The surprising thing is that we actually made it out of Iowa before it happened. Admittedly, we were only just barely beyond the border, into Illinois, and the problem had been developing as we made our way across that great long stretch of I-80 between Council Bluffs and Davenport. Still, it seems an accomplishment to have gotten entirely through the state of our previous higway adventures.
We stopped for gas in Colona, Illinois, already feeling somewhat tentative about noises the van was making and its less than stellar performance over the previous hours of driving. Then, as I worked on washing our big front windshield, my heart sank at the sight of radiator fluid running out from under the front end. This was around lunchtime yesterday, and I figured we still had between five and six hours of driving to do before we'd be home in South Bend. Well, there was nothing else for it, but to have the problem checked out. The filling station attendant directed us to a service station in town, not far from where we had gotten off the interstate. Off we went.
I'm picturing in my mind, at that point, a huge repair bill, a lost day of traveling, another night in a motel, and several extra meals along the way. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I was also wishing that I knew how to get hold of my good friend, Charley, who knows vehicles in general pretty well, and who knows big white 15-passenger vans (like ours) exceptionally well. It was exactly at that moment that my cell phone rang, and it was Charley, calling out of the blue on his lunch hour. Didn't realize that cell phones had thought-activation software. Actually, that was but the first indication that the Lord would deal mercifully with us, and enable us to deal with the problem.
Charley's a good engineer, but apparently not able to repair vehicles over a cell phone. He did give me his assessment of what was likely to be wrong with the van. Turned out that he was exactly right: the water pump was "leaking." To say it more accurately, it was gushing radiator fluid, and there was a bearing on the verge of destruction, as well. Not good. We're not going to attempt any further driving under such circumstances. So, let's see what the mechanic says.
If you're going to have vehicle breakdown problems on the highway, let me recommend that you do so in Colona, Illinois, and be sure to bring your busienss to the good folks at Transmissions Plus. What gracious and good-hearted people they were. The water pump would be tricky to get to, involving the dismantling of other things around it first. But they gave us a very reasonable estimate (about a third of what I had been dreading!), and then bumped us up to the front of the line (ahead of other customers) when I told them please to go ahead with the work that needed to be done.
We ended up spending about four hours in Colona. Had a nice lunch at a local diner, "Smokeys," where we whiled away a good portion of the time. Then we walked to a lovely little park with a playground, and the little people of the family spent the next hour and more burning off energy on swings and slides and spinning things, while LaRena and I took turns waiting in the shade. Nicholai spent the entire time reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which he did then manage to finish before we got home last night. All in all, we had a good time in Colona.
By the time we had walked back to Transmissions Plus, the van was almost ready to go, and just like that, we were on the road again. It cost us a few hours and a few hundred dollars, but it was not the disaster that had loomed in my mind when I first observed that snakey green liquid slithering out from under my poor vehicle. We could not have landed in a more ideal spot for such a mechanical breakdown. Good folks, good food, good fun, and a relatively painless ordeal. I'm grateful to the Lord for His lovingkindness, by which He protected us from harm and danger, and provided for us in our need. He's with us and provides for us in both good times and bad, but I'm glad for those times when life's highway isn't quite so adventurous.