It’s been a long night. We changed time zones and lost still another hour. I overslept and missed calling Talyn and Mika. The car has a broken shock mount and we’ve got to get it fixed today.
Up and out at 8:30. Room nescafe for breakfast. John and I want to get going on a fix for the poor Cherokee. He’s found a potential repair shop which is close by the hotel. We get maps and directions from Google Maps. In the car. Up the road.
A couple of turns and up the boulevard. Another turn and we see the UAZ (the potential repair shop) sign on a building. Park in front. Enter the building and it’s nothing but hallways and closed doors. We follow the hallway and end up out the back of the building facing a collection of small automotive repair shops. Maybe they really are in here some where. I ask a young man standing in front of a shop where UAZ is and he points us up an alley toward a locked gate. I’m starting to get a sinking feeling.
Inside the gate, at a far wall there’s a group of men standing smoking cigarettes. They try to ignore us but I call one over. I ask if this is UAZ and he says yes. Showing him the shock absorber, I ask if they can fix it. He doesn’t say anything but he does walk over to an older man and the older man comes over to me.
I ask him if they can fix the shock but he doesn’t answer. He doesn’t speak any English but he unlocks the gate and motions us in and locks the gate behind us. He motions for me to follow and takes me to an office where he says that a secretary knows English. She insists strenuously that she doesn’t speak English and she’s sticking to that position. We’re not getting anywhere.
I’m somewhat surprised. When we walked through the shop, it was obvious that they worked on 4X4′s and they must know what shock absorber is. But here I am standing there with a shock absorber in my hand and they don’t seem to understand what I want. The secretary asks me to write down what I want. “Can you fix this shock absorber or sell us knew ones?” About four people look over what I’ve written and another woman, a customer, tries to translate. She’s doing well until she gets to “shock absorder”. I’m thinking that I should have written “damper”, a common European name for a shock absorber.
Then an older man, another customer, asks me what is the part used for on the car? (I can’t believe we’re doing this. This is not going too well.) I hold the shock absorber vertically, motion with my hands to make a wheel and then try to show it bouncing. AH HA! They get it. He rattles off some Russian and everyone goes, “Of course! A shock absorber!” The male customer puffs up a bit for solving the riddle and the first older man motions for me to follow him.
Down the stairs and into a cramped store room. There’s a woman at a desk there and the man asks her something in Russian and she get 2 rubber bushings and a sleeve that look like they’ll fit in the end of the shock. Now, we’re getting somewhere. And without the handicap of a common language.
He asks me to have John bring the car around and opens the gate for him to drive in. As soon as the car is in the back lot of the shop, one of the mechanics takes out his phone and starts photo-ing the car. John parks the car. The man call for a mechanic (whom we find out later is Ilya) and then gets in the Cherokee and drives it on to a lift. A minute later the car is in the air and Ilya and a couple of mechanics are swarming over the front suspension trying to see what’s wrong.
We show them where the left front shock came from. They look at the right front to see how it should be installed and start taking the right front shock off the car. In a few minutes it’s off and they’ve taken the right front shock’s lower mount apart. “Ilya will make a new one/” “Okay, dude, have at it.”
We had half expected that the fix would be a repair, not a replace. But we weren’t prepared for just how talented Ilya really is. He’s going to copy the piece that were missing from the left shock based on the right shock mount. Okay. This is going to be interesting. WE step out of the way and Ilya goes to work.
He finds a piece of heavy angle iron and, using a small handheld angle grinder, cuts a couple of small pieces off it. He’s going to fashion a couple of tabs and weld them to a piece of tubing that will be the center of the bushings. After a bit of grinding, he takes a tab and hammers it into the tube and the parts starts to take shape. Some welding, some grinding and soon he has what’s starting to look like a very good copy of the original piece.
While we’re waiting and watching him, we realize that the temperatureis probably 30 degrees cooler than it was yesterday in Kazakhstan. Get out the fleeces. Wait and watch.
Maybe an hour after we got to UAZ, Ivan comes down and introduces himself as the service manager. This whole shop is his responsibility. He speaks some English, a lot more than we speak Russian. We chat and look in on Ilya who’s now got the tab on the other end of the tube and then he asks us up to his office for tea.
We chat some more and brings us around the computer on a secretary’s desk to show us a video of a trip that their vehicles did to Mongolia via Kazakhstan. It’s very interesting and we’re have a great conversation considering how little we know of each other’s language.
I show him rallyroadie.org and asks about the satellite tracker. He’s very intrigued and when he sees how far we’ve come already, he asks how far we’re going. That really blows his mind. “All the way to Vladivostok?” “Yes.” We tell him that we’re a little bit crazy. He agrees.
We go back down into the shop to check on Ilya. It’s been about 2½ hours since we got her and Ilya’s using the right-angle grinder to cut slots in the tabs that he welded so the the mounts can be bolted to the existing mounting positions on the car.. More grinding and the parts look like an exact copy of the original. Very impressed with his workmanship and speed, we tell him we want 2 replacement parts, another for the existing but damaged right front, too. He smiles, sure, no problem.
He takes the rubber bushings which are actually too big and grinds them down a bit. Soon the bushings are in the shock and the mounting bar is in the bushings and Ilya is calling another mechanic to help him install the shock in the left front. In a few minutes, the shock is fixed and installed. Cigarette break (does everyone in Russia smoke?) and then onto making the second mount for the right front.
A few minutes later, Svetlana, a very pretty, smart, you Russian woman who works at UZA comes over to talk to us and act as an interpreter. She very helpful and also very surprised by these 2 old Americanskis that have shown up with a problem in the middle of their crazy trip across Russia.
By 1:00, the second bar is nearly complete. I take a taxi back to the hotel to get our bags that we had left there (we we’re planning to stay another night if we didn’t get the Cherokee fixed) and check out. By the time I get back to UZA, the car is finished, off the lift and paid for. Two handmade shock absorber mounts with bushings, installed, 5 hours of very creative labor – $100. I’m stunned. These things just keep happening.
We trade business cards, email addresses, take a group photo and thank everyone profusely. Another amazing experience. This is the topper so far. It’ll take a lot to top this. But we have to go. In the car, more thanks, waving goodbyes and we’re gone.
How do we get out of Chelyabinsk? How do we get to Omsk without reentering Kazakhstan? Head east on M51 and turn north at Kurgan.
What an amazing day this has been. Our trip saved by some total strangers. As we head east in the late afternoon, the sun is shining beautifully and the ripe wheat fields ready for harvest glow gold against the emerald green of the surrounding birch forests.