Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Friday January 14 1972. 

A flat tyre, a dead battery, a leaking petrol tank and a lost hubcap.

That's not too bad for a couple of thousand miles, much of it on dirt road.

I had been sensing a vague aroma of burning rubber for a day or two. Nothing definite, just really faint.

Then, today, on the road - not a very good one - north out of Esperance, the smell became quite strong. Kind of a burning smell. But what? Uncle stopped the car, got out and checked out what it could have been. Couldn't find anything. What could you do? He decided to keep going and have it checked at the next town.

We proceeded. The smell died away for a while.

Then it came back. Then it got stronger. Then there was smoke in the car.

Uncle pulled over, alarmed. Fire drill - first thing to do, unhitch the caravan. Done. Now, search for the source of the smoke and the burning smell. Still no luck. It seemed to be coming from the rear of the car rather than the dashboard. We took everything out of the back of the car.

Just then, along the road came a white VW Beetle. It pulled up right behind us. It was two American guys - Ray and Ken - we had met on the road on the way over to Perth, had stayed in the same caravan parks. They were touring Australia and were travelling back to the east coast the same way we were going.

Ray and Ken got out.

'What's wrong?'

'Nothing much, we're just on fire!'

'Oh, that's all right, then!'

Sometimes, people just totally get other people's humour and the conversation is like stand-up comedy in the weirdest setting. Like, here we are in the middle of fucking nowhere and we're joking to complete strangers about being on fire.

'Would you like a loan of our extinguisher or would you prefer your car just burn to the ground? I mean, it is a bit old.'

Uncle thought just a little too long before answering.

Then he said, 'I'm sure it's about to go up in flames, but it's just that I can't see where the fire is coming from, and I'd need to know that before I waste the contents of your extinguisher.'

'Well that's very considerate of you,' Ray replied, but it might have been Ken. It was 1972. I might have forgotten. I might be getting them mixed up.

Then he (or Ken) said, 'What about if we go on into the next town and see if we can get a mechanic to come and check it out. If we can't find one, we'll come back anyway and work something else out.'

'That's too kind of you,' replied Uncle. 'If you see a roaring blaze on the horizon, you'll know it's too late.'

Off they went in their VW Beetle, chugging like only a VW Beetle can chug. What a noise, a kind of silvery shuddering growl that only VWs can make.

The next town was ten miles further on. A mechanic was back within an hour in his breakdown truck, just in case. (But what about the van, how do you tow that?)

We didn't need towing. He found the fault - a wire, to the rear of the car, under the carpet in the luggage area, had overheated and was smoking. A small fire risk, but only if we had kept driving for a lot longer. He repaired the wire and replaced its fuse with one of a lower amperage.

We pulled into Norseman caravan park around seven o'clock. We had completed the south-west circle and returned to the great T-intersection of Western Australia, approaching from the south.

After tea, two guys knocked on the door of the 'van.

'Hey, you didn't burn down after all!'

We had a few beers. Cheers and thank you, Ray and Ken.

(And if anyone knows anyone, name of Ray or Ken - age about mid-twenties - who was travelling around Australia in a white VW Bug in 1972 - say hello.)


On the car radio:

Joy - Apollo 100 (no lyrics - instrumental)

is it time for a nap yet? i think so

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