Two things you NEVER want to see

2016-07-05 15.57.05
2016-07-05 14.59.00

Liz. IN the back of the tow truck

The Bus. ON the back of the tow truck

2016-07-04 18.58.18
Really, this was our first “serious” misadventure. Driving back from northern Minnesota (see “Feeding Mosquitos”).

Taking really delightful back roads through Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Even stopped overnight in Decorah, IA. to sample a couple brews at “Toppling Goliath” Tap Room.


No Steering Control!!! Whatsoever. With no warning!


We were on a 4-lane road with little traffic. The bus started to wander to the right (this part is normal…they don’t call them “Wanderlodges” for nuthin!). But I could not correct the “rightness.” Braked while the bus autonomously pulled on to the shoulder. Successfully stopped B4 the ultimate rightness. No, not Donald Trump…the roadside ditch! I realized that the issue was the power steering (or lack thereof). I COULD direct the bus—with all available upper-body strength, at low speed and with nothing in front of us. But, effectively we were now stranded.

So this all sounds bad, but at this point, now safe and stopped, things actually started to look up.

I looked ahead on the road and about 100 yds (that’s 100 meters for you metrics), there was an exit ramp. At the bottom of the ramp was… an auto service center AND…wait for it… a BUS GARAGE with about 50 Bluebird School Buses parked outside!!!!! I figured we could slowly limp down the exit, make the turn and pull into one or the other. We made it to the service center. They allowed us to pull in to a safe and out of the way area. They had a mechanic crawl under and he pulled out the remnants of the Power steering belt. He said, however, that the rest of the belts looked bad, and he therefore thought it was not the belt that failed, but was something seizing that caused the belt to fail. They would have replaced the belt, but were not in a position to service anything else on the big old Caterpillar engine. I should mention, they were SUPER NICE. We could have stayed overnight in their yard, if need-be.

I walked over to the bus company. They could not work on other-than their own buses. I wondered about a trade…

So, now we are stuck about 20 miles outside Madison Wisconsin with no way to get moving again. This would seem to be a problem.

2016-07-05 17.27.46NOT a problem. When one is stranded in an RV, as long as you are not upside down, you have a fridge, food, drink, a bathroom, beds, sofas…even a TV. I would call it more of an unscheduled Hotel Stay than a problem!!

We have Good Sam Platinum+ Roadside assistance. We put them to work. They found a company with a HUGE tow truck and a fella named Jerry who was EXTREMELY familiar with towing school buses and all manner of RVs. They found a Caterpillar dealer with an empty bay and willingness to work on the old beast. So, Jerry hooked us up and dragged us to Fabick Caterpillar Service Center near Madison. He was super careful, did not add a single scratch to the bus, and joked all the way to the dealer. And he would NOT accept a tip.

Towing took awhile and we did not get to Fabick until after 5:00. The Cat people stood around and gawked…they had never seen a Wanderlodge (though they had seen plenty of Cat 3208 Engines in all possible configurations). Once at the dealer, we knew the bus was stuck at least overnight

2016-07-05 18.54.46We have a terrific friend, Bob White, who offered to drive up and collect us and bring us back home to get our car. WOW. All we had to do (and he wasn’t even going to let us do that) was buy him dinner (Janies Pub and Grill in Sullivan WI. – WHAT A GREAT CHEESEBURGER!!!) and fill his gas tank.

This morning, Gino Reimann from the Caterpillar place called me. He said, “There are no problems with the bus.” (Other than it tried to kill us, but from a mechanics point of view, I guess this did not rise to the level of a “problem.”). He said the belts are all loose and because they were loose, one jumped. These were actually all new belts, but new belts stretch and on this setup, checking tension is very difficult (Radiator must be removed).   And, of course, I did not realize that the tension NEEDED to be checked. All newer engines have a single serpentine belt and auto-tensioners. The bus has none of that. He also recommended replacing the bearings on the tensioner for the belts.

A little background detail. We already knew that the engine setup was VERY BAD for the whole belt issue. Radiator completely blocks access and must be removed to do even minor verifying or adjusting of belt tensioning. We learned last year at the Bluebird rally of a modification to put the radiator on a swing-out mount so that this routine maintenance can be done…ROUTINELY. We were thinking of doing this mod in the fall. Now we are PLANNING to do this mod in the fall!

Tomorrow, we will drive back up to Madison to retrieve the bus. It should be fine for another thousand or more miles…and we WILL check belt tension.

5 thoughts on “Two things you NEVER want to see

  • What an unexpected adventure! Even better….what a good friend is Bob White…
    …I envy (in a good way) the “pick-up-and-go-without-a-plan” of it all. Best, Loretta

  • You made lemonade! Now you have a good story to tell. Hope all is well and you don’t get any unscheduled adventures.

  • Hello Dan,

    Glad to hear you are using Charlies Angel. Sorry to hear you got stuck on the road. This is a helpless feeling unless you had the foresight to bring along your kids football team so you had some muscle to push.
    I always had the fear of being towed but it never happened but did blow a tire going through Macon Georgia on the interstate with no shoulder. Blocked a lane for about an hour changing the tire — of course it was on the traffic side of the Silver Bullet.
    Happy Trails To You!

    • In lieu of Kids football team (since we have no kids!) we have roadside assistance. Probably better all around, and definitely eats less. BTW, did you notice the new name: “RV Where Yet?” There is no “Charlie” in the picture anymore.

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