Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Donald McConville
McCONVILLE: Never been to Washington, no. Other than being in the Army, I had never been outside of Minnesota. Well, I traveled a little bit with the sports teams and so forth. I had been in New York in the Army, because when we were in Puerto Rico, we went by train actually from Fort Sam Houston up to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, which was a shipping-out point at that time yet for ships that were carrying people to Europe. We went by ship to Puerto Rico, and we had some time when I got some leave in New York. But I hadn't really seen much of the United States by that point, certainly hadn't seen Washington. I remember I had a '57 Ford, and I started off driving from St. Paul. I started off on a Saturday morning and was supposed to report on Monday for class. I got as far as somewhere in Wisconsin and my car broke down, had blown the engine. I was in this little town where it had been towed and met some really amazing people. The guy who owned this auto body shop or repair shop really went out of his way to help me. Everything I owned was in the car, my bags and my clothing and so forth. So he said he'd try and make a call to find a replacement engine and they would work on it through the weekend once they got the engine. In the meantime I was staying in a little hotel there in that town. They did get an engine. It turned out to be from a '58 Ford and it didn't fit. So the guy finally on Monday tells me that he's very, very sorry but this guy had assured him that it would fit in a '57 Ford and in fact it didn't and there was no way they could make it fit. So he'd lined up another one in the meantime, and he hadn't done business with this guy, but I should go ahead and do it. I called the training outfit in Washington at that time to tell them that I'd be delayed. And they said, “Well, no problem. As long as you're here within the week, we can still accommodate you.” So I was trying to get this done. He did get it in; sometime about mid-Tuesday, I think, they finally got this other engine in. They started it up, and all this black smoke started blowing. The garage owner said, “Don't worry about that too much. We're going to take it out now for a test drive.” He said it had been soaked in some kind of oil or something to keep it from rusting, and that should wear off. After they had taken off for a test drive and so forth, it was still pumping black smoke. He said he was very disappointed. He called this guy up while I was there, and he just reamed him out over the phone and knocked the price down fairly substantially and finally struck a deal. So they fixed it up enough and said, “I think this will get you to Washington. I'd like for you to tell me. Write me a postcard when you get there and let me know how it comes out.” I took off and I had gone about 100 miles or a couple hundred miles, and I thought I'd better check the oil on this thing. So I stopped and checked the oil in Gary, Indiana - I had just gotten out of Chicago - and the oil was down about three quarts or something like this. They had put it up on a hoist. This was something like about eight o'clock in the evening. They said, “The problem is you've got a hole in your oil pan,” and probably what had happened was the car that it had been taken from had been in an accident and this had been punctured. They said, “We can get that welded, but you're not going to be able to get that done tonight. It'll have to be tomorrow before there'll be a garage open where you can get it welded.” About that time there was this old fellow sitting nearby. He came walking over and took a look. He said, “Put it back up there again. Let me try something.” He turned out to be the father of these two men who were the owners of the garage, and he just liked to hang around there. They put it back up, he took this tack with a big head on it and stuck it up in there with some glue on it, and he said, “You know, I think that might hold it for a while. I'd suggest you check the oil every 100 miles or so, but this might work.” By that time I would try almost anything. So I took off, and I'd go about 100 or 200 miles and it would be down a half a quart or something, and I'd put a little more oil in it, and I ended up going all the way to Washington. Now, by this time it's like Wednesday or something. I haven't slept in a hotel or anything since about Monday night or something like that, drove into Washington. I remember coming down Wisconsin Avenue and stopping at a filling station and asking about getting a motel or someplace to stay. They suggested I continue on into Virginia, best shot down there. I'd slept in the car for what sleep I did have, and I hadn't shaved for several days. I kept stopping at motels, and they kept telling me they didn't have any room. It might have been true, but I sort of suspect it was because of my appearance. So I finally got to Falls Church and found a motel and stayed there, and then I reported the next morning. I then subsequently took the car to a garage to try to get that fixed, and they said the tack was still holding very well and that it was some other small device that didn't cost very much that was the problem why it was leaking oil, and they replaced that and it didn't have any more problem leaking oil after that. I sold that car nine months later, and it still had that tack in the oil pan. So I had quite an adventure getting there. By this time I'm really beginning to wonder whether I really wanted to join this Foreign Service, I was getting so frustrated.