by Lance Hill
We still had the good battery out of the off-roader in the Mini and knew we had better put it back where we got it – along with the radio and torch – before someone caught us with them.
So after getting everything ready and bringing her to life again, we opened the barn doors wide and got in – me in the driver’s seat and Noel in the passenger’s seat, arm out the front window in the door, hanging onto the window washer bottle full of petrol.
We couldn’t get the seat belts to work and the one on the passenger’s side was not bolted to the floor anyway, so we gave them a miss and prepared for moving off. I pumped that clutch a good dozen times and went for first gear and got it. I eased the Mini out into the daylight under her own steam and turned the wheel toward the gate, then stopped and waited for Noel to get out and shut the barn doors. Amazingly, the rain had stopped for a few minutes and the Mini was sounding better and better the longer the engine ran. I couldn’t help but marvel at the mechanics at work within that little engine that had gone for so long unused. Noel went past the Mini toward the gate, so I pumped the clutch and engaged first gear again, trundling along at idle behind him like some large metal pet at a steady speed of three miles per hour.
When we reached the gate, I pushed the clutch in but the clutch didn’t disengage and the car kept going forward. Panicked, I stomped on the brake pedal and the car stalled. Noel laughed his head off at the apparent driving blunder
“You do that when you sit your practical and they’ll fail you, you know”
“Forgot I had to pump the clutch and had to hit the brake or ram you into the gate. It’s gunna be harder than we thought to drive this thing mate”
“Don’t blame my car for your crappy driving skills”
“Shaddup and get ready to shut the gate again” I said as I started the Mini again, pumped the clutch, grabbed first and drove over to the shed with the off-roader in it. I parked the Mini and left it running with the idle raised while I climbed over into the back and unhooked the off-roader’s battery. That done, I shifted it out the way and put the dead Champion in it’s place while Noel put the off-roader’s battery and the other things we’d borrowed back where they belonged.
“Hey Lance – Have you seen the petrol gauge? It’s not reading anything”
“Probably stuffed mate”
“Where’d that can of petrol go that was in here earlier?”
Noel got the can from the back seat and poured the contents into the Mini’s tank.
“What’d that do to the gauge?”
“Nothin’. Ya gunna need more’n just a couple of litres of juice to shift it, matey. That tank’s easy 30 litres.”
“Hey - you see that tank over there on that stand? That’s the farm’s petrol supply, that is! Hang on a minute”.....and he ran outside and drained 5 litres from the farm’s supply into the can we’d found. He ran back and poured that in the Mini’s tank as well.
“Still nothing mate. Seven litres shoulda shifted it a bit. I tell ya it’s stuffed and we're gunna run outta gas in the washer bottle shortly if we muck about much more”
“Wait on” he said as he ran outside and drained another 5 litres from the farmer’s tank into the tin. He came running back, topped up the washer bottle and poured the rest in the Mini’s tank again.
“No, mate! We’ve poured what I reckon is at least a quarter of a tank into the thing and that’s not counting whatever was in it to begin with. Gauge must’ve had-it like I told ya”
“Oh well. Anything else we gotta do here before we go up to the house?”
“Not that I can think of. Oh great – it’s raining again”
He jumped in and sat with the washer bottle out the window while I pumped the clutch a dozen times and then attempted reverse gear for the first time. The gear stick was the ‘pudding stirrer’ type and about 3 feet long with a forty-five degree angle bend upward located four inches from the end with the knob on. It was loose as heck and sort of a mystery shift in the fact you waved the stick in the general direction of the gear you wanted and weren’t really sure which gear you actually had until you let the clutch out. The selectors – like a lot of things on the Mini – had seen better days. Finding reverse then – hard across to the right and straight down – could be tricky, considering the stick hit the driver’s seat when I tried for the gear.
By some fluke the selectors had worked and I found the desired gear was engaged when I raised the clutch, so that the Mini shuddered backward into the misty drizzle that had started again. I managed to get it out of gear, then pumped the clutch again like mad before going for first gear. In she went first time, out came the clutch and the Mini was away.
I turned right into the race that led for the road and gave her some juice. The speedo started registering and displayed an optimistic ten miles an hour, much to Noel’s extreme pleasure. It was however short-lived.
“See that? She’s registering speed!!!”
“Yeah, I suppose that’s one less thing to fix. Oh crap - the ruddy wipers don’t go. Hope this rain doesn’t get any harder”
There was a slight lurch and the Mini’s engine sounded different Water was getting into the electricals and we were down to three cylinders.
“What do we do?” “Keep driving and hope we get there before it really pours down or the car stalls. Shoulda tried to work out how to keep the fuel feeder hose from...”
My lament was interrupted by yet ANOTHER strange sound emanating from somewhere up front. It sounded like someone strangling a cat and the cat was winning.
“What the HECK is THAT noise?” I cried
“HOW SHOULD I KNOW??!! SHUT IT DOWN ITS GONNA BLOW UP!!!”
“NO IT ISNT!! LISTEN!!” I said as the sound was getting clearer, like the cat was clearing its throat. Now it sounded like a trumpet playing one note with someone sticking bits and pieces in the end of the instrument to shut it up.
“It’s the HORN!!”
“Why is it doing that?”
“I don’t know!!! It JUST IS!! “
Raising my voice was becoming necessary over the sound of that clarion call and the rain which was becoming heavier. There was another lurch as we lost the power of another cylinder and with my foot pressed halfway to the floor on the gas pedal, the speedo was only registering a wobbly five miles per hour now. The main road was less than 100 metres away, the rain was coming in the passenger’s front window where Noel had it open to hang onto the water bottle, visibility through the windscreen was pretty much zero due to the rain, no wipers and the fact it had fogged up on the inside - and to top it off we wouldn’t have enough power from the two remaining cylinders in order to get us up the farmhouse drive. And that damned horn.................
“Well, at least it works”
“Yeah, but how do I shut it up? The horn button is missing”
“Just drive. We’ll sort it out later”
“I wish it would shut up. Anything coming up the road?”
Noel squinted out through the open window. “Na. You’re clear”
“Clear this side too” I said as I too looked through an open side window which I’d opened in case I needed to stick my head out to see where I was going.
The Mini bounced out onto the road and I swung the wheel to the right to head for home. The car turned and straightened up as she was supposed to – and then we moved out from behind the tree cover and the heavens opened. The Mini didn’t stutter or cough – she just quit.
We rolled to a stop and sat on the side of a road - aptly named “Journey’s End” - in the pouring rain, in an unregistered, unwarranted, rusty derelict with no bonnet and a washer bottle for a petrol tank, with a horn that was now drowning out the sound of torrential rain on a tin roof and no way of shutting it off from inside.
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