In the fall of 1983, my sister Nina and I devised a plan for her family to join our family in Jerome to embark on a Christmas trip to visit our two brothers living in Arizona. I had acquired a previously fire-gutted, 15-passenger Dodge Maxi-van that only had two full-width seats in addition to the single bucket seat and front passenger seat. With 11 kids and their parents making the trip, I decided to construct a bunk bed at the back of the van, complete with made-to-fit foam mattresses covered with sheets, blankets and pillows. “Since we would be traveling in the night, why not make it comfortable for everyone?” I thought.
I measured, cut and welded the framework piece by piece for the upper deck. To save space, it seemed the best way to keep the upper bunk elevated would be to use two-by-two’s mounted vertically in each corner with one or two metal lag bolts attaching them to the exposed frame of the van. In addition, they would be angle-screwed into the wooden bottom deck by 3-inch grabber screws.
With the project complete, we loaded suitcases, sleeping bags, Christmas gifts, food and personal items for the 1,800-mile journey. The kids were excited about the bunk bed arrangement; they believed the trip would be one to remember forever. Their hopes would be fulfilled.
Someone offered a prayer of safety (we always do that when traveling; it’s a family tradition), and we pulled out of the driveway, not stopping while turning onto our county road. As we maneuvered the turn, there was a loud c---r---a---c---k, and part of the upper deck sagged, throwing the horrified occupants onto their siblings and cousins below.
Fortunately, some of the muscular teenage males caught the framework and held it up until we stopped and wedged some Samsonite suitcases underneath it for bracing. It was dark by then, and we felt it best to proceed rather than retreat to repair the failed supports. Innovation is a blessing in disguise, and we continued on.
We were taking the Nevada route from Jerome. After passing through the bright lights of Jackpot and the quiet intersection at Wells, I was driving, being content with our situation and happy that at least the mechanical aspects of the Dodge were functioning properly. The engine was humming flawlessly, and then a wheel flew past me as spark-like fireworks erupted. The right-rear axle had made contact with the hardened asphalt.
I steered the wandering beast to a stop and assessed the damage. Apparently, the hub nut was not secure, and the drum with wheel had decided to part company. The axle stem was severely damaged. Now, we were stranded in the middle of nowhere at 1 a.m. It was very cold, maybe 10ºF. Cell phones weren’t readily available back then, and there was no help in sight.
We could have griped and felt sorry for ourselves, but Nina, being the eternal optimist, exclaimed, “Hey, sooner or later someone will come by, and we’ll get this thing fixed, but in the meantime, let’s rejoice. No one is hurt, we’re alive, and we’re all together. Let’s build a fire and sing Christmas songs.”
I’ve listened to choirs and musical selections of all types, in various settings, but they have never touched me like the strains of “Oh little town of Bethlehem”, “I know that My Redeemer Lives,” “Silent Night, Holy Night,” “Oh, Holy Night” and other Christmas hymns sung that night. Yes, hymns sung by two grateful families under a cloudless Nevada sky with the heavens aglow in all their Eternal majesty. Thanks be to the Creator, the Babe of Bethlehem. PD
Leon Leavitt, Publisher, Progressive Dairyman