It was a Friday afternoon in the late fall of 1980. I was on the last leg of the 700-km (436-mile) drive from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Thunder Bay, Ontario, where the band I was working for had its final two shows of a 2-month western tour of Canada. I was about an hour west of Thunder Bay, which was good because it was about an hour from our designated load-in time at the site of the gig, a student pub at the college there.
That’s when things started to go south. Driving up a long hill, our Chevrolet C-70, 5-ton truck started losing power. I downshifted several times to help it along but it soon became clear that the engine was going to quit, so I pulled onto the shoulder of the Trans Canada Highway.
After a few fruitless attempts at restarting the engine (it wasn’t out of fuel because my shift had begun with full tanks not long before), I got on the CB radio and radioed the rest of the band, who were somewhere ahead of me in a van. They said they’d look for help and then come back and find me.
Not knowing how long they’d be, I put on some extra clothes – it was already pretty cold – and killed time by studying the owner’s manual for the truck. It didn’t contain a lot of useful info but there was something in the back stating that the engine, a Detroit Diesel 4-53-T, was covered by a 24/7 warranty, anywhere in the world.
I took the manual with me when the band showed up a little while later, and when we got to the local Ontario Provincial Police station, started dialing 1-800 numbers until someone answered. I was eventually given the number of a repair shop in Thunder Bay, so I called and explained that the engine had quit. The reply was something along the lines of “Well, get it towed in, get a hotel room, and we’ll look at it first thing Monday morning.” (Remember, it was Friday afternoon.)
That wasn’t going to work, I countered, adding that we needed to have it looked at as soon as we could get it there. There was a lot of grumbling on the other end of the line and mention of the fact that by the time we got the truck there it would already be past this shop’s 5 pm closing time. We went back-and-forth for a while, and I just kept on insisting that the manual said that there was 24/7 service anywhere in the world and that was the service we needed. (Did I mention that I was all of 19 years old?!)
Eventually, after exhausting every possible reason why it couldn’t be done, they agreed to have a couple of the managers stay late and see what could be done. (I remember that it was union shop and they had to go through the exercise of offering the extra time to all of their mechanics before they could agree to see the truck.)
In the meantime, the band leader had found a tow truck that was (just) big enough to tow a loaded 5-ton. The tow truck driver picked me up at the police station, we collected the truck and enjoyed a bumpy, jerky ride to the garage, which we found in an industrial area on the outskirts of the city.
It was around dusk when we arrived and the gate was already closed and locked, but much to my relief, two guys came out, opened the gate and got the truck backed into a service bay. Both of these guys were still in their management attire when we got there, and as soon as the tow truck driver departed, the senior one turned to me and said, “Now what in blue blazes do you have in the back of that truck that is so important that you can’t get a hotel room and wait until Monday?!”