By L. Harding
It was 1972. “The Summer of Love” was gone, hippies were a rare sight, but there were still large pockets of narrow minds, filled with distrust, in rural America. More than once we met with proof of that in our travels across “the heartland of America.” Our only home was our tent, our only “real furniture” the baby’s crib, all piled atop the TravelAll. My husband and I were down on our luck, moving from one temporary job to another.
Driving through Nebraska, a wheel bearing started to squeal. With no traffic, no sign of humanity, and fingers crossed, I drove 20 miles before I finally saw an exit. Barely slowing down, I took the offramp and saw a gas station ahead. There were no lights on, but I turned in anyway; there might at least be a pay phone.
The owner was there, with his wife and kids. It was about 8:00 on a Saturday evening, and he was obviously homeward bound. But he walked up to my window and asked if he could help. I told him the problem, asked if there was a pay phone, and if we could use his station to do the repairs.
He said he wasn’t a mechanic, and had no tools. I assured him that, if I could only get the parts, I could do the repair work myself. “Well, if that’s all you need …”
It was unbelievable! My truck went into the service bay, and he went off to get the parts I needed. Being farm country, that meant the International Harvester service and parts department was open even at night. By the time he came back with the bearing, I had the wheel and old bearing off, despite having few tools to work with.
But there was a problem. Because it was harvest time, the IH dealer had sold the last race for the bearing, and a bearing without a race is worthless! My panic must have shown on my face, because he quickly told me that he knew another place to look for the race. He made a number of phone calls, then came to tell me the owner of the parts store would meet him there. All he needed was the race so they could be certain they were getting the right part. I quickly handed it to him, then went to work installing the bearing.
It was close to 11 p.m. before the race had been pressed into the wheel, and everything put back into working order. When I asked how much we owed, he refused to take even a penny more than the original $20 I’d given him for parts.
For a man who “had no tools,” he accomplished a lot that night: He called in favors from people all over town, played “go-fer” for hours, found the parts, gave me a safe place to work, and even fed us. He also managed to raise — tremendously — my opinion of the people who lived in Nebraska.