At least one old car didn’t make it to the car show in Omro, Wis., on Memorial Day. We know that, because we were riding in it when it broke down. There was a big clunk as the ’53 Pontiac Catalina sped down the highway. Then, there was a feeling of “hesitation,” but the car kept going.
This was just before the exit that would take us to the show. As we pulled off the exit, the car seemed to be running fine, but at the end of the exit, it stalled and when we tried to restart it, nothing happened. We still had electrical power, but the engine wouldn’t crank.
Another driver and his wife pulled around us and came back to help. The three of us pushed the car backwards so it was off the road. Several other Good Sams stopped to try to help. People sure are wiling to come to the aid of a stranded old car—even a stranded old car that wasn’t going to make the show.
A horrible noise was coming from the engine and there was some coolant seepage near the thermostat housing. At first, we thought the car was overheating. The noise sounded like gurgling coolant, but it wasn’t. After a couple of minutes of listening more carefully, we realized the starter was still running. Sure enough, we pulled off the positive battery cable and the car stopped, but if we put the cable close to the post, there was a spark and the starter started spinning again even though the key was out of the car.
Hopefully the starter Bendix didn’t rip a few teeth off of the ring gear. That’s something we will have to determine after we remove the starter and dig into the problem. But fixing the problem isn’t the focus here.
What we want to do is pass on some suggestions for what to do after you break down. As a minimum, have a flip type cell phone with you like we did so you can call for help. As we found out when another good guy stopped, a Smart phone is even better, because then you can search for the nearest towing service right on the phone. We called home to get the same information, which works great if there’s someone at home, but not so great if there isn’t.
We thought we could just call a friend who had a towing service and repair shop in Omro. Unfortunately, he had retired and sold the business, so that didn’t work. Next, we tried a hobby friend who has a trailer and lived nearby. He would have helped, but he was out riding his motorcycle on the holiday weekend. In the end, we called a towing company near Iola and figured we’d pay a bit more for the tow, but save money in fixing the car ourselves.
Once you decide how to get the car off the road and to a place where it can be repaired, you have to let the tow truck operator know where you are. Look for road signs and landmarks. In our case, the car was right near the overpass near the exit and there were a bunch of signs nearby, including one that said the crossroad was State Road 116. Since we had come off Highway 45, it was easy to pinpoint our location for the tower. Then, all we had to do was wait.