Breaking Down: We have been radio silent the last several days due to complete lack of cell coverage while in Big Bend National Park, complicated by the RV center shutting down their WiFi sometime before our arrival for reasons only hinted at by the employees. We were looking forward to catching up the blog, Facebook, Instagram and all other methods of modern communication about our stops in the Amistad National Recreation Area and Big Bend as soon as we left the park. We got what is, for us, a relatively early start on our way towards Balmorhea State Park when, as they say, disaster struck. We were about half way down the 47 mile road that takes you out of Big Bend, coasting down a moderate hill when I noticed that the gas pedal seemed to have no effect on the engine. After barely cresting the next hill we found ourselves restricted to a fast idle, with a top speed of 14 mph on a level grade.
I spent some time, and pardon the technical language here, “fiddling with the engine,” before coming to the conclusion that our throttle linkage was broken, but I could not see where. Lacking cell service, we flagged down a passing vehicle and asked them to notify the rangers of our situation. We idled forward another 25 miles, reaching the park’s entry point visitor center and ranger station, but we could not quite crest the hill leading out of the park, dashing our hopes of just idling all the way to the nearest town, Marathon, to get mechanical assistance.
The Insurance: We borrowed the land line at the station (thanks Ranger Doug) to call Progressive, and let it be said that their commercials have definitely stuck in the consciousness of many Americans, because at least two people in the visitor center were able to tell me the phone number was obviously 1-800-PROGRESSIVE. We had some initial difficulty getting sorted out due to the lack of an easy call back number, but I eventually received assistance from one of the supervisors in Progressive’s roadside assistance division, and, as the kids used to say, OMG totally awesome! This woman spent hours working our case, and after exhausting all possible mobile mechanic options (plenty of mechanics, just none that were both willing to travel that far and willing to work on our old diesel) she arranged a wrecker from Fort Stockton, about 100 miles away, since no tow companies in Marathon could handle our large vehicle.
We agreed to stay the night on the side of the road and get picked up first thing in the morning rather than have the wrecker arrive at sunset and tow us in the dark for four hours. She then spent hours trying to find a repair shop since the insurance clause apparently mandates that the tow must be to the nearest suitable facility capable of making the repairs, or words to that effect. Based at least in part on the advice of the wrecker driver, she authorized a tow all the way to Odessa, 195 miles. The tow bill was over $2000, and Progressive covered it all. The lesson for us is that a roadside assistance rider is a must have, especially for large motorhomes. I suspect if our bus were a lot newer, then Progressive might have been able to convince a mobile mechanic to come out and look at the throttle linkage. Of course then we might not have found out about our bad U-joint until the drive shaft dropped out. Overnight, Roadside: You could say the break down occurred in the worst possible place: no cell service and 50 miles from the nearest town, and you would not be wrong. But we were stopped right next to a ranger station, on solid ground, in a beautiful national park with excellent scenery, holding plenty of gas for the generator, and experiencing one of the clearest and mildest weather nights of the week. We cooked steaks, had cocktails, went for a stroll among the hills, woke up at 5 AM to admire the extraordinary star-filled night sky, returned to bed and slept in until the wrecker arrived shortly after 8 AM.
Repairs?: Robert, from Barbee Wrecker Service, spent a couple of hours hooking us up. If that sounds a bit long, consider that in addition to lifting and securing our more than 10 ton bus, he also had to disconnect the drive train and remove the drive shaft, which, on our 52-year-old bus, turned out to be a bit tougher than he expected. After a four-hour tow we arrived in the mid afternoon at 5 Star Diesel Repair. We informed the service manager that we wanted him to look at four issues, in priority: throttle linkage, U-joint, reverse gear solenoid relay, and top gear “reluctance.” You might remember that we had hoped to get the latter two long-standing issues addressed in San Antonio, but when that plan fell through we rejiggered our schedule to allow for a full week stop in either Albuquerque or El Paso so that Stewart & Stevenson or Freightliner could take a swing at them.
Since we are in the shop now, but one that, unlike Iron Horse RV, does not let us stay overnight in their lot, much less have electrical and water hook ups, our best case scenario goes something like this: We stay two nights in a local hotel while 5 Star Diesel fixes both the throttle linkage and u-joint, then we take the bus to a state or private RV park for the weekend, returning to 5 Star on Monday for them to fix the transmission related issues during the week.
Yeah, that is probably too much to hope for given that as of 11 AM today, Friday, they had not yet taken a look at our bus, promising only that they would start some time in the afternoon. I don’t blame them; when we pulled in yesterday they were warned that the Big Kahuna would probably not get any attention until sometime today, the temperature was 19 degrees this morning and it snowed last night thus aggravating their ability to tow vehicles from the lot into their facility. Honestly, if we can get the two primary repairs done and at least some progress on the transmission related ones by the end of next week, then we will feel a sense of victory.
For now we are safe and snug in a the Odessa Residence Inn, having spent part of yesterday’s ride in the wrecker pulling up all of our hotel loyalty program accounts and comparing rates for all the options. Usually the major chains are pretty competitive, but in this case the Marriott properties offered far and away the best deals. We have asuite with full kitchen, free WiFi, complementary breakfast and, most importantly, an excellent heating system given what we woke up to this morning.