The Trailer of Wrath, Part 2

22 May

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The Trailer of Wrath

By: Bob Gersztyn

Part 2


I don’t remember exactly where we were at the time, but we were somewhere in Texas and making excellent time traveling downhill on momentum. I didn’t even have to put my foot on the gas and we were pushing 80 mph on the speedometer, in the left lane, with our overloaded trailer swerving behind us. Suddenly as we were traveling downhill the wind began to blow and the trailer began to jackknife towards the right, which I immediately saw in the extended side view mirrors that Jartran provided. Kathy began to freak out and scream as I turned my wheel to the right and managed to get the trailer back behind me, as I began to slowly pump the brakes to get my speed down. Once I got the speed down to around 65 everything seemed to get back to normal.

Kathy told me. β€œSlow down, we’re in no hurry. We want to get there safely.”

β€œYeah,” I told her, β€œI just wanted to make up for all the lost time from going uphill.”

I was listening to the radio and grooving on a Dire Straits song coming out of a station in Amarillo, when I suddenly realized that I was up to 80 miles per hour again and the wind was blowing like a hurricane, as I began to pump the breaks and Kathy started to scream again,’

β€œSow down, before you kill us.”

The trailer began to jackknife again and this time I was unable to regain control, as the trailer took control and we followed in its wake. Another gust of wind blew the trailer behind the car again as I maneuvered both into alignment and managed to slow down the train to a manageable 50 mph. This was the 2nd time that we narrowly escaped a serious accident and possible death in the past hour, so we were over-dosing on adrenaline. Our voracious appetites drove us into a roadside hamburger stand somewhere between Amarillo and Oklahoma City. We pigged out on gigantic hamburgers and generous portions of French fries, with thick and creamy milk shakes. Once we got on the road again everyone was in a good mood since our stomachs were full and we were done with mountains, as we entered America’s heartland, which was the gateway to the midwest where we were heading.

An hour after lunch, Michael, the oldest requested that we pull over, because he wasn’t feeling good and might want to vomit. After we pulled over, 2 of the kids joined him as they all became ill, with what appeared to be food poisoning. We made good time, but had to get a motel room sooner than we planned since half the kids were sick. The moths were thick on the windows and screens and the humidity of late summer hung in the air like an oppressive cloud smothering its occupants with suspended moisture.

After a night of retching and groaning, we got going on Saturday morning, a little after 10:00 AM and headed North through Oklahoma City, and ate lunch in Tulsa. Once we entered Missouri we began seeing signs for fireworks, so we stopped at a fairly large fireworks store and purchased about $20.00 worth of an assortment that included Roman Candles and a block of Black Cat firecrackers. The scenery was the greenest since we left Flagstaff, and we had an uneventful drive and got a motel room for the night somewhere around Waynesville.

The next day was Sunday, and we decided to sleep in, and didn’t hit the road until nearly 11:00 AM, and then stopped for lunch at the first restaurant that we saw. There was the possibility that if everything went right, we could actually drive straight through to Detroit, since it was only a little over 600 miles. After lunch, as we drove towards St. Louis, the car began to periodically loose power, which was starting to concern me, since we were three quarters of the way home. As we drove through St. Louis, by the golden arch and across the Mississippi, using the bridge that Nate Taggert built, the car continued to sputter, until I was forced to pull over on the side of the road. I popped the hood and looked: I smelled gasoline. The line to the fuel pump had cracked and sprung a leak. I got under the car and wrapped some plastic tape around the leak when I heard a voice that seemed to be talking to me. It was an Illinois State Trooper telling me that I can’t work on my car on the side of the freeway, and asked if I needed a tow truck? I told the police officer that I didn’t need a tow truck and I was sorry and would leave immediately, which I did.

We got off at the next exit, and I began to look for an auto parts store. I asked at a garage and they gave me directions to a parts store a couple of miles up the road. When I got there I purchased a piece of rubber tubing that I replaced the cracked copper tubing with. By the time that we got going again it was after 6:00 PM, and it was time to eat again, so we pulled into a local greasy spoon. They had some pretty reasonable specials, and even a kid’s menu, so we were completely satisfied when we left, heading North East towards Indiana. By 3:00 AM we were well into Indiana, as the crickets were chirping and the balmy late summer early morning smells rose out of the ground and into the car, where we experienced them. Everyone was asleep and I began to get drowsy, so I pulled into the next rest stop on our route, where I spread out a sleeping bag on top of a concrete picnic table and crawled into it. The hot morning sun shining in my eyes Monday morning woke me up at around 7:30 AM, so I got up, went to the bathroom, and washed my face before getting back into the car and waiting for everyone else to do their duty before beginning the day’s journey.

It looked like it would be free sailing all the way to Detroit, as we passed Indianapolis exit #77, at sunrise. We stopped for breakfast at a truck stop and were on our way a little after 9:00 AM, and were making good time, until we hit Anderson, Indiana and my son Michael alerted me to something. The people in the car driving next to us on the right were frantically pointing to our trailer. I looked in the extended side view mirror on the passenger side that I attached when I rented the trailer, and my eyes did a double take, as I instinctively hit the brakes and pulled over on the shoulder. Flames were coming out of the right wheel well, as I grabbed a plastic gallon of drinking water that we had in the car and jumped out the door. I ran to the flaming wheel well and doused it with water as Kathy came out with another gallon of water. After the fire was put out I noticed that the burned wheel was slightly cockeyed and decided to get off at the next exit and stop at the first phone to call Jartran.

When I put the car in gear and began to move, the damaged wheel completely broke off and the trailer axle hit the ground, and made an ugly scraping sound, so I immediately stopped the car and shut it off. The trailer couldn’t be moved until the wheel was somehow reattached, so I decided to find the nearest telephone to call the Jartran emergency number. The freeway ran through a residential area at this point, with only a five foot high cyclone chain link fence at the end of back yards. I climbed over the fence and knocked on the back door of a house that was nearest to our car. A woman answered and after I told her the situation she invited me in, to use her telephone. I called the Jartran emergency phone number and told them my situation, to which they responded that they would send someone out to help within an hour. The lady whose phone I used came out to see how we were doing as a flat bed transport truck with chains to pull the trailer on pulled up behind us. After we detached the trailer from the car the truck driver loaded the trailer on his flat bed and we followed him to the Jartran rental office in Anderson.

When we arrived we were given an opportunity to rent a truck and load all our belongings in it to continue our trip to Michigan. We were exhausted by this time and it was less than a five hour drive to my mom’s house, since we wouldn’t be hauling a heavy trailer, so we decided to leave everything in Anderson and come back to unload it the next day, after we rested. We headed to Michigan and stopped at a fast food place to get something to eat and call my mom on the phone to tell her we were almost there. The drive was uneventful and we pulled up to my mother’s condominium sometime after 10:00 PM. We were glad to have finally arrived and after greeting my mom we unloaded our suitcases and other items off the roof and inside of the car into her place.

When we told her the story of our trip she immediately said, without hesitation. β€œYour move was not God’s will.” At the same time the Detroit Tigers won the American league pennant and would be in the World Series, which they subsequently won. So after living on the West Coast for thirteen years we returned to our place of origin with five children and nothing but what we could carry in our car, jobless, with a nearly depleted bank account, and moved in with my widowed mother. The next day, when I called the Jartran dealer in Anderson, Indiana to arrange to pick up the contents of our trailer, I was shocked by what they told me.

β€œIt has been determined that the reason why the trailer axle broke was because you overloaded the trailer and are therefore responsible for all damages.”

As I continued to talk to the dealer I found out that they had not weighed the trailer yet, but were assuming that it was overloaded. However, according to the contract they pointed out, I was guilty, until proven innocent. The only way that I could be proven innocent was by weighing the trailer, however, since the axle was broken the trailer couldn’t be moved until it was fixed. It had to be unloaded to be fixed, but we couldn’t claim our possessions, unless we paid the $800.00 that the repairs were estimated at. I called the Sheriff’s department in Anderson and they intervened for me, but then told me that there was nothing that they could do, since the contract that I signed was legal and binding. They advised getting a lawyer. There was a possibility that the trailer wasn’t overloaded, but that couldn’t be proven until it was weighed, so it was a Catch 22 problem.

My aunt suggested that we contact the Detroit News daily newspaper’s action line, which helped people with problems like ours. After we left it in their hands until October, when they finally got back to us and told us that Jartran was the most uncooperative company that they had ever dealt with, and apologized for not being able to help us. In exasperation we managed to reach an executive in Jartran’s main office that told us that if we paid for the flat bed used to get our trailer weighed to see if it was overloaded that we could get to the next step. After we paid with a charge card and the trailer was weighed, it was found to weigh over 7,000 pounds, which was nearly triple the legal weight limit. Therefore, we were responsible for all the damages that were incurred. After agreeing to pay for all damages and doing so, I was allowed to rent a truck to load the trailer contents onto, and bring it to the house I was now renting in Warren, Michigan, across from the high school and Catholic school that I attended, less than a mile from the house that I grew up in. One day when I finally got around to reading John Steinbeck’s classic novel, β€œThe Grapes of Wrath,” I realized that he allegorically prophesied our journey from Bakersfield to Detroit, when he wrote about the Joad’s exodus from Oklahoma to California. We even took the same route at one point, pulling the β€œTrailer of Wrath.”

The End, For Now.

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