Once we arrived in Elephant Butte, the first order of business was to make sure the New Bus condition was as expected. In particular, we had not been able to do a road test because the driveway was overgrown with trees. The Seller, Jim (a prince of a fellow in every respect) had arranged for the driveway to be cleared, and we met him 5 November.
I had arranged for new tires to be delivered and installed because I did not want to do even a limited test drive on 40-year old rubber. So, we started the bus and drove 2 blocks to the Elks Club, which had graciously agreed to allow the tires to be installed in the driveway.
Once the tire installation was complete, we fired up the engine again and took a “spin.” All of the outstanding, untested systems worked SPECTACULARILY – transmission shifted, turbo boosted…I discovered that the New Bus could actually ACCELERATE UPHILL at 75mph!
The old bus could not even DO 75mph, and definitely could not accelerate up hill !
Not that we plan to do a lot of driving at 75mph! The bus, just like RV WHERE YET, has the aerodynamic shape of a brick, and diesel is $5/gal. But it will be nice to set the Cruise Control (yes, CRUISE CONTROL!! My right calf muscle is currently 2x the size of the left one from managing the throttle on RV WHERE YET) to 65 and have the bus maintain that speed over most terrain.
Anyway, with all necessary systems verified, we consummated the transaction. And Jim left us to start preparing the bus for the road, and hopefully sell RV WHERE YET. Both of these activities Jim allowed in the driveway and Garage “for as long as necessary…” Well, we expected that to take a couple months, and here we are:
The NEW BUS is ready to roll, and
RV WHERE YET is not yet sold!
More on that in a minute, but let me first describe a little about our time in Elephant Butte.
We have spent the better part of the last 2 months, from morning to dinnertime working on one thing or another. While I have been under the bus and/or working on system, Liz has been organizing the interior and moving our lives over.
We are now living in the New Bus, so her work has been very successful, if not complete. As was RV WHERE YET, our as-yet-unnamed New Bus is a work in process in many ways.
There were some pretty major systems changes that needed to be made…the short list: Install a new Inverter, Fix the Generator, Replace the Water Pump for faucets, shower, etc., sort out some air leaks, fix a short in tail lights, and change the oil.
On the latter, the bus takes 7 gallons of oil; a volume that I simply could not handle in Jim’s garage. I instead arranged with the Tire Installer to drive to their shop and have them change the oil, and also install 2 new brake cans, which were leaking. That was our first (and uneventful) road trip…about 90 miles round trip!
With regard to systems changes, the Inverter was by far the most significant. For those non-RVers among my vast Readership, an Inverter makes 120V (Household Current) from batteries. This is important for TV, computers, internet, etc. The inverter also works in reverse… when the generator is running or we are plugged in to shore power the inverter charges the batteries. This function is the most important…the old battery chargers from 1986 were lovingly referred to as “Battery Boilers.”
Installing an inverter meant identifying WHERE to locate the device, running cables to and from the batteries to the device (big, thick cables…about ¾ inch in diameter! And REALLY fun to thread through and around the various chases) and running a cable to the 120V Breaker Box. I also chose to reorganize the Breaker Box, because some household circuits would NEVER run off battery – such as the Air Conditioners, heaters, etc. Essentially, I made 2 breaker boxes out of one, and isolated the appropriate circuits to each. Altogether, I expected this project to take a couple weeks, and that is about what was required.
Once the inverter was running, I needed to sort out why the generator would not stay running and was not making power. Without a generator, we could not really live in the bus – it is essential to charge batteries, cook, for Liz to dry her hair (I have no such requirement), etc. I had narrowed the problem somewhat.,.the diesel engine WAS working, but no power was being generated.
After MUCH discussion with fellow Bluebirdbrains, we decided it was “probably” the Voltage Regulator, but could also be the windings in the generator head. One of the BBBrains, Shane Fedeli, who has a nearly identical bus and has been offering technical, moral and spiritual support throughout our journey, actually had a spare regulator, and offered to send it to me. This turns out to have been the fix, so that important item was checked off the list.
Shane’s generosity was huge and memorable, but in truth he’s one of an amazing group of crazies…folks that drive and maintain these American Classics…would be very hard to keep them on the road without them!
While working on the inverter and gennie, I also noted that the bus had some air leaks that needed to be identified and resolved. None “severe,” but leaks NEVER get better and at some point one of these was likely to strand us. I found several leaking “Pressure Protection Valves” that are easily replaced, and, it turns out, exactly the same ones used in RV WHERE YET (and for which I had a couple spares!). Also, every single Gas Spring for all Doors and compartments had no gas remaining – replaced them all!
There were also some more “cosmetic” changes needed. The 13” Color Tube TV needed replacing; all three skylight vent fans turned out to leak (which we discovered after a RARE NM Rain). All florescent lights were changed to LED.
I added a color backup camera to replace the 10” B&W Closed Circuit TV.
AND, we verified that the MOST imPOtent system (the in-built Nutone Workcenter) worked (Margaritas were involved and delicious!).
While we worked on the physical aspects of the transition, I also needed to deal with the State of Illinois to transfer Title and Registration and get plates. You would think it would be easy to send Illinois a bunch of money…NOT! But it eventually got done!
But enuf about mechanical and legal caca. What about FOR FUN?
For fun, we pretty much used up all that Truth or Consequences, New Mexico has to offer. Elephant Butte is a “suburb” of Truth or Consequences…probably USED TO BE a happnin’ place but not anymore. There is a formerly huge reservoir there – Elephant Butte Lake, which is at 4% of capacity. All EB has now is sad looking boat storage yards and a lot of lamenting about the water that is legally required to be sent to Texas via the Rio Grande.
I should point out that TorC (as the locals call it) is about 2 hours from Purgatory. Really—you cannot make this sh*t up…Purgatory is a real place — a ski area in western NM!. Truth is you should be able to have a lot of fun there, but with perhaps Purgatory as the Consequences!
Turns out, there ARE a few fun things to do in TorC, and also in Las Cruces, about 1.5 hrs south.
TorC used to be called “Hot Spring” before it changed its name to successfully attract the TV Show (you cannot make THAT sh*t up, either!). So there are OBVIOUSLY Hot Springs available for relaxation. We took advantage of that many times, including Liz’s Medicare-minus-2 Birthday Soak! But you can only do that so many times (and we did!).
There is an “Art Hop” every second Saturday, where all the local artisans and art galleries are open into the evening. Some have live music and most have cookies. The Art, as you would expect, runs the gamut. From crafty chachkis to large and sometimes interesting paintings to found-art metal sculptures. If we had space and inclination to acquire “stuff,” , we might have bought a Metal Road Runner sculpture made from a bicycle frame and golf clubs. The attendance was sparse, tho – there is just not much happening in TorC.
There IS an EXCELLENT Brewery, however, and a similarly excellent little Bistro across the street that delivers a fantastic Green Chile Cheeseburger. In fact, the Grapevine Bistro delivered so much food to patrons at the Brewery, that they actually closed their rarely-used dining room. They are essentially the remote kitchen for the Brewery – they deliver to your table, bring their Credit Card machine over for the transaction and bus the remnants! Mario (the owner) and I were on a first-name basis very quickly.
The Brewery is a gathering spot (THE gathering spot) for TorC natives. Liz speculates that there is no barber in town, as all the gentlemen had long, grey pony tails. The story goes that a couple from Seattle was travelling thru, and asked someone where they could get a beer. The ONLY place was a “lounge” called “Raymonds.” This was a dismal, windowless place in a strip mall – a place that the story-teller said you would not want to go (looking at Liz). Seeing this as an opportunity, they opened the Brewery.
The Brewery has Live Music on occasion. Usually this is a single musician who is just embarking on their career, and shouldn’t be quitting their day job just yet. One night, they advertised a “Blues/Funk/Rock” “Band.” Sounded like fun. The “Band” turned out to be one guy who would play the Rhythm Guitar, record a loop, then Bass Guitar, record a loop, then drums, record a loop. After all this, he would play back the loops together and perform the vocals and lead guitar with himself as his backing band! Makes tip-sharing among the band palatable, I suppose…and the novelty was entertaining, but the process became boring after a few songs.
New Year’s Eve was a different story: a REAL (and by “real” I mean several people playing several instruments and all tracks presented concurrently!) Blues Band that was way more than adequate, even considering our desperation.
Lastly, Elephant Butte also offered a GREAT TACO STAND, where the fare was surprisingly excellent. At least weekly, I enjoyed Green Chile Brisket Tacos and Liz could not decide between the Jerk Chicken and Gulf Shrimp Tacos, so she ordered both! They had beer, too, but often the employees were not old enough to serve it.
During our residence in Elephante Butte, we had some friends pass thru, which seriously broke up the monotony of Bus repair and organization. Amanda and Max Hendrix passed thru on their way to a Las Vegas Xmas. Apparently Amanda had tickets to see Adele…and Max planned to see the Shelby Museum but NOT Adele!
The Purcells, Kathy and Bob, also passed thru and stayed for a few days just down the road. We took turns cooking dinner for each other and soaking in Hot Springs.
Occasionally, we would also drive down to Las Cruces, where commercial opportunities abound. And by “Commercial Opportunities” I mean Home Depot, Joann Fabrics, a LARGE Walmart and a NAPA Auto Parts. And, just because we were there, we’d also stop at Caliches – home of Frozen Custard and Green Chile Sundaes. SOOOOO Good.
Now that we are rarely in Chicago, we needed to manage important, recurring and routine health-maintenance tasks. Liz got her annual mammogram and we also visited the dentist. Back in September we signed up for a promotion: Half Price 2 visits including Xrays at the first. We could have (would have) done this in Mexico, as we have done before, but Mexico was not convenient, so we became “New Patients” in Las Cruces.
One day, to break the routine, we drove over to White Sands National Monument, which is the only National Monument that is also an ACTIVE MISSLE RANGE. The military posts a closure schedule that one must consult before visiting…you wouldn’t want to share it with that important military activity!!
No post about spending time in New Mexico would be complete without waxing philosophic about Sunrises and Sunsets – truly the Land of Enchantment!
Truly, we spent a LOT of time, including Liz’s birthday, XMAS and New Years in Elephant Butte. Long enuf to find incontrovertible evidence of the end of western civilization at Walmart (You cannot make this sh*t up!).
After ALL THAT FUN we were well and truly ready to get out of town. RV WHERE YET has not been sold, but we have a couple folks who are quite interested. Neither could logistically get out to Elephant Butte immediately (one was from Germany!), so we worked a deal with Jim to rent the garage for RV WHERE YET while we resumed our travels.
We’ll stay Southwest-ish, so we could get back in a few days when someone wants to actually consummate the transaction (which we HOPE will be in the next 60 days or so).
Our desire to move on was instigated by more than boredom…I became aware of an Antique Aircraft Fly-in in South-central California. One of the hangars at the field is owned by a Fellow Bluebird Brain, and they offer free parking on their Tarmac during the show for BBs. Sounds like cool and fun, and we need to see how/if our new ride performs, so we decided to make this our shakedown cruise! I RSVP’d “Probably.”
Why Probably? It’s the first road trip in a new-to-us 40-year-old vehicle…what could go wrong? Our hosts completely understood my lack of certainty – they own an old Bluebird just like ours!!!
You’ll have to wait for our next post, to learn how well that went!!!