Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Insight: A Thanksgiving I’ll never forget

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I had packed up my remaining gear in my truck and said my goodbyes to my classmates at the Department of Defense Information School near Indianapolis. First thing on the Monday morning before Thanksgiving in November 1981, I was hitting the road, making a two-day drive to my home in New Mexico.

Ed Pierce sits in his new Datsun pickup truck before leaving 
for the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin
Harrison, Indiana in September 1981. This is the same
truck he drove from Indiana to New Mexico in
November 1981. COURTESY PHOTO  
After several years of being stationed at The Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and 12 weeks of specialized editor training at the school in Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence, Indiana, I was ready for a break and some down time with family and friends before proceeding on to my next U.S. Air Force duty station in Arizona the day after Christmas.

This was supposed to be a leisurely 18-hour drive that would take me from Indiana, passing through Missouri, on into Oklahoma, then across the Texas Panhandle before eventually crossing into New Mexico and arriving at my home just south of Albuquerque.

In setting up the trip the week before, I had decided to not wear myself out driving, but to take it slow and stop for the night Tuesday at a hotel in Tulsa after my first nine hours of driving. My wife had flown home before Labor Day and was waiting there for me and working with her mother in planning Thanksgiving dinner.

That first part of my trip was rather uneventful as I made my way home in a new 1981 Datsun pickup truck I had just purchased in early September 1981. Part of the reason I had bought a new vehicle was specifically to take me across the country safely and then to drive it to my next assignment at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona.

It wasn’t widely known at the time, but within six months, Datsun announced it was changing its name to Nissan, so my pickup was one of the final “Datsun” trucks ever manufactured.

Like I had originally planned, I stopped for the night in Tulsa, had dinner, checked into my hotel, watched the premiere episode of “Simon and Simon” on television, went to sleep, and then got up at 6 a.m. Wednesday for the final day’s drive to my home.

The miles and highway rolled by and soon I spotted the “Welcome to Texas” sign meaning I was just one state away from my destination. Noticing I was running low on fuel, I pulled into a gas station and filled up, confident I was within range based upon the mileage I was getting in the new truck that I wouldn’t have to get gas again before arriving home.

Outside Amarillo, something strange started happening while I was driving. The pickup would sputter and act like it was going to stall when I put my foot on the gas pedal. I pulled over to the side of the road, turned the engine off and restarted and everything would be OK for about 40 miles or so. I couldn’t get up to more than 40 mph when it would start doing it again.

Time was at a standstill for me as darkness fell and I worried the vehicle was going to break down stranding me out in middle of nowhere. Slowly I made it to the New Mexico state line and drove for another 40 miles when I spotted a service station near Tucumcari, New Mexico.

I pulled in and asked if anyone could look at my truck to find out what was wrong. The attendant said the mechanic had gone home for Thanksgiving but would be back Friday. He suggested I park the truck in their locked compound and because it was under warranty, I could have it towed to the dealer in Albuquerque on Friday.

He also said that a Greyhound bus would be along any minute, bound for Albuquerque, about 175 miles away. I parked the truck, purchased a bus ticket, grabbed my bag, and asked the attendant for one last favor. He agreed to call my family and let them know what had happened. This was before everyone had a cell phone and I didn’t have change for the pay phone outside the service station.

About 12;30 a.m. Thursday morning, the bus arrived in Albuquerque and my wife was waiting for me at the bus station. I was exhausted and worried about leaving my new truck so far away. But I was glad it was Thanksgiving and at least I had made it home safely.

That Friday around noon, the dealer in Albuquerque called and said that the truck had been towed there. Several hours later, the service department at the dealer called and said we could come get the pickup.

When we got there, I found out what the problem was. Apparently, I had picked up some gasoline that contained dirt in Texas, and the $13 tiny plastic fuel filter distributing gas flow to the engine had become clogged, resulting in the stalling and sputtering. The fuel filter and the labor to replace it was under warranty, but I had to pay the towing bill, which ended up costing me $225.

To this day, I’ve never forgotten this Thanksgiving “adventure” that ended up having a happy ending. <

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