My dear, departed Mother frequently told me that I would have some challenging days, and today certainly qualified as one. It had the potential to become a dark day indeed, but the events were brightened by the assistance of good friends who represent some very bright spots that made things O.K.
Here’s the story. It was quite cold this morning, about +7 degrees F (-14 C). I had a 9 0’clock veterinary appointment for some of my dogs so I loaded Beau and Grace into the truck for their date with Dr. Olson, and then loaded the 3 puppies as well. I wanted to weigh them and have a chance to meet our team vet in a safe, calm atmosphere rather than the midst of some emergency.
I headed toward town down Chena Hot Springs Rd and was nearly to Nordale Rd when the diesel engine on the dog truck quit running. It spit and sputtered first, then lost power completely and died. A diesel engine only needs 2 things to run – fuel and air. At very cold temperatures #2 diesel fuel turns into a gel, and that’s exactly what happened to my rig.
So, there I was, far from my destination with dogs in the truck on a very cold morning. I called Dr. Olson to let her know we’d be a little late, and then called Lynn Orbison and asked her to come rescue the dogs. I figured the truck and I could fend for ourselves once I was sure the dogs, especially the puppies, were safe. Bless her heart, Lynn dropped everything she was doing to come help.
Then the darned truck started teasing me. I’d try turning over the engine and it would start and even run smoothly for a while. I tried getting it down the road and after a few hundred yards it simply died again. At one point while I sitting by the side of the road, another bright spot appeared. A gentleman in a red 1 ton truck with a fuel tank in the bed stopped and asked if I needed assistance. I explained the situation, he nodded and pulled out a bottle of diesel fuel anti-gel from his truck, and dumped the contents into my fuel tank. At that point I figured with a bit of luck I might be able to start and run the truck long enough for the anti-gel to circulate through the fuel lines and free me from my frigid immobility.
No such luck. The truck continued it’s on-again, off-again game (more off again than on). Lynn found me and we loaded the three puppies into a crate in the back of her Ford Focus wagon, put Beau in the back seat, leaving the front passenger seat for Amazing Grace. I told Lynn I would reschedule my vet appointment if she would take the dogs home for me. She shook her head and convinced me that she should take them to the vet. “No reason to waste the entire trip.” She said. Well, since she knows these dogs every bit as well as I it was easy to agree.
Shortly after Lynn left I called AAA on the phone to arrange a tow. I’m telling you, a membership in AAA is cheap insurance, and I highly recommend it if you drive in Alaska. The lady at the road service desk was in Oregon, but she quickly figured out the particulars. There was a bit of confusion while I explained what a “dog box” is, which prompted a side discussion about dog mushing. Meanwhile she was working her magic and let me know that a suitable two truck would be on the way.
It was apparently a busy day for the wrecker service, as the road service tech was just loading my truck onto his flatbed “roll-back truck” when Lynn appeared, returning from the vet visit. She handed me the invoice and paperwork for the dogs, and then headed to the house. The wrecker service delivered the truck and I back at the house in reasonably short order as Lynn was trying to get all three puppies into the same pen at the same time (it's sort of like herding cats).
I draped a ‘blue tarp’ over the hood of the truck, fired up a propane burning torpedo heater and let things roast for a while as I did kennel chores. After a couple of hours I tried the engine again. It tried to start, but couldn’t keep running. At that point I figured it would need to go into the shop, so I decided to call my favorite diesel mechanic, Frank Snow of Snow Valley Equipment.
Frank was in Delta Junction, on his cell phone. Nonetheless he was able to talk me through the process of priming and bleeding the fuel system on the truck. The darned thing finally started about 4 pm, and has been idling nicely ever since. The plan now is to let it idle and burn off some of the #2 fuel in the tank, and then refill it with the higher grade #1 diesel as soon as I can.
It’s been a tough day, but with the help of a total stranger, my good friends like Lynn Orbison and Frank Snow along with the excellent service offered by AAA it did not turn into a total disaster. The dogs were safe and received the veterinary care they needed, the truck is apparently back in operating order now, and my spirits are high as I very much appreciate the friends that prevented this from becoming a wasted and exceedingly expensive day.