Saturday, December 27, 2008

We made it here

We had a great trip down the coast, starting with the Cape May - Lewes ferry ride on Christmas day. We got to the ferry terminal late at night and started to settle in to wait overnight. I was checking the engine when one of New Jersey's finest rolled up to roust us out of there. I guess we were some kind of a terrorist threat sitting at the terminal overnight. This country is out of control paranoid about terrorists but that's the subject for a whole 'nuther rant and tonight I'm just not in the mood to rant.

We spent the night in a parking lot across from Mickie D's and were back at the ferry terminal by 6:00 AM. The ride across from New Jersey to Delaware was a little bumpy but a great way to start Christmas Day off. Then we drove along the coast all the way to the bottom of North Carolina. That night we stayed in a KOA - generally we avoid KOA like the plague but we knew they would be open, clean and easy access. The next day we continued on down the coast and eventually turned inland at Daytona, arriving in Winter Haven around 11:00 at night. Along the way we stopped in Savannah, Georgia for a seafood supper. That turned into more of an adventure than we had planned because we ended up taking the bus into downtown Savannah, literally within easy walking distance of the historic Savannah waterfront. For future reference the signs for the visitor centre in Savannah will lead you into the heart of downtown Savannah.

On the plus side once we got parked in the visitor centre we were within easy walking distance of a variety of excellent restaurants. We just wandered along until we found a menu that we liked and walked in. We had a balcony seat overlooking the river from where we ate crabcakes, crab legs, shrimp, clams, mussels, crawfish, crab legs and probably some other sea critters that I have since forgotten about.

And don't forget Chesapeake Bay. What an amazing feat of engineering the bridge across that bay is. We guessed it at 20 miles long and I just checked Streets and Trips - I don't think that is an exageration. The bridge just goes on forever out in the middle of the bay. It feels like you are driving across the ocean. There's 3 incredibly long bridge spans supported by concrete piles. The bridge spans connect four artificial islands which serve as the starting points for tunnels that allow freighters to transit up the bay. They charged us something to cross the bridge - maybe $35 but it was easily worth it just to say we have seen it. We were in too much of a hurry coming down the coast but we will definitely go back that way in the spring. If we take about a month or 6 weeks to travel up to New Jersey that will make a very enjoyable trip. We'd like to spend some time around Savannah and around Charleston. Probably around Chesapeake Bay as well. There is so much history along that route. Its the area of North America that the Europeans found first and that still shows in the architecture and layout of the roads.

Today we moved on down to Arcadia. The rally here doesn't officially start until Monday but there are already about 40 busses here. Jack is expecting over a hundred coaches so there will be a lot more rolling in over the next couple of days. Our little incident was closely followed by many of the people who are attending the rally so we got a royal welcome when we arrived. We even got a power site despite our late registration. I didn't want to have them hold a site for us when we weren't sure that we would get out of Luke's shop. When we finally did get on the road again I sent Jack an email and he said that after all we had been through they would find us a power hookup.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Things are looking up

I wouldn't want to guarantee that we'll get out of here tomorrow but all of a sudden it looks at least possible. These guys are great. I've had the privilege of knowing a few truly great mechanics and Bill is definitely on that (short) list. I was telling Marilyn last night about watching him put the bearings in the caps for the rods. He took each individual shell out, turned it over, scrutinized the back of it and then carefully lined it up in the rod or cap and pressed it into place. He went through all 8 pistons and didn't change his speed or his routine from the 1st one to the last one.

This morning they put the head back on the left side of the bus and just a few minutes ago the new head went in on the right side. This new one speaks Spanish - its a new Detroit casting but it is stamped with Mexico so it must have been cast somewhere down there. They've still got a long way to go. The blower housing is the only remaining large item that will be tricky to mount and they are waiting for an exhaust manifold to arrive from Detroit. One of the ears was broken on the old one. There were several little things like that which lead me to believe that this engine didn't have as good a rebuild the last time around. I'm willing to bet that the cracked head has been there as long as we have owned the bus. Its a hairline crack between two valves and there is the beginning of another crack on the other two valves on the same cylinder. That would explain the water loss that we have experienced ever since we bought the bus. I could never figure out where it was going. My samples told me that there was nothing going into the oil and the engine ran too well to believe that it was burning water but it must have been.

The plan is still to get us out of here tomorrow afternoon. That's still a major stretch but it is starting to at least look possible. There is a plethora of lines to hook up, the valves need to be set, everything needs to be torqued and the rack needs to be set. We also plan to warm it up and then dump the first oil and do a complete oil change to make sure that we flush all the glycol out of the block. That will all take time. Tonight after Bill-1 and Bill-2 go home I will go underneath and set the clutch up so that we will at least be ready to leave in the event that they get us mobile tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Brokedown in Vineland

So we were tooling around the bypass at Syracuse with not a care between us, on our way to supper with Will Sill and his wife in Tunkhannock. The bypass comes back onto 81 via a steep, narrow, single lane on-ramp. About halfway up the ramp I had to drop a gear because we seemed to be running out of power. I glanced in the mirror as I went to make the shift and saw smoke at the exhaust. As I pushed the clutch the engine died. When I touched the starter nothing happened. Sez I to myself "Self - this is not good". Then I sweated my way to the top of the ramp incline. Fortunately we crested the incline although just barely and then we started back down towards 81. We eventually rolled to a steaming stop just onto 81.

We got out the flares, put on the flashers, generally made things secure and then tried to do some basic troubleshooting. Obviously we had overheated but the reason wasn't so immediately clear. This old girl has used a bit of water ever since we bought it. By "a bit" I mean something in the order of 3 or 4 gallons annually. I would occasionally think "I should check that rad" and discover that it took a lot of coolant to bring it back up. But there was never even a trace of glycol in the oil samples so I never worried about the loss. In hindsight I expect what was happening is that the o-rings on the liners had been previously cooked and were letting a bit of water out the exhaust ports. When I added coolant I was likely often ending up with an air pocket in the system that would further exacerbate the cooked o-ring situation. Too late now to worry about that now - it was a combination of previous owner abuse and current owner neglect that led us to the sorry state we are presently in.

We spent the weekend in a hotel in a place called Cortland, about 30 miles south of Syracuse. After we let everything cool down and I tracked down some coolant we refilled the rad and ran another 30 miles Friday night. We blew prodigious clouds of steam on startup and for about the first 2 miles but then the fog cleared and we ran more or less clean down to Cortland which was really our first opportunity to get off the road without turning around and going back to Syracuse.

I talked to a variety of mechanics and busnuts about our situation. Ultimately our options came down to letting the local yokels pull wrenches and hang parts on an engine that they clearly knew nothing about or getting the hell out of Dodge on the hook of a wrecker. So I called Luke at US Coach in Vineland. Luke is a legend in the bus community. He has been fixing busses for 35+ years and is known across North America. He and Don Fairchild out in California are without question the two premiere 2-stroke diesel shops in North America. As it turned out Luke was also about 300 miles from where we were broke down.

Now here's the part that I can't understand. On Luke's recommendation I called Flanagans Towing and got a quote to move us to Vineland. They came back at $950 plus tolls. Ultimately that turned out to be a total of $1010 to tow us to Vineland. I would have thought seriously about driving the half ton on a round trip of 600 miles let alone supplying a monstrous boom lift wrecker and the fuel to tow this old Prevost 300 miles but that's what they did. Steve Flanagan himself turned out to be our tow operator and he was a true pro. We were well looked after and were in Vineland in Luke's yard less than 12 hours after I originally called Luke.

On Tuesday the guys here pulled the bus into Luke's shop and started pulling pieces off. It wasn't until yesterday afternoon (Weds) that we knew for sure what the problem was and it was only this morning that I got an estimate of the total repair bill. My stupidity is going to cost us something north of $11k but we will have essentially a brand new engine with 100% Detroit parts inside it. It turns out that there were a lot of jobber parts in this engine, although that alone isn't necessarily a bad thing. I have always suspected that this engine was a truck engine transplanted into a bus and Luke confirmed today that is the case. We're getting a few other little items attended to at the same time and the guys here swear that we will be out the door before Christmas.

Tonight we are going to drive down to Washington and spend a couple of nights there. I've got some people that I want to see there and Marilyn is going to make like a tourist for two days. I'll join her in the Smithsonian on Saturday and then we'll drive back up here. I've got an appointment with a grease gun underneath this beast on Sunday when I won't be in the way of Bill Sr. & Jr.

Never a dull moment. And I thought our big problem was going to be getting out of the snowbank west of Ottawa.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Is there really anybody out there?

We sent out our Christmas letter to a mass mailing list but it occurred to me that some of the readers of this weblog might be interested in it as well so I am going to post it here. This weblog is like radio - its hard to believe there is anyone out there listening. But in case there really is somebody reading this, here's the Christmas Letter . Read it or don't - I'll never know.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I'm preparing dinner in that snow covered bus. The insulation is better than I thought it was judging by all the snow on the roof. Ottawa was supposed to get 30 cm of snow overnight - that seems like a bit of a stretch but there's a lot of the miserable white stuff around this morning. The guy that owns this campground has a more or less full time job pushing snow and he seems to enjoy it. He says they got 18 feet here last winter. Apparently they keep all the trails open so people can access their park model trailers and they host weekend events through the winter.

Anyway we're connected thanks to the colander that I adapted to be a wifi booster. Its one of those fold up stainless steel jobs and it seems to give the wifi enough of a boost to get connected here. I thought it was pure bullshit but I built it anyway while we were still in Nipawin and today it seems to be helping to keep us connected.

We're also connected in another, possibly more important way. This post was prompted when I picked up mother's porcelain salt shaker out of the little red metal basket that it has lived in as long as I can remember. For a lot of its life it sat on top of the stove, sometimes in a cupboard near the stove but now it lives over the sink above our stove. It lives across the way from grandma's little yellow china bowl with the handle. The same one she and I used to microwave vegetables when I lived with her what seems like a lifetime ago. Down below me some of grandpa's tools that came to me through father wait an opportunity to be useful. We may be wandering around North America but we are still connected electronically to the present and spiritually to our past.

Meanwhile Jorgito has discovered that he likes soft cat food from a can. This shouldn't be a big discovery for a cat - in fact every cat I have known actually PREFERED soft cat food from a can to dry food from a bag. But not this one - at least not until about 2 weeks ago. He had to go on a regime of medicated cat food for reasons too unpleasant to relate here. That food came in a can, smelled as foul as canned cat food usually does and was distressing in the extreme for his little cat brain. He licked it dry when we first put it out and then held out for a whole 24 hours, firm in his little cat belief that we would break down and feed him some of his favorite crunchy stuff. We didn't. Eventually we figured out that he really didn't know how to eat soft food. It is too big to take whole pieces into his mouth and his little mind couldn't comprehend tearing off chunks the way every other cat on the globe seems to instinctively understand eating. So we would periodically stir up the little mound of moist food that he had licked into submission and he would commence to licking at it again. Sometime in the last 48 hours he has figured out how to eat soft food and now he would actually prefer that we stop wasting his time with that old fashioned dry stuff.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Be careful what you wish for

So the Libs are getting their act together. This Ignatieff guy just might have a shot at the big time. It was a lot of fun watching the three stooges led by Ding-Dong #1 but that phase looks to be over. The only flaw in the plan to take over the party without a leadership convention is that the Liberals stood to make a lot of money from the convention. But something tells me that Michael has probably thought that one through as well. Harper had better be on his guard - this one's got legs.

We got to Ottawa late last night, just ahead of the big storm that blew into town today. We're settled into a park south of Arnprior for a few days. We finally got our water system thawed out. It was good until we left Brandon and then froze up during the day. We tried to thaw it out on the road but the heat loss from the travel was just too much to overcome. And we couldn't stop because we just had to get the miles behind us. This country is BIG - really big. Years ago I remember father saying "you drive and drive and drive until you get to Thunder Bay and then you realize that you are only half way there". We also had the fortune to run through some incredibly bad roads. So bad that the little truck was absolutely filthy this morning, even including under the hood. It wasn't full under the hood but there wasn't a lot of empty space left either. I ran it through an automatic carwash today and its still dirty but not as bad as it was.

Today I drove into Ottawa for a meeting and then got caught in the early exodus from the city this afternoon. It took me 3/4 of an hour to go in and 2-1/2 hours to come back. Tomorrow the poor bastards will have to cope with a winter storm plus a public transport strike. Fortunately we don't have to travel at all tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Porcelain cats

One time when we took George II over to Victoria Park to visit mom & dad he got very concerned about what I think is a remarkably UN-lifelike porcelain cat that lives outside the apartment across the hall from theirs. Many of the Vic Park inmates have some trinket outside their door. It serves to ornament the spartan hallways and distinguishes their door from neighbouring doors that would otherwise look identical. When mom & dad moved in their concrete cowboy quickly moved in after them and has been standing guard outside their door ever since.

So when we encounted an old girl in the lobby and she announced that she lived "across the hall from your parents", it seemed perfectly logical to me that she must own the porcelain cat, and I said something to that effect. She drew herself up to her full 5'2" of height, pushed out her chest, thrust her jaw forward and said "I CERTAINLY DO NOT HAVE ANY HORSES & CATTLE." She then started to walk away but turned back to mutter something to the effect that father must be going crazy if he thought she had horses and cattle. After that she stomped off.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Morbidly obese, grouchy healthcare workers

What is it with these people? They of all people should know better. Yet there they are, overweight - and not just a little overweight - slouching around the hospital and then sneaking outside to grab a nicotine fix.

I spent too much time today in Regina General Hospital waiting so I had plenty of time to observe. And what I saw was not pretty either literally or figuratively. I think they did a reasonably good job of caring for father but you have to wonder how somebody who cares so little for their own personal health can be trusted to care for someone else's health.