Monday 23rd January – The Mechanic, Part 2

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After springing out of bed to blue skies, by the time I’d made breakfast it was raining again. Bugger. Despite the weather, I still drove down to Folly Beach before heading out of Charleston for good. I could still admire the beautiful beach houses despite the grey day and when I saw a few kites above the dunes, I got out just to have a look at the beach. The kitesurfers were just giving it away, understandably so. I’m sure Folley has a nice beach, but today, I was drenched within a minute so I retreated back to the car.

I started driving south, towards the glory of Florida that has been my target for the last few weeks. I stopped right at the northern tip of Georgia at Fort Pulaski since it’s a national monument. It was a little out of my way, but I was keen for any break in the driving I could get. At the park entrance, the ranger admired my van set up and sent me on my way. The sun was out now, with some patchy clouds in the sky, but it was windy so definitely still needed a jacket. At the visitor’s center, they told me there was a guided tour starting right now, so I crossed the drawbridge over the moat and into the fort. Lo and behold, my guide was waiting for me and I was his only customer.

While I hadn’t intended to stay very long, I was glad for the tour. The older man gave me everything about the history of the place, why it was built, how it was built and who had occupied it. It had been a significant place of battle during the civil war and the battle was eventually won by the union when they used new gun technology to break the walls of the fort the Confederates were trying to hold. The Confeds surrendered after their 40,000 lb magazine was exposed to fire. The structure was really cool, with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a defensive fortification, even grass on the top level which was the top layer of a water filtration system but also looked pretty. There was also a huge fig tree in the yard that didn’t look like much than an overgrown bush, but yielded fruit in the summer.

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After a good wander through the place after my tour was over, I had a very late lunch back at the car then continued on south into Georgia. I drove through the city of Savannah, which looked like it had a lot of charm, especially with the Live Oak Trees lining the streets with Spanish moss wisping down off the branches.

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I took highway 71 south, avoiding the interstate as always and enjoying the small towns I drove through. Before long, I noticed my battery voltage gauge had stopped fluctuating around 14V as it had been the past few days and was now rapidly declining, eventually going down to 9V. Not good. I found the nearest O’Reillys and felt lucky that there was one only a mile down the road. Not believing my luck, I was very grateful.

When I stopped, I turned the engine off, then tried to crank it again. Not much happened. Having just removed the fan belt for the water pump and fiddling around in there I feared I’d stuffed something up. It was around 4pm, so I was thankful to still have some daylight to work with and I got my multimeter out. Knowing that it wouldn’t be the fuse, I checked the fuse at the starter motor. Of course it is underneath the car at the oil sump so it was a pain in the ass to get to, but with the car jacked up it wasn’t too bad. The fuse was ok. Still not believe it could be the alternator, I checked the wires from the battery to the starter motor to the alternator. Everything was ok. All the connections at the alternator looked ok too. But surely, I must have broken something during my last work? It appeared not. Everything around the alternator looked perfect, so it had to be the part itself.

Resigned, I went inside to ask “Do you happen to have an alternator for a 1994 Chevy Astro?” While one guy looked it up in the system, his mate started asking me questions so we went back out to have a look. When I told him about the voltage fluctuating then the sudden drop, he informed me that those symptoms were telltales of a failed alternator. Back inside, the man already had a shiny new alternator sitting on the bench. I couldn’t believe it. Again, they had what I needed in stock? “How much?” It ended up being $100 because he gave me a discount out of the kindness of his heart. Giving them back my old alternator also took $10 off the price. They could even test it for me, not that I was interested in that.

I went back outside and got to work. Quite early on in the piece, a man who had pulled in to the carpark came over to see if I needed help. He had the thickest southern accent I’d heard so far it took me a while to understand anything he was saying. He was astounded to see a girl working on a car, not something he’d ever seen in his life before. After chatting for a bit he went inside and bought what he needed. When he came back out, he gave me a small flashlight that he’d bought for me, just in case I was still working after it got dark. How kind, and of course I ended up using it.

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Red mentioned he’d be coming back this way in the next few hours so he’d swing by to make sure I was doing ok. Sure enough, around 7:30pm, he was back and he stayed with me until I got the thing finished, lending me his muscles when I needed them.

I’ll make this a short story. To remove the alternator, I had to remove the fan belt (easy enough with the right tools and two people), four bolts and a connector. It took me FOUR hours. One bolt at the front came out easy. The second bolt at the front I rounded off trying to get it undone, but with a 6-point socket borrowed from O’Reillys we got it off. One bolt on the back came out easy. The fourth bolt at the back was completely invisible, had a wiring harness in the way of it and also rounded off. To fix this last problem, Red went and bought a ratchet-spanner from O’Reillys and together we got the bloody thing undone (I had to position the spanner with my small hands, then Red muscled it loose).

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I was elated when the busted alternator finally came free of the clutches of the cramped engine bay. Putting the new one back on took about twenty minutes. Red and I mucked around with the fan belt for a bit but eventually got it back on and in place. Right, moment of truth! I got in the driver’s seat and turned the key. She started first time, almost like nothing had happened. Oh, joy! I was thoroughly cold by now, it was windy and even with two long sleeve shirts on, I was cold and sick of being outside. Red gave me his number before he went, saying we should get some food after I cleaned everything up then he bid me ado, but not before he insisted on leaving me the ratchet-spanner he’d bought. It was now 8:30pm, so I had enough time before O’Reilly’s closing to use their bathroom to clean myself up, I was one dirty girl. I had a good chat with one of the O’Reilly guys before I left, swapping stories about his life in the military and mine as a nomad and play-mechanic. By the time I’d packed everything up and had the van back in order, the engine had been running nearly an hour and seemed in good shape.

I drove across the road to Wendy’s and had a dirty dinner of burger fries and a huge milkshake. I’d spoken to Mum while I was packing up, needing to talk to someone about my ordeal. I talked to Dad after, giving him all the dirty details that made him laugh at every step. After I’d finished my dinner, I drove to the opposite corner of this one-intersection town to the huge Walmart carpark where I parked up for the night, grateful that I didn’t have to go more than 50 meters to find a camp. I still had some energy left to call Alex and tell him what had happened and by the time that was done I collapsed into bed, happy that I didn’t have to worry about fixing anything in the morning, that it was all done, as long as the engine cranked as normal, I’d be a happy Astro chick.

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