As I mentioned (teased?) in the last post, we stopped at our favorite mechanic in Daphne, Alabama, to help with his boat payment (cuz that’s the kind of giving people we are…). Our visit to Daphne for a 6-month RV WHERE YET Checkup STARTED OUT well. Bus went up in the air. No “obvious” problems. Oil Changed. Yank on this, pull on that, squirt grease, etc.
This could EASILY have failed on the road, where 4 gallons of oil would have been pumped out in our trail.
During the oil change, we undertook a small project I needed help with: Changing the Oil Pressure Gauge. I had been seeing erratic readings, and the Bluebird Collective suggested first changing out the 40 year old mechanical gauge. I had a new one one on the bus, complete with a new sending unit.
GOOD THING, too. As we were removing the old sender, the old style oil hose connecting it to the gauge in the cockpit basically dissolved in our hands. This could EASILY have failed on the road, where 4 gallons of oil would have been pumped out in our trail. IF I pulled over and shut down quickly enuf, we could avoid severe engine damage. Instead, we just changed the gauge! The new style gauge does not have an actual oil hose to the cockpit, carrying oil under pressure – it is a little electric sender – no chance of a leak, ever. No fuss, no muss!!!
It was starting to look like “our day!” This was not to be.
The LAST STEP in the PM was to change the Fuel Filter – the bracket for which broke off in my hand. MY hand because the fuel filter is changed through the engine compartment between the driver and passenger seats, and during COVID, I have been doing any tasks requiring to be done INSIDE our “House,” such as changing fuel filters and breaking brackets.
It was late in the day; the bracket needed to be removed and welded, then reinstalled. This could not happen same day, so we spent the nite in Lazzari’s yard. Next morning I removed the bracket while having my first coffee; Lazzari welded it when they got in, and I reinstalled it by 10:00.
On balance, The PM went VERY well. I was even feeling LUCKY, because we had short-circuited an impending serious issue by replacing the Oil Pressure Gauge BEFORE the hoses on the old one burst (which would have been soon, for sure). We left Daphne and headed west, intending to reach Galveston in a few days of lazy driving. We’ve picked a winter spot there because we don’t see much sense in moving around, burning lots of diesel to get to places that are (or should be) closed while the pandemic continues to rage.
“Players” is a bit of a stretch for us, because that was the only time we actually went into the casino
Our first stop was the Silver Slipper Casino on the Gulf Coast, about midway between Mobile and New Orleans. They have a FANTASTIC RV Parking area right on the shoreline for CHEAP. In fact, you even get your first night free if you sign up for a Player’s Club card (which we did – though “Players” is a bit of a stretch for us, because that was the only time we actually went into the casino). It was while in the Casino lot that we began to realize that our PM visit was NOT over yet – we had some issues of unknown severity.
I discovered these issues when the Casino asked us to change parking spots – they needed to do some septic-field construction, necessitated by recent Hurricane Sandy, near our first spot. Septic Field Issues are something no one would want to be anywhere near 😉. I started the bus, and performed my normal walk-around while it built air pressure. IMMEDIATELY I knew there was an issue – a VERY WEIRD noise coming from the front of the engine area. Over the years, I have learned what all the ”normal” noises are, and also that an abnormal noise MIGHT be something that will be a new normal, but MUST first be investigated.
I opened the front of the bus (which is a lot more complicated than opening the hood of your car), so I could listen careful to pinpoint the noise. Which quickly became the LEAST of our problems. The engine fan was wobbling, which COULD BE a bearing. Could have been the source of the noise, too, but was NOT where the noise was emanating from. So instead of identifying “the” problem, there were for sure TWO problems. The Wobble was VERY concerning. If the bearing failed, the fan could fly off, taking out the radiator and who knows what else. And still, there was that noise…
WE WERE NOT MOVING until both problems were understood, if not addressed.
Scenarios ranging from Best Case to Worst-day-of-your-life
First step with any Bluebird problem: Post a question on the “WOG.” (WOG == “Wanderlodge Owners Group”). That’s an internet forum where all sorts of technical information lives. And, more important to our situation, where all the folks I’ll affectionally call the “old farts” lurk. These guys have been turning wrenches on old Bluebirds since, well, forever.
I posted a question, and a short video depicting both the noise AND the wobble, to the section called “CAT 3208 Problems.” Yep, a whole section devoted to issues unique to our 40-year-old engine!!! Within 15 minutes, I had an active discussion going with a half-dozen experts. These folks offered scenarios ranging from best case to Worst-day-of-your-life…and complete details on how to discern which we were experiencing.
The WOG community is really the ONLY WAY we can keep our old buses on the road. A 40 year old bus simply cannot have a problem that hasn’t been had (and solved) by someone before. People are SOOO helpful….advice, pictures, detailed instructions. Hell, one WOGGER even offered to throw his tools in his truck and drive over to give me a hand if I needed it!!!
The worst-case scenario for the wobble, the experts posited, was a failed “Harmonic Balancer.” This is a part that has a rubber component, and is designed to dampen slight crankshaft irregularities AND keep vibrations from accessories (water pump, oil pump, power-steering pump, fan, etc.) from feeding back into the crankshaft. It’s a “worst-case” because any out-of-balance irregularities would quickly cause MAJOR damage to the main engine bearings. Because of its rubber component, it is immediately suspect on a 40 year old vehicle. And if it had failed, it means getting TOWED somewhere and hoping no damage had already been done.
Fortunately, the HB discussion included pictures so I could see ours, and I identified it was intact and NOT the problem. Still had the Noise to figure out. Which turned out to be “merely” loose belts (even though it really didn’t SOUND like, loose belts). I got those tightened and the noise went away.
This part, on our old ‘Bird, is made of what we call “unobtanium.”
So now, we were safe to BACKTRACK to Daphne and our friends at Lazzari for diagnosis of “The Wobble.” Once there, we swung the radiator again, and after removing the Fan and Pulley, they helped determine that the problem DEFINITELY was the Fan Clutch. .” It would be easy to replace, IF it could be obtained. This part, on our old ‘Bird, is made of what we call “unobtanium.” The WOG folks referred me to a fella (Larry at Fanclutch.com) who has been making retrofit kits for old Bluebird Drivers to be able to use a fan clutch that CAN be purchased.
TO BE CLEAR, I am talking about OLD BLUEBIRDS, not OLD DRIVERS, but in our case, BOTH!!.
I called Larry-the-fan-clutch-guy, and got some more bad news…there were COVID-related shipping issues getting the key component of his kit, so the “normal” retrofit kit was not a good option. But he was designing a new kit and asked if he could send it to me to test for him.
Yep. Could do!!
SO now we needed a place to stay until the parts came in; a place we could limp to with no fan. In a remarkable example of cosmic symmetry, I called Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama to see if they had availability. This was the park we were staying at 5 years ago when we needed a mechanic, having broken a suspension part. Back then, Google disclosed that the closest one was Lazzari, where we were 5 years later, parked andlooking for a place to stay! I booked for a week, with options for more.
We had to move around a couple times, to accommodate people coming in, but we stayed at Gulf State for the duration. Stranded means “Involuntarily stuck,” which we were, but has negative connotations of suffering, which we definitely were NOT. If you have to be stranded, this is a great place: Sun, Beach, Bike Trails, DQ and Waffle Houses in 2 directions within Bike Range…
THINGS WERE LOOKING Up! Thinking at this point that all our clean-living was paying off in a good-luck-turn.
We got to Gulf Shores, checked in, and I called Larry to get an update on schedule. He asked for a couple of measurements – the most important of which was the distance from the front of the engine to the back of the radiator. A CRITICAL dimension, since it all has to fit!
WHO KNEW maintaining RV WHERE YET requires a deep understanding of Quantum Mechanics…
Armed with that dimension, and after a couple of days of tinkering, he called me to say the clutch he was building would not fit!!!! But he had another idea. Which was going to take a bit more time. Which was a problem, because the park was filling up as people were going Camping for Thanksgiving… I tried to extend our stay at the park, and was able to cobble together a spot for a few more days, but then, though the rangers were sympathetic, they were probably going to have to turn us out.
Luck is a fickle beyatch…turning again on us!
I expressed this to Larry, who said he would do his best to get us what we needed before we lost our spot; and called Lazzari, to make sure we could get in as late as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, assuming the part arrived.
While we were waiting, Liz knitted, we rode bikes (a lot), went to Waffle House (see next post), and I joined a volunteer crew to help the park Rangers in their continuing effort to clean up after Hurricane Sally. The major trees in the park had been mostly toppled…and cleaned up so the park could reopen. What remained were things like restoring a viewing platform near the Bald Eagle observation post, and resetting some fence posts that were taken out by the aforementioned big trees’ demise.
On that crew, I discovered a new use for something that looked very much (at least consistency-wise) like the grits people eat south of the Mason Dixon line. Those fence posts will definitely survive the next hurricane!
To end this story, not coincidentally the day BEFORE Thanksgiving, LARRY-THE-FAN-CLUTCH-GUY CAME THRU. As did LAZZARI. We DID manage to pass the time, but even so, NOT without aggravation. Larry shipped in time, but UPS lost it! Well, not exactly. It seems their tracking system really does NOT track packages though they would have you believe that it does. Larry called on the morning the package was supposed to be delivered to tell me the package, instead of showing “out for delivery” was showing “in transit.” Not only that, it was ”in transit” in Albany, GA…quite a ways away.
I was getting ready to drive to Albany – 4.5 hours each way, because WE NEEDED THE FAN! But, the UPS Supervisor I eventually got to said, “But it is not really ‘there.’ It is maybe, possibly on a truck ‘near there’ and we have to wait to see where it is next ACTUALLY SCANNED. “
While I was discussing the level of aggravation this was causing, and while the supervisor was explaining that, “Because of COVID UPS is not responsible for delays”…the package MAGICALLY changed to “in transit” in Pensacola (a LOT closer to us) – at the exact same moment (7:04 AM) that it had been “in transit” in Albany, GA. Apparently, UPS has a MAGIC TRUCK TRANSPORTER MACHINE!!!
Truth is, UPS has no idea where ANY package is at any time from when it leaves your hand to when it arrives at the destination.
And, can I say this, also…I GET REALLY IMPATIENT with companies that use COVID as an excuse for poor customer service. UPS received the product, lost the product, found the product, told me to start a claim THRU THE SHIPPER (what good would THAT do…not like he could reship a new custom part to get to me the same day?) and all the while could not tell me where the product was so that I could intercept it in time to get it installed, and then finally delivering it at the original, promised time. Blaming all of this on COVID and saying they were not responsible. I call Bullsh*t on that!!
Eventually, the part DID arrive, ON TIME, despite all the errant “scans” and agita on the part of the recipient. Even after all the alerts and angst that UPS’s systems and poor customer, if not delivery, service caused. And, it fit perfectly. And while everything was open, we proactively replaced the 40-year-old water pump, and flushed and replaced coolant.
Note the SECOND Quantum Mechanics Reference in a SINGLE POST — on a roll, am I!
The water pump, BTW, looked brand new, but like Shrödinger’s cat, this could not be known until it was removed. We replaced it with a new one, anyway (it’s gotta be good to slowly reduce the number of 40-year-old-critical-parts). We bid Adieu to our friends at Lazzari, returned to Gulf State Park to enjoy one more (last) night and our Thanksgiving feast/fete.
And, I took a BUNCH of PICS of the new fan kit, so I could post back on WOG. I was informed by all the WOG folks that helped me that nothing happened if there aren’t pics, and Pics are the ONLY cost to be paid for all the advice – to benefit the next guy.
All of this while the Turkey Breast we had acquired was thawing.
So, we should be good to continue onwards to Galveston and beyond; having first contemplated the weirdest Thanksgiving any of us has ever experienced. The next post has some thoughts on that.