Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Christmas Tripping - Part One
I bought a brand new Dodge pickup right before I moved to South Dakota. I wanted a ¾ ton with two wheel drive. Better mileage, less maintenance, and an excuse to stay home from work when the weather was bad. Turns out I was the only person in Montana who didn’t want a four wheel drive. The dealers didn't even keep them on the lot. I had exactly one to pick from in the whole town of Bozeman, and it had an automatic transmission. Not my preference, but I was only towing a two horse trailer, so I figured it would work.
That was the best truck ever built. I put two hundred and fifty thousand miles on it and replaced one water pump, one radiator, and one rear end seal. Period. We loved that truck so much when Dodge acquired the Cummins diesel engine, we went and bought a dually just like my truck, complete with the automatic transmission.
You know how they say lightning never strikes the same place twice? Neither does the good truck fairy.
Trouble reared its ugly head for the first time in North Dakota. We’d been up in the Minot area at a Saturday rodeo and were headed back to the south side to another rodeo on Sunday. Somewhere along the way, we noticed the truck was shifting weird. Revving too high, then lurching into the next gear. But it was still moving and we didn’t have a whole lot of choice but to keep going.
We planned to spend the night at the saddle club arena in Bismarck. Greg turned into the driveway and pulled up to the gate. It was padlocked. Crud. Guess we’d be finding someplace else to stay.
That’s when we realized we no longer had a reverse gear.
Luckily, no officers of the law wandered past while we broke out the tool box and removed the gate from its hinges. The next day, we chose our parking spots very carefully. We were down to only third gear by the time we got home.
Cue transmission replacement number one.
I don’t remember the circumstances surrounding the second transmission failure, probably because we recognized the warning signs and took it to the shop before it forced us to resort to breaking and entering to turn around. We were on transmission number three when we headed home for Christmas.
Number three didn’t mess around. It imploded in one big rattle and bang outside of Malta, Montana, on one of the more desolate stretches of US Highway 2. The local garage drained a sample of transmission fluid and showed us the pretty metal filings floating around in it. Then we hung around for five hours waiting for my brother to come and fetch us. The truck went home to South Dakota on a flatbed trailer.
By now, the service department at the Dodge dealership in Aberdeen had posted my husband’s picture in their break room, and mechanics scattered like rats into the woodwork when they saw him coming. They decided the overdrive was the problem. Transmission number four was a straight three speed.
Number four was the end of our transmission problems. It was also the end of our speeding ticket problems, because it was geared so low we topped out at fifty-five miles an hour. If you tried to go sixty, the engine over-heated. This was not a good thing when you were trying to work five rodeos in one weekend.
Greg put the Dodge up for sale.
He found a buyer right away. A race car owner who needed a dually to tow his car hauler, and didn’t care that he would be traveling in the slow lane. He called to say he wanted to come out for a test drive. They arranged it for the next day.
Greg figured he should take the Dodge for one last drive, for old times’ sake…and to be sure it would run. He had to make a quick trip to the neighbor’s house anyway. He gave it a little pat on the steering wheel as he slowed for the stop sign on the gravel road. Really, it hadn’t been such a bad truck, other than that pesky transmission.
Suddenly the truck heaved, and lunged, and whomp! The back end dropped flat onto the road. Greg sat for a moment, stunned. Then he looked in the rearview mirror. The entire back axle, dual tires and all, slowly rolled off into the ditch behind him.
Our next truck was Ford with a manual transmission.
*In the interest of fairness, and because I'll be in trouble if I don't, I must add that our experience is not indicative of the quality of Dodge diesel trucks in general. My parents have owned two in recent years and have never had a spot of transmission trouble. Or left any major parts lying alongside the road.