Truckster-- fall down, go boom!

Okay ladies and gentlemen (and you onecog), here's the sitch...

Ever since day one of this adventure, I've been convinced the Family Truckster could spontaneously burst into flames. At some mile marker, some moment in time, it would meet its demise. There we'd be, just driving along with naught a care in the world, when suddenly one of us would smell smoke. As the fumes grew thicker and filled the cabin, we would screech to a stop. On the side of the road, with the back door open, me and the crew would frantically throw our gear onto the highway, while the Truckster becomes engulfed in flames and a black plume of smoke rises into the sky.

Have I been a bit paranoid? Of course. But I'm here to tell you, my paranoia is rooted in cold, hard facts.

As I write this, I am sitting in Yellowstone National Park with the Truckster officially broken down. Granted it did not go up in a dramatic fireball, I still feel my intuition was correct. And since I have plenty of time before the tow truck arrives, let me now recap the issues of the Astro van, more affectionately know as The Family Truckster.

The issues that have fueled my paranoia....

a) The first day the Truckster was in our possession
a fuse blew and we lost both the radio and horn. Normally a blown fuse is a sign of an electrical short or another electrical problem. We simply replaced the fuse and went about the business of our adventure. Tunes were playing, so no worries, eh?

The sliding door can only be opened from the outside. This is because the inner handle is broken. The procedure for a passenger sitting in the back to open the door from the inside involves 1) crack open the window 2) reach out to the exterior latch 3) pull on latch while shoulder-checking the door. Due to my aforementioned combustion paranoia, I made a mental note of this "problematic escape" as a genuine fire hazard.

The steering is loose. Merely breathe on the steering wheel and the Truckster changes direction. I suspect this is the reason why Rom was pulled over for careless driving in Lander. The cop probably saw the natural weaving motion of the Truckster and instantly assumed drunk driver.

The brakes are stiff. In a wonderful contrast to the loose steering, the brakes are exceptionally tight. Bringing the Truckster to a halt requires an unusual amount of force for a vehicle equipped with power brakes. We haven't had the need for an emergency stop --say in the case of a deer on the road-- but when we do, I suspect the two-foot technique will be necessary.

Opening the rear door requires that you push in while simultaneously pulling out. If this seems counter intuitive, then you get my point. But that's okay, because the other rear door does not open.

The windshield is cracked, various door locks and window buttons do not work, and sections of molding have fallen off. Quite honestly, this is minor shit.

That's a general recap of the issues the crew and I have discovered.

Now here's the clincher... We'd been having problems starting the Truckster. It was not uncommon for it to take 2 or 3 attempts, and when the engine did finally turn over, a burst of white smoke would erupt from the exhaust pipe. Being proactive types, we rolled her into the mechanic YESTERDAY, while we were still in Jackson, and had the starter replaced. Two hundred and fifty dollars later (thank you Timex) and we felt the Mighty Truckster was good to roll.


On the way to Yellowstone Park, with no warning whatsoever, the fuse again blows out. No horn, no radio. Fortunately, Cody purchased extra fuses when this happened the first time. Unfortunately, one at a time and over the course of the next few minutes, the Truckster blows them all. Sans radio, we continue on our way through Yellowstone.

Adam jams to his iPod and is perfectly happy. The rest of us sit in silence, watching Adam make exaggerated hand gestures and lip movements. We envy him.

After stopping to check out the Mud Volcano, basically bubbling pools of dirty water surrounded by gawking tourists, we are eager to move on to Bozeman, Montana. The Truckster, however, is not so eager. In fact, it downright refuses to start.

A guy from Texas, driving a Suburban, gives us a jump. This fails to help, so I crawl underneath and rap the new starter with a wrench-- a little trick I learned from my first car, a '73 Bronco.

Finally, The Truckster starts, but it sounds horrible. Gurgling noises emanate from under the hood-- like a small child being strangled. We all pass worried glances. I pop the hood again, just to make certain a small child didn't crawl in the engine compartment when I wasn't looking.

Nope-- no child, just a V6 engine being strangled.

I check the air filter where the noise seems to be coming from. It looks remarkably like an air filter. No problem there. I lift a couple of hoses. I poke at several things. The engine appears in order. All the parts appear to be in their respective places. No signs of sabotage by terrorists.

Finally, I give Cody the okay to put the Truckster in gear. He throws it in Drive and the damn thing immediately dies.

This entire routine is repeated a couple more times. Same sequence, same outcome. Eventually we determine that the Truckster is dead. Muerte!

Time to call for a tow.

In the end, our little Chevy Astro van didn't blow up in a dramatic mushroom cloud as I feared it would. Rather, it died a quiet death in its sleep. Simply stopped working, was loaded on a tow truck and transported to Bozeman, Montana where it presently awaits repairs.

On an optimistic note-- At least we didn't break down in Rawlins!

For your viewing pleasure, here’s a pictorial look back at the Family Truckster. Please play your favorite melodramatic, sappy, and/or lamenting music as you view the images...