"Wheels on fire... Rolling down the road..."
I was just out of the shower, trying to get my size 42 stomach into my size 40 pants, when the voice said "Troy, can you pull me off?"
After I climbed back into my skin, I turned to notice Dad standing in the doorway. The men in my family have an uncanny ability to sneak up on people. We can't do it intentionally. However, if we're wearing squeaky size 12 boots, carrying 47 car keys, have $7.32 in change in our pockets, and are humming a show tune, we can walk right up behind you and you'll never hear us coming.
I gave Dad a questioning look. He repeated, "Can you pull me off? It's raining and the jeep won't start again."
"Sure," I replied. "I'm heading into town here in a minute anyway. Just let me finish getting dressed." I did so and then stepped outside. In the rain. Tennessee has 193 cloud-free days a year. This wasn't one of them.
One of Dad's many vehicles is a mid-1970's Toyota Land Cruiser with removable hardtop. We call this "the jeep" since it resembles the General Purpose (GP or Gee Pee or "jeep") vehicle made famous by old World War II movies. And, yes, I know that Jeep is officially a particular type of vehicle made by a particular manufacturer. If you want to argue trademarks, just take another swig of that coke, write a detailed commentary with your crayolas, xerox off a copy, and fed-ex it right over. I'll outlook a reply right back to you.
Dad's jeep doesn't like wet weather for some reason and won't start by itself on rainy days. This is odd because we've driven that thing through rivers so deep that I almost floated off the seat. My car has a little trouble starting on such days itself. I'm beginning to think this has something to do with the way that my brother T3 (our Mom gave us all names starting with the letter "T" to make us easier to remember) adjusts the carburetors. He gets the fuel-air mixture so lean that sometimes I think my engine is mostly burning the exhaust fumes of the cars in front of me. T3's also one of the people who thinks that there are carburetor designs that can give a '73 Oldsmobile 100 miles to the gallon, but the oil companies suppress them.
Anyway, when the jeep won't start, I pull it off with my car. For those not familiar with this procedure, it involves a logging chain and a more or less straight stretch of road. I drag the jeep along behind my car. Once we get up to speed, Dad puts the jeep in gear and pops the clutch. This forces the engine to turn with much more torque than the starter motor can provide. Those of you whose cars have automatic transmissions, computer-controlled ignition systems, and fuel injectors, please forget what I just said.
The first pass up the driveway was unsuccessful, so we coasted back to the bottom and tried again. "Bang!" went something behind me. I got out to see what the problem was. The jeep apparently backfired and blew the muffler off the exhaust pipe. The jeep was running, though, so Dad decided to go on to a local fast food restaurant for his usual breakfast. I stepped back inside to wash up a little, then headed towards town to take care of my own errands.
By accident rather than design, I ended up taking the same route and caught up with Dad after a few minutes. I noticed him waving his arms around. I thought he was waving at me so I just waved back and kept driving. Then I decided that he must have a bee or something in the jeep with him and he was swatting at it. When he pulled over, I stopped behind him to see what the problem was.
"I must have dropped the fire out of my cigarette or something," said Dad. "Do you see smoke? I can't get down there to look." Dad sprained his neck recently in a bizarre wood planing accident. I didn't see smoke, but climbed into the jeep and started poking around in the nooks and crannies. I finally found wisps of smoking coming from under the driver-side seat. It looked like it was coming from where the seat was bolted to the floorboard. I explained this to Dad. "Must be fumes from the broken exhaust pipe coming up through the bolt holes. I'm going to park this thing until I can get that muffler welded back on."
I was just getting back into my car when Dad spotted a break in the oncoming traffic and floored it. When he did, it looked like someone had turned on a headlight under the jeep, shining brightly and fully illuminating the pavement beneath. This, I decided, was the very definition of "not good." I tried to follow immediately, but had to wait for another break in traffic.
By the time I caught up with Dad, the jeep was pulling into the driveway. Both front windows and the sun roof were upon. Black smoke was boiling out of them. The jeep slid to a halt at the bottom of the driveway and Dad bailed out. He walked away in that quick step pattern that only fathers can do. The walk that says "This is an emergency and I'm going to walk very fast but I'm not running because I am not in a panic about this. I'm not. Really."
He came back with the garden hose and started spraying down the driver side of the jeep. At this request, I opened the passenger door to let the cross-ventilation carry out the smoke and steam. Something that sounded like a dozen very angry cats was hissing under the seats. Once this stopped, we started clawing around under there to see what had happened. Dad pulled out a few chains, drink bottles, plastic cups, a couple of rolls of toilet paper, and finally a couple of sections of green indoor/outdoor carpet. Well, it used to be green indoor/outdoor carpet. Now it was a soggy, melted, blackened mess.
As near as we can figure, hot exhaust and the occasional flames from incomplete internal combustion were venting from the broken exhaust pipe directly underneath the driver-side seat. This eventually got the floorboard hot enough that the carpet started smoldering. The floorboard was still warm to the touch, so Dad gave it another spritz or two with the hose.
"I thought I'd just about fumigated myself," Dad said, cigarette in one hand and hose in the other.
Dedicated in loving memory to my grandfather, Cecil A. Rogers. He's the one you have to blame for my habit of telling long pointless stories that don't go anywhere. He's also the first person that would have laughed at the sight of me and Dad putting out a vehicle fire.