When asked about a memorable and improvised auto repair only one drive comes to mind. This is not to say I haven’t had many makeshift repairs on the road during my travels. After all I’m 64 years old and driven motorcycles and cars since I was 12. I’ve driven in most of the States of these United States and I've driven in England, Northern Africa, Guam, and several other remote locations.
This story begins in 1970 at a small U.S. Air Force Base know as RAF Wethersfield near the Channel side of England. The Air Force was retiring the F-100D aircraft at the base and replacing them with the new F-111’s. RAF Wethersfield’s runways and support facilities were inadequate for these new planes. We were re-assigned and told to prepare to move to our new base at RAF Upper Heyford, a distance of about 80 driving miles.
Now driving in England is a little different than here in the states. Most obvious is which side you actually drive on (but that’s what everyone talks about). I’m here to explain that there are no good East - West highways to drive across country in England. The roads in the rural areas are slightly more than a single lane wide and sight distance driving into and out of turns just doesn’t exist. It is common for pedestrians, farmers with their herds, and women pushing Prams (Strollers) to walk in the roadways. Gas stations and services don’t exist except in larger towns, which I wouldn’t see any of until I was near my new base.
The final speed limiting factor is the lack of straight sections of roads. It seems that the government would respect landowner’s rights and not build roadways across private lands. So roads followed tree lines, stream and creek beds, wandering across the country. The road from RAF Wethersfield to the closest real town was five miles. However, there were 97 turns along this route with no other road options.
With this as the driving challenge I was provided 24 hours to move from RAF Wethersfield to RAF Upper Heyford. My vehicle was a 1959 Ford Popular. I had purchased this 4 cylinder flat head 3 speed car four months earlier. I had paid $12.00 for this vehicle and had already replaced the engine once when it died. The new engine cost me $8.00 for a complete engine with water pump, generator, and intake with carb. Now the order to move to the new base came in. This would be the longest drive I’d made up to this point.
On the morning of the move I awoke early and grabbed chow at the Mess Hall. I was on the road by 7:30AM. Fifteen miles down the road a tire blew and destroyed the sidewall. A quick change and back on the road, just no spare tire and no hope of finding one on this day. About 30 miles later I hear a loud bang and watch the generator light come on and the water temp gauge needle heading for HOT. Upon opening the hood I found the remains of the one fan belt on this little car.
I remembered I still had the old fan belt from the original engine in the trunk (I’m one of those guys that never throws anything away that I can store). With almost no tools but an adjustable wrench I managed to loosen the generator and slip on the new (old) belt. This is when the trip started downhill.
As I attempted to tighten the adjusting bolt I snapped the bolt off. I had gotten the belt snug but not adjusted properly. Off I went as I now had been delayed by about 2 hours.
Another 15 miles and the generator light came on and I could hear the belt squealing and smelled burning rubber. Before I could pull over I heard the bang of this belt coming apart and hitting the hood. Then a miracle, a sign shows a gas station 1 mile ahead. I hobble into the station island and pull in front of the pumps.
Checking with the attendant I learn they have no tools or fan belts. It appears I’m out of luck. Then I see my hope as the sunshine’s on the stations window glass. A sign reads: “Free Panty Hose - with purchase of 3 liters of gas”. I fill my tank and pick out a stunning pair of Navy colored nylons.
I open the package, cut one leg off and stretch the nylon as tightly as I could around the three engine pulleys, the crank, water pump, and generator. I tie the knot as small and tight as possible. I slam the hood and light the fire. I’m “On the Road Again”.
The summers are really nice in England with sunsets as late as 10:00PM in some areas. I was thankful that I didn’t need the power drainage of the headlights as I closed in on my new home. Then without notice or even a bang the generator light brightens my dashboard. This leg of the panty hose had failed with about 20 miles to go
I quickly cut and install the last leg of my panty hose and off I go. I was like a NASCAR pit crew now in making my repairs. Well it was a good effort for a while as this leg failed about 5 miles out from the finish line. Now’s the time you decide what's important in your life.
In this case the choices seem to be: 1) Arrive late to my new assignment and meet my new “ANGRY” Commander. 2) Park the car and try to find a ride back later to reclaim whatever is left of my belongings. 3) Suck it up and continue on to my destination. The phrase “Just Do It” hadn’t been coined yet.
I arrived just as the sun was setting. I had over heated the engine, burned all the oil out of the engine due to this heat, and was smoking like a steam engine. The knocking crank sounded like a jack hammer but I was there and on time.
I slept well that night after I figured out how to raise another $8.00 for a new engine.