My mom is the greatest driver I've ever known. Never had an accident and never received a ticket. She's had her share of close calls, though. One of the closest calls came on a very familiar stretch of road.
My family took a much anticipated, one-week vacation to the beach every summer. Back before interstates were the main thoroughfare for motorists, this meant traveling on county highways, some of which were not very wide, or very straight.
I had been asleep in the back seat of the family station wagon for most of the morning. However, the familiar vibrations of the car that had caused me to sleep were suddenly being syncopated by irregular lurches and sways. As I came to full consciousness, I realized where we were: The Saluda Grade. A seven-mile stretch of narrow highway that descended down a mountain, it had some pretty treacherous curves, and not a lot of space for error.
My mom was in "full concentration mode" due to the heavy volume of trucks on that particular Saturday morning. Driving between trucks always bothered her, especially on this narrow mountain highway. But I could tell by the grave look on her face that something else had her unnerved.
As I became more cognizant, my nose reacted to a nasty smell.
"Yuck! What is that?" I held my nose. The acrid fumes were starting to turn my stomach. I looked at Mom for the answer, but she was too focused on the 18-wheeler in front of our car to reply.
"Brakes." My brother's one-word response was solemn.
"Brakes? Whose? The truck in front of us?" I glanced behind our station wagon to find another 18-wheeler there, and many were passing us headed back up the mountain.
"No," stated my other brother. "Ours."
It was then that I realized Mom was pumping the brake pedal for all it was worth. Pressing it until there was no resistance at all, then pumping it some more. Her knuckles white from gripping the wheel so strongly, she worked hard to keep our car from contacting the rear of the truck just ahead.
I sat frozen in my seat, and looked out the window. Our car inched very close to the guard rail, and I looked past it into the ravine below. My stomach began to tighten. We had maneuvered one of the sharpest curves on the grade, but what about the next one?
"They're gone!" My mom cried out, pumping the brake pedal frantically. I held my breath. The truck in front of us was looming large, and the truck driver behind us wasn't keeping his rig very far from our bumper.
"Mom! Look!" My older brother pointed out his side window. Just ahead, around the next curve, was a space on the side of the road, just wide enough for a car to pull over, so other motorists could pass. If we could only make it through the curve...
Mom let off the brake pedal just as we entered the sharp curve. The sway of the car felt enormous. As we came out of the curve, she slammed the pedal down as far as she could. It held! Swiftly, Mom pulled the station wagon into the gravel shoulder, and shoved the gear shift into Park. The car slid a few inches and jerked to a halt.
Relieved, Mom collapsed into the steering wheel, and sobbed. The truck behind us whizzed past. My brothers both threw open their doors and ran toward the front of the car. I sat there, in shock over what had just taken place.
"Mom! The brake fluid! It's gone!"
“What?” Mom opened her car door, and stepped out once a car passed. She walked up to the front of the car and looked herself. Sure enough, there was no brake fluid in the reservoir.
As if by grand design, a tow truck appeared, and pulled off the road in the narrow space in front of our car. The driver just happened to have some brake fluid with him. He explained the heat from all the braking had “boiled” the fluid away.
Then he filled the reservoir back up, and drove in front of us the rest of the way down the grade and into the next town.
Needless to say, we enjoyed that vacation a little more than previous ones, very thankful to God for His guiding hand of protection.
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