This is a story that will be included in my future book.
In 2003 I was a sort of proud owner of a 1974 International School bus. The white painted bus had been converted into a 37 foot RV. Though the outside looked like I should be selling snow cones to migrant workers, the interior was quite nice. It had a nice log cabin theme running throughout.
I had purchased expensive wallpaper that looked like logs. The windows were trimmed in wood frame and I had running lights with bear and moose accents throughout. Converted gas lanterns over the kitchen sink added to the old cabin charm.
The RV sported a full size shower, toilet, two closets, two bunk beds, and a full kitchen and living room. It even boasted a mobile satellite system so we could catch up on all the sporting events.
It was May and I had meetings to attend in central Tennessee. Since the meetings lasted two full weeks, I decided it would be better to have my own RV rather than share bathroom facilities with tons of other attendees from a dormitory.
My teenage son Chris and I embarked on an odyssey that to this day has bonded us for life. For a trip that would normally take five and a half hours, it turned into a 13-hour nightmare.
The old bus only had a two-barrel carburetor and as long as you were on a level ground, you could make fairly decent speeds. But hit an incline, it would bog down to a crawl. What exasperated the road trip (unknown to me at the time) was the carburetor was stuck open and was pouring more gas into the chamber than it could handle. This made the manifold turn red from the heat as the over abundance of fuel ignited. As the pressure in the engine increased, it would blow back oil that would seep out the gasket. When the oil hit the red hot manifold, the oil would catch fire. This prompted us to travel at speeds of 15-to-20 miles per hour for hours with frequent stops to minimize the recurring flames under the hood.
We were fortunate that on the first 12 hours of the drive (with flashers on), we passed not one police car. This was important as we would surely had had to exit the highway for driving so slow. As we were closing in on Bowling Green and merging onto the busiest freeway on our trip, we pulled along side the road to rest. We had to let the bus cool down. It was now 1 am and we had to get to our destination by 6 am. We were responsible for cooking all the meals at our meetings. When the bus was cold, it could run for 45 minutes at 50 miles per hour until it would overheat again. We hoped that this little window of opportunity would get us to the first exit (our exit) in Tennessee before it petered out.
As we approached the Tennessee state line we were losing power fast. The engine was again burning fire engine red and the loss of power had us crossing the state line doing only 35 miles per hour. As we approached the exit, we saw flashing lights behind us. A state trooper was pulling us over for no doubt driving below the minimum speed. Despite the fact that our exit was a mere 100 yards away, we pulled to the side of the road. Figuring this could take some time, we decided to let the engine cool by shutting off the ignition.
What I did not know as I shut off the engine, was a young twenty-something year old Trooper had made his way out of his cruiser and was now walking behind our bus.
I can only describe what happened next as the loudest booming howitzer west of Bagdad. The shock wave that whooshed through the exhaust pipe from the engine, sounded like a hydrogen bomb had detonated. Kaboooooooom rang the hillsides! In my rear view mirror, I saw the fastest running trooper in Tennessee history diving into his car, peeling rubber at least eight car lengths behind us, jumping out, crouching behind his door, screaming into his loudspeaker, “COME OUT OF THE VEHICLE NOW !!!!
As we exited the bus, my teenage son got a fit of laughing. I sternly told him to stop. The officer not amused and still crouching behind his car door yelled at us, “What (unmentionable words) is going on?”
It was then that I surmised we did look a bit suspicious driving a bus at the crack of dawn looking like our vehicle had been rejected by an Appalachian clan from the movie, Next of Kin.
I quickly answered him that we were headed to religious meetings. He quickly yelled back on his loudspeaker, “You are NOT going any further on THIS highway!” I told him that it was okay as the exit I pointed too was the one just ahead of us.
Angrily he yelled at us, “I’ll escort you off the highway now!” With lights flashing, he followed us the 100 yards as we exited. He then took an immediate left hand turn and quickly sped back to the state line rest area; No doubt to change his pants.
After all we’d been through, my son and I laughed our exhaustion away as we headed into town for our our dawn rendezvous with breakfast preparations.
It’s not often you get away with pranking a police officer though I hadn’t intended too do so. Reflecting on that episode, I’ve often asked myself, “What religious meetings, or religion did he think we belonged? My guess by the way my bus looked, probably snake handlers.
Our experience did prove one old adage true, “if you’re going to do it right, go out with a bang.” By the way, if you find a large hunk of twisted metal in a tree along Interstate 65, I’ve been looking for that muffler.