Monday, September 19, 2016

The only time you can have too much fuel...

Saw a post on Instapundit earlier in the week that linked to this article about how much useable gas was in the tank when the low fuel warning came on.  That gave me a chuckle  because, you see....

So, There I was......... *

In the middle of New Mexico, having left Holloman AFB about a half hour before, and now looking at an emergency fuel situation.

No, Sarge.  I'm not recycling old posts (yet).

This was in the last few weeks of the Presidency of the second person to be impeached, but not convicted, while serving as President.  (How's that for a "what if?" post, ah well, I digress into wishful thinking.)

I've been retired for a year or so, and the Juvat family (extended, more to follow) is visiting the paternal side of the clan for Christmas. Said side of the clan resided in Las Vegas where my Dad was the construction engineer for Summa Corp.  (That would be the holding company for H. Hughes hotels and other buildings in the vicinity of the strip.)

Since it has been quite a while since I had spent much time in the Western United States (my Son at the time was 14 and had last traveled out west at 3.  My Daughter at the time was 8, you can do the math), we decided to drive.  An additional impetus to drive was provided by our Rotary Exchange Student.  Let's call him Helmut.  Helmut was 17 at the time and was a native of Rostock Germany.

As can be seen Rostock is in the Eastern portion of Germany, and since he had been born in 1983, that would have meant he'd spent his formative years in the German Democratic Republic.  Let's just say his personality was "interesting."

Since Helmut had been living with us for the fall semester, we'd shown him around the general vicinity, but hadn't been able to get out and about to see the West.  That was additional encouragement to drive rather than fly.

So, off we go!

It's not my car, it's Mrs. Juvat's car!
This is my car!

Rather than take boring old I-10, we've decided we'd visit places we'd visited/lived, so the first night was spent in Big Spring.  Big Spring was where I spent grades 5-12 and was the former home to Webb AFB.  I hadn't been back since HS Graduation and the saying "you can't go home again..." sure was true.  Base closing was hard on the town and the oil boom hadn't taken hold yet.  I've heard it's doing better lately, Fracking doncha' know.

The next morning we depart before sunrise and head towards Alamogordo via TX 176 through Andrews Texas.  Unfortunately, we're not making very good time as it is VERY foggy, as in, 15mph is going too fast, foggy.  We're a few miles outside of Andrews and the plan is being revised.  Soon as we get to Andrews, we're going to find a place to eat and stay there until after daybreak when the fog lifts.  That plan has been reformulated by yours truly as the family is all asleep in the car. I'm inching along, when I notice I'm passing a stop sign.  Hit the brakes and stop, which doesn't take much as slow as I was going.  As I come to a stop, an 18 wheeler comes roaring through the intersection.  Hadn't seen so much as a glow from his headlights until he was in front of me.

Rattled me a bit, it did.

The family slept through it.

Get into Andrews, and see a Ronnie Mac's, so stop and execute the delay plan.

A couple of hours pass, and the fog breaks and we're back on the road through Carlsbad, Artesia and Cloudcroft.  The intention now is to see our old home, grab some lunch, stop by the base and get gas.

As we're heading down the west side of the mountains into the Tularosa Basin, my daughter becomes a tad nauseous.  Finding a pullout in the winding highway, we pull over so she can get a bit of fresh air.  Checking her out, we find she's running, what to our hands, feels like a fairly high fever.

So, it's back in the car and we're headed for the ER at the Base Hospital.

Arrive on Base and at the hospital in short order.  Fortunately, the ER is not overly crowded so we get seen relatively quickly, although the whole iteration takes a couple of hours.

The diagnosis is ear infection, antibiotics are prescribed and we're back in the car.

Out the front gate and turn right just in time to see a fourship of Eagles take off and fly over.  Helmut asks what they were, so I regale him with tales of derring-do as we head west on US 70 towards Las Cruces.

We've passed White Sands National Monument and are on the Missile range when I hear a Ding from the dashboard of the car.

Nuts! (or some other phrase to express irritation at how one got oneself into a situation!)

We're about 15 miles west of the Base, but there's no place to turn around, and I don't want to go 4 wheeling in the sand in the median.  It's about 35 miles to Las Cruces and part of that is up a steep pass.

I take the throttles out of afterburner and cozy up behind an 18 wheeler and draft off him.  (I figure if it works for a race car, why wouldn't it work for a minivan?).  I stay with him until he starts up the pass.  

I mean 30mph isn't going to do me much good.  

I come over the top of the pass and out of the Missile Range expecting that there might be a gas station close by.

Luck ain't bein' a Lady today!

But I'm headed down hill, and every mile I go is one less I'll have to walk.  

The tension in the van was palpable, as in cut with a knife, palpable.

I then see a sign for a gas station, 5 miles ahead.  I can see it! (It's New Mexico, I could have seen it if it had been 20 miles away.)

Just 5 more miles, Lord, just 5 more miles.

Finally, I turn on the blinker, cross the highway and pull into the lot as the car dies and I coast to a stop at the pump.

Everyone piles out of the car and heads into the convenience store for entertainment and resuscitation.  I pump 24.5 gallons of gas into the car.  As I'm finishing up, Helmut comes over and says "You know, Mr. Juvat, in Chermany, we plan our trips better!"

I ask him if he'd like to get a closer, more in depth, experience of the Western United States by walking the remainder of the way.

*SJC  (and the remainder of the title quote is....when you're on fire!)


  1. I don't know about German trip planning. Their excursions to Moscow and Stalingrad weren't that well planned.

    (Yes, I went there, someone had to...)

    Great post Juvat. (I came close to doing the coasting trick one day, 'twas in the middle of the night in Texas.)

    1. I wish I'd have been that quick thinking at the time. That would have been fantastic!

  2. We had a similar experience driving at night from Northern NM to Lubbock in a gas-sucking Dodge truck. Everyone was holding their breath as if that would make them lighter and the truck go further.

    1. I've heard about that technique. Every time I tried it though, I got lightheaded. I might have been doing it wrong though.

    2. I think you could say something about Napoleon and the French, too, when it comes to planning trips through the Russian countryside.

    3. Yes, planning a trip through Western Europe would seem to be a tad easier than planning a trip through the Western US. Driving through France it seemed there was a village every 1.5 KM. Trip planning was more of which Auberge(es) we'd be stopping at. A trip through Western Russia would be somewhat more difficult than that, even today.

  3. A long time ago I used to take new (to me) vehicles out on the road with a can of gas in the trunk and run 'em dry to figure out what my empty range was. It was almost always a pretty fat cushion from E to dry. I did have a Volvo that consistently went dry at a quarter tank though.

    Ray Jones has a couple of great low fuel anecdotes in his book "Dynamite, Check Six," including how to free up the usually useless forty gallons per side in the tips of the T-Bird.

    They had trips in the DDR?!?

    1. I've read that book. Fairly entertaining.

      Re: trips in the DDR. He was fairly taciturn when it came to what his family did for a living. "Businessman" was usually the answer I got when I inquired.

    2. I wonder how many folks in the DDR imagined, in early 1989, that any of them would ever travel to America? We done a good deed and, as usual, we're not going unpunished.

    3. Helmut was not a very talkative guy, and he really, really didn't want to talk about his early years. He was even more "zis is ze Vay ve vill do it!" than the hardheaded Germans living in our area. He enjoyed conversing with them though. He said their dialect was very much what he called "High German", much more formal and old school. Which would make some sense, Texas German came over in the 1840s and hasn't evolved much since then.

      There's a lot of the good deed being punished going around lately.

  4. My German acquaintances have mostly be of the Munich variety (I wonder how they feel about being called a variety?) and were pretty much a very merry bunch with the sense of humor to match.
    They always seemed open to suggestion that there might be another way to do something.

    1. Well, like most stereotypes....But both my trips to Germany were down in the Bavaria region and I would agree that in general Bavarians were more "happy go lucky" than elsewhere. I wonder if it could be beer related? I mean, some of my ancestors came from that region, I'm generally a happy guy and have a sense of humor. I know I'm more agreeable when I have a beer or two. Sample size of one should be good enough, right?

    2. My Northern German friends denied that Bavarians were German at all. Said that they were merely a form of Northern Austrian.

      That being said, Bavarians exhibit a great deal of gemütlichkeit, especially after a beer, or three.

      Germany as a nation didn't exist before 1871, whereas Bavaria has been around (in one way shape or form) since about the Sixth Century AD. So back in the day "German" was a very generic term.

      I blame the Prussians for that standard view of Germans being dour and without humor. In my experience, most Germans are pretty awesome once you get to know them. Can't say that I've ever met a real Prussian, knew a kid in the Air Force who's ancestors were Prussian. He owned a motorcycle, his nickname was "Crash." It was always a wonder to find him still alive Monday at 0700.

    3. Yes, well, when a dueling scar on one cheek is de rigeur for entrance into Prussian adulthood (and that's just the women), a reputation for dourness might just follow.

      Crash, Huh? I think I know him.

  5. Thanks for the post, juvat. Most entertaining.

    Paul L. Quandt

  6. Running North on Hwy 287 out of Texas to Colorado, I usually stopped in Boise City, OK for fuel and a pit stop. One trip, half asleep and no bladder alert, found myself short of the Colorado border with the fuel gauge to the left of E. Dropped our speed to 50 MPH and made it to Campo, CO where I put 14 gallons in a 14.2 gallon tank.

    What bothered me most was spending any money in a town where the residents freely admit the entire town budget is funded by traffic ticket revenue.

    1. Ok, Campo Colorado, avoid if at all possible. Got it, WSF, thanks. Hondo and Uvalde TX headed westward to Del Rio also fit that bill, BTW.

  7. LOL, I think ANY military folks that have transferred from East to West have had that experience at least once...LOL Hint- 'I' didn't make it to the gas station (damn off ramp was up hill), but I only had to walk a half mile after spending a cold six hours wrapped in a space blanket in the car... :-)

  8. You're probably right about that. I knew better, but got distracted. I'm guessing there was some water and something to gnaw on tucked in with that space blanket in your vehicle. (There is in mine.)

  9. Old age and insomnia had me perusing the internet chasing sleep and I ended up here. The mentioning of Webb AFB and Germany now has the memories flooding in. I was 18, A1C, and Webb was my first assignment as a 25150 weather observer. It was spring 1977. I had a crush on the base commander's daughter. Both his and her name escape me, but her countenance is still burned in my memory all these years later. As an A1C, I did not dare knock on her door. Sadly, for me, and the town, the base closed late 77 or early 78. I was one of the last folks out the door. The base's mission at the time was undergrad pilot training in t-37s and 38s. I and another weather forecaster in our unit were active civilian pilots. We (the USAF) were training fledgling foreign pilots ( mostly Iranian) at the time and this provided us with tons of hilarity as the neophyte aviators did their crash and dash landings. We saw too, the IP's coming in the door after their training flights with these future jr. birdmen; helmets in hand, fingers shaking, and sweat pouring from their bodies. Their under the breath comments made to us as they walked by are unprintable here! As previously mentioned, the base closed, I bummed my last stick time in the T-38, and longingly stared at the Base Commanders yellow bikinied daughter. Next stop, Sembach Germany. Here I am, an American teenager living in Europe. How lucky can a guy get. To the USAF, I owe my most cherished memories and disciplined and successful life. To pay them back, I am soon going to pin Lt. bars on my daughter's shoulders. She is going to wear the blue suit also and make her memories.

    Sidebar: Pilot rules to live by. Three worthless items: Runway behind, air above, and gas in the truck. That last one is for you sarge. Keeps the wife et al in the car happy. Have a great day, and here is a salute for your years of service.

    1. Welcome aboard Mr Hess!

      Training Iranians, we had a bunch at Lowry in '75, I can't imagine what those pilots were like. I know how their NCOs drove old cars, not very well!

      Outstanding! Kudos to your daughter, may she help make the USAF great again.


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