There can be only one! Unintentional battle of the bus renovation contractors

So I’m in Portland. “I” not “we” since Rosie is in San Diego at godson’s reenlistment in the Navy.  I know, I know, why couldn’t I have talked sense into the young man?  They don’t listen at that age. Heck I still don’t listen at my age.  Anyway, I’m left in Portland, and with Ramblin’ Rose out of the bus for nearly a week this seemed like a perfect opportunity to do some of those major renovation projects that involve a lot of noise and destruction along with the accompanying dust and general unpleasantness.  I put the word out on Craigslist Portland in advance, seeking skilled labor for an RV bathroom remodel, fabrication work to cover the Jake brake valve cover extension, plus a secret project that Rosemarie doesn’t even know about but probably actually does know about since I have not been particularly subtle in my casual questions about her wants and desires related to the specifics of said secret project. Breath.

See that toilet? That's the only thing new or staying in this bathroom.

See that toilet? That’s the only thing new or staying in this bathroom. My demo work before the contractors get involved.

Day 1:  I got a few replies to the ads, most of them not quite right for the jobs, usually because of timing or their own expressed limitations rather than any sort of exceedingly high standards on my part.  But I did get a promising offer from one team, whom we shall call J & B; a pair of apparently experienced skilled laborers in the fields required.  J, promisingly, showed up on the very afternoon I pulled into Jantzen Beach RV Park after dropping Rose off at the Portland airport.  Having dealt with numerous flaky Miami contractors that did not show up on the day arranged, this was a great early sign of competence and reliability.  Gung ho, J assisted me with manuevering the bus into a tricky position to empty my sewage tank via my alternative method because, for the love of Christ, the macerator is jammed again, and then he started demo work on the bathroom that very evening.   His partner B had some sort of complicated auto trouble that precluded even showing up to discuss rates, which seemed very Miami, and not in a good way.  So J and I came to a financial agreement. Day 1: J clearly in the lead, but why should that matter as there is yet no actual conflict?

The curved roof problem, making every aspect of this reno hard.

The curved roof problem, making every aspect of this reno hard.

Day 2:  Things got a bit more complicated.  B showed up, and since J already had the bathroom job apparently locked in, B and I negotiated for the metal fabrication work and the top secret project as an entirely separate venture rather than as an addition to the team effort that I thought we were working towards.  And yet there was clear job overlap.  J was reliant on B for tools, transportation and, as would eventually become clear, knowledge.  I had already started to realize that J would require close supervision; he had a tendency to get tunnel vision and did not always think through the procedures.  Additionally, B would occasionally ask what I can only describe as penchant and insightful questions about the bathroom renovation plan.  I would take some of these questions to J, who would seem baffled at first, then through mutual discussion come to some sort of revised plan.

Big time progress. Shower fixtures, walls, and pan finally removed.

Big time progress. Shower fixtures, walls, and pan finally removed.

Over the course of the day it became obvious that B was vastly more knowledgeable about every aspect of the renovations, which I figured I could leverage with some sort of consultation fee for B while J did the work, but then J disappeared in the middle of the day.  For five hours.  No responses to texts or calls.  I was a bit surprised when he showed back up at 7 PM and worked another hour or so as if nothing had happened, but by that point I felt like the demo of the bathroom, still far from done, was taking entirely too long.  I paid him out for the day since our arrangement was an hourly labor charge as opposed to the fee for set service agreement I had with B.  Day 2: the tide has shifted in favor of B, but it is not a lock, as J still works his ass off when present and shows up early.

The toilet hole.  Moving the potty to the left require a lot of modifications.

The toilet hole. Moving the potty to the left requires a lot of modifications.

Day 3: A glorious, blue sky and cloud free day in Portland. The RV neighbors seem almost rapturous when they talk about it, standing slackjawed or giddy in the street with their dogs loosely held on leashes.  And yet some ominous waft of dangerous conflict hovers over the Big Kahuna.  J shows up before 8 AM, again with the gung ho “lets get started” attitude that endeared him to me on Day 1. But then we spend half an our bullshitting despite my clear need for coffee and silence, with all the BS seemingly about the grey area between his and B’s work agreement with me.  We move on, he attacks the rest of the bathroom demo, with me expressing concern every hour or so with the slow progress.  B shows up at 10AM, goes to work on the secret project, and yet again points out several relevant concerns and recommendations with the bath remodel that J has not even considered.  There is clear tension between the two contractors, and my frustration becomes apparent to both of them as I feel I am having to supervise J too much as well as mediate between them.

The demo nears completion, the bathroom is gutted.  J’s reliance on B has sucked him into the fringe parts of the bathroom remodel, and B has in turn called in a young assistant to do the grunt work associated with the secret project on which he is the lead.  She shows up in daisy dukes and a bikini top.  I immediately text Rose to clear my name.

I don't even.. contractor's assistant working on the bus in a bikini top.  What will the neighbors think?

I don’t even.. contractor’s assistant working on the bus in a bikini top. What will the neighbors think?

To J’s credit I pursued an idea of his regarding the shower enclosure, and low and behold the Home Depot right across the street from the RV park had exactly what I wanted, which will likely simplify the remodel process.  J and I arranged that I would take the bicycle and buy the shower enclosure and he would come get it with a hand dolly.  He didn’t show up.  It was about the same time of the day that he disappeared on day 2.  Frustrated and waiting in the Home Depot loading zone, I spotted a gentleman in a beat down pick up truck with tool racks.  As an experienced Miamian familiar with undocumented work arrangements in HD parking lots, I approached him and we negotiated a $14 fee for him to load the enclosure into his truck and take it the less than a mile into the RV park.  Upon arrival I found B working some of his job and J’s.  We negotiated for him to do the rest of the bathroom remodel as well as his secret project.  I cooked ribs and we ate.  J still has not shown up.

Oregon! Cape Blanco State Park

We left California behind, entering Oregon for the second time in our lives, having previously spent a few days in Portland for a major beer fest.  This is our first time here with an RV, however, and we look forward to several weeks of fantastic motorhome adventures.  Oregon is high on the must see lists of many RVers we follow on line, and from their descriptions we became particularly enamored with the coastal region.

We have selected a handful of areas along the coast we would like to see, spread out by a hundred miles or so between each, with back up options in case our primary choice is full.  The great thing about Oregon is how many fantastic and generally affordable options we have.  Take a look at this map of state parks; amazing how many are on the coastline, and that doesn’t even include the private park options.  Even if we only take the top coastal recommendations from, say, Wheeling It’s years of travelling through Oregon, we would have too many to see in our time here.

Cape Blanco Light House visible at the end of the spit

Cape Blanco Light House visible at the end of the spit

From the multiple sources we researched, Cape Blanco was almost always on the top of the list for the southern portion of the coast line, and after three days of exploration, we see why.  It is just fantastic, starting with the spacious sites with 50 amp electricity, water picnic table, and fire ring. We circled the whole park, checking each of the 50 plus sites, finally selecting this excellent one that has an actual view of the ocean through the trees.  This convinced us to pull in front forward rather than back in as is usual, and sometimes mandatory, allowing us to continuously enjoy the view from our large front window.

The park has a great set of easy trails, particularly the Coastal Trail just 100 feet in front of our bus, which leads down to the beach access in one direction and to a fantastic lighthouse a mile away in the other.  The weather was not always fantastic for us warm weather oriented Floridians, but the chill of the morning gave way to reasonably sunny afternoon on the first day, and with 50 amp electricity we were able to run a heater at night.  Even with the weather shifting from sunny to cloudy after the first day, such changes provided for a significantly different views each day from the beach.

The park has very clean toilet and shower facilities with plenty of hot water, paved rads, level sites, and even reasonable Verizon connectivity, which was a relief since we had virtually none in Jedediah Smith Redwood campground.  As for supplies, the nearest town and stores are rather farther away than is comfortable for a bike ride, so unless you have a tow vehicle stock up before you arrive.

If there is any ding on Cape Blanco State Park, it is the lack of a dump station.  We are used to sewage hook ups being rare in state parks, but almost all of them have a central dump station, so it came as a surprise when we didn’t spot one coming in to Cape Blanco, and were informed by the camp hosts that it had been inoperative for eight years.  Considering how well maintained the rest of the park is, I have come to suspect that having no sewage facilities on premises is an intentional decision of park management, a feature not a bug, that fits in with what seems to be the incentivization of a “pack it in, pack it out” mentality here.  Another example: almost no trash cans anywhere in the public picnic areas and trails.  People are expected to take any trash they bring or create out of the park them.

Jedediah Smith Campground, Redwood National and State Park

We are big fans of national parks, but they are so large that it is difficult to explore them without a tow vehicle, and often the RV camping availability is limited.  We are big fans of state parks, but the quality varies so much by state.  This last weekend we found perhaps the perfect balance: a state park campground within the jointly managed boundaries of a national park.  Specifically, Jedediah Smith State Park Campground in the Redwood National and State Parks.

Crossing Smith River before entering Jedediah Smith Campground

Crossing Smith River before entering Jedediah Smith Campground

This was our final California stop of the year, and oh what a fantastic spot!  Like many national parks, Redwood has numerous campgrounds but only some of them are suitable for RVs, much less one our size.  Thus we were mildly worried about the first come, first serve availability here, but when we pulled in after a couple of hours’ pleasant drive up the pacific coast highway, we found a very organized system of camping with color coded sites arranged by maximum size.  Joshua Tree, please for the love of humanity, take note and get your stuff together.  We were able to secure one of a handful of the largest, 36′ sites, a fantastic spot nestled in among, you guessed it, huge redwood trees.

The site was barely long enough, but so much space to either side.

The site was barely long enough, but so much space to either side.

Jedediah Smith is, however, all dry camping, which is a bit surprising given the $35 per night cost. Frankly, I am beginning to suspect that this is simply the California price of RV living, unless subsidized by you, the taxpayers, for us retired military people like we benefited from in Monterey. We made do; after charging up, dumping, and filling fresh water in Arcata, our batteries and tanks were ready for a bit more dry camping, particularly now that I have discovered the secret of charging our house batteries without overpowering the Honda generator.

Rosie, riverside

Rosie, riverside

Two nights, that’s all we stayed, but given a bit more flexibility in our near term schedule, boy would we stay longer.  Our site was a couple hundred yards from the Smith River, one of the rocky beaches of which we had pretty much all to ourselves both afternoons of our stay.  You can hardly find a more pleasant and peaceful day than one spent beside this river, particularly if you have a bottle of California Central Coast wine, kept at ideal temperature by the cool river water.

Joyce pinot-noir, ideally pared with a beautific river.

Heller Estate organic red, ideally pared with a beautific river.

Returning to our campsite, the large fire pit allowed us to cap off our evening in style.  This is the sort of place that will lure us back to Northern California in future years.

Blue Person Group, returning from

Blue Person Group, returning from “up to no good” in the forest.

Pros to this campground: Large and well spaced sites with extensive green growth in an almost Eden-like setting.  Highly organized first come first serve check in process with color coded sites. Location next to the beautiful Smith River.

The delicate art of salmon surfing, which I learned when I lived among the Yakima tribe. Memories.

The delicate art of salmon surfing, which I learned when I lived among the Yakima tribe. Memories.

Cons: As mentioned above, the $35 per night cost for no hook ups, the lack of a dump station (closed for repairs I believe), and the very limited extended Verizon connectivity.

All to ourselves.

All to ourselves.

First stop after a week at the bus repair shop: Glass Beach and MacKerricher State Park

We only have the vaguest schedule, essentially following the seasons, i.e., winter across the South, spring up the West Coast, summer across the North, fall down the East Coast, but even with such flexibility it feels like we are behind the non-existent schedule due to the multiple weeks we spent at mechanics in April and May.  Such feelings propelled us violently forward as soon as we could escape from Coach Maintenance Company.  We headed west on CA State Route 20 all the way to the coast towards one of the significant items on Rosemarie’s list of must see list: Glass Beach.

This is not a figurative name based on some vague descriptive resemblance to glass if you squint at it just right.  It is, rather, a literal description of the beach: Composed almost entirely of beach glass from over a century’s worth of trash, including a significant percentage of glass, dumped in three designated areas near Fort Bragg.  From the cliff some 30 feet above the water it looks like any other pebble dominated beach, so much so that I warned Rose to be realistic in her expectations as we descended the stairs: it surely would not live up to the online pictures.  As we reached the beach proper, I stood corrected.  It is everything the pictures suggested.  A small cove completely covered in beach glass, mainly white and brown and green of various hues.

We have heard contradictory information regarding the rules about collecting glass from the beach. Some sources state that because MacKerricher State Park absorbed Glass Beach in the 1990s, and therefor collecting the glass is legally forbidden.  Others sources say that collecting is merely “discouraged.”  Regardless, we also read that if you proceeded south of the official Glass Beach you would pass out of the State Park and find even better beach glass collection spots without any restrictions, official or otherwise.  We had this confirmed by local collector Priscilla, who grew up in the area and fondly recalled her dad teaching her, at age five, to throw Molotov cocktails into the last of the designated dump sites (burning it down was a standard practice, though kindergarten involvement might not have been.)

The official glass beach has a set of stairs leading down to it, the other unofficial sites do not, and from the top of the cliffs it is not immediately apparent if they are accessible.  This is the reason that these other sites are far better beach glass collection areas with larger, more diverse, and older selections.  While biking south from Glass Beach we observed a couple of people in one of these alternative coves, even watching the route that one pair took down to the water’s edge.  We followed, and having already been astounded by Glass Beach, were doubly astounded by how much better this less accessible area was.   We have a small bag of white, green, blue and milk glass to prove it.

For our two day stay we chose MacKerricher State Park.  I am of two minds on this place: It was almost unimaginably beautiful with the rugged and astounding beach less than a quarter mile from our spot, but it was $35 a night for dry camping, which seems a bit absurd.  At least they had a dump station and bath house, but the showers were coin operated, a buck for five minutes!  We were second guessing ourselves until we went to the beach the first night and took the bike trail all the way to Glass Beach the second day.  There are a couple of nearby private park options with partial or full hookups available at a price competitive with or better than MacKerricher, but after exploring the area we sensed that none of them have the ease of access to the coast and Glass Beach.

Sunset from MacKerricher State Park

Sunset from MacKerricher State Park

The sunsets from the beach were fantastic, the coastal trail near our site led all the way to Glass Beach, the sites themselves were large and ours was quite level, though we spotted several others that would be a challenge to even out.  All told a fantastic two day stay.  If we come through again we might consider Camp Cleone or another park, but no real regrets about our stay.

Through the Redwood Curtain: Arcata and Mad River Rapids RV Park

Our last California stop, Redwood National and State Park, was a bit further away from Glass Beach than I like to drive in one day, so we picked a one night stopping point, Arcata, just north of Eureka.  We left earlier than our usual time, on the road by 9:30 hoping to get to Arcata in time for the reportedly wonderful Saturday farmers market.  Though we are used to adding 30% or more to the google maps driving time estimate, even that was insufficient to account for how long it would take us to drive the nearly forty mile stretch on CA SR 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, through the coastal mountains.  It was miles of very slow climbs, steep downhills, with cliff and mountainside hairpin turns for much of the way.  The Jake helped, but it was still pretty white knuckled driving, enough to make me miss flat Florida.

We had missed the office hours of our chosen RV park the night before, but they responded to our online reservation request as we approached their park.  Apparently it is graduation week for Humboldt State University, so we were quite lucky to get an opening at all when someone cancelled the morning we wanted to arrive.  After four hours of what would have been two and a half in a car, we pulled into Mad River, hooking up to their easily accessible pull through spot, full services including cable and WiFi.  We also took advantage of their resort style amenities, a very toasty in ground hot tub, and their affordable laundry machines.  All in all a great one night stop to refresh ourselves before boondocking in the Redwood National Park.

Back on the road! Engine brake field trials and battery charging enlightenment

We left Coach Maintenance Company having improved or resolved several critical issues: We got our desperately desired Jake engine brake installed, finally figured out exactly what was going on with the battery charging problem, tuned up the Detroit Diesel, straightened a storage compartment door frame, and eliminated our concerns about the low oil pressure indicator.  Though we road tested everything with Ted while at his shop, the true test, especially for the engine brake, would be a long ride with significant downhill runs.  Our trip to Glass Beach provided that in spades.

One of our many 7%+ downhill runs testing the Jake Brake

One of our many 7%+ downhill runs testing the Jake Brake

Engine Brake Trials:  We took CA State Route 20 from Williams to Fort Bragg (the California one, not the North Carolina one).  This is an unusually windy road, especially the downhill section from Willits to the coast, which gave us a pretty significant stress test on the new Jake Brake.  We hit numerous six and seven percent grades, a couple of eights, and one ten, with many of them requiring slow speeds to manage tight turns.  Along the way we learned the capabilities and limitations of the Jake Brake, along with how to best use it and when not to use it.  Bottom line: it’s a major assist but not a cure all.

Because of the idiosyncrasies of our transmission, the Jake only works in Direct and Overdrive (sort of the 2nd and 3rd gears).  It will hold the bus at any speed above 35 mph on a six percent grade without using the regular brakes at all, but steeper than that it needs them to assist.  Critically, when I drop the speed into the single digits, I need to be ready to disengage the Jake otherwise it might actually stall the engine completely.  Overall, I am very pleased to have this equipment; it made a huge difference coming down the Mendocino Range, and gives me a lot of comfort for the mountains to come.

It rained. We turned on the headlights.  The battery charged.  Son of a...

It rained. We turned on the headlights. The battery charged. Son of a…

Starter Battery Charging Problem: Solved, we think.  Most of you have probably read about our increasingly critical failure of engine to charge our batteries while driving, which has caused us to have to stop and use the Honda generator to charge them on several occasions.  I am not sure what caused this problem to get worse over the course of our travels, but we have a much greater understanding of our electrical set up now that we have spent hours with Ted at Coach Maintenance going over it.  In addition to cleaning and aligning the points on two critical relays, we also learned that the electrical regulator will not engage to charge the starter batteries until it senses a marginal electrical load.

Prior to The Big Kahuna’s conversion from a transit bus to a motorhome, there were several electrical loads on the system that no longer exist, such as passenger air blower assemblies.  It appears that the removal of these items has decreased the electrical load such that the system is not even engaging the charging circuits.  We now know how to monitor this via the recently identified mystery light on the dash panel, and our run west on CA-20 in mild drizzle accidentally taught us a work around to ensure that the electrical load sensor engages the charging circuit: turn on the head lights.  I’m not kidding, it was as simple as that.  We watched the charging failure light switching and off for the whole journey until we turned on the head lights, and then it stayed off. Crazy.  We suspect that some of the electrical work we had done in Florida or Texas may have removed some of the regular loading on the sensor circuit, but now we have a fix of sorts.

Proof that the engine brake worked: we arrived safe in Fort Bragg CA after running down the Mendocino Ridge

Proof that the engine brake worked: arrived safe in Fort Bragg CA after running down Mendocino Ridge

House battery charging via the Honda generator: When we first got the Honda EU2000i generator running back in Key West, we learned that our invertor placed an unusually high electrical demand on the system causing the little generator to trip off.  We just assumed that we would have to live with this limitation until we could install a modern controllable inverter with our house batteries.  During our full week stay at Coach Maintenance Company, however, we did some experimenting while hooked up via a standard extension cord to Ted’s 20 amp circuit.  We found that if we flipped all our circuit breakers to off, then turned on only the inverter battery charger, waited, then turned on the other circuits, we could keep the demand below 20 amps and not trip Ted’s breaker.

This got me thinking about doing the same thing with the Honda generator. Sure enough, it worked, barely.  As long as all the other breakers are off we can initiate power to the inverter; the Honda will flash the overload light sporadically for a minute or so until things calm down, and at that point I can turn on the other breakers, mainly the refrigerator.  But if I try and do this with the refrigerator breaker already on, it will trip overload circuit on the Honda.

I know this sounds minor and a bit down in the weeds, but this is huge for us.  For months we have operated with the assumption that, until we get a major electrical upgrade, we will not be able to charge our house battery system at all unless we are in a park with at least 30 amp electrical hook ups.  Now we have eliminated this limitation without changing anything but our procedures.  We can charge our house batteries with our little Honda OR at any of your houses with an electrical cord while we are parked in your driveways!  Yeah, us!

Four Months of Fulltiming, April 2015 Report

The Distance: 1,154 miles, our least amount of movement in a month yet, obviously because we left the bus in the repair shop for three weeks.  Our total distance since the start of fulltime RVing at the beginning of the year: 6,556 miles.  Of course, if you count our plane flight to Hawaii…

The Places: Since leaving Death Valley on April 1st we had a night of mechanical failure induced stealth camping behind the gas station in Barstow, a short and unfortunate day in Joshua Tree National Park followed by a pleasant but expensive night at an RV Resort in Indio, and then three nights at Orange Grove RV Park in Bakersfield.  The bus then spent three weeks between two different repair shops, Bay Cities Diesel and Coach Maintenance Company, while we stayed at Rosemarie’s sister’s house, interspersed with a eight day trip to Hawaii.  Of the five nights on the road we had hookup sites for four and boondocked one.  So in terms of “cool RVing,” April was a bust, but in terms of family visits and vacations, it was a great month.

The Budget:  Totally, completely blew the budget due to the Hawaii trip.  Though we paid almost nothing for the plane tickets, it was the hotel and entertainment expenses accounted for 56% of our expenditures for this month, and resulted in us being about 75% over our planned monthly budget. Inexcusable and unsustainable.  We have resolved that come hell or high water we will be under budget in May and June to get our annual expenditure rate back on track.

The Drama:  So much of it.  Clearly, the complete loss of reverse gear on April Fool’s Day after a morning of dead battery stress and a failure to secure an RV spot in Joshua Tree makes that day the worst of the month.  Things improved from there even as The Big Kahuna’s battery charging worsened.  We stumbled into a perfect stealth camping site, put out the urgent word on for a mechanic in the Bay Area, and nursed the bus all the way to San Francisco.

The Improvements:  Major power steering fluid leak fixed, reverse gear restored, and top gear (overdrive) transition significantly improved.  Those are big, though perhaps only the last one is an improvement since the first two were simply repairs of things that broke that month.

Jacobs Engine Brake installed!

Well this is the big reveal, the major upgrade we have been wanting ever since our scary downhill ride in Sedona.  Though now more prepared for such events, we experienced several more downhill runs, particularly leaving Joshua Tree and coming into Carmel Valley, that I can only categorize as “not fun.”   Such incidents increased our sense of urgency to improve Kahuna’s braking ability, and online research revealed that retrofitting an “engine brake” onto our Detroit Diesel engine is perfectly doable.  Thus, two weeks ago when we picked up the bus from Ted following the reverse gear repair, we made arrangements to come back for the Jake Brake install.

See that innocuous unlabeled switch to on the lower right?  That will make all the difference next major downhill run.

See that innocuous unlabeled switch to on the lower right? That will make all the difference next major downhill run.

Here is the gist of it: Trucks and buses are so heavy that their brakes are often insufficient to the task of slowing and stopping them on long steep downhill grades.  They become overheated and less effective.  Exhibit A: The Big Kahuna.  Thus you often see warning signs at the top of long downhills advising trucks of the percent grade, to check their brakes, and use low gears. Part of the problem is diesel engine mechanics; for most diesel engines, even when no fuel is applied, the full amount of air is sucked into the cylinder, compressed, and that energy applied to the crankshaft.

Door modification in progress to allow for the oversized valve covers.

Door modification in progress to allow for the oversized valve covers.

In the late 50’s and early 60’s Clessie Cummins, of Cummins Diesel fame, developed a method of retrofitting a device on the rocker arms inside the engine that, when activated, would open the engine exhaust valves such that the compressed air is not applied to the crankshaft, but rather the energy is absorbed by the engine, effectively turning it into a brake.  Or as Ted explains it, it turns your engine into an air compressor.  We will be able to turn it on and hold our speed on even significant downhill runs without touching the brakes at all.  We just completed our test drive, and it works as advertised on the limited hills in this area, and exactly according to spec in terms of when it engages and how.  This major upgrade gives us a lot of peace of mind for our future runs through mountain areas.  The only down side is that the modifications required much larger valve covers, and one of them is so large that the rear doors do not close.  We will modify the doors with a professional looking bubble to accommodate the valve cover, but for now Ted just cut a clean rectangle out.

A bit Mad Max looking, innit?

A bit Mad Max looking, innit?

Incidentally, engine brakes are often called Jake brakes because the first manufacturer/distributor was Jacobs Vehicle Systems.

Bus repair update! Huge progress on repairs, preventive maintenance, and a secret upgrade.

Today was our fourth full day at Coach Maintenance Company in Williams, CA.  Days one and two had us in wait mode: Mechanic Ted’s primary project took far longer than he anticipated, but true to his word as soon as it was done he turned full attention to The Big Kahuna.  During those first two days we tried not to waste time worrying about the delay and instead get a few things done. Rosie set up a table outside and worked on some hand made jewelry projects.  We cleaned and reorganized parts of the bus.  I found some rubbing and polishing compound in my Big Box of Bus Liquids and Pastes (B3LaP), and rediscovered the magic that a light rubbing compound can work on damaged paint.  Check this before and after of one of our storage doors, scraped up by a big rock:

When you scrape your vehicle against something, often what you mistake for damaged paint is just a layer of the object you hit stuck to the surface of your generally undamaged paint. Rubbing compound removes all that, in addition to sanding actual light scratches from the top coat. Sometimes the results are extraordinary.  Another door, another example:

So we kept ourselves productive until Ted could get to us on day three in the yard, starting first off with the intermittent battery charger issue, which of course is not currently showing any symptoms. Having consulted the drawings, Ted was able to narrow things down, largely because we had already determined that one of my dashboard mystery lights is in fact a perfectly working generator failure indicator.  The fact that this indicator works at all eliminates some suspect components.  In light of that, Ted had me pull two relays: the starter/generator relay and the sensor relay, and cleaned the contact points in his glass bead power cleaner and adjusted the points alignment.  That is about as much as we can do until the other bus projects are done and we can start it up and see if we get any symptoms.

After that he hooked up an oil pressure gauge directly of the engine to see if what the dash gauge was indicating, catastrophically, dangerously low pressure, was accurate.  It is not.  Oil pressure is exactly what it should be through the full range of engine RPM.  What I have is merely a bad “sender.”  Since it is an aftermarket truck part rather than an original bus part, Ted doesn’t carry them, but has given me guidance on how to get the proper Stewart Warner sender to match my dash gauge.

Next we tackled the bent storage door frame preventing proper closure of two doors behind the right rear wheels.  This is going to get a bit technical, try to keep up.  The frame in question was bent towards the rear of the bus, it needed to be pulled forward half an inch.  So we hooked a big heavy chain to the bent frame, rested the free end of the chain up under the back tire… and then backed up the bus.  The tire ran back over the chain, holding it in place, and the power of the bus trying to continue backwards essentially pulled the frame into position.  So very high tech, but now the doors close.

"Spaz" supervises from atop the bus

“Spaz” supervises from atop the bus

Last we started on the secret mystery project.  Anyone care to guess before we give hints?  Too late, here are some photographic hints.

In addition to the photos, I will tell you that the secret project also presented the perfect opportunity to do a tune up: adjusting the rocker spacing and fuel injector heights, which Ted did.

Finally, here are some belated pics of the damaged reverse gear assembly that Ted replaced while we were in Hawaii. Half a dozen completely missing teeth and every single remaining one heavily damaged.

To sum up:

  • Battery charging failure: no indications yet, two components adjusted to fix
  • Very low oil pressure reading: Proved to be a false indicator caused by a bad sender.
  • Bent storage door frame: corrected
  • Tune up: complete
  • Secret project: more than half done
  • Hand brake adjustment: TBD
  • Water temperature gauge failure: TBD
  • Right rear tire pair cat’s eye replacement: TBD

A few catch up posts on Hawaii: The Hard Sell at Hale Koa

We didn’t post much about Hawaii while there since we were pretty busy with family, friends, and enjoying Honolulu.  So now that we have some downtime we will put out a few things that might be of interest to future Hawaii travelers.

This may be one of those personality specific pet peeves which will have you rolling your eyes rather than nodding along, but one of the things that really bugs me about shipboard cruises like those we have taken on Norwegian Cruise Line is the constant sales pitch going on at nearly every event and venue, and often with what I see as a high degree of deception involved.  For instance, one of the free presentations we attended was ostensibly to provide advice and guidance on shopping in the ports of call, but it was really just a one hour sales pitch for the preferred merchants both on and off the ship.

So it was with some disappointment that we discovered the Hale Koa military hotel in Waikiki has lowered itself to at least some of the same practices.  A one hour “orientation” breakfast was nothing more than a hard sell for very expensive guided tours without one mention of the much more affordable methods of getting to and enjoying the same venues.  They pushed a $90 dollar Around the Island type tour that would, as the name suggests, take you on a bus trip around Oahu