My experience suggests it is better when your wheels are attached to your vehicle. So we picked up our broken wheel and sought help. We limped to Predator Trailer in Omaha where the staff promptly dropped everything to get us back on the road as soon as possible. Apparently, the shantyboat trailer’s wheel hub had committed murder-suicide, shredding our axel on the way out.
While the most prudent course would be to have replaced the axel, hubs, and tires with new more standard and reliable parts, with our recent investment in tires, it seemed attractive to find a used axel if we could. We called around and found a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy.
We dropped off the trailer at Predator and set out for our late night rendezvous. Our guy would call us when he was 20 minutes away and we would follow his directions. “Meet me at the offramp of 370 and I29 after dark near the titty bar,” he told us.
We made our way down Strategic Air Command Memorial Highway, which turned into a country two lane. We came to a century-old one and a half lane iron bridge over the Missouri River. An old man in a rickety kiosk charged us a dollar to cross into Iowa.
We spotted the “Playhouse” after crossing I29, a huge windowless building surrounded by neon and pickup trucks. We waited by the side of the road watching the lightning bugs flash and flutter about. When he arrived, our contact barely slowed down. He flashed his lights three times and sped up as he passed. We took off into the pitch black with only a pair of taillights ahead of us.
The road deteriorated rapidly. The potholes were deep, nearly as deep as our growing fear. Trees loomed on either side. Thunderclouds threatened on the horizon. Hazel dog was unaccountably agitated. We flew down the Iowan country road through thick fields of fireflies, a kind of hillbilly hyperspace.
One turn, then two, then three. We were uncertain that we’d be able to reconstruct our return route in case of emergency. As we crossed another county line our cell signal was lost, rendering all GPS and map functions useless.
After another half dozen unmarked turns, the road went from ancient blacktop to gravel to rutted goat track. Finally we came out at a house peeking out of a clearing in the woods. Near a tin shop in back, was a chest-high pile of old trailer house axels. Out of the car stepped Tom who did something with mobile home manufacturing and stockpiled the axels when he installed a trailer.
We picked out a likely axel that seemed to have all its parts and paid Tom a small fortune in unmarked bills. We wrestled it into the back of the truck. We shook his hand solemnly and he directed us off the property.
As we crossed the one lane bridge over the Missouri again, it seemed less rickety this time around, having braved the Bone Yard and acquiring our “new” axle.