The Red Light, Part II

George Rowe

My father-in-law took some time in explaining the mechanical and electrical functions of the 1966 Dodge Monaco. I looked into what some people call the glove compartment and found a whole bunch of papers and a real neat manual, explaining further mechanical and electrical functions.

The main dashboard lights were orange with an occasional blue, green or red light popping up as required. The green light was the signals. The blue light was the high beam and a red light, which I discovered far too late, indicated oil. There were more dash lights and indicators in the car than was on Apollo 14.

Our car brought a real sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. We took a lot of pride in owning our vehicle and were able to pay cash for it. Rules were strict. No food or beverages of any kind. (This lasted for about a week.) Any mud or dirt on our boots/shoes had to be removed to the best of our ability and absolutely no loud or distractive music: only classic or country gospel was permitted. The car was to be cleaned, dusted and supplied with new ‘smelly’ things every two weeks.

The third regular occupant of our car was a little dog. He was completely black,  and he was called, you saw it coming, Blackie. We both loved our dog but loved our car even more. There was no dashboard light indicating that a dog was allowed in the vehicle and so I reluctantly gave permission to my wife to allow the dog to ride in the back seat. The plush red seats had to be covered with a blanket or some kind of covering that prevented doggie hair from getting everywhere.

At that time our dog was allowed to run free on our property. When my wife and I wanted to go for a drive I simply started the car, lowered the back window and within moments Blackie came running and barking, jumping in through the back window and making himself comfortable on the back seat.

If the law for distracted driving was in effect back then, I would have probably lost my driver’s license, had my car impounded or would have ended up in the slammer for reckless driving, reckless driving caused by the dog. At times his moods were difficult to figure out or to explain.

For instance: my wife and I were out for a drive and in quiet conversation. Suddenly and without warning Blackie is all over the vehicle. Jumping from the back seat to the front. Hanging off my neck as if he was being attacked by a demonic spirit. I tried desperately to dislodge the animal while at the same time trying to keep the car from entering the lane of oncoming traffic or hitting the ditch on the passenger side. “Pull over! Pull over!,” I heard my wife scream. “The dog is going crazy.” Putting on my signal light, I brought the vehicle to a safe stop while the dog was trying to get out of the window that had not yet been powered down.

As soon as it was safe my wife jumped out of the car and quickly opened the back door. As if chased by the devil, Blackie jumped out of the car and made for the bushes. He squated his bum and there it was. He did his number one and his number two while staring at us with a mysterious look as if to say “See, I am a good dog. I didn’t want to mess up the back seat or leave a disgusting smell in you sacred Dodge Monaco.” I checked the dashboard but no light indicating doggie time.

We owned the car for about a year and did our best to keep it mechanically safe. You know, good tires, making sure all lights were working, listening for unusual sounds or paying attention to how the car handled on the highway. This car would last us for many, many years. Yes!

At about this time I started to pay more attention to the lights on the dashboard. Driving to a pastoral visit one day I noticed right out of the blue that a red light came on indicating oil. I saw this light many times. You know, you turn the ignition key and before the engine becomes completely engaged beautiful dash lights show up and then disappear when the engine is fully engaged. This light was very bright and very noticable.

“Nice,” I thought. “I have a red light on my dashboard indicating that I have oil in my engine. Thank you, Mr. Red Light.” The light then disappeared leaving me with thoughts of satisfaction. I was so proud of my red light. Imagine a friendly reminder that I had oil in my engine or my transmission or in my windshield washer container. I didn’t know where the oil was but now I knew I had it for sure. Yes! Only in a Dodge.

Over a period of about ten days the light came on more often and stayed on a little longer. Now I began to wonder as to whether this was a light of warning or a light of comfort. It was really bright at night.

I casually mentioned the red light to my wife. “You had better check the engine oil. It might be getting low,” she said. I thought, “Check the engine oil! Why? The light indicates that I have oil.” After further thought I said, “OK. I’ll check the engine oil,” though in my mind I knew I didn’t have a clue on how to do it. I put it off and was to do it the next day. I wanted to ask somebody in the church on how to check the oil.

We went for a trip to Lewisporte later on that day and to satisfy my wife I said, “I will check the manual and see if there is anything there about an oil light.” I found it about ten minutes before we left on our two hour trip.

“Your dashboard’s instrument cluster has a light on it that either says “OIL” or looks like an old fashioned oil can,” the manual said. “What should you do if you see this light while you’re driving? STOP the car. This is one warning light that isn’t joking.” I read it. Mused about it and thought, “All right. We will leave for our little trip and if the red light comes on while I’m driving (just like the manual says), I will stop the car.” My wife was somewhat satisfied with this approach but not 100 percent convinced.

We were about an hour into our trip when the red light came on again. However, this time it was slightly different. As soon as the light came on there was a loud and strange sound under the hood. I quickly pulled off onto the shoulder of the road and shutting of the ignition, the engine had already died, I jumped out of my very fine 1966 Dodge Monaco. I quickly raised the hood and much to my dismay there was a strange smell of burnt oil and pushing through the side of my beautiful slant six engine was something I had never seen before. Later I was told it was a piston or a push rod or some strange mechanical word that meant absolutely nothing to me.

My wife would not even get out of the vehicle. I didn’t know at that moment how low her engine oil was but she was about to blow a gasket, push rod or piston. “I told you to check the oil. You’re a stun lump!”

No cell phones back then. We just sat waiting for someone to come by. In the silence—and boy there was silence—I read again the manual about the red light. It went on to say, “The oil light comes on when your engine suffers a drop in oil pressure. Without oil pressure it can’t lubricate itself and the result is self-destructive, meaning you will have to do some seriously expensive internal engine repairs.” Wow! I never spoke.

It was embarrassing to have the tow truck bring my car all the way back to Point Leamington. My father-in-law rushed out into the driveway and simply shook his head. He was not a happy mechanic. Lifting the hood he said, “That $350 didn’t get you very far.”

He slammed down the hood and walked back into the house. I felt like crawling into a deep hole but instead I took a moment to look all around. I then realized that regardless how hopeless this might seem, the sun is always shining.