We left our hotel late Sunday morning, heading home from Utah. We weren’t sure whether we’d make a 2-day trip of it, stopping in St. George or Vegas, or whether we’d pull an all nighter. It would depend on how we felt.
It took a while to leave Salt Lake City — the kids wanted to see the Lake, and we had to stock up on a few things. It was mid afternoon before we really got moving in earnest. After five hours of driving broken by the usual parade of bathroom breaks (we were driving with three kids, after all), we stopped for dinner in Mesquite. The kids were relatively well behaved. M. and I both felt pretty awake. And we were tired of living in hotels. We decided we would definitely push on, and we’d get home around 1 a.m.
I should mention that the SUV had recently made a weird humming noise, three times. Sorta like a loose belt. We had worried a little about that, and so we took it to the mechanic pre-vacation to look everything over. But it only made that noise very intermittently — twice in the past two months, both times for just a few hours — and when we took it in, it wasn’t humming like that. The mechanic looked the SUV over and didn’t see anything wrong.
We left Mesquite with full stomachs and high spirits. Fifteen miles out of town, the temperature gauge shot up to the red, and the idiot lights came on. M. immediately pulled to the side of the road (left side, as there was a semi on our right) and stopped. We popped the hood. Steam poured out.
The next little while was an interesting time. We turned on hazard lights, and checked under the hood. The serpentine belt hung loosely from its place — it seemed to have broken. That would do it. And so, we called insurance, to get roadside assistance coming. We also got the kids out of the increasingly warm car, into the warm, but windy, desert. We sat together on a blanket. Ten yards away, the a parade of semi trucks whizzed by at 85 mph. Above us, the stars were gorgeous. The Milky Way was brilliant. I tried to get a few pictures, but they didn’t take. I had to set shutter speed to really slow to get the stars, and that picked up too much of the passing headlight light.
Roadside assistance said that they couldn’t find a tow truck at 9 pm Sunday in Mesquite. It looked like we would be waiting an hour or more for a truck to come from Vegas. And then, who knew? If it was just the serpentine belt, we’d be on our way fast. If we hadn’t gotten off the road fast enough, maybe we’d be replacing an engine.
From 9 to 9:45 or so, we sat on the blanket. We checked out the stars, and talked, and I reassured Son1 that it was unlikely that rattlesnakes were out this late. It was kinda warm (95), but there was a nice breeze. At 9:30, insurance said they were looking in Vegas, and that it could be an hour or more.
At 9:45, highway patrol pulled up. He said there was a tow truck a few miles away if we wanted one. We jumped on it, of course. We may have to pay for part or all of it, but it’s better than sitting with the kids in the desert for an hour or more.
Highway patrol called the tow truck (who actually had spotted us first, but is prevented by state law from soliciting us). We got hooked up, and in to Mesquite. M. called insurance to tell them not to send someone from Vegas. While she was calling them, they called her back, and left a voice mail saying that their driver would take about 3 hours (!) to arrive.
We rode the tow truck in to Mesquite. M. called insurance back to cancel, and left a message. The kids oohed and ahhed about riding in a tow truck. We parked the SUV outside an attached auto shop at Wal-Mart. We weren’t sure if they could fix this. If not, we’d go to the Big O nearby.
M. mentioned that it was just the serpentine belt, and on a whim, we popped the hood, and looked at it with the tow truck driver, who had some tools. Weirdly, the belt wasn’t broken, like I had thought at first. Instead, it’s just _off_. But still in one piece. We got out flashlights, and begin threading the &*^@ thing through the little wheels.
As we worked, I talked to M. and the driver. Maybe that weird humming from before had been just a loose belt. So now, maybe we just need to get it back on. (But why would it fall off to begin with?)
Even with the driver, we really didn’t have the tools to re-thread the belt. It required pushing one little wheel up at an angle and sliding the belt on. This took about forty minutes, between me, M., and the tow truck driver, with various people holding flashlights and pushing with a crowbar, trying to get the belt over the last loop.
Finally, we got the belt on. M. and I looked at each other. Were we going to get back to San Diego tonight after all? Was the engine even going to turn? (Did we get to the road side fast enough?)
M. climbed in and turned the key. The engine turned, and steam came out, fast. We turned it off fast. The belt was fine. What had cause it to come off was that the water pump went out. This meant that one of the six little wheels stopped turning, and the serpentine belt just came off after that.
Apparently that occasional humming was the water pump giving out. Too bad it didn’t do that when the mechanic was pre-vacation checking everything! But it makes sense that internal water pump problems would burn it out after a long desert drive, but also not be noticeable to the mechanic seeing it after we drove a few city miles to the chop to check it all out, especially without the humming.
The truck driver dropped us off at a hotel. It turned out to be sold out, so we had to hike another half mile through the Mesquite night, carrying clothes, to a hotel next door.
The next day, M. got the car to the mechanic, who was able to replace the water pump. We swam with the kids in the hotel pool, and met and chatted with a nice LDS family from Utah. We ate at Denny’s. Eventually, we picked our car up, and headed home.
It was so nice to see Mesquite fading away in the rear view mirror.