Breakdowns happen... We all know this. I often tell people that some of my best travel stories start off with a breakdown happening. This is one of those stories.
In 2016 I was traveling from Houston, TX to Hollister, CA for Syncrofest which was about a 1,850 mile drive. Somewhere in far West Texas on I-10 my '87 Westy suffered a major front wheel bearing failure and I had to pull over on the side of the highway. I wasn't going anywhere at this point. VanAlert was not a thing at this point and it was this trip that actually gave me the idea to create VanAlert.
I reached out to every source I had in order to find a shop or some information as to where I could get some help. None around. So I called AAA and waited for a tow. In the meantime I posted this photo to Instagram. Remember this photo, it comes into play later!
After awhile, a tow truck arrives and loads Libby (my van) onto the flatbed and off we go to San Angelo, Tx. San Angelo was the closest town that AAA had a recommended repair shop in and it was about 80 miles north of where I broke down on I-10. I didn't even know where San Angelo was much less know anyone in San Angelo.... or so I thought.
The mechanics at the shop get my van on the lift and start working on taking the front passenger side wheel off so they could inspect the damage. I posted another image to social media showing my van up on the lift and mentioned that I'm in San Angelo. About this time I get a message from a fellow Vanagon owner named Pat asking for my number. He calls me and says he lives in San Angelo but is currently at work. He asks what shop I'm at and I tell him. He says he'll call me right back which he does and explains a buddy of his named John is going to stop by and see if he can lend a hand.
A few minutes later I'm talking to the mechanic and he says "Your wheel bearing overheated and the race welded itself to the spindle. The spindle is toast and with this vehicle being 30+ years old I'm not sure where you'll find another spindle to replace this one." Just as I finished getting the explanation in walks John, the guy Pat sent over to take a look. John asks what the problem is and the mechanic proceeds to explain the problem again. John replies "Not a problem. We have 5 Vanagons in our collection at the garage. We'll just pull a spindle off of one of those and get you back on the road." Both the mechanic and I were like.... what!?
So I jump in the car with John, whom I've never met before and take a ride over to their garage where they keep their toys. John grabbed the floor jack and went to work. Lifted the van, took the wheel off, removed the spindle and viola!
Now I have a spindle! What are the chances of that!? The shop was about the close for the day so we drove back over to drop off the replacement spindle so the mechanic could install it the next morning.
So there I was in San Angelo with my van in the shop and I had planned to get a hotel for the night when another friend Alex, that I had met at various Texas VW shows texted me. He asked if I was squared away and ok. I explained the events of the day and mentioned I was looking for a hotel for the night. He said don't bother, he had a couch I could crash on. Perfect! So Alex and his buddy Abram, both aircooled guys pick me up from the shop and took me out to their local watering hole for dinner and drinks.
Pat, who's van I borrowed the spindle from met me at the shop the next day around lunch when the van was all fixed and ready to go. He came with a pleasant parting gift for my van. A sticker....
Not just any sticker but probably the most perfect sticker evAR! It reads "Seeing America One Repair Shop At A Time". Lol. This sticker is still on my van to this day, some 5 years later and it still gets the most chuckles and laughs from others. Love it!
So I pointed the van West once again and headed for the Texas state line. I did get Pat's mailing address so that I could ship him a replacement spindle once I got home from my road trip.
This was one of the coolest, most unexpected experiences I've ever had. Pat, John, Alex and Abram really made what could have been a horrible day turn into a great story that I often share around the campfire. Thank you guys!
Oh, there's one more thing... as if the story couldn't get any better. Remember I mentioned to remember the Instagram photo I posted? Well here's how that one comes into play.
About a week later I finally get to Syncrofest in California and I'm approached by this random guy (can't remember his name, so sorry) and tells me "Man I wish you were on the side of that highway in Texas for just another 10 minutes!" I immediately said "Wow, thanks I think." He was like "No really, I saw you posted that you were broken down and the location on the post said what exit number you were at. I called every pizza joint within 30 miles and finally found one that would deliver a pizza to you on the side of the road. The delivery driver was on his way to you when you posted the updated photo of your van on the tow truck. I had to call the driver and tell him to abort the mission."
Wow. How cool was that?! This community is truly one of the best around. No doubt! Like I said, some of the best stories I have start with a breakdown.