From Shake-down Cruise to Maiden Voyage

My sister, and her husband, the harbor master and sailor, says it’s important to check out a ship before starting out on a long trip. It’s called a Shake-down cruise. I suppose it’s to find out what is going to fall off the shelves and out of the cabinets before you are out in deep water.

After having had the new (20-year-old) van for all of two weeks, of which time it spent the first two weeks in the Bill Fick Ford shop having Devin rework the wiring harness, I decided I needed to try it out without any passengers. I had to go to Goliad anyway, so why not take it on a Shake-down cruise to find out what worked and what didn’t.

Thanks to Devin, the speedometer and rear-view camera worked. I thought the dashboard lights didn’t work until I remembered, oh, wait, you have to turn the light knob as a dimmer switch. Jorge had made sure all the fluid levels were full. There was water in the radiator, oil and transmission fluid, and even windshield wiper fluid. He showed me how to check all of it. I think maybe I need to writeup a check-list like pilots have for airplanes. Do truck drivers do that? I think maybe they do.

In my little Honda CRV, I am used to whipping through traffic, usually cursing at slower drivers, and passing all the cars in sight. Driving a diesel, however, is an entirely different world. The very large and very heavy van means I have no choice but to stick to the slow lanes, plugging along behind the 18-wheelersand the big trucks. I was lucky to get the speed up to 55. Sixty was almost out of the question. But at least I had trucks for company.      

A spattering of rain on the muddy windshield proved that the windshield wiper fluid, full though it may have been, was not spritzing the windshield. A tube connecting the two evidently was not working. The cracked and worn windshield wipers, although they worked, did a fine job of streaking the glass without cleaning anything. I hadn’t realized the danger of driving into Houston traffic in the dark with lights glaring on a streaked and dirty windshield.

And then, as I headed down Highway 59 with all of its construction and narrow lanes, I heard a roaring sound. To my unbounded amazement, the side door blew open. It slides sideways, opening against the side of the van. Terrified, with my heart pounding, I got to an exit and pulled over. The door slowly slid closed. What the heck?

After operating the switch that opens and closes the side door several times, I thought maybe it would stay closed. Nope. At irregular intervals of maybe half an hour or so, the door would just slide open with the wind howling into the passenger compartment. I would slow down, and it would slide closed. Finally, I stopped at a hardware store and bought rope and tape.

I tied the door frame to the stripper pole in the middle of the bus. That didn’t work. It still blew open. Then I taped the front edge of the door to keep it closed. Nope. Not that either. Then I taped the back edge of the door and that seemed to work. At least I made it home to Devin who adjusted something and claimed it would hold.

The Conversion Van people in Houston said it is a small air pump that is old and leaky. As the pump slowly loses air, the pressure can’t hold the door closed, and the 55 mile per hour wind catches under the door and—with an unnerving roar--the door slides open. Then as the switch is activated to close the door, the pump gains pressure. It holds—for a while. The Maiden Voyage, with a dozen passengers, proved it didn’t.

By the time I got to the Conversion Van company in Houston, on my return from Goliad, a walk-around proved another heart-stopping problem. I stared in horror at what had been brand new tires only two days earlier. There had been tread and now there wasn’t. The wires from the steel belts were poking out like unruly bed head. It turns out that even brand-new tires, if they are out of balance, can strip off the tread right down to the steel belts in less than 500 miles.

Back at the dealership, they checked the axle, the ball joints, the alignment, everything. Nope, nothing wrong with the frame or the axle. All it took was four new matching and balanced tires on the rear. By the time the mechanics at the dealership finished reworking the problems I was ready for the Maiden Voyage.

Our beloved Sunday School members wanted to see Nacogdoches. No, not the direct, shortest route, but a saunter (at 55 mph) up Highway 21, the route of the original Camino Real. Thanks to Quietvox earphones and mic, all twelve passengers learned about the Spanish soldiers and Mission fathers three hundred years earlier who had followed the same route.

We reached the Trinity River and found it in flood, much as the early Spanish settlers had in trying to found the town of Bucareli. I promise, you can’t get that feeling by watching on television. After the floods, mosquitos and Comanche raids, there was plenty of reasons to move to Nacogdoches.

A stop at San Francisco de los Tejas, the first mission in Texas, gave us all a good idea of the challenges faced by the early padres in reaching out to the natives hiding in the thick pine forests. The efforts of the CCC in the 1930s to restore the mission produced a wonderful log cabin, absolutely NOT what the mission fathers from South Texas would have built.  

Michael Bay at the Charles Bright Welcome Center in Nacogdoches had a space blocked off for us. A film provided background on Nacogdoches, before we headed to the Fredonia Hotel for a delicious lunch. From there, back in the van to see the Old Stone Fort, a replica of the original two- story home built by Antonio Gil y Barbo, a Spanish rancher from Los Adaes. I had to provide back-up history for the docent who was great on Anthropology and artefacts but not so much on Spanish history.

All voted for a last stop at the Sterne-Hoya House. Sam Houston was baptized there as a Catholic upon entering Mexican Texas. Adolphus Sterne, a wealthy German immigrant who built the house, paid to outfit the New Orleans Grays when they came to Texas to fight in the Revolution in 1836.  And the docents knew their stuff.  

A wonderful trip for all of the Sunday School class members. They didn’t even get upset when the door blew open three times. They were busy eating delicious banana-nut muffins made by Hostess Jackye Deadmon. And no one tried the dance pole, although we could have!

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