The Trailer Of Wrath, Part 1

21 May


The Trailer of Wrath

By: Bob Gersztyn

Part One

Β Β Β Β Β Β Β Β Β Β Β  It was Monday, Labor Day 1984, when we began our move from Bakersfield, California to Greater Detroit, Michigan. My girlfriend and I first moved to the West Coast from Michigan in 1971 and now we were married for 13 years and she was pregnant with our 6th child as we were returning to our roots after a 13 year absence. We had been on a spiritual odyssey that took us to Los Angeles, California, where we lived for 9 years before the Lord stirred up a restless spirit within us. That restless spirit manifested itself through a number of impulsive moves to unfamiliar states, in search of God’s perfect will for our lives and my ministry. We were on the road more than Jack Kerouac, only it wasn’t just a bunch of single guys, it was an entire family. It was the middle of what I have come to call the Jonah Period of my life. God had called me to move to the Pacific Northwest in 1979, after I first heard Roy Hicks Jr. speak at LIFE Bible college. I researched everything and convinced everyone, including myself that God was calling us to move to the Pacific Northwest, the most un-churched region of the country to tell them about Jesus. Roy Hicks Jr.’s church was in Eugene, Oregon, and I moved there the second time that I moved to Oregon, in 1982. The frustrating thing was Roy Hicks Jr. wouldn’t sit down and have a one-on-one with me, even though I attended his church for nearly 2 years. He passed me off onto one of his assistant pastors, after I told him that I moved to Oregon to sit under his ministry. He broke my heart and I ended up moving to Bakersfield, as I was running away from the Pacific Northwest and completely giving up on God and the ministry and saying, fuck it! I was returning to square one, our home in Michigan, to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I was Jonah in the belly of the great fish, β€œwake up Jonah!”

When we originally moved to Los Angeles we pulled a single axle U Haul trailer behind our 1964 Plymouth Belvedere 4 Door Sedan on Route 66. This time we were once again pulling a trailer behind our 1980 Dodge Diplomat Station Wagon. I picked up the tandem axle Jartran trailer on Saturday and immediately began loading it, from a plan that I worked out in my mind. I had become an expert at packing, since this would be the 6th major cross-country move in a little over 4 years. All the other moves had used moving trucks with 21 to 27 foot box trailers, so this time packing required every square inch of space to be filled in with something. The only unused room left could only be filled with sand or some other grainy substance fluid. After we ran out of room inside the trailer I used rope and bungee cords to strap everything from a baby crib to a rocking chair and my wooden bench press on top of the trailer. By Monday morning when we began our exodus, the trailer was weighing down the springs of our car to the point that the gas tank was only an inch off the ground, so with the help of my neighbor Joe, who was a mechanic, I purchased rear heavy duty shock absorber’s and installed them. We finally got started at 11:00 AM, and headed South East towards Tehachapi, which was uphill most of the way. By the time we were 50 miles outside of town, I could smell the automatic transmission burning up, so I knew that we would have to turn around and pray that we could make it back to our vacated house.

Β Β Β Β Β Β Β Β Β Β Β  Through some miracle, the car made it back to our house a little before 4:00 PM. I headed straight to our mechanic neighbor Joe, who with his entire family was watching the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy annual fundraising telethon. I told him our predicament and he said that he had a mechanic friend who rebuilt transmissions for American cars from the last 15 years, and he had one of everything in stock, since he built another one as soon as he sold the last one. They were $150.00 each and another $50.00 for a torque converter. You had to bring your old transmission and torque converter in for an exchange, because that is what he rebuilt for the next one. Joe helped me get the transmission out of my Dodge and drove me to his friend’s house to get the parts we needed. We got back to the house and ended up having to use trouble lights to finish installing the new transmission and torque converter. Once we got the car successfully running in all gears, we called it a night and went to bed around midnight.

Β Β Β Β Β Β Β Β Β Β Β  The next day was Tuesday and we got up around 8:00 AM. Joe said that I should get a transmission cooler, to put on the front of the radiator to help regulate the transmission fluid’s temperature. So I went to the auto parts store to get one, and with Joe’s help installed it. By Noon we were on our way once again, and as we began ascending, I dropped into low gear and everything was going according to plan, as we crawled at a snail’s pace up the hills through Tehachapi on California’s Route 58. Our trip to Barstow took us past Edwards Air Force Base, where people were starting to gather for a space shuttle landing, the next day, on Wednesday, September 5, 1984. Sometime around 8:00 PM we uneventfully made it to Barstow and stopped in downtown to get something to eat at a Wendy’s.

Directions to get to the freeway were clearly marked, and it looked like getting to I-40 would be a cinch, except for one problem. The freeway was at the top of the steepest hill in Barstow, and I was pulling an overloaded trailer with 5 kids and a pregnant wife. The age of my children varied from Jeremy, the youngest, who was 2, Billy was 4, Rachel was 6, John was 8, and Michael, the oldest, was 10. So all of us together totaled somewhere around 600 pounds, along with a couple of hundred pounds of weights for my barbells. I was a competitive powerlifter at the time and trained both at home and in gyms, so I had a thousand pounds in weights and equipment including a bench, stands, bars, and an assortment of 2 Β½ to 100 pound plates.

I figured that if we got a running start and made it through the green light at the bottom of the hill, at the posted speed of 35 miles per hour, then we would have enough momentum built to get us to the crest of the hill where the freeway entrance was. I was approaching the light at the intersection that laid at the base of the steep hill leading to the entrance of I-40, when the light changed to yellow and a police car appeared behind me, so I came to a complete stop at the intersection. When the light turned green I put it in the lowest gear of my automatic transmission and gradually began to progress up the hill at a top speed of 15 miles per hour. Then as I came closer to the summit, the speed slowed down to 10 mph and began dropping a mile every 50 feet, until we finally came to a standstill about 50 feet from the freeway entrance.

The police car had been behind us the entire time and turned on his emergency lights at this time, as he got out of his car and approached my window.

β€œit looks like you’ve got a heavy load there,” the police officer said, through my rolled down window, on a hot early September night in Barstow. β€œWhere are you headed?” He asked.

β€œDetroit, Michigan,” I told him.

β€œIt looks like you’re going to have an interesting journey,” he said, and asked, β€œcan I call you a tow truck?”

β€œWe’re running a tight budget and paying for a tow truck doesn’t figure into the equation at this time,” I told him. Then I said, β€œIf you could give us a push with your reinforced bumper, I’m sure that we can get to the top.”

The police officer agreed to give me a push, as I put it in low gear and gave it gas, until we started to move, and were going 20 miles per hour, when we we hit the entrance ramp. Once we got on I-40 everything was alright again; we were back in the flow of traffic and there were no severe hills that had to be approached from a dead stop, so there were no worries. The first night we drove until I was exhausted around 2:00 AM, and then we pulled into a rest stop, just over the Arizona border, where we crashed until the heat of the rising sun woke us up at around 7:00 AM, Wednesday morning. We had friends and relatives in Tucson, Arizona, but we were north on I-40 and not south on I-10, because the northern route was shorter by miles, but made up for it in uphill driving at high altitudes. The slow uphill ascent was nerve racking, since there was always the fear that we would be slowed down or stopped on an ascent and not be able to get moving again. We drove through Flagstaff, Winslow, and Holbrook, instead of Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson, so we got a motel room in Flagstaff, which has an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet.

Thursday morning after getting loaded up and stopping for breakfast, we began our day of drivingΒ at 10:00 AM, with Albuquerque, New Mexico as the goal for the day. The day was uneventful and other than stopping for lunch and gas, we pretty much had a relaxed drive, during which Kathy and I talked about what we would do once we got to Michigan. The plan was to spend at least a few days with my mother, who was now living in a condominium around 12 Mile Road and Schoener, as we looked for a house and I looked for work. The kids were amusing themselves as kids do on a long trip by playing with their toys, games, and each other, along with fighting, crying, and everything in between.

We made it to Albuquerque by 8:00 PM, since Flagstaff had been the high point and we were able to go the speed limit, which in those days was 70 mph on all Interstates. We ate at a Mexican all you can eat buffet restuarant on the main drag, where we had eaten at the last time we were in town. After dinner we got a motel room and had some time to relax and watch TV before we went to bed. We got going Friday morning by 10:00 AM and wanted to get close to Oklahoma City as our goal for the day. The highway from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City is downhill all the way with a descent of nearly 4,000 feet, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to make up for some lost time.

To Be Continued.

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