Cowboys and Bus Mechanics

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With our Benefactor – George

Leaving Casper, we headed towards the Tetons and our appointment with George, the Bluebird’s Previous owner. We wanted to tell him how much we were enjoying the bus…that it was proving reliable and comfortable. Let him know his generosity is in no small part responsible for the ongoing adventure we are having!

Unfortunately, on the way to the Tetons, a valve broke and the bus proceeded to pump 100 gallons of (all of!) our fresh water onto the highway while we drove blissfully and ignorantly along. Liz discovered this when she attempted to flush the toilet.

…when you take a whole house (a vintage one!) and bounce it down the road…What could possibly go wrong with that?

I did not want George to feel bad about saddling us with a lemon; after all, part of the fun is dealing with things like this! I should not have worried…as George immediately understood: It was not Black or Grey Water (eeewwww!), it was not oil or transmission or radiator fluid, so it was really not a “problem” per se. Just another day in the life… HE, of all people, understands what happens when you take a whole house (especially a vintage one!) and bounce it down the road…What could possibly go wrong with that?

Anyway, the valve turned out to be easy to replace…we ordered one from Amazon and it was delivered to our next stop. Repair took about 30 minutes. In the meantime, the campground in Jackson, Wy had a very nice shower/bath facility…and the cheapest laundry we have run into yet on our travels. (Except, of course, when  friends let us use their machines while we visit).

Once we left Casper and the crowds, the Internet worked again.  Or maybe the mystical power of the eclipse faded away allowing modern conveyances to again function.  Either way, this allowed us to consider our next few weeks. We had intended to visit friends in Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and generally figured we’d just head in that direction and see what happened. Instead, we met Peter Haggins at the Casper Rally. Peter has a Bluebird, and he lives on Vancouver Island!

This means he could and did impart all sorts of local wisdom. I do NOT mean to imply that our dear Victoria, BC friends, the Chandlers, are devoid of local knowledge. In our experience, quite the contrary. It is just that there is a certain value to BLUEBIRD-RELATED local knowledge – knowledge that the Chandlers do not have and would be wise to avoid!! For example: Certain Ferry Sailings are HALF PRICE for RVs. There is an RV Park at Campbell River that is so close to the shipping channel that you can nearly get drinks handed to you by Cruise passengers. There is a hill on the way to Gold River with an 18% grade (which Peter assured us our bus would climb…I am not so sure). And, Peter has a parking spot with full hookups at our disposal!

We drove to our next stop (Cody, Wyoming) through Yellowstone. We will be back to Yellowstone to stay for a few days…this was a preview. Here is what we learned on this pass:

  • The bus does NOT like high altitudes and steep grades. All of Yellowstone is at least 6,000 feet, and there are places where the road crosses 9,100ft. At those altitudes, we belch black smoke because there is not enough oxygen to burn the fuel being delivered to the engine. Modern engines are either turbocharged or have fuel injection that adjusts for altitude. We simply belch black smoke. The good news about this: it discourages tailgaters! But we made it! So perhaps Peter is right after all about the 18% grade on Vancouver Island.
  • There are a LOT of people in Yellowstone. Including tour buses that disgorge camera-wielding folks at every turn-out. This is exacerbated by the road construction underway at certain key choke-points in the park. With the altitude, crowds and construction, it took 4 hours to traverse the park (about 70 miles altogether). On our next visit, we won’t be passing thru, we will be stopping for 3 days so the construction challenges will be less.
  • We CAN’T WAIT to spend some time here, hiking and soaking in the scenery.  Despite these “issues,” Yellowstone and the Tetons are special places. 

Cody, Wyoming was an interesting place. We needed a couple of days for Bus Maintenance. In addition to the above-mentioned broken valve, we had a leaking freshwater tank, and also an exhaust leak. The latter became apparent in our Yellowstone Hill Climbs…black smoke from where the exhaust is supposed to exit, and black smoke elsewhere, as well.

NO cracks, please, about why we would leave Colorado with a JOINT problem.

As for the exhaust leak, Cody does not have an exhaust shop. There is an RV Mechanic…his place is kinda ramshackle in a country-mechanic kind of way. But he had a welding machine and was willing to take a look at the exhaust problem, which I believed was just a joint that needs to be welded.  He was not able to completely weld the joint because he could not lift the bus up to see what he was doing. But he mostly fixed the crack and welded a small shield so any remaining exhaust gas does not blow on the rubber airbag for the front suspension.

On the water tank leak, I was able to find a small crack in the tank — no small miracle as fully 2/3 of the tank is invisible behind bus-structure. There is a “Welding” technique for the plastic tank I learned from fellow Bluebirders online and at the Casper Eclipse Rally.

First, I scrounged some extra tank material for welding from the shop that fixed the bus’ exhaust. They had a junkyard in back (the owner by his own admission never throws anything away). In that yard there was an old cracked tank! They let me break off a couple scraps of welding material.

Then, I melted the scraps and the tank around the crack with a soldering iron so the liquid material flows into the crack. Once cooled, the welded tank (so far) seems to hold water. I am learning so many more skills keeping our “home” functioning…if I were looking for a new career, I may have found it!

Why Tank Cracked  (and the decidedly low-tech fix)

While on the Bluebird website to find out about welding tanks, I also learned some details about why the crack might have occurred in the first place. It seems the tank overflow/vent has a “P” trap — Tank overflow goes out this vent, down the “P” trap and through the bottom of the bus…you know the tank is full when the bus is “p-ing” (pun intended)!  

The “P” trap fills with water — it is supposed to do this – because when the “P” is full, critters are prevented from crawling into the tank. But when the “P” is full there is also no vent for air to enter when water is pumped from the tank. This causes the tank to have a slight vacuum and to contract…which polyethylene material, though flexible to some degree, does not like to do…hence it cracks! The cracks are nothing more than the vent the tank needed as it was emptied by the pump.

According to the Bluebird Forum, the factory “fix” for this problem was to poke a couple pin-holes in the vent above the “P” trap! DONE! Here was a repair costing $0 and hopefully the end of the problem!

World-Class Museum

Besides bus repair, Cody also has an AWESOME museum — The Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This museum is worthy of a couple days of perusal, which we easily could squeeze in around bus repairs. There is a section on Buffalo Bill Cody, a very thorough section on Plains Indians, the Whittier Museum of Western Art and a Firearms museum (much of the latter on loan from the Smithsonian). And, a VERY progressive admission policy: your paid admission gets you in for TWO CONSECUTIVE DAYS, which is the only way you can see all that stuff and remember/appreciate anything.

And, Cody had a Classic Car Contest just down the road from our campground. There, we saw several options for our TOAD (Towed car) if we get tired of the Clown Car. We also saw some options for a replacement-bus – in case we ever run into a mechanical problem we cannot address.

Wood River

Finally,  with an afternoon to spare,  we took the clown car to the Wood River.  The Wood River is reputed to be a great place to see wildlife.  We saw cattle, horses and some empty tents.  But the scenery was magnificent. 

We were warned the road past a certain point would not be suitable for our ride (the lady who told us about this drive snickered a little when she saw what we were driving,  in fact).  I did not notice that point…the road was pretty atrocious the whole way.   

Cowboy Bar

On the way back to Cody we passed through Meeteetse, Wy.  Population 327. Located there is the “Cowboy Bar” which has a rich history.    The walls are covered with brands from the area’s ranches.   Amelia Earhart drank here. As did Butch Cassidy, who was arrested just as he left the Cowboy Bar for stealing horses — an event that he credited with turning him into an outlaw.  Liz and I had a beer and left peacefully,  anticipating no untoward meetings with the local lawman.  

Next Stop, Yellowstone.

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