Continued from yesterday...
The drive from Phoenix, Arizona to Socorro, New Mexico normally took about seven hours. If you didn't stop too much or too long. If you didn't get slowed down by traffic (we didn't). If the weather cooperated. The evening of December 24, 1978 saw a trace of snowfall on the mountainous roads that we traveled, but the roads were clear and didn't impede our progress.
If you didn't encounter mechanical probl...uh-oh.
We had traveled about 5 1/2 hours the first time I felt the odd sensation of our rear axle bearing seizing up. I say "odd" because it wasn't accompanied by any sudden, sharp noise. Cathy and I "felt" it rather than heard it. My initial impression was that we had hit a patch of wet snow or ice and the back part of the car lost traction for about a second. "What was that?" Cathy asked.
"I don't know," I replied.
Driving along for a few more miles, we didn't notice any more problem. About ten minutes later, thought, it happened again. Still trying to figure it out, we drove along more carefully. The third occurrence was much sooner. About then, I remembered what our friend David had told me weeks earlier: "I think you have a rear axle bearing going out." Unfortunately I waited until Christmas Eve on a lonely stretch of U.S. Highway 60 to decide that David must be right.
By the time David's prediction was obviously true, we were approaching the tiny hamlet of Pie Town, New Mexico. That strangely-named village is right at the Continental Divide at an elevation of just under 8,000 feet about Sea Level. I know the place well...it's where my grandparents homesteaded in the 1930s. It's where my parents met, courted and married. It's the place where I performed my first wedding -- for one of my cousins. It's the place where my Grandpa and Grandma Norris are buried.
It's also the place that just happened to have a mechanic living there at the time and he had absolutely no sympathy for us on Christmas Eve. I didn't know if my uncle would be at the tiny house on the little ranch that is part of our family. It was dark, with snow on the ground and I was not comfortable driving out on the country road to the ranch.
And it was still over 80 miles to Socorro.
Cathy and I talked. Our family prayed. And we got back onto the highway. Counting the miles. Hoping we would make it.
We stopped at the little town of Datil and used a pay phone to attempt calling my parents. We couldn't reach them. It was Sunday night. It was Christmas Eve. They were at church.
We continued our journey. More carefully. I stopped once or twice and got outside to listen to the sound of the axle as Cathy inched the car a few feet ahead.
The weather had cleared as we crept on. The next town -- Magdalena -- was only 26 miles from "home." We started down a long hill just west of there and were comforted by the sight of the lights that meant civilization.
To be continued...