We Have a Donor!

I send “email postcards” to friends and family along the way with jokes about towing “The Hearse” behind me for 1,760 miles.   A steady week of blacktop camping has me wandering the aisles to count dead animal heads in Cabelas, trying to sleep while the Winnie’s walls rumble all night in the Flying J advertising “over 150 Truck parking spaces,” and being woken up at 2:00am in the Walmart parking lot so they could repaint the yellow stripes beneath me.   All while working a full 40 hour week.  It was a memorable week, to say the least.

I have made lots of sad jokes since my trusted friend, the Tracker Toad engine seized up in St. Mary’s, Montana.   As I stare out the back bedroom window of the Winnie, “Weekend at Bernies” comes to mind, where the two insurance employees tow their dead boss’s stiff body around all weekend while they try to cover up his murder.

Or my favorite story from Larry McMurtry, “Lonesome Dove,” where Augustus McCrae’s dying wish is to be buried in Texas.  When he dies from blood poisoning in Montana from an infected arrow head wound, his former Texas Rangers partner Woodrow Call begins the long journey back to Texas with Gus behind him in a finely built custom caisson.   Over the miles and rugged terrain, the makeshift hearse falls apart, the wheels wear down to nothing and fall off, until finally Woodrow is towing nothing but the stiff mummified body across the Texas border.  How apropos.

Arrival in the ER, aka "Don's Driveway."

Arrival in the ER, aka “Don’s Driveway.”

Getting a first look at the damage...

Getting a first look at the damage…

But no metaphor seems to fit this situation better than that of a heart transplant patient.   The violent sound that came from the engine when it seized up, the cracked block, the bleeding, rusty liquid from the radiator and the D.O.A. pronouncement by the Babb, Montana mechanic just feels like my little “Bratty Tracker” had a massive heart attack.

As I am making my way back across the country from Montana to Texas, my brother Don rushes to get the Tracker on the transplant list, searching Craig’s List, ebay, and engine broker websites, looking for a “donor engine.”   Finally, he stumbles upon the Suzuki Lightning website, a company in Tampa who does conversions on Suzukis and Trackers, turning them into high performance vehicles since 1986.   They buy Trackers and Suzukis at auctions, and salvage them for engines, parts, etc., using them to turn the nimble, short wheel base fun ride Suzukis into “muscle cars.”  Don makes contact, and soon a deal is made on a rebuilt engine.  We have a “heart donor!”  The transplant organ is on the way…

Don lives about an hour north of my Mom and Dad, so I drop the Tracker off in front of his garage on my way down to help my parents move.   We push it into the driveway, like rolling a gurney into the operating room.   I spend a couple of nights in his driveway, sleeping side by side with the “heart patient” as Don slowly begins to methodically disassemble and label the peripheral parts.  As a first step, he removes the spark plugs.  Water pours out.  I don’t think that is supposed to happen. (sniff, sniff!)   He works tirelessly by day, while treating me to his famous lamb chops by night.  😉

Don is a fabulous cook, but his lamb chops are my favorite!

Don is a fabulous cook, but his lamb chops are my favorite!

While awaiting arrival of the engine, we drive on down to the farm to move my Mom and Dad back into their farmhouse they left behind a year ago.  Turns out they weren’t “city folk” after all, and missed the “wide open skies” of the farm where it is possible to see the sunset and moonrise, all from the same back yard swing…

Beautiful sunset down on "the farm."

Beautiful sunset down on “the farm.”

Finally, I get word that the transplant organ, my shiny rebuilt engine has arrived!  It surprises me to learn the engine, which seems to be one step up from a go-cart, only weighs 100 pounds!   It arrives on the doorstep delivered via UPS, or as my friend Lynne calls him, “Brown Santa.”



I desperately want to help in this endeavor, but secretly breathe a huge sigh of relief when I hear the news that Don’s college buddy David is coming to help.   David is a bit of a self-proclaimed “motor head” and loves the chance to work on engines.  In fact, he and Don recently completed valve jobs on both mine and my parent’s Honda CRVs.   So these two “surgeons” share a long history together, from “drinking beer and chasing girls” to photography dark room hobbies, so I know I am in good hands…

My two favorite grease monkeys!

My two favorite grease monkeys!

Disconnecting the old engine

Disconnecting the old engine

It even looks like a heart!   Hoses hanging off remind me of arteries.

It even looks like a heart! Hoses hanging off remind me of arteries.

Hey!  Who took my engine?

Hey! Who took my engine?



Old and new, side by side...

Old and new, side by side…


14 thoughts on “We Have a Donor!

  1. What great fun you make this seem like! The “boys” are definitely having a grand ol’ time! ;->

    Virtual hugs,


  2. This is great, a new lease of life for the old faithful one. The tracker looked to be in such good condition that it would have been a shame to scrap it. I bet you will hang on to this rejuvenated one for many years, and share many more adventures with it.

  3. Only in the Walmart!! We are usually woken up by the street sweeper around 3:00 AM that seems to just circle us.

    Glad you arrived safely, as did your new heart. Good you have top surgeons working on the transplant:) Sure hope you are on the road to Utah soon!!

  4. Love the heart transplant analogy, very clever. The guys look happy tackling their latest challenge.
    What type of work do? Am researching ways to incorporate my work with travel ideas. Love your blog. Thanks

  5. Everyone should have a brother like yours! What a wonderful man, and with great friends. And – those pork chops, which I don’t particularly care for (too dry) – are a RACK OF LAMB. The BEST! Geez, a mechanical guy who cooks. It looks like you’ve made the best decision for the Tracker – a brand new engine will keep her running for years to come and you can have the security of knowing that. All this will be worth it in the end.

    You have such a nice family. 🙂

  6. What a trip and what a match with the epic trip in Lonesome Dove. You are much more fortunate than my sister would be if she need to transplant her engine as I would be unable to fill that need for her.
    As always great story and pictures. Glad you have your two vehicle almost back in action.

  7. Suzanne, it’s cool that the engine has only turned out to be a minor case of the hiccups even if it did take a transplant to cure them. I was looking at all the places your toad has been and realized that Sandy and I have a ton of places to go to begin to catch up with you. Unfortunately we lost this summer caring for our three parents but hopefully next year will find us on the road more.

  8. I am glad you had an option for getting a new engine for your Tracker! Whew. We also have a Tracker, a bit newer, but still irreplaceable. Good to know about options if we ever have problems.

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