Renegade Apostrophe III
Easy As ABC

A Matter of Timing Chain

My car is coming up on its next scheduled oil change. It has almost 104,000 miles. The Honda folks want me to replace the timing chain before 105,000 miles. I am going to be driving to Ocean City on Sunday for a few days of babymomsitting. Do I get it done before the trip, even though I really don't have $800 bucks to spare, or do I take the chance that all will be well, in spite of the dire warning from Honda about how "timing chain failure cannot be predicted"?

I actually know all too well that timing chain failure cannot be predicted, because I once had a timing chain fail on me, quite unpredictably. Buckle up, kids; it's a long story.

It was 1978. I was driving up to Smithtown, New York for a week-long circus gig at a mall. Smithtown is in the middle of Long Island, more or less. I was driving my home-on-wheels -- a 1973 Ford Supervan. It was set up quite nicely inside, with a wee "bedroom" in the back and a "living room" behind the front seats. My Pop bought it for me second hand and it had served me well for two years and thousands of miles.

I was driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike, en route to Long Island by way of the Outerbridge Crossing and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I stopped at a rest area near Exit 9 to gas up and grab a Coke. I went to start the van and...

Nothing. Oh, the engine tried to start, but gave up. I got irritated. I tried again. And again. I stomped on the accelerator a few times and cursed, then tried again.

And with a loud bang and big puff of white smoke from the tailpipe, the engine started. But it was running really, really rough; so rough that I wondered if I should even try to get back on the turnpike.

Well, I thought, what else can I do?

So I pulled out.

And started pleading with the gods.

Please, please, please, just let me get across the Outerbridge. Don't break down on the Outerbridge.

Good. Got across the Outerbridge and made my way through Staten Island. The Verrazano Narrows loomed.

Please, please, please, just let me get across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Don't break down on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

I got across the bridge and then I hit the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. No shoulders, high walls, heavy New York traffic...

Please, please, please, just let me get to the Long Island Expressway. Don't break down on the BQE.

Somehow I pleaded myself all the way to Smithtown and into a parking space by the other circus folks. I turned off the car and thanked the stars above that at least I'd gotten there. I knew in my heart that the van was not starting again without some sort of mechanical intervention. I looked around the mall.

Lo and behold, there was a Sears! A trusted name in automotive service! Sears would fix my van and all would be well. I had about $150.00 in my pocket.

The next morning some friends and I pushed the van up to the Sears. Two hours later we pushed it back again.

It was the timing chain. Sears did not fix timing chains.

But my guardian angel was a-watching over me, for the mall engineer had already introduced himself to us. He wandered over when he saw us pushing the van back into the parking spot and asked what the problem was. I told him, and asked what he thought I should do.

And he said, "Let me look at it."

Over the next three days, he and his helper tore my engine apart. I gave him $125.00 for the parts, which left me with $25.00 to live on for the next five days. I budgeted $5.00 a day for meals -- a buck for breakfast (coffee and toast), a buck for lunch (cup of soup), and three bucks for dinner (hamburger).

The mechanic finished up on the last day of the show. He came up to me and said, "I guarantee that it'll get you home. After that, no promises."

He wouldn't take any more money, even though I did get paid for the gig and could have given it to him. I also suspect that he paid more for the parts than he charged me. The van still ran a little rough, but it did get me home. In fact, it lasted another six months.

But I don't think I'll take the chance again. Honda, here I come.

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