Trapped in Terre Haute

The van shuddered and slowed. Alex, behind the wheel, looked at me, not scared but not sure of what was happening. He pulled over to the shoulder and I popped the hood. Fluids were all full; we had a half tank of gas–more than enough to get us to northern Indiana for my usual pitstop. The oil light had been flickering but the oil was full and new, and I was going to visit my on-call mechanic (Stepdad) anyway so I didn’t worry about it.

A State Trooper pulled in behind us and called a tow truck. It took about fifteen minutes of intense prayer before it showed up to rescue us from the 18-wheelers flying past us. In short order, the van was loaded, the kids and I crammed into the back seat, and the driver took us on to Terre Haute for the discount price of $50/mile.

Donny at Sycamore Cheverolet was sympathetic; they were booked up until Friday afternoon. He suggested we go across the street to Fuson Pontiac and ask for Fred, so we did. Fred couldn’t get me in that day but promised to look it over first thing in the morning, and their shuttle took us to the Knights Inn up the road.

Linda at the front desk had non-smoking rooms available and was kind enough to laugh and cut me a deal when I asked if they offered a ‘broke down on the side of the road’ discount. It wasn’t Taj Mahal, but they had food close by and a safe place for us to spend the night.

I called Fred at 8:00 a.m.; he said it looked like a broken cam shaft. Ouch. I got repair particulars and called Stepdad, who gave me lots of ammo–things to look for, creative ways to trap potential money-hungry cheats, questions to ask about their diagnostics. I’m pleased to report I didn’t need to use any of them. By ten we were back to the dealership. I asked Fred if he’d show me what he’d found, and he said, “Sure! C’mon back.” Frankly, I was floored. Usually I get furrowed brows and, “Oh, no, you can’t go back there; it’s restricted.”

Sure enough, the cam shaft was broken. My options were limited: Replace the engine ($3,000 for a rebuilt, and they could have it done Tuesday), or trade it in. Long story short, I left home in a paid-for ’99 Venture and came back with an ’03 Montana and a car payment. Of course, the Montana had just been traded in and hadn’t gotten into the garage when I decided to buy it. They knew there were a couple minor things–trim and such–that needed to be fixed, so they got it into the garage while I did paperwork. By 11:30 the deal was sealed, and I took the kids to get some lunch. I decided to scrap the trip and head home; I was sure we wouldn’t get to Mom’s before midnight if we went on, and we had to head home Sunday anyway.

It was a long afternoon, but in the end they also replaced the alternator, put on new front brake pads and turned the rotors, and fixed something in the fuse box. They took my Excargo off the old van and put it on the new one, even though I told them not to worry about it if the hardware was giving them fits. It was smashed in the last move, and I was only taking to it Mom’s to see if Dad and/or Stepdad could fix it.

I have to say that if I could choose one car dealership to transplant here, it would be Fuson Pontiac. Jack suggested trade-in choices within my price range and didn’t try to tempt me with others that wouldn’t work. Josh helped me narrow my choices from three to one, answered my gazillion questions, and laughed at my bad jokes. Curt made the financing a breeze; the paperwork was painless and done in under half an hour. It was even easier than when we paid cash for our first van back in Virginia. BJ answered my mechanical questions about why the cam shaft broke, and later he saved the day when he ejected the library’s CD from the Venture after the battery had been disconnected and the fuse box torn apart. The shuttle drivers took us wherever we needed to go, and William (I think that was his name) even offered to have his wife cook us dinner when we were still there at 5:00. They all stayed overtime to get us back on the road.

I can’t say for sure if the guys are like that every day. I’m sure they have off-days like the rest of us, and I’m sure they have their share of mean customers who get under their skin. I managed to stay up-beat and positive through the whole ordeal for three reasons: I prayed a lot, my kids behaved flawlessly, and the guys at Fuson treated me like a human being rather than a stranded, clueless woman. The whole experience was grace under pressure; that’s the only way I can describe it.

I’m not shy about giving my opinions. I try to be as zealous (maybe more) with the good ones as I am with the bad. If you are anywhere close to Terre Haute, IN, and need anything car related, go to Fuson. They’re going to take good care of you.

Fred, Jack, Josh, Curt, BJ and shuttle guys, thank you so much for helping us out and getting us home.

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