Before pulling our new-ish travel trailer to Springfield, Missouri, for the season’s final camping trip last weekend, I asked my friend Matt Old to take a look at my 2000 Chevy Suburban, which at 212,000 miles and counting, had a few issues that needed to be addressed—including an exhaust leak that made the old Family Truckster sound an awful lot like a dying Harley-Davidson.

Travis Naughton

I had taken my ’57 Chevy to Matt, not long ago, to have him fabricate and install a custom, dual exhaust for my old Bel Air. I needed the car to sound as cool as it looks. Matt not only made the exhaust roar like a proper hot rod should, he also took the time to make sure the stainless-steel pipes looked good, too. Every weld immaculate, every bend perfectly-angled, and the entire system a wonder of symmetry, Matt is a true craftsman. He and his partner Allen Beckett, a mechanical wizard himself, always do exceptional work.

Matt suspected the Suburban probably had a loose or broken exhaust manifold bolt. He was wrong. He actually found five broken bolts. Plus, the driver’s side manifold was warped and the other one was cracked. After addressing that mess, Matt also replaced the badly worn spark plugs and wires and the leaking plastic fittings where the water hoses go in and out of the heater core. When he was done, I had more confidence in the old Suburban than I did the day I bought it three years (and 50,000 miles) ago.

However, my confidence took a pretty good hit when the Suburban started overheating halfway to Springfield the very next day. It wasn’t Matt’s fault. Apparently, the old radiator couldn’t handle a leak-free, fully-pressurized cooling system, so it decided to spring a leak while the throttle was wide open as we climbed the Ozark hills. Fortunately, I found an auto parts store nearby where I bought antifreeze and some “stops-leak” to plug the pinhole.

Unfortunately, in my haste to get back on the road, I did not wait long enough to let the engine cool down. When the radiator cap is inaccessible, as is the case in our vehicle, the upper radiator hose must be removed in order to dump-in the “stops-leak.” When I pulled off the hose, coolant (an ironic name if I’ve ever heard one) erupted from the back of the radiator like molten lava. That lava covered most of my left hand and a bit of my right. As I type this column, a few days after the incident, the skin on my left hand is still dark red, tight, and painful.

Luckily, I didn’t need to go to the emergency room, despite suffering the most intense pain I can ever remember feeling. Bethany was able to run to a nearby Walmart and grab some burn cream and spray, which I used liberally for the remainder of our fun-filled weekend in Springfield. And after completing my roadside repairs, the Suburban performed flawlessly for the rest of the trip.

The Naughton family has never let a minor catastrophe ruin a good vacation, and last weekend’s scalding was no exception. We, along with the Hecker family (Bethany’s twin sister Charla’s crew), enjoyed three nights at a lovely campground, a tour of Fantastic Caverns, shopping at Bass Pro Shops, and exploring the town—all while celebrating the twins’ 44th lap around the sun.

It was the last camping trip of the year, but the first that all six cousins (plus Grandma Glee) were able to attend, and the memories that were made will far outlast the excruciating, mind-erasing, level 11 (on a scale of 1 to 10) pain that marred the first part of the adventure.

In other words, it was a pretty typical Naughton-Hecker family adventure—a mostly fantastic voyage. And I can’t wait to do it again.

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