The Legend of Stoney Gilliam, II
The dash warning light is real. Within minutes the truck has lost power, reducing 70 mph down to 25 mph, so I choose to turn on the warning flasher and ride the shoulder. Sans a GPS, I can only estimate that the next town, Springerville, AZ, is fifty miles distant. Although the very large array of radio telescopes passed an hour ago may be able to detect visitations from other galaxies in the universe, I have zero bar cell service.
For more than an hour, rumble strips, a sick engine, and a few passing cars are all that are seen and heard. 35 miles on the clock.
And then, an angel.
A white SUV slows as it passes then pulls aside and awaits the sick driver and sicker truck. Her name is Karla, a solo road warrior, with an innate trust for a fellow traveler in distress. I could be Ted Bundy, serial killer, in disguise, armed and dangerous, a felon preying on good samaritans, but Karla didn’t hesitate. No questions asked, she tries her cell phone, to no avail. However, her car is equipped with On-Star®, a clever satellite service that promptly answers and offers to call a AAA wrecker. We part with a warm handshake, and within an hour the truck is loaded onto the flatbed tow, headed for the recommended service center, Round Valley Garage, Springerville, Arizona.
Stoney Gilliam is stoic, soft-spoken, a weathered mechanic choosing his words carefully and sparingly. He has the rugged good looks of NCIS’s Mark Harmon. A late afternoon gaze at the truck through piercing eyes from under an old baseball cap and the computer scope reveals a very serious NG…failed injectors at 193,000 miles. This had happened once before, in 2008, a whisper above 100,000 miles, and a shadow past the seven year extended warranty. GM, sympathetic, politely punched my tough s#it card, and wished me better fortune in the future.
dateline: Springerville, AZ
nearest big box store, Show Low, AZ, 48 miles away
closest interstate ramp, I-40, 82 miles distant
Stoney’s son drives me to the vintage, 1960s, El-Jo Motel, conveniently located adjacent to a favorite local saloon/eatery, The Safire. Not a misspelling to be confused with the lovely blue gemstone, The Safire had once been named The Safari, but a Phoenix restaurant of the same name requested the name be changed to avoid confusion. Fat chance.
The claim to fame for the Safire; the Duke, John Wayne, frequented the place in the 60s. He had been part owner of a large ranch just west of neighboring Eagar, AZ. The cheeseburger was delicious, but the seat in the dining room booth still retained the sculpted shape of the Duke’s rump, like the trusty saddle on an old gelding.
The Duke, after lunch at the Safire
I spend the next morning, on foot, exploring the town. A walk to the airstrip, a visit with the ladies in the Safeway store, the local museum where everyone important was named Udall, McD’s for an egg mcmuffin, and a brief busman’s holiday at the Western Rexall. This is a hardscrabble town with little veneer. You don’t live here to be monetarily rich. Five interviews with ‘locals’ were consistent. You’ll find characters, but no drunken Toronto mayor, or a Jersey FatGov; people seem to enjoy the isolation, fresh clear air, no parking woes, no traffic, and very little crime. Everyone knows who you are, what you drive, and where the herd of elk was last seen crossing SR 180.
Because the repair, a 14 hour task, and parts would take several days to arrive, over a weekend + the vicious storm covering most of the U.S., Stoney offers to drive me to Show Low that afternoon, both to rent a car, continue on to Phoenix, and meet my wife, Lynn, arriving by air. He promised me, unequivocally, he would have the truck ready in a week, and would not release it until he was certain it was 100%. Believe me, his word is gold.
L-R, Stoney, Chas, and the mended Silverado background
Strange, this bump in the road, a major inconvenience when I needed it the least, enriched my life, reinforced my faith in the basic goodness of people, and lead to quiet contemplation on the ride on AZ-80 from above the Mogollon Rim down to the Valley of the Sun.
Becker Butte Lookout
Straight from the pages of Arizona Highways, the breathtaking scenery is as welcome as the thirty minute stop to remove fallen rocks.
Below, a genuine American Indian princess and AzDOT employee shares stories and candy with me while waiting.
My sincere thanks to the support team and I wish them all the best:
- Karla ❤
- The wrecker driver with a clean sense of smell
- Stoney, Nicole, their son, and staff at the RVGarage
- The ladies at the El-Jo and the Paint Pony Lodge, in Show Low
- Show Low, AZ., Hatch Toyota rental rep, Jolene Dailey, for the Rav4, efficiency, and a smile that can melt gloom and lighten the room
- Princess SummerFallWinterSpring and her avalanche stories
A trip planned to cover 1800 miles in four days had turned into an odyssey of 2400 miles, over 14 days, sleeping in nine different beds, losing seven pounds, five days of food poisoning, and a small dent in the travel budget.
It was worth it.