Though Kahuna had made it 180 miles to Charleston without incident, he broke down hard within 15 miles of our departure from James Island County Park. We were on a back road coming to an intersection when once again the bus would not downshift and subsequently stalled. I pulled over to the side as far as possible but still blocked most of the lane.
I stepped outside to direct traffic around us, and within a minute a family in a large pick up pulled in front of me and offered to tow me into the gas station directly across the street. He didn’t bat an eye at the weight of the bus, simply directed his teenage son to get the rope out of the bed, and connected me up. I started Kahuna in the hopes of that his forward pull would prevent me from stalling, and perhaps even allow me to get it out of gear. It worked for the former but not the latter, and within a minute I was out of the traffic flow and parked in the side lot of the gas station.
I set up the generator and worked with the transmission as best I could, but it seemed clear that another tow was in the works. I called Progressive, they took all the information and worked on finding a tow that could handle us while I researched and called around for a big truck mechanic shop willing to take us on. I stumbled across W.W. Williams almost immediately, the official Allison shop in the area. They agreed to have us come in, and fortunately also recommended a tow company which was able to pick us up within an hour, far faster than the five hour estimate that Progressive’s initial choice could promise.
SO once again we found ourselves sitting in the back parking lot of a major truck repair shop, waiting to here the verdict, holding our breathes in the hope that it would be something minor, or at least something that this shop could fix. They weren’t able to get to us on day one, but by the middle of our second day they had checked transmission levels and researched our tranny model, coming to the conclusion that the problem, whatever it might be, was beyond their knowledge. It was a big frustrating to have the official Allison shop turn down repairs on our Allison transmission, but they didn’t charge us for the limited work they did, and let us stay in their lot for the two nights. So once again we were on the hunt for a mechanic.
After a few calls I stumbled across General Diesel, just a couple of miles down the road, and they promised a more aggressive attempt at getting us fixed. During our overnight stay at W.W. Williams, the pressure had drained off of the transmission control and I was able to start the bus and idle it in turbine. With General Diesel only a couple of miles away, I was able to drive there in low gear, keeping our speed below 25 on the mostly back roads.
And there began a five day odyssey of tests and research, with the young mechanic, Robbie, giving it his best, and me finding him technical assistance from recommendations I received on the Bus Nut forum. Dropping the pan he found what he thought to be significant clutch material. Flushing all that out, he ran pressure tests in accordance with the process Brandon from The Ghost Bus blog recommended. We looked at upgrading the transmission entirely to the next model, and received significant multiple phone tech assists from Gary out at Pioneer Transmission Services in Illinois.
My hope of getting the bus fixed enough to nurse back to Florida where we could deal with the problems under less pressure faded. It became clear that the transmission was going to have to be removed and shipped to an expert; Gary agreed to take it on. This would be the second rebuild within a few months. Hopefully we can get it done right this time, document the damage, and perhaps even get some of the money back from the place that did it this fall, though I am not holding my breath on that last account.
So we will fix the bus, but looking at the bigger picture, this is it for us. We can’t keep full time RVing in The Big Kahuna. We kept telling ourselves that things would get better as we repaired system after system, and that we were still finding the gremlins from the years that the bus sat up uncared for. But the truth is that our breakdowns are actually getting closer together, and we lack the expertise to properly get this old bus up to reliable running condition. Even this state of affairs might be workable if it wasn’t so had to find anyone to work on all but the most basic problems.
Over the last couple of months we had resolved to just get the bus back to South Florida, and during the winter we would reassess our plans. Now that reassessment has been pushed forward, and we have decided two things:
- Once repaired, The Big Kahuna goes up for sale.
- We are NOT done full time RVing, we just need something more reliable but still affordable.
So we spent a portion of our time in the General Diesel’s parking lot using their guest wifi to research our options, and then we took action. The results next post.