The Fuel Pump: A sign from God in 2008

In April of 2008, my wife finished up the classroom portion of her doctorate in physical therapy.  We moved about 60 miles away from Pittsburgh for her to go to school while I found a job in the local town to help pay the bills.  When it was time for us to move back home, I had problems finding a full-time job.  This was due to the economy being sour at this time and my resume still having an address from 60 miles away.

I held on to my job far from home until I took a position with a fire protection company in the east suburbs of Pittsburgh.  I was just happy to find something local after driving 110 miles round-trip each time I had to work back in the town we temporarily moved to.  Gas prices at the time were an astonishing $4.00 a gallon and I put on a year’s worth of miles on my car in three months.  After paying bills, my net savings per month averaged a loss of $70.  I was putting $300 to $350 of gasoline into my car per month, so I was looking forward to saving money again.

An acquaintance named Tom was responsible for me landing this job.  He installed, repaired and replaced Ansul fire suppression systems that are attached to kitchen hoods.  I never held a job where I had to be capable of using a variety of tools, but in a few months I was able to complete tasks without too much supervision.  I was even allowed to take a work van home with me after 60 days of employment.

During the interview process I was told that the job would have a variety of hours since the company had to work around the needs of the client.  I was fine with that since I didn’t have any family obligations yet.  It was to be a standard 40-hour work week with occasional overtime, and 90% of the work would be within a 75-mile radius of Pittsburgh.

In the first two months, the job description stayed true to what I was told from the beginning.  I would work with Tom each day and on longer runs we would meet at a location and drive to a site in Tom’s work van.  I worked 40 hours a week and the only location that was beyond 75 miles was a diner in Moundsville, West Virginia.  If we completed a job out in the field, our boss “Steve” would inform us of our new job for the next day by 5 p.m. via cell phone.

Around the second week of September, the job took a drastic turn.  Steve would occasionally call me after 5 p.m. to inform me that there was no work for the next day.  The jobs that were supposed to be local became further away from Pittsburgh.  Four job sites were over 200 miles away.  One was outside of Philadelphia in West Grove, another site was north of Baltimore in Rising Sun, Maryland.  West Grove was 262 miles from my home, a six hour drive one way, five hours if I didn’t hit traffic or construction delays.  When Tom and I would take his work van on long runs like this, he had satellite radio.  When one of us would sleep in the passenger seat the driver always had something to listen to in the desolate Pennsylvania mountains.  We would drive out to the site, work four hours and drive back home.  The company would pay us both 16 hours a day each time we made these long trips, so we tried to work fast just so we could get back home at a reasonable time.

Since I was the new guy, I got the oldest work van.  It had all the basic accessories for a common work vehicle including the radio.  It had no compact disc player so when I got away from civilization, I had nothing to listen to while driving.  Using earbuds wasn’t an option since the van was very loud when driving on the highways.  I needed to hear traffic around me, especially when large trucks were recklessly speeding everywhere.

Occasionally Tom and I had to take both vans on long runs because we couldn’t smash all of our materials into one vehicle.  When driving in rural areas for long periods of time, I was alone with my thoughts while growing more frustrated with how this job was evolving.  At this point I started doing something that I never did before: I started talking out loud to nobody!

What I was actually doing was praying to God in the form of a normal (!) conversation.  I expressed my fears, hopes, gratitude and anger about what I was doing in that time of my life.  It became a form of meditation and it allowed for some self-analysis when cutting across the Appalachian Mountains.  My biggest fear concerning work was breaking down far away from home and not obtaining support from the home office.  After months of observing the lines of communication between different departments, I was sure to fend for myself if I encountered a problem on the road.

In the first week of November Tom and I had a job at a school cafeteria renovation in a town called Homer City.  It was a two day job and on the second day we completed everything by lunch, so we decided to head back to the main warehouse and re-stock our vans while we had some time to do it.  We got back to headquarters around 2 p.m., parked our vans and started refilling our supplies.

At about 3 p.m., we were ready to head home and I went to start my van…it wouldn’t kick over.  I tried a few more times and it wouldn’t start.  When I informed Steve of what was going on he told me to swap out my supplies and put them into a pickup truck they had sitting at the shop.  Steve accused me of not keeping enough fuel in the vehicle and causing the stall out.  I knew I kept enough fuel in that van, and I thought his finger-pointing was childish and what I call a “very dick move”.

When my van was towed to the repair shop the shop manager informed Steve that my fuel pump was shot.  In pure Steve form, he never apologized for placing the blame on me for the van failure when it was purely due to the age of the vehicle.  It had 113,000 miles on it at the time and most fuel pumps can freeze up at around 100,000 to 125,000 miles.

When fuel pumps die, they provide no warning of an impending failure.  After all of the long runs I took in that van at all hours of the day, for it to die RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE MAIN WAREHOUSE is remarkable.  I announced to God my fear of being stranded on the side of the road a few weeks prior, and at this moment in time the inevitable van failure occurred at home base.  It was God’s way of saying, “Hey Larry, I hear your concerns about the organizational structure at your current employer and I agree with you.  They will leave you stranded, but I will not.  I’ll make sure their ineptitude doesn’t affect your life in a negative way.”  I left that job in December for an office job.

Many people pray in a ritualistic manner but I prefer to keep my conversations with God informal.  Whatever angelic forces that are assigned to my case file, I thank you for listening to my one person talks over the last eight years.  I never intended to creep out all of you.

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The Haunting At Green Man Tunnel

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The man pictured above is “The Green Man” and is not “The Green Man”.  Thousands of people in the Pittsburgh area have combined two “Green Man” legends into one semi-true story.  This tale aims to set the record straight on both stories and I will add my experiences with the Green Man Tunnel (pictured with the road salt stored inside) and Corvette Tunnel (the picture with the one lane road proceeding through the tunnel).

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE REAL “GREEN MAN”

Raymond Robinson (1910-1985) will always be the true “Green Man”.  The photo I am using of him in this tale was obtained from his Wikipedia page!  Robinson’s story is a sad and very fascinating one.  Before the age of 10, Robinson was climbing a post connected to a trolley bridge when a trolley came across at the same time.  These bridges were not grounded in the early 1900’s, so the line with 22,000 volts attached to it shocked him, melting his eyes and nose off of his face and also causing the loss of one arm.  The local newspaper reported on the story, and part of the caption read, “He will die”.  The shock also caused his skin to appear green or yellow on parts of his body, hence the ill-fated nickname given to him by the local residents.

I have met two people that have seen Robinson with their own eyes.  They, like many other people over the years, came across him while he was walking alongside Pennsylvania state route 351 in the dark near the town of Koppel.  Koppel is about 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh near the Ohio border.  Robinson walked at night to avoid attention and since he was blind it didn’t matter if it was light or dark outside.  In each encounter the two people I knew saw Robinson talking to teenage or college age boys who provided a few cigarettes to him during his nightly walk (Robinson was known to accept a few beers as well).  Not all of the people that Robinson met were as nice, but he continued walking that patch of road well into the 1970’s.

GREEN MAN TUNNEL & CORVETTE TUNNEL

On the south end of Piney Fork Road in South Park, Pennsylvania sit two old tunnels that are side-by-side and run underneath a railroad line.  Green Man Tunnel is an old coal car tunnel that sits a few feet above Piney Fork Road.  Corvette Tunnel has one lane for car traffic and the other half allows Piney Fork Creek to flow through the tunnel and into nearby Peters Creek.  These two tunnels are 10 miles south of Pittsburgh.  I have heard stories about ghost trains at this site in relation to both tunnels, but the only line that runs full size trains is the line ABOVE BOTH TUNNELS.  Before South Park Township used Green Man Tunnel for road salt storage, I walked around inside of it and there was no way a locomotive could fit inside that thing.

There have been many different ghost stories concerning this site, but there is no historical information that identifies a real tragedy taking place at the bottom of Piney Fork Road.  One common detail with many Green Man Tunnel ghost stories is the presence of what appears to be a man with a slight glow to the outline of his body.  The glow is usually described as a green color, so when people around the South Hills of Pittsburgh started speaking of the incidents, the name “Green Man” kept coming up in conversations.

The story behind the name for Corvette Tunnel is just poppycock.  The usual story I heard over the years is that two Chevrolet Corvettes were speeding down Piney Fork Road to get to the single lane tunnel first.  One Corvette made it, one crashed into the creek.  Some stories have the wrecked car melting into the walls of the tunnel and the driver never to be seen again.  Yeah, really.

The road has many bumps and bends in it and its width can barely accommodate two cars trying to get by one another.  Nobody would be able to race at a high rate of speed in that area of South Park.  And if there was a true race that happened here years ago, the speed probably never exceeded 30 miles per hour and the cars taking part were actually an AMC Gremlin and a Ford Pinto.

These two tunnels are 50 miles from the area that Raymond Robinson resided.  Green Man Tunnel is linked to Robinson because people around Pittsburgh assume that the ghost stories and Ray’s story are about the same topic.

MY FIRST GREEN MAN TUNNEL EXPERIENCE

In my junior year of high school in May of 1993, I decided to cut school with my friend Eric and Eric’s friend John.  Eric had an old car and he wanted to drive around since this particular Friday was very nice.  Eric and John came up with the idea to visit the inside of Green Man Tunnel.  At the time, I wasn’t aware of the stories behind it.

We arrived around 8:30 a.m., and the temperature was around 55 F.  It was a nice sunny morning and there was no wind.  We entered Green Man Tunnel and it was clear that many people used it as a party spot.  There was graffiti all over the inside and outside of the tunnel, empty beer cans and cigarette butts were strewn all over the ground, old tree branches and stumps were used as seats and a fire pit was closer to the entrance.  About halfway back the tunnel, huge wooden boards sealed off the other end of the tunnel.  The other half was filled in with dirt and rocks.

After we looked around inside for about fifteen minutes, the three of us took the thirty step walk back down to Piney Fork Road to check out Corvette tunnel.  John hopped down closer to the creek side of the tunnel to see if there were any fish in the water.  Eric and I checked out the graffiti in this tunnel as well and we were shouting to hear our voices echo through the tunnel.  John was annoyed because he felt we were scaring the fish out of the tunnel portion of the creek.  The echo was pretty loud!  Only a few cars came through Corvette Tunnel while we were there, and we didn’t experience any paranormal activity.  We left the area right before 10 a.m.

MY SECOND (AND LAST) GREEN MAN TUNNEL EXPERIENCE

My high school girlfriend “Peach” wanted to check out the tunnels one Friday evening in April of 1994.  Peach’s friend Deanna came with us, and we arrived at sunset.  It was warm for April that day, around 72 F, overcast and no wind.

On the way I informed the girls about the current use of Green Man Tunnel, so when we got there we decided just to check out the inside of Corvette Tunnel.  We didn’t know who was in Green Man, so just in case we would encounter trouble we stayed on the main road.

Peach and I were holding hands when we decided to start walking toward Corvette Tunnel.  Deanna was about twenty steps behind us because she decided to throw her small purse back in my car.  Right when Peach and I hit the threshold of the tunnel, four paranormal characteristics occurred at the exact same time.

The temperature dropped at least twenty degrees when we entered.  I remembered the first time I was in Corvette and it wasn’t that cold, and that day it was around 55 F.  We heard a loud guttural moan from a male voice that echoed throughout the tunnel.  That moan was much louder than anything that Eric and I produced while we shouted in there.  A light wind blew in different directions inside of Corvette and there was a pulsating glowing white aura that was all around the inside of the tunnel.  No definite shape, but very visible.

And then within ten seconds, everything went back to normal.  I turned to Peach, and all she said was,”I think we better go.”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

Deanna, who was just about to enter the tunnel, heard our brief conversation and was wondering why we wanted to go.  She didn’t hear or see anything!  Deanna was fifteen steps from the entrance.  When Eric and I were shouting in Corvette the previous year, the neighbors up the road could probably hear us shouting!  She thought we were trying to scare her, and we insisted we were not.  Peach was the first to bring up the details of our incident.

“Did you hear that Larry?”

“Yeah, what did you hear?”

“A moan.  It sounded like a man.”

“Yes!  It was so loud!  Did you get ice cold when we entered?”

“YES!!! I thought that was me being scared!  It happened the moment we walked in!”

“I know!  Did you see the misty white lights swirling around?”

“YES!!! I can’t believe that just happened!”

Deanna thought our little joke was going too far and she wasn’t buying any parts of our story.  She thought we made up the story just so we could scare her and leave before it got really dark.  But it was true.

MY TALE COMPARED TO OTHER STORIES ON GREEN MAN TUNNEL & CORVETTE TUNNEL

Most of the ghost stories that are found on the Internet about these tunnels reference Green Man Tunnel, but after my experience all those years ago I can’t help but wonder if most of those stories involved Corvette Tunnel.  Before the ghostly encounter that Peach and I had there, I never heard someone share details of a similar event, and to this day it seems our haunting was a unique story that doesn’t come close to previous documented accounts.  I interpreted the haunting as the ghost’s way of saying, “Get out of here”, and I will respect that command by never returning to that stretch of Piney Fork Road.

I know Raymond Robinson did not scare Peach and I that night in 1994.  I just wish the rest of the Pittsburgh region was aware of this fact.  So “The Green Man” does exist in South Park, but he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page or a Twitter account.  Not yet anyway.

1968: My conservative Dad in San Francisco

During his time in the United States Navy, my late father was stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1966 and 1967.  His best friend from his time in Hawaii was a guy named Ron, who was from the Los Angeles area.  Ron found out that my Dad was stationed in San Diego for a short time in 1968, so he asked Dad if he wanted to go on a one week road trip when he had some down time.  Dad agreed since it sounded more fun than flying home to Pittsburgh, staying in town for a few days, then flying back out to San Diego.  I think in the back of his mind Dad knew he would never make it back out to San Diego after the Navy, so every day in the California sun was a blessing and he was going to take advantage of it.

Ron had a newer car and this was his first opportunity to take it out on the open road, so he was looking forward to running it.  The weather was cool enough in May where he didn’t have to worry about the car overheating on the highway (Even new cars were prone to mechanical issues in this era).  Ron mapped out the road trip since he knew of many places to see around the west coast, and he drove down to San Diego to meet Dad.

DAY 1

Since they were so close to Mexico, they decided to drive over the border.  Ron didn’t drive too far down Baja California.  They went as far as the Ensenada area, turned around and came back up to Tijuana.  After drinking most of the day, they cooled off and stayed in Mexico for the night because Ron knew he had a long drive ahead of him tomorrow.

DAY 2

The next morning, Ron and Dad set out for a quick drive through Los Angeles, then up the coast to San Francisco.  When they made it up to Los Angeles in the late morning, Ron drove around to the usual tourist spots, stopped by his place to show Dad where he lived, drove toward the airport to catch the Pacific Coast Highway (California highway 1) and took off north to get to San Francisco by the evening.  They drove highway 1 as long as time would allow.  It’s a more scenic drive and the road does not allow for cars to go very fast.  When they got up to the San Luis Obispo area, they jumped on U.S. highway 101 and got into the San Francisco area around 10 p.m. that night.

After they got their hotel room in the current financial district, they ran over to check out Chinatown since they were close by and then got ready for the next day.  That night at the hotel, Ron told Dad that after they drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, rode on the cable cars and got other typical tourist sites out of the way (Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf), he wanted to take the bus around town and check out a neighborhood called Haight-Ashbury.  Ron heard from a few friends that a lot of strange sights were to be seen in this area of San Francisco.  What Ron and Dad didn’t know at the time was they were about to experience ground zero of an American counterculture revolution.

DAY 3

They got on the bus near the hotel and it took about a half-hour to get there with all of the traffic and stops the bus had to make.  They didn’t jump off at the intersection of Haight Street and Ashbury Street because Dad wanted to see Kezar Stadium, which was only a few blocks down from that now-famous place.  American football’s San Francisco 49ers played at Kezar until 1970 before their move to Candlestick Park.  FROM THE MOMENT Dad and Ron got off the bus around Cole Street, they knew they entered another world.

Greeting them upon their departure from the bus was a man in his early 20’s.  He had short but messy black hair, a slick white suit on with shined black shoes, white shirt, black tie, sunglasses and he was smoking a cigarette.  It was hipster Colonel Sanders with a question for the guys:

“Hi guys!  Need any speed?  Acid?”

Dad quickly shut him down.  “No, we’re fine but thanks man.”

“OK guys have a good day now!”

“You too man.”

Back in Pittsburgh, if somebody wanted illegal drugs in 1968, you had to go to a secret meeting place in the middle of the night and obtain the product from a trusted source.  In Haight-Ashbury in 1968, a college age kid was selling drugs on a street corner to total strangers in the middle of the afternoon like he was pushing Girl Scout cookies.  The audaciousness of the kid even surprised Ron who thought he experienced many odd encounters in Los Angeles.  After they walked down to see Kezar, they backtracked to Haight Street to see what the neighborhood had to offer.

From the accounts of Dad and from what I’ve read and heard myself over the years, Haight-Ashbury at this time was a precursor to Portland, Oregon.  In the United States in 2016, Portland is viewed as a very progressive, alternative way of life compared to other major U.S. cities.  It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a culture that many Americans have difficulty understanding and/or adapting to since many Americans come from conservative households and communities.  I consider myself very open-minded and I would have a hard time adjusting to life in Portland, based on the strict Roman Catholic house I grew up in (I’m convinced that my mother thinks I’m going to hell for not being Catholic anymore).  I’m not saying Portland has drug peddlers on the streets like the guy my Dad encountered, but if that happened anywhere in the U.S. now, I would guess Portland!

When they approached the Haight and Ashbury Street intersection, Ron and Dad had their last two memorable encounters in the neighborhood.  The first was a man dressed in a full cavalier uniform, complete with a large white feather in his hat, big black boots and A REAL SWORD.  Nobody, NOBODY even showed concern that a grown man was walking down the sidewalk with a deadly weapon in plain view.  After talking with a local resident, they found out that this man walked around the neighborhood in full uniform EVERY DAY, no matter what the weather.

The second encounter was more Dad than Ron.  There was a woman with two HUGE braided pigtails that came down her back beyond her behind.  Holding on to the two pigtails was a young girl about three, smiling and laughing, swaying side-to-side like she was on a swing.  It was the hippie version of the modern Baby Bjorn.  Ron yelled at Dad repeatedly for an entire city block because Dad was running behind the woman with his hands under the girl in case she let go of the pigtails.  The best part was that the woman didn’t even know Dad did that because she was too busy talking to another woman that was walking beside her.

Ron and Dad enjoyed their time in Haight-Ashbury since the neighborhood was so culturally different than anything they’ve ever seen, but they were eager to get back to the hotel since they had many more places to see on their road trip.  The plan was to drive to Lake Tahoe and Reno, Nevada in the morning.

DAY 4

They got to Lake Tahoe by the late morning and were surprised how cool the weather was for late May.  They knew there would be a huge jump in elevation, but they were not ready for high temperatures in the 50’s.  The area was picturesque and the air was so clean compared to L.A., but since they didn’t ski and were poor Navy buddies, they made their way over the Nevada border to Reno, where they found some cheap places to drink (Cheap compared to big city California prices) and to get some food.  They grabbed a hotel room and briefly went to a few places around Reno and Carson City, but Ron and Dad were going to sleep most of the evening since they were driving to Las Vegas in the middle of the night.  The temperatures were supposed to climb well into the 90’s, and Ron didn’t want to break down in the middle of the desert under the unforgiving heat of the sun.

Dad told me Lake Tahoe had a vibe that it was for rich people and honeymooners, and he knew that he and Ron weren’t going to pick up any “ski bunnies” that were enjoying the beginning of the summertime season at the resorts.  Reno was fine, but they weren’t big gamblers (Remember: Poor Navy buddies) and were basically passing through to continue on their road trip.  When Dad saw pictures of Reno years later, he told me that it resembled what Las Vegas looked like in 1968!

DAY 5

Ron and Dad left Reno around 3 a.m. to drive to Las Vegas.  To this day, there is not a major interstate highway that runs between Reno and Vegas, so they sped down US highway 95 during the night.  Despite frequent stretches of speeding along the 450 mile journey, they didn’t arrive in Vegas until late morning.

In addition to their Haight-Ashbury experience, the timing of their arrival in Las Vegas was historically significant.  1968 was the final year of the first boom of movement to the desert town.  Most of the activity accelerated in the 1950’s, and when Ron and Dad arrived, there were about a dozen hotels and casinos along the main strip.  They had other forms of entertainment besides gambling, but the population was nowhere near the current metropolitan mark of 2,000,000.  They checked out a few casinos, ate at a few cheap restaurants and tried to stay cool in the desert heat.  Dad said that the high temperature on the day they walked the strip was 98 degrees.  Again, they didn’t gamble much but Ron and Dad wanted to experience Las Vegas while they had the opportunity to do so.  They missed the atmosphere of Elvis Presley’s 1969 Vegas-centered comeback by six months, which spawned the second phase of growth in Vegas.  In 1968 Las Vegas was about to become a mainstream entertainment destination, creating the blueprint for the current identity of Vegas in 2016.

DAY 6

The next morning, Ron and Dad drove out of Vegas early to avoid the heat again, and made it back to Los Angeles around noon.  They mainly stayed at Ron’s apartment when they got back, except for a few stops at Ron’s local bars that he liked to visit.  Dad said they were both beat from all of the driving anyway, so he didn’t mind just hanging out in L.A. for the day.

DAY 7

Ron drove Dad back to San Diego and they went out for a few beers before saying their goodbyes.  They didn’t know it at the time, but this was the last time they would actually see each other.  Dad spoke to Ron on the phone a lot before I was born, but they lost contact over time, especially when Dad married Mom in 1973, and I came along in 1975.  I remember Dad got a random phone call from Ron on Christmas morning in 1984, and that was the last time Dad spoke to him.

What I learned from Dad

I had many talks with Dad before he died, especially when I still lived at home.  Dad would have loved to make that road trip a month-long excursion, but he knew he was limited by how much money he had.  Even if it meant being somewhere for hours instead of days, Dad still wanted the experience of visiting places and meeting different people.  He made the most of his time in the places he visited.  Fast forward to the present, and I find myself in the same situation as my father.  I might not have the means to take my young son to numerous places around the world, but I will discover activities for us to build memories upon and share my stories of the past with him.  Hopefully my son can learn from the experiences I had growing up and the unique experiences he will have going forward.  I like to think I’m a better version of Dad, and I believe that’s what Dad set out to accomplish through me.  If my son becomes a better version of me, then that will confirm that I am a good father to him as well.

 

The Car Fire Incident Of 1996

It was either September or October of 1996 when Pittsburgh was hit with a tropical storm.  Usually a hurricane would lose all of its wind strength by the time it hit western Pennsylvania, but this particular storm was moving a little faster than other storms of this magnitude.  Rain came down all day, and high winds of 40 to 60 miles per hour accompanied the rain.  So with those facts in mind, this story begins, “It was a dark and stormy night….”

On the day of the storm, I worked the 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift at a big box sporting goods store.  I didn’t move my car the whole day, and there were about six other guys on my shift that had the same routine that day: Bring your own dinner from home or run across the parking lot to the mall and get something at the food court.  Nobody wanted to drive to the local fast-food joints in this storm.

All of us guys were college age, so we weren’t wise enough to know that in hard rain storms, you should run your car on occasion to keep moisture away from the engine (Heating the engine up reduces moisture).  Cars of today can experience this problem, but it happened way more often with cars built in 1980’s.  Fuel injection engines were a new feature to these vehicles, and my clunky 1983 Oldsmobile still had an old carburetor engine, which was very temperamental.

I clocked out of work a little later than the other guys, so I was surprised to see all of them standing around in the parking lot at 10:15.  It was still pouring down rain, and the wind was still whipping sideways as it had when I started my shift.  Apparently two of their cars were “flooded out”, meaning they had so much moisture in the engine block the cars wouldn’t start properly.  They pushed one car under the overhang at the front entrance of the store and started to work on it.  I went to my car to see if it would turn over properly.

My car started fine.  I think I had the oldest car and the only one with a carburetor.  How that worked out in my favor I’ll never know, but I did know at the time I had to run my engine for ten to twenty minutes before I made my journey home.  While I was waiting for my car, my buddy John called me over to his 1987 Honda sedan.

John found out that his car would not kick over as well, so his Honda made three cars having issues with the rain.  He opened the hood and he handed me a can of starting fluid that he had in the car.  He asked me if I knew where to spray the fluid, and I told him that I had a good idea even though my car had a different engine than his.  The plan was to spray the distributor cap in order to get the moisture off of the spark plugs, then try to start the car.  At this point John and I are soaked.  I am buttoned up in my Nirvana 1990’s grungy green, brown and black flannel, John in his leather college lacrosse jacket.

At least in 1996, starting fluid had diethyl ether in it.  I’ll save 2,000 words to this post by simply saying it is a very volatile flammable liquid that is harmful to skin and harmful to breathe.  When I sprayed John’s distributor cap the first time I let him know that I was done.  He tried to start the car and it cranked, but did not kick over.  Over the next five to seven minutes, we repeated this process a few times and we got the same result.  We were close to getting the car to start but did not succeed.  Growing tired from the work day and becoming ill from standing in the rain for over fifteen minutes, our next move was a sign of our desperation to get out of the weather and home.  It almost burned me.  Literally.

I can’t remember who came up with the idea, but I know we agreed it was a good idea at the time.  I would spray the starting fluid and at the same time John would turn the key and try to start the car.  About five seconds after I started spraying, John turned the key.

WHAOOOOOOOOSH.

I remember when I was spraying a fairly large fireball emerged from the distributor cap area and spread over the hoses across the top portion of the engine.  I jumped back and I thought I was in trouble for sure.  As the fire continued to burn, John jumped out of the driver’s seat frantic and asked me what happened.  As I told him I didn’t know, I realized that I had suffered no burns.  My flannel was intact as well, and I proceeded to take my flannel off to put the fire out.  The fire started to worsen, and I told John to forget about putting the fire out.  Being his car and not having to worry about unbuttoning a tight flannel, John whipped off his leather jacket and starting slamming the thing into the fire.  Since his jacket was soaked from the rain, the flames went out and his jacket remained intact, but dirty.

I had a flashlight and I started looking under the hood to see if the flames were indeed out.  I was checking the hoses that were on fire a few minutes ago, and remarkably they seemed to look normal.  Our theory was when I was spraying the starting fluid, the strong winds caused residual amounts to land on any car parts around the distributor cap.   When John started the car while I was spraying, vapors from the fluid came in contact with a spark plug via the distributor cap, which caused the fire.  Since my spray was probably flying everywhere in the wind, the trail of ether spread to the other areas of the hood that had a coating of fluid on it from the previous attempts to start John’s Honda.

After inspecting everything under John’s hood for several minutes, we couldn’t see any damage.  We didn’t smell anything burning, we didn’t see anything burning and the engine looked the same as it did before the fire.  Puzzled, John turns to me:

“Should I try it again?”

“Go ahead, see what happens.”

John turns the key, and his Honda started up fine.  I was almost sure something was going to start ablaze but nothing bad happened.  The car sounded normal with no signs of stalling out.  We were stunned.  How can this same car that was going up in flames fifteen minutes prior able to run without issue?

Apparently when diethyl ether comes into contact with water during a fire, the fluid will layer on top of water due to its lower density.  So the rain water that got on all of the wires, hoses, engine parts and plastic pieces before the fire saved the car.  The entire event ended up being a huge surface fire, and when John put out the flames with his lacrosse jacket, the components of his Honda stayed intact thanks to the water all over the parts.  The fire created heat, which dried out the moisture under the hood.  That’s why John had no problem starting the car after the flames were put out.

John drove home that night, and when I asked him how the car was running over the next few weeks, he said it never ran better!  The sludge that caused his car to run sluggish under normal driving conditions was literally smoked out of the Honda.  Or more appropriately firebombed out of the Honda.  Yikes.