Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Well, after my heroic ‘charging round like a blue-arsed fly’ efforts to get Herman MOT’d and taxed, ready for my expedition to Whitby this morning, I thought that the fates might leave me alone to enjoy my weekend away and go and make someone else’s life a misery for a change.  How wrong was I!…

Heading along the M62 towards Leeds, just near junction 23 for Huddersfield there is an almighty bang and the van tries to veer across two lanes of motorway.  Luckily I had a firm grip of the wheel and did the right thing; lifted my foot off the accelerator [resisting the urge to jump on the brakes] and controlled the [by now shuddering violently] van into the hard shoulder, as it gradually slowed down - it seemed to take forever, but it was probably only about 20 or 30 seconds.

Anyway, I jump out and have a look and find that the driver’s side front tyre has completely exploded; a huge hole in it and the metal cords of the ply spilling out all over like wire wool. Half the tread was lying in bits along the motorway behind me.

We’d pulled to a stop, just by one of those wee ramps where the traffic cops usually sit, waiting for speeding motorists. So, gingerly, I begin to reverse back up the ramp, so I can put as much distance between me and the traffic as possible.  I get the back end up the ramp and suddenly there’s no power at all.  I look down and see the accelerator pedal is lying flat on the floor.

Herman languishing halfway up the 'copper's ramp'
Herman languishing halfway up the 'copper's ramp'

Out I get again and look under the front and confirm my worst fears.  The exploding tyre has taken the throttle cable with it. The plastic coating is gone and the inner lining is stretched like a spring, and the central cable is clearly broken.

One exploded tyre and ripped up throttle cable
One exploded tyre and ripped up throttle cable

Since, like most folks, I dinnae carry a spare throttle cable, this is clearly going to put a major spanner in my works!

Off I wander down behind the metal barriers for about half a mile until I come to an emergency phone.  When I get near it, I find a cover over it bearing the welcome words ‘Not in use’.  So I hike it back to Herman again and me and the missus sit there on the grass verge, wondering what the feck to do next.  You can bet your bottom buck that, if I’d just nipped up the ‘coppers only’ ramp to have a wee or eat a sandwich, a police car would have been along in about five mins, asking us what the feck we were doing in their spot.  But needless to say, half an hour later, no-one had decided to come and investigate us yet.

The only thing I can think of is to ring 999.  so I do so, apologise for ringing for a non emergency, but tell them the emergency phone on the motorway is out of order and I need a number to ring for the traffic police.  The emergency folks give me the west Yorkshire police number, so I ring them and they put me through to their traffic police.  There, I speak to a complete ignorant arse who wants to know why I’m ringing them for a puncture, instead of phoning the AA or RAC.  I tell him I’m not in the AA or RAC, that the emergency phone is out of order and my throttle cable has been smashed, so I cannae move the van.  He says he’ll send a patrol car along in a bit, and they can arrange to get me towed off the motorway, but it’ll “cost a hell of a lot.” His whole attitude stinks of “What the hell are you wasting my time for?” So I await the arrival of the patrol car with less than enthusiasm.

About twenty mins later the motorway cops turn up, working their way down towards us on the hard shoulder and occasionally nipping out of their car to dash into the motorway and retrieve a bit of our shredded tyre.  We even get our name up in lights, when we notice that the LED sign over the carriageway is advising “Caution. Debris in road.”  

When the coppers eventually reach us, I’m expecting them to be as arsey as their mate on the phone - if not more so, given that they’ve had to risk their necks, retrieving the bits of tyre off the carriageway, but they turn out to be nice as pie.  Really friendly and cheerful.  

They ask what happened, and I explain about the throttle cable and the lack of RAC/AA membership.  They reckon that I should probably try ringing *“one of those organisations we can’t make specific recommendations about, because we are public servants”* and see if we have any luck joining ‘after the event’. They say that they’re allowed to give us two hours to ‘get out of Dodge’ under our own steam [or that of anyone we can get to help us], before they have to come back and arrange to have us towed off the motorway -which is where the hefty fees will come in.

They make sure we’re OK, ask if we have coats and drinking water in the van and then off they go.  Before they leave, one of them gives me a phone number and says that ‘unofficially’ I might have some joy if I ring it.

When I ring the number, it turns out to be the RAC. They say yes I can join there and then, after breaking down, and all seems to be going swimmingly until they ask what the car is.  When I tell them it’s an LT35, there is some silence and muttered “I’m not sure about that kind of vehicle…” and I’m put on hold for about five mins until a voice comes on the line from ‘RAC commercial’.  I tell him I’m not a commercial driver.  It’s my daily drive, which happens to be a van. He tells me that RAC cover does not extend to anything over 3,5 tonnes. So even if I were to join the RAC they wouldnae do anything for me coz of the size of the van.  He says they can come out and tow me off the motorway, but that’s about it.  When I ask how much, he tells me the minimum for someone to come out and look at the van and then tow it back to a garage will be £300!

I [politely] tell them where they can stick their £300 minimum and hang up.  As, so often in life it looks like I’m on my own again!

Strangely, situations like this usually bring out the best in me. For some masochistic reason I seem to think best when everything’s gone completely to shit, so I get the oul’ grey matter ticking over and after a while come up with a cunning plan; I’ll extract the cable for the dashboard cold-start mechanism and see if it’s the same as the one for the throttle.  They look similar in the manual. Maybe I can do a swop.

Before doing that we need to get up to the top of the ramp, where there’s a nice flat area to park up and work on the van.  I jack up the front wheel [dangerous stuff, since I’m parked on a slope, but I stay to the side of the van, leave it in reverse gear and prop toolboxes etc. under the wheels].  I give the brake disc and hub a good looking over but, thankfully, there’s been no damage there from my exploding tyre.  So I go ahead and fit the spare wheel.

Then, with the spare wheel on and the engine cover off, I am able to reverse Herman fully up the ramp onto the flat area, by manually twisting the throttle lever on the injector pump itself.  Now, I can get on with the next part of the plan:

After about an hour of wrestling, I’ve got the old shredded throttle cable removed and the cold-start lever cable off too.  As luck would have it, the cables have completely different ends and the cold-start one is about three feet longer than the throttle cable, so there’s no way I’m going to be able to do a straight swop.   “Alright then,” I think.  “Let’s just turn the cold start cable into a ‘hand throttle’”.

Inspecting the old throttle cable. Definitely not salvageable
Inspecting the old throttle cable. Definitely not salvageable

So I begin attaching one end of it to the throttle lever on the injector pump.  As I’m doing so the missus tells me she’s just seen our friendly copper mates travelling up the opposite side of the motorway.  She reckons our two hours must be about up by now and they’ll be coming off at the next exit, so they can head back down to us on our side and then it’ll be ‘extortion city’ as some local gyppo creams us for about an ‘RAC’ [my new cockney slang for £300!], for towing us off the motorway. 

Time to make a move! - so I quickly finish attaching the cold-start cable to the throttle, feed the other end through the engine bay and up through the hole in the floor where the accelerator pedal used to be.  On with the engine cover, in with the seats, close all the doors, and we’re ready for the maiden voyage of the world’s first hand-throttled LT35!

Makeshift throttle connection at the diesel pump end
Makeshift throttle connection at the diesel pump end

I fire up the engine, and give the cold start lever an experimental tug.  It’s bloody hard to pull but, when I do, it does rev the engine.  So off we go - down the hard shoulder, with the hazards on, at about 20mph and then straight off at the [luckily nearby] junction.  We can relax a bit now.  Whatever else happens, we’re no longer on the motorway; so we dinnae have to worry about being forced to pay ridiculous amounts of cash for rescue anymore.  We drive along for a bit, and it’s not too bad, except that the cold-start cable is so long, I’m having to hold the end of it up near my chest and then work the cold-start knob [or ‘accelerator’ as it is now] with my thumb and forefinger.  It’s bloody tiring!

Another brainwave; I pull into a side-road and reroute the end of the cold-start lead back up behind the dash into its former place.  So now, instead of having to take up all that slack cable, I just have to operate it as if it was the original cold start lever.  The problem is, it’s so damn hard to pull; I dinnae think I’ll be able to keep it held out for too long.

Yet, another brainwave; I find in one of my ‘miscellaneous junk’ jars an old piece of steel about 3”x1” with a hole at one end. I remove the knob from the cold-start lever and fit the piece of metal behind it.  I now have something I can get a grip on and, by wedging one corner of the metal against the edge of the dash I can use it like a lever and accelerate by lifting the other end easily with two fingers.

Hand throttle with 'paddle control'
Hand throttle with 'paddle control'

We set off again and manage to make it from Huddersfield back to Manchester across the moors, without further incident. At first, I’m really clumsy, and revving like a bastard every time I try to change gear, but after a few miles, I’m getting quite adept with my home-made hand throttle and by the time we get back to Manchester, I’m pretty much driving as smoothly as normal. We even have to do a bit of motorway driving again, on the Manc side of Rochdale [actually this is easier, as there are no gearchanges to worry about].

Driving along with the hand throttle in operation. Sorry the pic's a bit blurry. The missus took it on her mob
Driving along with the hand throttle in operation. Sorry the pic's a bit blurry. The missus took it on her mob

As we drive along, I’m still unconsciously making the necessary up’n’down movements with my right foot, every time I change speed or gear -it’s just too hard a habit to break- even tho’ there’s no accelerator pedal. And by the time I get home, the muscles across the back of my shoulders are aching from hunching forward working my throttle but, given what might have been and what it might have cost, I think ‘the lad done pretty well’.

Accelerator pedal - what accelerator pedal?
Accelerator pedal - what accelerator pedal?
Closeup of the exploded tyre. That's going to need at least two puncture repair patches!
Closeup of the exploded tyre. That's going to need at least two puncture repair patches!
This is the cab floor under the driver's seat, after I removed it. The exploding bits of tyre hit the underneath of it hard enough to knock chunks out of the paint
This is the cab floor under the driver's seat, after I removed it. The exploding bits of tyre hit the underneath of it hard enough to knock chunks out of the paint

‘Operation Whitby’ will be attempted again tomorrow.  A mate has just said he’ll lend me his car so, if I can get the insurance necessities sorted out in the morning, I’ll hopefully get there yet!

Phew! -quite an adventure!

The ironies:

  • Just passed the MOT yesterday. I remember at the time thinking ‘Something is bound to break now!’
  • Last week I nearly bought a new set of tyres, when I mistakenly thought one had a bulge in it? [not the one that subsequently exploded, BTW]
  • The missus told me she had a dream last night that we crashed the van on the motorway