Our 2018 travel season has ended with a ritual we have come to appreciate: An annual visit to our friends at Lazzari Truck Service in Daphne Alabama!
You may recall from the pages of this blog that these guys took care of us when we broke an airbag way back in 2016 – nearly our first stop after leaving Chicago!
Back then, we limped into their shop – the closest to us according to Dr. Google – and they quickly had us underway, and for a fair price. Since then, we have designed our winter path to include a stop there for Preventive Maintenance. And, to help us with upgrades and maintenance items that require the bus up in the air, to be manipulated with big, heavy greasy tools.
This winter, we had a couple of items that fall into the latter category; mainly examining and if necessary replacing the rear wheel bearings. Each rear wheel set (there are two on each side) weighs at least 500 lbs…definitely not something I can do myself, even if Liz helped. The front bearings were done last spring; and after discussing the pros and cons of doing the rear ones – which have not caused any trouble but have not been looked at for almost 40 years — with other Wanderlodge folks, we decided we should do this work proactively.
This is the very DEFINITION of big, heavy, greasy work. The bearings, it turns out, are lubricated by an axle full of differential oil. To even SEE the bearings, you have to remove the wheels and axles (some of which is delicately done WITH A SLEDGE HAMMER) AND drain about 3 gallons of messy, greasy differential fluid. Even after “all” the fluid is drained, the axle-hole continues to drip-drip-drip. What a mess! Who knew about any of this – not me, for sure!
Not much had changed at Lazzari — well one thing HAD changed: The gravel driveway had been nicely paved…but they were still there, still welcomed us. The work was expected to take a few days, so we booked an AIRBnB a few miles away for the requisite period. Not that we wouldn’t have stayed at Lazzari — the cows in the pasture (THEY were still there) are good neighbors. But the coach was inside the shop, and up on a lift — sleep-walking would be dangerous and our mechanic was not comfortable with the possibilities.
Her mechanic and her husband would have had some ‘splaining to do if it had been her coach…
When we arrived in Daphne the day before our appointment at Lazzari, we stayed overnight at the Walmart. Just as we are settling into the far end of the parking lot, there is a knock on the window. Now, the LAST knock on our window was the Lake Wales Sheriff, wondering who these squatters were. This time NOT the Sheriff. Instead, Terry, who had just acquired a Bluebird of her own. Hers was the same vintage as ours, and even the same colours – so similar in fact that she knocked on the window to make sure it was NOT hers!!! In retrospect, her mechanic and her husband would have had some ‘splaining to do if it had been her coach…
After a brief conversation, we agreed to meet for dinner one evening (Terry’s husband Mike was anxious to hear about our bus mechanic), and they introduced us to “Dragonfly.” This is a Street Taco place in nearby Fairhope. Torrential rain at the time, so the funky outdoor patio was not an option. But, an AWESOME place…one we would have never discovered without the help of a local!
The bearings turned out to be in GREAT SHAPE. Many had said “DO NOT REPLACE THESE BEARINGS unless obviouly worn because 40-year old Timken (USA-made) bearings are better than anything you can buy today.”
While all the big heavy stuff was lying in a greasy pile next to the bus, we looked at opportunities for more proactive maintenance. Or, as Liz likes to think of it: ways to spend down our grocery account. We replaced the brake shoes and springs AND the brake slack adjusters. None of these were worn out, but all were old, probably hard and cheap to replace when it’s all open. The latter were manual, and very difficult to reach. The replacements are automatic, requiring no further adjustment – EVER.
We also replaced the rear shocks, which were totally dead, but also difficult to see and reach with the wheels on. And, we refilled the Differential with Synthetic Gear Lube as recommended by Birdbrain friend Bob Weaver, who swears by such stuff which he used to maintain all the equipment on the Potato Farm in Pennsylvania from which he retired to Lake Wales and a Bluebird.
While at Lazzari, we also performed several pending maintenance items – some I did and some they did and some we worked on together. These included installation of a fuel booster pump to help the engine pump. Bluebird’s design asks the engine pump to suck fuel from the tank 20 ft away and through 2 fuel filters. Imagine sucking a Coca Cola up hill through a 30ft long straw AND a Brita Filter…not easy. This, coupled with the age of that pump and its seals combined to strand us briefly in New Jersey this summer.
A simple, inexpensive electric pump, recommended by folks at the WOG online forum, between the fuel tank and the first filter pretty much solves this problem. So much so that Bluebird installed these at the factory beginning a year or 2 later than our’s was built.
I also installed an electric Air Compressor. This will allow us to build air pressure to fill a bike tire, or prepare the bus to move without starting the diesel engine (and it’s air compressor). The bus needs air for the brakes and for the suspension – and it takes 10 minutes or more to build pressure. More than once we have felt the need to apologize to a neighbor in an RV park for a 6-am departure that includes 10 minutes of our smoky, noisy diesel next to their bedroom window. Always we get a smile and a “no Problem,” but we still feel bad about it. Now, we should not need to do that!
Of course, what should be simple ALWAYS turns out to be hard…
While in Daphne, even LIZ had a maintenance-related issue! We needed a second key for our new Jeep. I had purchased a blank (they are WAY cheaper online). It needed to be cut and programmed – and this had to be done at a Jeep dealer. We found one near Daphne, and Liz took the car there.
Of course, what should be simple turned out to be hard! They screwed up the blank I bought. To their credit, they said they would get us a new key and would not charge us any more that the initally-agreed price. Liz brought the car back a couple days later and the key was done and working.
However, NOT where the story ends. Because THAT would be boring!
Liz came back and got out of the Jeep. Walked over to where we were working on some aspect of RV WHERE YET and asked “What’s up?” Suddenly, we both heard a “CLICK.” This was a feature of the Jeep of which we were not aware. It self-locks for security after about 30 seconds. In this case, with BOTH KEYS — the original that came with the vehicle AND the emergency key Liz had just had made — in the car!!!!!
Fortunately, there were a couple mechanics at Lazzari that seemed inordinately familiar with the use of a Slim Jim, and the car door was soon open.
While we were there, I needed to have a minor radiator repair done – but did not want to wait for Lazarri to remove and send out the radiator. I asked the mechanic who they knew locally who could maybe help us out, and then called them to negotiate a while-you-wait minor soldering job. They SAID they could, depending (of course, they had not seen it yet). We left Lazzari for our next year of adventure, stopping at the radiator shop on the way. There, “Ron” said, “I cannot do this in place, My hose won’t reach to where you parked and in any case I cannot get to this for 2 days.” I wish Ron had just said this when I called. Or even better, had just said “no.”
Val had asked me after I called the radiator shop if I spoke to a “Red-neck or a Nice Guy” (the implication being ‘like us!’). I wasn’t sure the intent of the question.
Val said that some folks in the southern tier – and especially in Alabama – are not quite as “welcoming of strangers” (especially of the Yankee variety). We had not experienced this EVER in our travels – everyone we have ever met, from Far-North Newfoundland (OK, those are Canadians…and NEWFIES, so OF COURSE they are nice) to deep-south Mississippi have been as gracious as can be to us.
I asked Val if “Nice” and “Red Neck” are mutually exclusive…and I guess they are. Clearly Ron was the latter, and just did not want to help out this Yankee (once he realized that is what we were).
After Red-Neck-Ron, we decided to take a break, so we spent a couple nights at an AWESOME Park just outside Mobile. Meaher park, right on Mobile Bay is a GEM — Bike trails abound, sunsets are gorgeous over the bay — and very inexpensive.
Putting Mobile in the rear view camera, we headed towards New Orleans (NOLA). There, we booked a spot for a couple weeks at a State Campground across Lake Ponchartrain from NOLA itself.
Now, “Just across the Lake” is 24 miles across the causeway – a LONG WAY with no possibility of a restroom if you have to pee (which I can neither confirm nor deny was my situation once). But still, cheap and easy access to NOLA.
There are a couple RV parks closer to the French Quarter, but a fellow Birdbrain who lives in Ponchatoula recommended this campground. Steve said the NOLA ones are WAY more expensive, and though they look close to things they are in “not good” areas, so you can’t walk anyway. He had me at “way more expensive” — the one we had been looking at was $80/nite. The State Campground: $25. The toll across the Causeway into NOLA -$5. Even I can do that math!
The campground was very nice – between Madisonville and Mandeville. The first nite our Birdbrain friends met us for dinner at a local seafood place…it was AWESOME, and a place we would never have discovered on our own. The next day, Liz flew off to New Jersey for her sister’s 60th Birthday. I declined the “opportunity” but took her to the airport. Her flite was delayed so we stopped at a restaurant, Drago’s, recommended by LC Cambre, who hosted us for Mardi Gras in Lafayette 2 years ago. He suggested they are famous for Chargrilled Oysters. Well, I can say they DESERVE TO BE FAMOUS – wow was that a good place! (We had a few other things, too. All EXCELLENT. )
While I remained “bachelor-style” near NOLA, I worked a bit on a list of things remaining to do on the bus. At least, that was my story for Liz’s consumption. You can eat REALLY WELL there, and the music scene is top notch. I exhibited MAJOR self control by limiting consumption of both until Liz returned (and True Dat…not just the story I told Liz).
Seriously, I did see some music – once on the way back to the airport to pick Liz up! I found a little local club that had one of the Marsalis family (Trombonist DELFEAYO MARSALIS) in residence for the evening (a THURSDAY EVENING in fact). Reservations suggested, according to the website.
I wrote to the club to inquire about space for one — perhaps squeezing me at the end of the bar if necessary (Liz’s flite was scheduled pretty late and the weather was BAD). The owner of the club (Mr. Julius E Kimbrough, according to the club’s website ) wrote back immediately. First, he apologized for the delayed response (it had taken all of 10 minutes for him to get back to me). Then he promised me a spot, and he more than delivered! A GREAT spot (more in the middle than at the end of the bar) in a small club. With Po’ Boy for dinner. Neighborhood seemed not too great, but I parked the car right out front and could see it through the window.
Liz’s flite was delayed twice more — so much so that I caught TWO SETS not just the one I thought I would have time for. Now, I am not going to say I am GLAD her flite was delayed, because I don’t really want to sleep on the roof of RV WHERE YET. But let’s just say I made the best of her misfortune. ENJOYED IT ALL IMMENSELY.
More on that, and other music and entertainment events we enjoyed in NOLA in our next post(s).
And, as a teaser (don’t you HATE those!), we rang in the new year with a new first in our travelling lives – one we hope NOT TO EVER REPEAT!