One year my wife and I were traveling from Rockford, Illinois (near the Wisconsin border) to the Kansas City area via St. Louis. A road we have traveled many times, so many times that we knew every rest stop, and convenience store along the way. Being the fact that I have an auto mechanics background, I like to travel with things that might be needed in almost any mechanical emergency. Doesn’t everyone?
This particular trip went fine on our way to Kansas City, during daylight hours. But the way back was a whole different story. The first part of the trip back, from Kansas City started out just fine, and also was in day light. However by Columbia, Missouri, which was half way across the state of Missouri, it had got dark, requiring lights. I began to notice that my lights were getting a little on the dim side. The further I went the dimmer they got. Now this was before we had cell phones, so there was no easy way to call for help if needed.
At first I had not realized that I really had a problem, I just thought my headlights just needed a good cleaning, and figured I would do so the next time we stopped at a convenience store. But finally I decided that I did not have enough charge in the battery to sustain the lights and engine. So what to do?
We had passed one of the rest stops several miles back, and I quickly calculated that it was closer to go back to that rest stop than it was to go on to the next convenience store. I used one of those “emergency crossovers”, (it was an emergency—wasn’t it?) and proceeded back the way we had just came. I saw the rest stop, now on the wrong side of the interstate, and then looked for the next “emergency crossover”. I was very concerned that I would even be able to make the crossover, let alone get to the rest stop, as my lights were so dim that I virtually could not see at all.
When I got to the 2nd crossover, there were several “highway constructions vehicles” parked along the edge in the middle of the crossover. That’s when I made the decision that I am confessing too. It’s in the dead of night. No cell phone. Not sure if I can make it to the rest stop which is less than a mile away, and there were construction vehicles right there.
What do construction vehicles have that I needed? Battery power! And being a good mechanic, I carried with me jumper cables. So I stopped next to the vehicles (they had exposed batteries) and I hooked up my cables to the vehicles, and set back in the car and waited, hoping that no highway patrol officer would come by, since in my mind, I had no authorization to use that vehicle for the purpose of charging up my battery.
Fearful of getting caught, I did not stay long, since I knew that the rest stop was less than a mile away. When I felt I had gained enough charge to make it there, I disconnected the cables and went on my way, thankful that I had not been caught, and the construction crew would have been none the wiser, as I didn’t use very much of their “battery power.”
So when I got to the rest stop, I got out my trusty tools, and disconnected my battery, and took it in to the restroom. Oh, by the way, being a good mechanic, I also carried a battery charger with me. So inside the restroom I set my battery on the sink, and plugged in the charger and waited. This time I let the battery get all the way charged up before I left. Again, I had not been caught, and eastward bound we went. By then I knew for sure, that my alternator had quit working and that getting home without replacing it was not an option.
We made it to the next rest stop, and again I disconnected my battery, went into the restroom, and started charging it up. This time I was not so lucky. The rest stop cleaning crew showed up, and had a fit because as one crew member said, “you are not allowed to charge your battery up in these restrooms.” So I put the battery back in the car and went on down the road, confident that it had got enough charge to get me to the next location, which was a convenience store in Lake St. Louis, a St. Louis suburb. This time I asked the store employees if I could use one of the outside outlets to charge my battery. They were kind enough to do so, and while it was charging, I used their phone directory to locate a place to get my alternator replaced.
I don’t remember just were the Sears Auto Shop was, but I headed there as I had a Sears charge card, and pulled into their lot, up next to the auto shop entrance (as it was beginning to get daylight) and waited for them to open up.
Under the circumstances, that got me right in and replaced my alternator, and we finished the last half of the trip with no more problems.
So there you have it, I stole some electricity from a highway construction vehicle, and out of a roadway rest stop restroom (or two), but I made it just over two hundred miles, at night, with no working alternator. Not one of my more pleasant traveling memories.