This true adventure from many years past will help prove that we always know what we’re doing and that we never get ourselves into any trouble!
By Jim Tobin and Paul Harris
Thick Clouds and fog early did not bother them, many trips over the high pass made them confident that the sky would be clear on the other side. Even the rain later could not dampen their hopes for a great day. Jim got up at 6:00 am and finished packing and got the trash out. Paul called a little later. By 7:30 they were on their way. It started raining at about Devore and drizzled all the way up the mountain. Just as expected however, it cleared a mile after the summit. Beautiful bright high desert skies. Jim needed some gas by Barstow and Paul wanted to get some more ice. A fast trip off the freeway and then on to Baker for lunch at the Denny’s.
The plan for the day was to look at the topo maps and pick a good way into the lava beds and the dunes near by, while waiting for lunch. Then head straight out there after eating. They left the Denny’s all fueled up and excited at 11:40 am. It was their last few moment of peace. They drove the 15 miles to the lava beds. They hit the entrance to the dirt road at noon on the dot. The fun begins! 12:10 Jim is buried in the sand. The road had been washed out and it could not have been avoided. Paul is back behind far enough to be safe. He gets turned around and they begin assessing the situation. Jim’s buried, in fact he has given a new meaning to high centered. They dig, and dig, and dig. After two hours of using boards, carpets, rocks, desert brush, and every other straw grasped in desperation they look at each other and know they have to return to town for help. They take some of Jim’s valuable, like cameras, lenses case, and head sadly for Baker. All seem to be about as well as they could expect at that point, but after the morning so far they should have realized this was just a lull in the storm. Bang!! You know the sound. It’s the sound something broken makes.
Paul has the wisdom to keep going. Knowing their chances for getting help are greatly increased if they can get to the main road. No symptoms of damage at the end of minute one, but at the end of minute two the transmission cuts out and they coast. They coast a miraculous distance in neutral. Right at the end of the dirt road they stop. They jump out and look under the mini-van. the problem is evident instantly, as the last of the ATF runs out warmly over Jim’s fingers.
They both know “this car ain’t goin no place either.” They sit in the car for a moment contemplating all this and then realize what has happened. A buried iron meteorite of large size and magnetic power has pulled Paul’s car downward causing it to strike the surface projection. It is so unfortunate that now they will not be able to pursue excavating it, because of the car problems.
They pushed the mini-van onto the main road and as it was downhill they got going pretty good, a speed of 10 -15 mph. They clip along at that brake neck speed for what was later determined to be 3 miles. Then the road levels and they push.
Dave came by in his little white Toyota truck while they were pushing. He gave them a ride into Baker to get a tow truck to pull Jim’s truck out and then carry Paul’s car in. Two tows for the price of one so to speak. After the first garage has no trucks available, they head to the next garage. But Paul and Dave decide to use AAA and U-turn around, and go back a block. (Jim is incommunicado in the back of the truck.)
Jim, Paul & Mark are on the road to what they all expected was for a desert tow truck a routine extraction and transport. But Oh, they should have known. They got to the entrance of the dirt road and Paul cautioned Mark to proceed very carefully. He said, “No problem, I got 400 horses in that engine.” Well within moments, all four hundred of those horses were buried about 75 yards behind Jim’s truck. And Dave, remember Dave, he has been following to make sure they would be OK, well he is stuck 40 feet behind the tow truck.
So here is the scene, four grown men and four vehicles and not one of them can move. Well they get Dave going pretty easy with the winch on the tow truck and some muscle to keep him going. He’s out of the sand. Now what about the tow truck? They try using a large desert tree as a deadman to wench on, and the first try fails. They have to pull from around the whole trunk. To do this means they have to work right at the mouth of a badger den. Jim throws the chain around the trunk, Dave hooked the chain to the wench as Paul works the boards under the wheels he brought down from Jim’s truck. They have become a great little team. The tow truck moves but does not get going out of the sand. After ten or twelve feet the deadman is too much on the side to be of further use. They’re digging again. Dave says, “I’m going for my loader.” A 33,000 pound loader. He tells them that it will take an hour and a half for him to get back.
They dig and dig. Jim and Paul are exhausted after two more hours of digging. Dave has not returned. After Dave had been gone about an hour Jim began climbing a lava hill to look for him. Several looks go by and no Dave, then at the two hour mark far off in the distance Jim sees a huge actually monstrous green thing lumbering down the main road. It was a good thing too, for Mark had run out of cigarettes an hour ago and his vocabulary and attitude were taking a turn for the worse. Jim cried out from the top of the hill that Dave had been sighted. Their exhausted and despairing hearts leaped. Over the next five or ten minutes Dave got nearer. Jim re-climbed the lava hill once more and signaling Dave with Paul’s eyepiece case. Like a Heliograph giving Dave their position with the sun.
The loader is remarkable! Dave is riding about 12 feet up in the cab. His words upon arrival are, “This loader doesn’t get stuck.” And in about 15 minutes Dave has both Jim’s truck and the tow truck pulled free. Dave tells them he is sorry that he was late but he had a flat tire on the way home to get the loader.
With the tow truck back on the main road it was time to load up Paul’s mini-van. And, Mark and Paul are off for Baker with Jim following behind.
There were three cars ahead of Paul and a couple more dragged in while they were there. None the less in about two hours they had pulled off the split open transmission pan and welded it up, reinstalled it and filled the car with ATF. Testing it they found a leak; one bolt not tightened. Re-tested and no leaks. So at 8:45 PM with thanks to the boy’s depart for ZZYZX and hope the rest of the night and weekend of observing will be only mildly exciting (in a stellar sort of way).
Jim and Paul want to say that for the next lava bed exploring and meteorite hunting trip. If you can’t easily walk there from ZZYZX they ain’t going.