Suddenly a faint, tinny, buzzing sound…

Monday, December 28
In cold, wet, and almost unforgiving weather, we left DC on the Beltway for points West and South, beginning first with an overnight stop in Natural Bridge, VA.

‘Half a League, half a league, half a league onward,
Into the valley of death rode the six hundred.’

So often, in really pressing multi-lane interstate traffic, with trucks on either side, this country mouse has thought of that poem, praying that nothing horrible would happen. And nothing had…until now.

Suddenly a faint, tinny, buzzing sound came from the vicinity of the dash, then mercifully stopped. Then, there was a ‘thunk’ behind us and Bruce exclaimed that the dash said ‘BATTERY NOT CHARGING’ and with that, discovered that he’d lost power steering, and power brakes: all while in the middle lane of the fierce I-495 Beltway traffic out of DC, while pulling an Airstream trailer of considerable weight!

But, the engine was still running.

For the next half hour of terror, he wrestled with the steering just to change lanes, tried to avoid braking; leaving plenty of room ahead. We tried to think how to get safely off the beltway, but all ramps merely led to other, equally inhospitable roadways and pulling off into the emergency lane is dangerous too. After six miles, or so, Garmina instructed us to exit I-66, which we did; carefully. On I-66 for several miles, we finally saw an exit that felt right. It was for Fairfax/Vienna.

With considerable effort, and a lot of luck, we got ourselves into the correct lane and exited. The exit ended in a fork, left to Fairfax, right to Vienna. As Yogi said “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” For some reason, don’t know why, we chose Vienna to the right.

It dumped us onto a commercial strip with stoplights and a 25 mph speed limit. Good to be going slow, but the stoplights became an adventure. Cringing at the possibilities of not being able to stop quickly for lights or for cars darting out of side roads, and willing the lights to stay green, we looked for the nearest gas station/garage and it had to be on the right side of the road; we couldn’t make a sharp left or right turn! Passed a Shell/Mini Mart, but they never have mechanics. Then a few more miles through suburbia and another strip where we miraculously spotted a Sunoco Station on our right: an actual Auto REPAIR station, and somehow, managed to turn enough to pull into its small parking area.

After the usual “we won’t be able to look at it for several hours,” etc., from the service manager, I said “OK, I’m not going anywhere.” Then a very calm, competent mechanic with a friendly face came out, opened the hood, and found that the idler pulley had seized up and caused the serpentine belt to disintegrate. He climbed into the driver’s seat wrestling the wheel to back the rig up, then going forward, squeezing it around the station, and back to the front, parking it out of the way where it wouldn’t clog up other customer traffic.IMG_0436

They ordered parts, and we went into the small waiting/snack area, and waited, with Sprocket zipped into his carrier. He’s our good-will ambassador and helped other waiting people pass the time. So many devoted customers told us how very fortunate we were to have found this place and how competent and friendly the mechanics were. Come lunchtime, the proprietor was taking orders from his staff for a run to Foster’s Grill, and asked us what we would like!IMG_0442

They actually finished repairs earlier than we’d expected. The new belt was on, brakes were working, and we could steer again; magic! We pulled out of Vienna, VA with spirits raised and good feelings toward all who had helped us. We highly recommend Vienna Sunoco and can’t believe our good luck!


With some trepidation we got back on I-66 about 1:30 and continued on our way to Natural Bridge, VA. But the fates weren’t through with us yet. The heavy, cold skies lowered over I-81 in the Shenandoah Valley into a weird twilight all afternoon, periodically misting, raining and fraying our shot nerves. There were two spells of bumper-to-bumper traffic that seemed to toy with us, but having steering and brakes helped. Finally, we reached the KOA just before 5. Didn’t unhook, just had a bit of supper and collapsed.

I may be wrong, but thinking back on it, the electric brakes of the Airstream had probably saved us when the truck’s power brakes went out. I could stop, but it took a long, long, time with the pedal to the floor!


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