Nevada. The empty West. The part of US 50 which is officially called (you can look it up) “The Loneliest Road in America” is a beautiful two lane highway in perfect condition that runs roughly east/west across the center of Nevada. I was driving my 1968 Lotus Seven; a 1200 pound, right hand drive car with no top, no doors, no radio, no anything. US 50 runs straight as a string across the valley floors between about a dozen little ranges of “mountains” and then wiggles up and over to the next valley floor then straight til the next wiggle…an absolutely perfect sports car road except for one thing. It is “The Loneliest Road in America”
From the western edge of Nevada to Eastern edge of Nevada, a distance of 256 miles, there are only two towns with any services at all: Austin and Eureka. Fallon to Austin is about 110 miles, another 75 or so to Eureka and then 73 more to Ely. In between these points is a whole lot of empty! No gas, no food, people, or cell phone service, and almost no traffic. One vehicle every half hour is typical, and sometimes one can go an hour without seeing any other traffic. Somewhere between Austin and Eureka, on a flat straight highway that I could clearly see five miles in either direction, the charging light on the dash panel lit up. What could be up that the system isn’t charging? So I slowed pulled off to the shoulder although I could have parked in the middle of the highway with no concern of being hit. As I eased to a stop I noticed the temp gauge rising rapidly. Aha! Fan belt! No water circulation from the belt driven pump would do that. So, off with the bonnet and nose cone to have a look. The culprit was a loose bolt in the generator bracket, and the generator lying on its side. Apparently, the bolt in the front bracket hadn’t been fully tightened and backed out from the vibration at some point. The poorly supported generator had broken the back plate and the fan belt was thrown. But when? It could have been a quarter mile or two miles back. And even if I found the belt, the broken bracket wouldn’t support the generator. And there wasn’t a soul around; just the wind, the sky and the road: “The Loneliest Road in America”.
There are times when we really want some solitude and quiet, yet we cannot find it in our hustle bustle world. Then there are times when the most beautiful thing we could have is a friendly face for support. This was one of those times. And yet, there was nothing. No sound. No sign of human habitation. No cell reception. I was totally, completely, fully alone. If I were to get out of here, it was going to be up to me to figure it out.
I summoned up my best MacGyver attitude and went to search for something to turn into a suitable fan belt. Now, there isn’t much room for spares in a Seven, so pickings were slim. I had a small tool kit with some wire and hose, spare clothing, and my gas jug, all tied down with bungee cords. YES, that’s it, a bungee cord! I found one that looked to be a bit short, figuring that it would stretch, and began taking off the wire hook ends. Prying them off with a screwdriver and small pair of pliers took the better part of 30 minutes. Then I had to wire the ends together with my fine wire, like a bungee surgeon, which took another 15. During this time, not one vehicle passed.
Finally, I had what looked somewhat like a fan belt. Green, puny and stretchy, maybe, but it was a beautiful fan belt to me. I slipped it over the crank and water pump pulleys, bypassing the generator. I figured I could make it quite a way without draining the battery. I started the car and it worked! It turned the water pump. I let the car tick over for a few minutes and the temp stayed steady. Eureka!
Yes that was my destination, but I wasn’t sure how far it was. 20 miles? 40 miles? 60 miles? Well, I’d better button this up and get going. But before that, I thought I’d rev it a few times to make sure I had a solution that really worked. I flipped the throttle and the bungee flew. Well the load of the water pump could have stretched one side and allowed the other to come off. I remounted the belt and this time I’d just ease the throttle up smoothly and gently. It worked perfectly until about 1,700 rpm. Each time I got to that speed the bungee would fly off. So I set off for Eureka at 1,600 rpm. First, second, third gear and we were moving. It worked fine. In fourth gear I was moving at about 24 miles per hour. Eight times as fast as the pioneers, yet still slow enough to see the varied scenery of central Nevada up close. In the nearly one hour drive to Eureka, one car passed me in the same direction at about 80 and two went by the other way. I had plenty of time to reflect on the place around me and I thought of the pioneers who had no road at all. As lost and alone as I felt, it was nothing compared to their situation. They were brave folks indeed. All this reflection was accompanied by the reassuring click, click, click of the bungee fan belt as it spun merrily around the wire touching each pulley. Finally I reached the booming metropolis of Eureka, Nevada, Population 600. As this was a Saturday about 3:00 PM, much of Eureka was closed for the weekend, but the fellow at the gas station said the hardware store was open and maybe they could help. So I clicked up Main Street to the hardware emporium. The very kindly lady who owned the store asked what I needed. I said, “A fan belt for a 1968 Lotus Seven”. I may as well have asked for a Flux Capacitor for my DeLorean.
She said she had lots of belts if I could just tell her what size I needed. So I rolled one front wheel up on the curb to get a bit more working room, and carefully wrapped a piece of wire rope around both pulleys and marked the overlap spot with my pinched thumb and finger. Into the store I marched, where we found a matching size Gates belt for a washing machine. Nothing ventured, nothing gained they say so out to the waiting car I went. It was a struggle to get the belt over the flange on the crank pulley so I put the car into fourth gear and gently rocked it forward. On popped the belt. As I checked for fit, I found a perfect half inch of deflection…neither too loose nor too tight. Problem solved!
I drove the rest of the way home with the battery providing all the current needed for my simple little car as long as I charged it at night at each motel stop with the Kmart charger I bought.