Growing Up Alaska: Grease Monkey

Family is an interesting concept when you grow up in a small community. I fell at that perfect age that I was never really “close” with my oldest brother since I was too young to be any fun and was was the “baby” for far too long. But even without being “close,” we were family and were often the only other kids around. We have always shared something deeper than blood; we shared experiences.

This story is one of them.

I hadn’t been able to go home for Christmas. Well, technically, I was home, it was my family that had moved, but that is for another story. I had, however, managed to get some time off just after New Year’s to fly out to make it home to surprise my mother for her birthday.

Living in Anchorage, I was excited to go see my parent’s new place in New Mexico. I’d packed my things and busied myself to await my red eye flight. I’d just finished dinner when I got a phone call from my second oldest brother.

“What are you doing?”

“Waiting to go to the airport. Did you make it through Canada yet?” (He was moving from Fairbanks)

There was a pause and then he said, “No. I need your help. We can’t cross the border.”

“Into the U.S.?” I asked, confused.

“No, we are stuck in Alaska. I need you to help us drive across the border.”

This time I left a long pause. My flight was leaving in just a few hours. “Let me see if I can get a flight to Fairbanks.”

“We are at the border,” my brother replied. “I’m on my way. I’ll be there in an hour.”

It was nearly a seven hour drive in good conditions from the border to Anchorage and I would find out later that, since this was before the advent of readily available cell phones, my brother had called me at every stop along the way, hoping to catch me before I left.

I spent the next 45 minutes repacking my gear and rearranging my flight. I’d only planned to take off for 8 days and knew that the drive would take a minimum of 4 days.

I could see the stress and relief in my brother’s eyes. They had tried to make it across the border for several days, but complications with my oldest brother’s ID was preventing him from driving into Canada.

We stayed only as long as it took to find a place in my brother’s packed car for my bag. Then we were heading for the border.

Early the next morning, we were driving into Canada with my older brother’s car and my oldest brother’s truck hauling a horse trailer. The temperature had plunged to minus 40 and colder.

With the combined drop in temperature and the overloaded horse trailer, we hit trouble almost immediately. Bearings on the trailer would overheat and then when we stopped to repair them, they would freeze.

Luckily we were able to find a shop that had the same kind of bearings, so over the next 800 miles, we ended up with an assembly line of the passenger repacking and greasing the bearings. It typically took about 15 minutes a bearing inside of a soda flat on my lap and if we were lucky, we could get about 90 minutes to two hours before we had to stop and change them out.

We almost had it down to a pit crew speeds by the time we made it to Edmonton and turned south and on to warmer temps.

We only stopped once. I sprung for a room as we all needed a shower and some rest. We called mom and wished her a happy birthday.

It took us five days to drive nearly 3500 miles to New Mexico. I’d missed my mom’s birthday and over half of my vacation was spent in the cab of a truck in freezing cold temps packing bearings, but that was what it means to be family.

Author: matthewlasley

I am a school teacher and an author. I like to write picture books, middle grade, science fiction and short stories. I live in Alaska and I love history, so those two things often influence my creative writing.

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