Aaron and the dead truck. Our “new” ride was the U-Haul in the back.

Well, another road trip with my buddy Aaron, and another story to tell. Last weekend I needed to deliver my new L92 LS engine to Allison Customs in New Mexico for my Chevelle build that’s happening there. I also needed to haul back the old small block, plus a few bazillion parts that would not be going back on the car (old suspension, seats, wheels, etc.). I didn’t have a ton of free time to make the trip itself happen (3 days), and since I needed to drive 2300 miles, plus include about an 8 hour stop to pick up parts and go over the next steps of the project, there was only one guy to call; Aaron Tjaden. To Aaron driving 12 hours a day is fun, and since he had a Cummins powered RAM 2500 long bed we decided it would be the perfect road trip vehicle.

A lot of you will remember that Aaron went with me on the 2009 Hot Rod Power Tour and the 2010 Tour as well, and I wrote a column about him over on StreetLegalTV (where I am a contributing writer) about a year ago. I met Aaron in high school originally by trying to find out who owned a red ’66 Mustang coupe with the 289, Holley 600, and 4-speed – it turned out it was him and we’ve been close pals ever since. Aaron is the best driver I know and is the one guy my ego must admit is probably more talented behind the wheel that I am (Aaron disagrees….but he’s wrong!). After high school we both went to “driver improvement school” together for multiple violations, both lost our licenses multiple times, and we’ve even been in an unavoidable car accident together that was kind of similar to this story.

On Thursday we loaded the truck and had a fairly uneventful ride all the way to Pueblo, CO where we spent the night after Pricelining a hotel on the way. Friday morning we got an early start as the trip from Peublo to Bloomington, NM wasn’t particularly long (maybe 300 miles), but it was slow going – lots of 2 lane mountain roads.

Jeff Allison working on my stuff….again. The engine here is my new L92.

We spent the entire day with Jeff Allison, talking cars, loading parts, and generally having a good time. I’ll need to dedicate a soon future post to a full update on the Chevelle build itself, but he’s very close to having the body ready to go back onto the chassis. 90% of the rust repair is now done, and Jeff is in the process of finishing off the firewall and roll cage. Once those are done, the body can go back home where the next step will be quarter panels and windshield and rear glass window channel replacement (i.e. the remainder of the rust work). We did spend a little time going over some of Jeff’s creative modification to the car, but again, I’ll save that for a dedicated post – mostly because they’re too awesome to try to sum up in just one sentense!

Aaron, Jeff, and I – just prior to heading out.

We finished our visit with Jeff by doing a few measurements on pedal and seat placement for me, and after that he and his wife Laurie treated us to a home-made dinner (which was great). By 6PM we were back on the road and we hoped to make Pueblo by midnight, with a goal of being home Saturday night.

Aaron had a family Easter visit to make on Sunday, and I was pretty desperate to make my daughter Emily’s dance recital. Unfortunately that’s when our adventure really got weird.

Somewhere around 10PM we had just come out of the twisty mountain roads down and were running east through southern Colorado on a 2-lane blacktop. If anyone has ever been in southern Colorado you’ll likely know that it’s really really really dark and that there are free range cattle that sometimes cross the roads. Being Iowa boys we’d never seen cattle that weren’t behind a fence, so running the roads at night was something that’s never concerned us (other than hitting the odd deer here and there).

About 5 miles west of San Luis we crested a hill and spotted a million cows crossing the road, only we couldn’t see it until about 100 yards out or so, perhaps closer. Aaron did his best to get the truck slowed down, but even with pumping the brakes there was no chance of stopping in time. We hit the pack of cows hard. Aaron had centered up on one of them, and that may have saved us. The engine died and when we came to a rest we realized we were both fine. The air bags never deployed, and the truck was tall and heavy enough that the cows didn’t go over the top of us. Extra lucky was the fact that we had packed the bed of the truck pretty tightly with parts and had tied the engine down well – nothing moved, and better yet nothing flew through the cab into us. We called 911 right away.

Aaron’s truck, just after the accident. You can still easily tell it’s a Dodge by the grille, though!

One of the cows was still on the road and died in a couple of minutes. The first people on the scene were Rick and Pat Binger, a couple from near Denver on their way to their ranch that they stayed in every other weekend. They immediately made sure that we were OK, offered to let us stay with them, went home to get things unloaded, and came back to help. Following that the sheriff arrived and apologized for being late – there were only a few sheriff’s in the entire county, and the first one dispatched to us hit an elk on the way and wrecked her car!

A wrecker arrived about 45 minutes later and hauled the truck away. We helped the sheriff get the one cow off of the road, and a State Trooper came by and shot the two remaining cows that were in the ditch (and majorly injured). We then caught a ride with Rick to his ranch, and there Pat had a fire going and dinner ready for us. Incredible, right? We learned that this particular ranch was to be their retirement house, and they were upgrading it in steps. They had horses on the property as well, and both really seemed to love “Cowboy” life! We also learned that Rick was a West Point graduate and knew David Petraeus personally. As a side note, we didn’t know it then, but if you’d like to stay with them at the ranch, enjoy fresh air, and ride horses you can!  Be sure to check out www.spottedfeverranch.com for details!

Rick and Pat Binger, our hosts and rescue party.

In the morning Pat made us breakfast, drove us to find the truck, and it’s there that we came to the conclusion that there was no way on earth it would drive again. We tried to find a rental truck and trailer for it, but no luck – it was too heavy.

The tow truck shop did rebuilds on salvage vehicles, and it turned out that they were interested in Aaron’s truck…..so we sold it to them! Pat then drove us another 20 miles to Alamosa where we rented the smallest U-Haul we could find. After that we drove back down to the truck, transferred the contents, and were on on way.

Need a tow? Call Eric’s Towing!
The U-Haul truck, loaded and ready to go. Eric the tow truck driver picked the engine up with the tow boom and moved it from Aaron’s truck into the U-Haul.

We did drive back past the accident scene and stopped to look at the skid marks. The cows were still there, and were definitely dead. We picked up a couple of shell casings as souvenirs, climbed in the truck, and made it to Kearney, NE by midnight. I made it home Sunday morning with 3 hours to spare before my daughter’s dance recital, but unfortunately Aaron didn’t make it to Easter dinner on time (about 4 hours late). He helped me unload the Chevelle parts into my garage, and we decided that on the next adventure we’d need to have our car stolen, and then recover it. That would be the only way to top this one!

Well, this post is long enough at this point, and this little trip made me thankful for a lot of things. Thankful for a good friend, thankful that we were in his big truck and not my little one, thankful that Rick and Pat Binger were there at just the right time, and thankful that we now have a story to tell that will be funny (and not sad) later. I’m convinced it’s just one more act of God that has been the foundation of making my business possible. There’s just no way that this is all a happy coincidence!

72 hours after leaving, we were home and no worse for wear, but kind of tired. Good trip.

Before Aaron left my house he did mention that he might be interested in going to Texas to pick up his next truck, and Dallas, TX is just a 10-hour drive from my house….ROAD TRIP!

-Robert Kibbe


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