What follows is a long and involved explanation of two mechanical problems we experienced in the last couple of days. The short story: we had to fill up on tranny fluid and temporarily lost a hubcap. Read on for the longer version.
On Tuesday we left Florida Caverns in route to Grayton Beach State Park in Santa Rosa FL. What should have been a short two and a half hour casual jaunt south turned into a drama filled all day journey. I had trouble getting the bus to “air up,” i.e., for the air compression system to come up to 90 PSI and fill the air ride bags such that the bus lifts up to the appropriate ride height. If you don’t get that right, as we have found out through hard lessons, you may have trouble with the front wheels rubbing on the fender liners during hard turns and experience a very bumpy ride in general. I fiddled with some switches in the cockpit and back at the engine compartment, and the system aired up, though a bit unevenly.
Satisfied, we headed out, only to have a very loud and insistent audible alarm fill the cockpit area as soon as I put it into gear. In neutral: blessed silence. In forward or reverse: banshee like shrieking filled the cabin. I could find no associated warning light, and the alarm speaker was physically located behind a wood panel. Based on the coincidental problems with the air ride system, I assumed it was somehow related to that, or possibly a solenoid issue given our past reverse gear solenoid problem that a previous diesel mechanic had worked on. The odd thing was that despite the alarm we had no problem getting the Big Kahuna into gear. When swearing at all and sundry proved futile in solving the problem, we elected to head down the road to the first mechanic we could find.
First stop: Love’s truck stop chain. The mechanic on duty had no idea at all and, as he made clear, no intention of looking at anything he couldn’t hook up to a computer. He did at least recommend we try “Simbo’s” in Bonifay, apparently just down the road and right off I-10. We pushed on down the interstate to the Bonifay exit and searched in vain for Simbo’s, both visually and via The Google, before giving up and asking advice at a truck gas stop. The randomly selected young man referred us to Eastern Diesel, just down the block behind a Thai restaurant.
Now, normally I would have left that whole unnecessary bit about not being able to find Simbo’s out of this story except for one arguably interesting thing: During the course of writing this post I wanted to give the mechanic at Eastern Diesel that actually helped me credit, but I couldn’t find his company via any of my multiple online searches. Being someone who always prided myself on superior Google-Fu, I pressed on and resolved to find the place via Google street view. And wouldn’t you know it, the Thai restaurant in front of Eastern Diesel used to be called Simbo’s! We accidentally ended up at the exact place the Love’s mechanic recommended. In any case, Josh at Eastern Diesel was initially reluctant to offer more than advice from a distance, but with some cajoling he pulled open the rear doors and took a look, assessed that my transmission fluid level was unusually low, and that might very well be the source of all the problems. He suggested that things should be fine for the limited travel we had left to do that day. I compensated him for his effort and we went on our way.
Once we arrived at Grayton Beach State Park I pleaded for help and advice on the Bus Nuts Online forum, and RJ Long and others helped me out quite a bit, recommending I put in a few quarts of Dexron and see how things looked. I managed to find the transmission maintenance manual, helpfully filed by the previous owner under “water pumps” in his extensive files, and confirmed my specific model of automatic transmission (an Allison VS 2-6 if you must know) and that Dexron is indeed the proper fluid for it. This morning when we headed up the road the annoying alarm did not recur, but we took no chances and picked up some Dexron at Wal-Mart and topped off the tranny straight away. So far so good.
But… as I was bringing my two gallons of tranny fluid and other miscellaneous supplies back out to the bus I noticed the alarming lack of a shiny silvery hubcap on the rear right wheel. Faithful readers may recall that this is the exact wheel that gave us problems right after having all of the tires replaced. The evening after installing new Michelins, we found the hubcap very much ajar and loosely bound to the wheel, while the next morning the tires on that quarter were flat. I thought I had worked around the stripped threads on some of the extenders to the hubcap, but apparently they were damaged worse than I had thought. As we were only 20 minutes down the road from the last known position of the hubcap, we chose to backtrack to Grayton and hope we might find it. The park rangers were sympathetic but did not have possession, though they were happy to let us drive back into the park and retrace our steps. Which we did, to no avail, until we were within minutes of being back at the very same Wal-Mart when Rosemarie screeched with excitement having spotted the damn thing on the side of the road.