The trip began innocently enough. Taking our first long distance outing in a used Winnebago, my wife was concerned that we have it completely checked before heading west to Colorado.
The first evening we made Great Bend without incident, and visited some friends. On day two we headed west to little known places such as Otis, LaCross and Timken. Somewhere, approximately 50 miles west of Great Bend, I realized the temperature gauge was heading toward the right hand peg with alarming speed. Sensing something was wrong, as the steam billowed up from under the hood, I stopped the vehicle. A quick glance told me the alternator belt was broken and it was hanging in shreds.
Having just passed a small town named Albert, we turned and headed back toward what we hoped would be help. The business district consisted of an elevator and a filling station. Fortunately for us, the filling station was open. At 11:30 a.m. we steamed to a stop in front of the garage doors, wondering if this was the end of the line. There were three people working, or at least in attendance at the station. Immediately one young man grabbed a hose and started hosing down the radiator, in an attempt to cool off the engine. The boss looked at us, scowled, chewed his cigar, then went back inside. We couldn't figure out what the third person was doing; he disappeared to the rear of the station. The young man soon cooled off the radiator, lifted the hood, and saw we were in need of a belt. By now, we had noticed a sign stating the station closed at 12:00 on Saturdays, and since this was Saturday, there was a premonition we could be in big trouble.
Soon, the young guy was getting free advice from the older two telling him there was no way he could work on that vehicle and that he would have to take the whole radiator off to get to the fan and the alternator belt. He politely ignored them and kept on working, trying not to burn himself as he dug around under the hood. At 11:50, the other helper had gone to move his pickup from the back to the front in readiness for quitting time at 12:00. Finally, they all three retreated to the office for a conference. My wife came out of the office to tell us that the two (older guys) want to fix it later because they want to shut down at 12:00. The younger guy argued with them to go ahead and get it done. The other helper left promptly at 12:00.
By this time, the younger man had found a belt and, burned his arms as he worked to take off the old belt and to put on the new one. At 12:10 the cigar man came back, leaned on the fender and watched the younger guy work. At 12:20 the new belt was on and retightened as we huddled in the back of the garage near the sign "employees only." The boss went in the other room to figure our bill as the younger guy completed the job and wiped his hands.
By this time the kids are saying, "Dad, if it hadn't been for him, we would be stranded here." Knowing full well they spoke the truth, I reached in my pocket, found a $10 bill which I pressed into his hand and said, "Here, take this." He intended to refuse, but I told him we had heard the conversation and knew that if he hadn't hung in there, we would still be sitting out front with nowhere to go. After going in to pay the bill, we retreated to the safety of the camper at which time the oldest boy said, "I'd like to come back here in a couple of years and see who is in charge of this place. I have a feeling it will be the young one." What a pleasure it was to meet someone who remembers that people are first and the hours and quitting time are second.
Editors note: this column originally was published in the Oct. 19, 1985 issue of the Fort Scott Tribune.