“Safari ni Tabu, Kweli”!

“Truly a Safari is Trouble/Difficult” = the Swahili phrase above!

This has been in my “Blogs Proposed” file for a long time. I haven’t posted it because every missionary, everywhere, has had their share of travel woes. But East Africa, though, seems to have an inordinate share – maybe because I lived there for so long and many of our years were out in the “bush” where a 4-wheel drive vehicle was a prerequisite. I have seen pictures of travel in northern Kenya (have you seen Eddie’s?) , both in the dry and “deluge” times, and it almost takes ones breath away. In any case, I will share a few experiences. Maybe these will cause you to remember yours. Maybe you will “blog” them so that we can all commiserate together! Maybe it will help you pray more earnestly for your missionary.

1. Oops! A family turn over.
Family holiday to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro; SWB (short wheelbase) Land Rover; winding dirt track; a light rain had fallen. The winding track (road, that is!) has a sandy cover. We have just looked at a pride of lion and the road takes a sharp turn. Under the sandy cover on the track is a layer of clay. And, after a rain, the clay is wet and slippery. And, turning the corner, the vehicle goes into a skid. And, a SWB can skid and turn over fairly easily. And, the skid was arrested by a clump of grass. And, over goes the vehicle on its side – fortunately on the side opposite the petrol (gasoline) filler pipe. My job, get out through the window, stand on the side and lift out my wife and (at that time) three children.

What to do? We are more than 40 miles from any type of civilization so out comes my Tanganyika jack (a “clunky”, mechanical, long-lift jack – I later moved to a high-lift hydraulic bumper jack). Place the jack lifting point under the corner of the galvanized iron windscreen frame and start jacking. As the vehicle starts to turn upright, put the “chop box” (which we had retrieved from in the back of the vehicle) under the vehicle body in case the jack slipped. When the vehicle was high enough, and the chop box holding it, the jack was moved to a better position. And, BOOM – back onto four wheels the vehicle went.

I checked the engine. It was still there properly though one engine mount was broken. I let the vehicle sit upright for a bit so the oil would drain back into the oil-pan. Petrol had not leaked and all appeared in order. The ignition key turned; stepped on the starter button (on the floor-remember when?) and the trusty Land Rover started right up.

And, would you believe it, those lions we had passed about 150 yards back never came up to investigate us! And, would you believe it, as we were reloading the vehicle and getting ready to continue on our trip, another Land Rover came up the track in the same direction we were going, had seen that same pride of lion and wondered what we were doing out of the vehicle. They could hardly believe us when we told them our story!

2. “Kukwepa” (Sukuma language “to avoid/slip by”)
Rainy season; main road; gravelly dirt (murram) surface; well corrugated (which means a speed of at least 50 k.p.h. had to be maintained so as to not be shaken to pieces [both you and the car!]; a lorry (truck) coming the opposite direction taking its part of the road in the middle, leaving you no room to get by without going off the road.

Now, since it was a main road, and “maintained” (NOT!) to keep it passable during the rains, there were ditches on each side. Only, on the side where I had to get off on there were two parallel ditches. And, the ditches were about a LWB (long wheelbase) Land Rover chassis length apart. I bounced over the first ditch with the front wheels (the back wheels didn’t make it) and now both front and rear wheels were hung up in both ditches. And the chassis now was hung up on the ridge between. Engaging 4-wheel drive just made all the wheels futilely spin.

There was nothing to do but start digging to try and reduce the mound between the two ditches. And, all I had was one of those short folding army-surplus hoe/shovels. But I went to work. Soon a crowd of Africans gathered and some had hoes with them. Together we worked; together we reduced that mound to a pile of mud (oh, yes. I forget to tell you that the ditches had water in them [rainy season!]. Finally the wheels, both front and back, were supporting the vehicle. With a roar and all wheels spinning – and the gathered crowd pushing – the vehicle came up out of the ditches and onto terra firma. Of course now I was on the “other” side of the two ditches and had to get back across to the road to continue my trip to town. But, by moving to higher ground where the ditches didn’t have water and driving across on an angle, all went well. With profuse thanks to all who helped and a little ‘dash’ ($$$) for soap to clean their clothes, I was free of the predicament and continued on my way.

And that truck which caused everything? It had merrily kept on going even though they had seen what they had caused!

3. Stumped – literally!
A rainy-season trip with another missionary and his two sons, out to visit where we were to establish a new mission station. It was on one of those “minor-minor” roads – basically a cow path. It was an uphill section of road and a torrential rain had flowed down the sides of the “road,” carving deep ditches. But also, as the rain slowed, the ditches had filled in with sand loosely packed with water at the bottom but giving the appearance of solid ground.

Along came Baker in the Land Rover. I tried to avoid a bad patch in the road by moving left – but that was now a ditch in “mufti” – disguise. Off went the front & back wheels into that ditch of soft sand and water. The vehicle came to a sudden stop.

We got out to figure how to get out. It looked fairly easy with the 4-wheel drive – but the vehicle wouldn’t move. Of course you don’t spin your wheels unnecessarily because you don’t want them to dig in deeper. What’s up?

Discovery showed that the chassis itself was now hung up on a stump. No amount of digging would get us out. So, out comes the Tanganyika jack; off go the young men to scour up some rocks and logs. Jack up first the back wheel; next stuff rocks/logs under it. Jack up next the front wheel and do the same. Fill up the ditch between the front and back wheels with rocks and logs. Engage 4-wheel drive; slap the vehicle in 1st gear; gun the engine and shoot forward and hope to get back up onto the road (cow path). We did!

With all of that, we are a couple hours behind on our proposed trip but we continued anyway. Coming back I made sure to keep in the middle of the path even if it meant hitting some ruts. No way was I going to go through that all again!

4. Throwing Fan Blades
It was a day out visiting what we called “bush schools”, government approved primary schools, which had to be checked regularly to make sure building and equipment were in reasonable condition. Often it was necessary to repair the desks; sometimes it was the repair of a teacher’s house that was leaking. Anyway, it was time to go home. The spare tire of the Land Rover had been removed from the bonnet (hood) of the vehicle and put in the back. I was moving at a “fairly good” speed down a nice smooth cow-path.

Suddenly there was a loud ‘bang’ and the engine started vibrating bad. Across the bonnet (hood) there appeared a wide gash in the metal. The engine started shaking and vibrating hard. Quickly I brought the vehicle to a stop and turned off the engine. I was sure that something in the engine had badly blown. The hood went up; I peered around to see what was up. No oil was leaking and the engine itself looked O.K. What in the world?

Further inspection showed that the 4-bladed radiator fan now had only 3 blades. One had broken off and and had been thrown it up right though the hood. What to do? There was no way I could drive with the 3 blades on the fan.

Good thing one always traveled with a tool box. Off came the fan housing. Good thing those Land Rovers had the fan blades attached to the spindle with bolts. Out came the bolts, the 3rd blade which was the other side of the broken-off one was removed and the 2 blades reattached. Now the engine didn’t vibrate from imbalance. And I never did get around to replacing the fan for about 2 years! And those 2 blades kept the engine from overheating!

5. “Thump” in the Swamp
“Turn it on, Daddy. Turn it on” the children often voiced when we approached a muddy stretch of road. Meaning, put the Land Rover in 4-wheel drive. “We don’t want to get stuck. Then you make us get out into the mud to push (while you don’t get muddy by staying in the car driving!)” was their actual meaning!

This time, however, I knew to engage the 4-wheel drive before I got into the swamp. The Land Rover bounced over the submerged bumps, splashed water and mud everywhere and made good progress.

Just before we made it out, and up on “dry” ground, there was a loud “thump” coming from the rear of the vehicle. And moving on made the vehicle judder and another thump.

I got out, looked under the back at the differential – lo and behold it had a crack in it and a piece of metal was sticking in the crack. Now I knew I had trouble!

So, off came the rear drive shaft, the crack rubbed with good yellow African soap to keep more oil from leaking out and the 7 miles home were done using only the front-wheel drive and moving slowly.

Next day’s job was to disassemble the rear differential. The crown wheel was missing a couple teeth; the pinion had a couple gouges in it. No way could I effect any type of repair.

Out came the bicycle. Off I went the 30+ miles to the main road where I caught a ride. In town I was able to find another crown wheel and pinion for the same model of Land Rover I had. Then a return ride to where I had left my bike and the 30+ ride home. (Oh, yes. All this took 2 days!)

Home! Weld up the crack in the housing plate, put in the “new” crown wheel and pinion gear, close up everything, refill the diff with #90 oil, reinstall the removed drive shaft, gingerly drive and test.

All was well. No problem for the next few years up until we returned to the USA on furlough and the vehicle was sold.

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