guy R. Harper
10th Infantry Division
Fort Drum, NY