Back in the summer of 1990, freshly married, in limbo between college and seminary, we watched a film series on Sunday nights at Newberg Friends. It was Gary Smalley, as Tamara reminded me yesterday, talking about family relationships. What stood out to a bunch of us was that families should take camping trips. Why? Not because of the good memories, but because you will have a crisis, and those are the things that really bond and cement relationships. Just days after seeing the film, Steve and Diane and Elaine and I drove together to Seattle for Corey and Jill’s wedding. Somewhere on I-5 in the middle of Washington, a yellow jacket or a wasp got in our car. We could not get it out, had to pull over on the side of the highway, flew out the doors, and laughed until the coast was clear. A crisis-cemented relationship.
This trip we just took was no exception. I’ll remember tons, but the first I’ll write about is the crisis.
We spent a day in Jackson, Wyoming after our time in the Grand Tetons. Elaine suggested we visit Craters of the Moon National Monument on our long way home. We drove almost four non-stop hours, the last hour and a half through the high, sparse Idaho desert with a fierce headwind. It was blowing so hard that for the first time on the whole trip, the RV kept downshifting in order to keep its highway speed up.
After 45 miles without a town, we came to the thriving metropolis of Arco, Idaho; population 1026. We’d been talking about chocolate; Talli and Elaine love dark chocolate, of which we had plenty–Hayley and I were craving milk chocolate, which we were out of. All through the tiny town, we were debating whether we should stop and buy some milk chocolate. At the last possible mini-mart, I made the decision, and pulled over. It was the last chance for another 45 miles.
I got out of the RV, walked around to the passenger side…and behind the rear wheel well, flames, literal flames, were licking the edge of our RV. OUR VEHICLE WAS ON FIRE. I am not exaggerating. Actual fire. I was idiotic enough to kneel down and try and blow them out, and smart enough to tell Elaine to turn off the propane. The guy filling his car with gas said, “If you’ve got a fire extinguisher, you better use it, because that will go quick. ” Fire extinguisher! Duh. I pulled it out and emptied it on the flames. The wind was still blowing so hard that the embers kept glowing, so I got our water bottles and kept dousing it and pulling charred pieces out until I was sure it was out.
Then I totally wigged out thinking about what could have been.
We had no idea it was on fire, and could have easily just kept driving. That would likely have meant losing the whole thing to fire in the middle of nowhere. Imagine 60 miles an hour, trying to stop, getting the family out…
I choose to think God was taking care of us in huge ways, and I realized that even as I kneeled down by the wheel well at the mini-mart in Arco, Idaho. But we saw God’s care in more and more ways as time went on. We were 500 feet from an RV park, which ended up being the cheapest one (outside of campsites in the national parks) we stayed at for the whole trip: $24.30. They even had free horseshoes and minigolf!
We actually had a really good family evening.
What started the fire, you’re wondering? Somewhere along the way, the last 18 inches of our exhaust pipe fell off.
Those four hours of hot exhaust from the hardworking engine in the wind got the coach so hot, it caught on fire, leaving this:
So on the recommendation of the lady at the mini-mart, I found myself the next morning at Smitty’s auto body, expecting to be held hostage by a mechanic who had me over the barrel. He told me on the phone he could probably figure something out, but when I arrived at the shop, I found the door wide open, three cars in bays in the shop, radio and fans blaring…and not a single person in sight. Smitty showed up after 20 minutes, and Welder Mike showed up after another half hour. In about 15 minutes, Welder Mike had spot welded a new piece of three inch muffler pipe onto our exhaust.
“Get it done, Mike?” Smitty said as we walked in the office. Then he turned to me: “Knowing Mike, he welded that thing on there so good you could tow somebody out of ditch with the rope tied to the exhaust pipe.” I heard the story of why he had so much three inch pipe sitting in his shop; how he got scammed into a four year, expensive contract for his credit card machine; how he tries to deal locally, you know, to help the economy, but Lordy it’s hard in a small town. Then he had to call somebody to figure out how much the pipe cost, because it had sat in his shop for so long. I was sure I was a going to feel the pain. He pulled out the invoice, griping about how much the custom printed forms had cost him, pulled out his calculator to “make sure we give Uncle Sam his due”, and told me the total.
$31.95. I could have kissed him.
I felt Jesus smiling with me.