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» Never Give Up

By Dave McCracken

“Pushsay, Pushay for your lives!”

Dave Mack

 

Our driver yelled, “Pushsay,Pushsay, push for your lives!” My friend of many years, Sam Speerstra, was managing this project. Sam is an “Indiana Jones” character from way back. Go with Sam, and you are sure to fine some adventure. He was the one who got me into diving for diamonds in Venezuela during the rainy season a few years ago. What a nightmare that was! Sam also introduced me to Madagascar, which is where this adventure took place. We were prospecting for high-grade gold.

“Hurry, give it everything you’ve got. I hear trucks coming!” Sam was driving us in an old Toyota pickup truck that probably already had a couple of hundred thousand miles on it. It was a wreck! The engine kept cutting out as we were working our way up the steep grade of a remote mountain, somewhere in darkest, undeveloped Madagascar. Sam’s swearing got progressively more descriptive and deafening as the engine problems got worse. We were pretty close to the top when the engine finally quit. It was in the middle of the night on a blind corner of a pretty busy highway. Most of the trucks traveling the highway did not have headlights; they travel by moonlight a lot in Madagascar!

Sam Speerstra, modern “Indiana Jones”

They speak French in this particular country. My French is lousy, but I understood the message. As soon as the engine quit, three other guys and I were out of the truck and pushing uphill. We already knew there was not a single pull-off behind us for several miles. We had been watching for pull-offs! There were also no guard rails. The embankment was very steep. Visibility was non-existent; the moon was not out this night. We were in near total darkness. We could hear the trucks coming from both directions on the highway. Sam was steering the vehicle as we pushed, yelling “Pushsay, Pushsay!”

We barely got the Toyota off the side of the road just up from the blind turn, when big delivery trucks passed by from both directions. The one coming downhill only had one dim headlight. It was moving in low gear. It probably didn’t have any brakes.

Once off the road, Sam stepped out of the vehicle, slipped, fell down the hill and ended up face down in a muddy ditch. The cussing started all over again. No one could find a flashlight to fix the engine. The guys figured it was a problem with the fuel injectors being too loose. They tightened them up in the dark, by feel.

E-r-r-r-r-er, E-r-r-r-r-er, E-r-r-r-r-er…Next we found the battery was too low to start the engine.

Sam decided the best thing to do was push-start the Toyota backwards downhill, around the blind curve in the darkness. What else could we do? We pushed, he steered. We tried three times. The engine would not start. That was when Sam admitted that the Toyota never push-started in reverse! We ended up in the same place on the blind curve where the Toyota originally conked out. “Pushsay, Pushsay for your lives.” Back up the hill we pushed the Toyota once again. I started looking for a place to sleep. There was only one sleeping bag in the truck, so I started quietly planning how I was going to find it first—while the others discussed the problem in French.

Pretty soon, a big delivery truck coming up the hill was stopped by one of the Frenchmen involved with our operation. I did not understand everything that was being said, but it became clear that no one had a working flashlight and no one had anything to tow with. The truck did have a long piece of wood in the back. It looked to be about 20 feet long. It was a rough-cut 2X6. They decided to use it as a push rod from bumper to bumper. Sam was going to attempt a jump-start going forward up the hill.

My biggest concern was getting over the top of the mountain. From there it was downhill to the village where we would put up until morning in a hotel—with real beds. We also had not eaten dinner yet. The main concern of Sam and everyone else was not destroying the license plate on the Toyota. What’s the big deal about a license plate for a broken down old vehicle? Without the license plate being nearly perfect, there were serious problems with “Les Polisia” at the many security checkpoints throughout the country! Damaged license plates were cause for harassment. Destroyed or missing license plates were cause for seizure! The severity of the offense would rule how much money it would cost to buy ourselves out of trouble at each checkpoint.

I was mainly hoping to get over the hill and down to the village where we could find a place to sleep that was off the open ground.

Pretty soon, the push rod was placed between the vehicles. Not being able to stand back any longer with dinner and a real bed predominant in my mind, I over-rode everyone’s objections by placing the push rod on top of the Toyota bumper, under the license plate, through the hole and up against the spare tire. This way, they only had to hold and balance the push rod against the front bumper of the big truck. Sam gave the signal and off they went—uphill. I watched. It looked like the Keystone Cops in the dark. Five big guys (two were passengers from the big truck) holding the push rod against the big truck’s bumper, running along in front of the big truck as they went faster and faster. Sam popped the clutch in second gear and the Toyota roared away in front of the truck, in the dark with five men being dragged behind, holding onto the push rod. They had to let go, because Sam took off like a shot, not wanting to take any chance of the truck quitting again.

When the men let go of the push rod, it dropped to the ground, pushed up against the license plate, and pop, off went the license plate, sailing into the darkness, over the steep embankment. The men were so upset, I thought they were going to cry. No use in crying over tomorrow’s problems. I urged everyone back into the truck so we could get going before it quit again.

Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves checked in to a reasonably comfortable hotel, by fourth-world standards, and eating dinner—and sharing a warm beer. The next day we found the license plate. It was only slightly damaged. Yes, life is good!

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