At around 3:35 a.m. on September 15, 2018, I had a flat tire on the Dempster Highway about 10 miles after Eagle Plains. I was heading north to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, Canada, an Inuit hamlet on the Arctic Sea coast known to locals as “Tuk”. In a whiff of butterfly chicane, that puncture is why I’m trying today to set up a platform called Jambulance for a 10,000 mile round trip to Jiggle City.
But let’s start with the apartment.
I deserved it. I drove the new 2018 Jeep Wrangler along the two-lane berm that covered 417 miles through the Canadian tundra. The Dempster Road is billed as a gravel road, but it is actually made up of gizzard stones and igneous shrapnel. All guides advise to go slowly and with patience to reduce the risks of an apartment. The Dempster is also trafficked by right-of-way trucks, and they turn those rocks and shrapnel into projectiles that crack windshields and poke holes in radiators. They should also be dodged.
I ignored the guides. I couldn’t ignore the one-inch piece of what looked like obsidian that crashed into the left 33-inch rear tire.
I bolted on the spare. Since it was Saturday during elk hunting season, anyone who could hold a gun, including anyone who had a tire repair facility along the road, was trying to pack winter meat. I arrived at Tuk around 6 pm with my four good tires. I didn’t want to linger at Tuk until Monday hoping someone could fill a big hole. But I didn’t want to try to cross the Dempster again without a spare rubber, although I was now ready to try to go slowly and patiently.
At the first open place I saw in Tuk, the woman behind the counter recommended that I try the house across the road because the man who lived there was fixing the tires, or I was returning visit to John Steen, who ran a worm joint Grandma’s kitchen not far away and had his own shop. I went out and looked at the house. I wasn’t ready to ask a man to give up his Saturday night to play AAA because I had been an idiot. That left Mr. Steen. Thought I would have a burger even though I couldn’t get immediate help.
Grandma’s Kitchen turned out to be a trailer parked behind a house at the end of a small road, the trailer resting on a wide gravel beach between the house and the Arctic Sea. Grandmother’s kitchen was barricaded. Ugh. A sign said to go around the patio at the back of the house. It was there that I met John Steen and had an absurd night. I learned about the people and the city. I ate whale. I wore the finest home-made Inuit coat, filled with snow goose down and lined with wolverine fur. I chatted with various citizens over Kokanee beer until 3am and slept in John’s Man Cave. The Jeep tire was too big for John’s repair platform, but John asked a friend, the one who arrived at the party in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops in 10 degree weather, if the his friend’s biggest platform could support it. The friend said yes and he would have the tire fixed for me the next morning.
This honorable man had the BFG All-Terrain repaired on Sunday and showed me the offending geology. With five good tires I made it back through the tundra and finally home.
Since then, I have occasionally received comic and cryptic messages from John. Last October, a wave of early evening messages turned into a phone call. “Jonny,” he said, “you should come over here and we can get on the snowmobiles and I’ll take you out shaking. “
“When should I come?”
“May is the best time.”
“I will be there.”
I had no idea what jiggling was, and told him not to tell me. When the Inuit invite you to take a 10,000 mile round trip to do something called “shake”, you say yes and get ready.
My preparation included the need for some sort of platform to make the trip to Tuk, which I had now taken to call Jiggle City. I own a 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser which would be perfect. Still, I was not happy with this option.
I remembered an episode of Showcase where we had to pick the best all-terrain vehicles for $ 10,000. One of my options was to buy an old Ford E-Series pickup truck, put in a 4×4 conversion kit from Ujoint Offroad, and spend the rest to dress the interior. I had already bought one my Showcase find. This one would be even better.
I started looking for old pickup trucks, my research pulling E-series ambulances. If I could find a decent one for under $ 5,000 it would blow up the Showcase budget, but the perks were too good to ignore: sturdy frames, tall roofs, plentiful storage, and copious amounts of preinstalled electrical wiring.
Three months have passed and I haven’t found anything – any ambulance costing less than $ 5,000 is either a howling theft and disappears immediately, or junk. It was now 2021 and I had less than four months to buy a rig, convert it to a motorhome and head to Tuktoyaktuk. I contacted Brandon Alsept, who runs BA Motorsports, turning Mustangs into hi-po dragsters and doing all compressor installations for Beechmont Ford Performance. Less than an hour after I told him what I wanted, he sent me a link to a post on the Facebook Marketplace. This ad was for the Jambulance.
Now, anyone who’s bought a shelter animal, or knows someone who has, or watched these ridiculously heartbreaking videos on The Dodo, knows some type of adoption history. You go to the shelter knowing what kind of dog you want. You know you would never want an astigmatic, incontinent, geriatric heart named Rufus. But you meet Rufus’ eyes and there is no escaping it. You come home with an astigmatic, incontinent, and geriatric priest named Rufus. And you love it.
The Jambulance is my Rufus.
A DJ not far from my house, DJ Kevy Kev, needed to get rid of his 1994 Ford F-350 ambulance. He had named it the Jambulance, and he was covered in letters for his DJ services, including her name. It also listed the DJ’s phone number, the last four digits of which made up the word “PISS”.
“To remember the number, I tell my clients, ‘772 I piss on you’,” he told me. “They never forget.”
Under the hood, the Jambulance hides Ford’s non-turbocharged 7.3-liter IDI (indirect injection) V8 diesel. It would only start with a healthy hose of starter fluid, but once it worked it sounded good. Kev told me the only thing the truck needed was bleeding the rear brakes. He wanted $ 2,000. It was a great deal.
John Pearley Huffman, another shopper, often mentions buying the vehicle owner rather than the vehicle. I ignored his advice like I ignored these guides. And like on the Dempster, I’m paying for it.
On January 5th, I gave Kev $ 2,000, called a tow truck, and sent my dog to the vet, Beechmont Ford, for a full diagnosis. I had a little over three months to get everything ready for transport.
It only took two days to find out that my Rufus, my Jambulance, needed more than bleeding the brakes.
This is the first in an occasional series as Jonathon Ramsey works to get the Jambulance ready for the road.
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