Greenbriar Farm - MAM Consulting Associates Inc.

Where you can get any color alpaca you want as long as it is black.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Minnesota Alpaca Expo Adventure – Not What You Expect

Wednesday’s weather prediction for Friday our travel day to the show, was rain, sleet, snow, freezing rain, and high winds – not the weather we look forward to hauling alpacas in a trailer. MAE emailed a notice Wednesday that they prepared the facility to accept alpacas Thursday for early arrival to avoid the weather. Marge was able to rearrange her schedule, as I scrambled to get the show supplies ready to go and we met somewhere in the middle when Marge called and said she could be home at 11am Thursday. The car was loaded when she arrived at 11am and by 1:00pm the alpacas were loaded and we drove out the driveway to MAE anticipating an arrival at around 6:00pm and maybe have time to go to dinner with Rob Stephens of Robasia who offered to help setup seeing he had already arrived and was set.

We were on the road for 3 hours and were halfway between Sparta, Wisconsin and New Salem, Wisconsin making good time and experiencing good weather when I noticed a new light on the dashboard - battery low. How, it’s a new battery! Yup battery nearly dead and not charging. Then another light popped saying ‘Check gauges’. Thought I just did! Battery nearly dead but wait the water temp is pegged hot so we immediately pulled off onto the shoulder. By this point I was pretty certain what was wrong and checking confirmed my concern – the serpentine belt was wrapped around the fan shaft.

Marge Googled GM dealerships and found one in Sparta 10 miles back and another in New Salem 10 miles ahead. She called and talked to Cory at the Sparta GM Dealership who suggested a tow service with a strong suggestion about telling them we have a trailer full of alpacas. Ian answered for Rusk Towing Service and said they were towing one car now and would be right out. I emphasized I had a trailer full of alpacas and really prefer not to leave this here on the interstate. “Alpacas! I have a friend who owns alpacas! What kind do you own?”, was Ian’s question. We answered by telling Ian we’ll catch up as we drive in but can we get the trailer in too? “Yup no problem. Figure we’ll be there in about a half hour.”

My experience with breakdowns in the middle of nowhere is that I usually have no reference where I am or how to tell the person where to find us, but luck was with us and 10 feet ahead was mile marker 18. Ian knew right where that was and stated, “There’s nothing there!” We answered smiling that it was a beautiful farm valley with some nice looking farms and he agreed.

Ian was off on his arrival time. He pulled up in 15 minutes stating we couldn’t let the alpacas sit right? This started people stepping up to help others in distress and responding to the need to take care of alpacas. The GM dealer according to Cory was open till 8:00pm being their one late night in their service area. He told us where we could drop the trailer and wanted to make certain it was an area where the alpacas would not be disturbed with a lot of noise. The problem was Ian had driven in too far into the lot and needed to back up our car and trailer while in tow. Having tried backing up the trailer 50 feet that morning I got a real sinking feeling as I remember that difficulty of snaking back and forth. Well I didn’t know Ian’s skill and he just backed up the 100 feet without drifting one way or another. I need to take lessons from Ian!

Cory then called the serviceman Tim into the office and asked if he would drop everything and get right on our problem because we had alpacas in the trailer and needed to get to Owatonna by 9pm? It turned out Tim was the only service person working because one was sick and absent and the others wife was delivering their first child that day. Tim was working on three other cars with people sitting in the waiting room. I thought this guy is going to blow but he said “Sure”. Cory explained how lucky we were that it was Tim on duty because Tim is one of those who thrives on 3 times more to do than others.

Fifteen minutes later Cory came out to tell us that the air conditioning looked like it seized up and was the cause. I suggested that has been like that for two years and had left it because we don’t use air anyway. Does the pulley spin? Tim would check. Yea it spins. Whew! The belt arrived from the parts store in town and a few minutes later Cory came out and said a pulley, bracket, and bolt had gone missing completely. Definitely the reason the belt failure. We had just replaced the altenator and might be the reason. They were heading to the parts store to get the part and we would be on the road in a half hour. Doing the math we were going to be cutting it close in Owatonna. We called Rob Stephens to inform him what was happening and said he would talk to the folks at the facility to hold it open longer and suggested if they allowed it he would wait inside until we arrived so we could get the alpacas into the facility for the night.

Right after the call Cory came out with the parts man with some bad news. The parts store does not sell the part like the GM dealers in that a spacer that needs to be in the pulley that holds it together is sold separately and was not included with the part they bought. They would need to get the spacer in the morning because the part store was now closed, but they would have us on the road by 10am Friday. A couple of thoughts crossed my mind at this point a few I cannot repeat, maybe more like prayers seeing I was invoking his name.

I pointed out to Cory that keeping the alpacas on the trailer overnight would not be the best and the reason we were on the road early was due to the weather that was rolling across the country. Cory paused and then suggested that they had a pickup with a crew cab if our things would fit in it but the box could not be used because it was for sale and they could not afford scratches. He said he would give us his home phone number to make arrangements to swap it out Sunday on our way through. I checked the luggage area and could see all our things could not fit and thanked him for the opportunity.

We called Rob Stephens and said it did not look like we would make it that night. Rob didn’t flinch and said he was doing some work in the hotel room so just call if that changes. By the time that call was over Cory and the parts man were standing there with another option. The parts man had the same part in his vehicle and was willing to take it out and put this in our car to get us on the way with two provisions; first, we would pay for a new part for his car and second, the dealership would need to loan him a car for the weekend until he could get the part. I agreed to the first and suggested the dealership provision was in their hands. Cory came back in a few minutes and the dealership owner said what ever was needed to help us get underway. WOW!

At 8:15pm Cory came over to tell us we are ready to go and to settle up with the charges and paused as he reviewed the bill pointing out that Ian from Rush Tow Service had given us a very very good rate and the dealership also helped. I thought salesmanship right but when he told us the charge and it was half what we expected – again WOW!

We were back on the road at 8:30pm and Cory had checked travel time and weather for us to Owatonna and said about 2.5 hours in good weather but the front had moved in and was affecting the area west of Rochester. We called Rob to tell him we were going to be too late to get the alpacas into the facility and he informed us they were experiencing freezing rain in Owatonna right then so drive slow and he would help unload in the morning.

Rain started just east of Rochester as I watched the temperature drop from 36 to 35 to 34 and finally settle around 31 degrees. We were watchful of ice starting to form but traction was good so far. We were about 5 miles west of Rochester when we could see a squad car coming with its lights on behind us and I was certain I had not been speeding but pulled over to see what I did wrong as not one but two squads sped past. Huh! We thought we will see them somewhere ahead and hoped not too bad an event.

10 miles further we topped a hill and could see the red and blue lights ahead. We approached cautiously seeing four squads and difficult to determine if they were in the road or the shoulder. Good thing too because this is where the road changed ice and slick. Two other drivers had not been as lucky with one pulled on the shoulder but the other upside down in the ditch. We said a silent prayer for them and thanks for providing us with the warning. The next 23 miles were the longest on the trip and took us 1.5 hours to get to our hotel. We pulled in at 12:15am parked, checked the alpacas and went to bed so that we could get them to the facility at 7:00am and off the trailer.

Rob was waiting for us at 7:00am and we quickly setup the pens and got the alpacas off the trailer. Rob’s reaction summed it up – “They’re filthy!” We had to agree, their legs all the way to their bellies were spoiled with a mixture of feces and urine that was more slurry than beans. We hoped as they dried this would diminish but that would not be the case. We were embarrassed showing alpacas in this condition but Peter Kennedy always the gentleman looked past the mess and evaluated them fairly but could not withhold a humorous quip now and then about snow melt, bad spring, and pasture ready might mean something a bit more reserved. We all got good laughs out of this and helped us relax a bit.

Many stated what bad luck as we related this story and we thought, bad luck? Things happen and parts wear out or go missing, that is life. Sometimes it happens in the middle of nowhere like this and that might be unlucky but again things happen. We saw the luck as good that we were lucky to have Ian respond from Rush Towing Service, Cory from the GM dealership who respond to do everything possible to get us underway in as timely fashion as we could, the GM dealership itself and commitment to service, the parts man who contributed personally to help us, a good friend in Rob Stephens who provided emotional and physical support, and the alpaca community who understood this was not the way we wanted to show alpacas but every once in awhile things happen and you just need to do what is necessary. Bad luck? Nope this was the luckiest day we have had in a long time. Marge only has one wish – can we move that dealership near home?