Igniting and Biting in the Heartland

Steve Rossi
Hopedale, Mass.

Steve Rossi hauls electronics for trade shows over the road in his 2001 Peterbilt. He has driven for United Van Lines for 25 years, not including the brief stint as a car hauler that inspired this story. He lives in Hopedale, Mass., with his wife, who edits his stories, and two children, a 17-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter.

Long ago (but not so far away), when I used to transport cars across the country, there was one thing that would scare the other drivers and myself more than anything else. It was the C-word. Claims. If a shipper asked what the procedure was for filing a claim should anything ugly happen to their vehicle, that was enough evidence for many of us that a claim was imminent, for real or imagined damage. At that point, many drivers would return the keys and refuse to haul the car. The deductible, paid by the driver, ranged from $500 to $2500 per vehicle, depending upon your contract. Ouch.

The firm I pulled for, Auto Movers, only booked vehicles that were privately owned. No auctions, no dealers.

The Furtaks were moving to California from Baltimore, and I was transporting their two cars – a Toyota and a Mustang. The other six vehicles assigned to my wagon were in Virginia bound for Arizona, so the Furtaks would be the first on and last off.

I finished loading in Maryland and spent the next two days rounding up the other six cars. I delivered those in Phoenix without incident and proceeded to Saugus, just north of L.A.
I parked right in front of their apartment house and unloaded Mrs. Furtak’s car with no sweat. Mr. Furtak’s Mustang GT, however, wouldn’t start.

“Let me try it, Steve,” he said to me. “After all, this is my baby.”

He got into the driver’s seat as I had, through the passenger side window opening. He started working the gas pedal like crazy while cranking the engine continuously. Finally, smoke began emerging from under the hood.

“Pull the hood unlatch and get out!” I screamed, as I dashed to the cab to get my puny fire extinguisher, which was originally manufactured to put out minor blazes at Ken and Barbie’s place.

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When I got back, I jumped up on my trailer and lifted the hot hood, burning my hand. The hood wouldn’t stay up unassisted, for it hit the platform above before reaching its lock-in position. I held it up with my small head (messing up my hairdo), and in no time exhausted the extinguisher. The fire continued apace. I ran to the apartment complex, where a crowd had gathered to enjoy the inferno, and asked where the extinguishers were. They shrugged in unison. I saw a huge extinguisher behind some plexiglass, pulled it out and returned to the trailer. I pointed the mammoth extinguisher to the upper wheel well, squeezed the trigger and

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