Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The trip South

After speaking with the previous owner and looking at the dozens of pictures he sent me, I felt it was worth the trip from the San Francisco Bay area to Irvine to see the coach.   I left at about 2 AM and drove down I-5 listening to the all-night talk shows, various CDs or my own excited thoughts about what might be in store.

I arrived at the designated intersection and with a phone call was able to fine-tune and locate the owner.   We drove onto the re-purposed Marine Air Base and after not quite a mile stopped at a guard shack.  The owner showed an ID card, gestured to my car and we drove on with a smile and a wave from the guard.  As we proceeded RVs parked on the aprons and ramps of the former airbase increased in number.   Some fairly shiny and new,  some outright antiques, lined up and sitting in the California sun.   As we approached a hangar decorated with an air-wings mascot on the huge doors, I saw the Wanderlodge.

At first glance I could see that it was pretty straight - no obvious dents or dings.  Looked like all the trim was in place and even the glass was all there.   Sure,   the window seals on the windshield and back windows was dried out and cracked, but rubber certainly decays with time.

As the owner opened up the rig and showed me the inside,  I was a little taken aback.  This rig had been sitting for 10 years and had hosted some rodents during some of that time.   I had brought a shop vacuum with me, expecting it to be dirty and I was not disappointed.  During the time we were looking at the rig, he got a phone call in which he learned that the RV storage yard was closing in 20 days, and any rigs left after that time would be towed and stored at owners expen$e. In our phone conversations he had told me there would be at least 30 days, but the RV storage yard moved the date up.

 After showing me what was where etc.  the owner left me with the ID card and keys and wished me luck. He had informed me that the master brake cylinder was bad, and so that was high on my priority list.   Here is my assessment of the problems I needed to address to get the rig out of jepoardy:

1.   10 year old gas in tanks & lines - harmful to engine if I try to run it on that old gas.

2.   Dead chassis battery - need a battery to be able to run rig.

3.   Defective brakes.

4.   10 year (or more) old  tires must be replaced.

My plan was to use a borrowed battery to address #2  (no cost - borrowed batt from my jeep)
fix the brakes, and if I could get the motor running and the brakes worked well, then buy the tires.
This has the benefit of incremental cost with the option of bailing on the project at any point were the cost of proceeding exceeded  ( Insanity / BankAccount ) * Spousal Justification Coefficient.

I had anticipated #1  and brought empty fuel cans and a siphon pump with me.   Having thought about the problem,  I knew that the rig had 2 55 gallon fuel tanks,  and according to the owner, neither had much in them.    I proceeded to siphon the fuel from the rear tank (which tanks fuel pump sounded like it works)  into a 5 gallon can,  pour the gas into the front tank,  lather,  rinse repeat.  While the fuel (about 14 gallons) slowly siphoned out,  I began inspecting the brake master cylinder and preparing to remove it.

Once all the gas was moved, I began in earnest to pull the master cylinder out - not too badly stuck except for where the brake line attached to a fitting on the side of the cylinder.   The line was not coming off that fitting, even using the special tubing wrench I had picked up for the purpose.   The fitting was attached to the cylinder with a hollow bolt, which was fairly easy to remove and so the master was free in about a half-hours work.

Having the cylinder out enabled me to start trying to find a replacement - it had numbers on the side and part numbers are the key to getting parts, right?   Wrong.   Google was available on my phone and I am reasonably good at google-fu.  There may be a NOS master cylinder somewhere, but I wasn't finding it.   I became increasingly discouraged,  particularly because the emergency brake had been removed years earlier and none of the parts are with the rig.   Also the brake system on this bus is a single-circuit type.  Both the front and rear brakes operate off of a single master cylinder.   Most more modern cars have dual systems where the master cylinder is two hydraulically independent sections,  one for the front brakes and one for the rear.   A failure (think leak) in the front brakes will not affect the rear brakes in a dual system.   In a single system this is not true.   I became convinced that I would not keep going on the project because I felt that the single brake system was not safe, and besides,  I could not get the parts anyway.

I put my tools away and locked up the rig,  got myself a cheap hotel room and took a hot but water conservative (not very helpful after lying on ones back all afternoon) shower.     After a bit of rest, I started widening my google search - now on my laptop rather than the constrained screen of a phone. I found places that specialized in building brake systems for hotrods and classic cars.  Some of the places could build dual systems to replace what had been single systems when the cars were produced.   This information began to re-encourage me and before long I had found a place in Virginia that could rebuild my master cylinder for a few hundred dollars and would even overnight ship it back to me.    Realizing that the greater Los Angeles area might just have a similar service, I focused my search and found Karps Power Brake  in Upland  ( at least that's what they say - my GPS says they are actually in Montclair!  Do I care if they are GeoSpatially challenged ?  NO!  and besides, maybe the GPS is wrong.  or perhaps there is an ongoing turf war between the civic governments of Montclair and Upland.  I am not Political- I am keeping out of it.)

I called  Karps  and spoke with Jeff and he assured me that they could rebuild and possibly re-sleeve the master cylinder.  Then he asked me about the booster.   I replied,  there is no booster - just the master cylinder.  He gently pointed out that my foot and that master were not going to stop a 28,000 pound bus that was lumbering along a road.   Regarding the safety and reliability of the single system,  Jeff pointed out the millions of miles driven on such systems before the dual-systems became popular and he told me that the brakes would give a warning before failure - it may be a whisper, but it would be there.  With the idea of possibly converting to a dual system in the future,  and knowing I would be able to restore the emergency / parking brake (more googlefication gave me some confidence on that subject) I decided to move ahead.  There had to be a booster somewhere.   I crawled back under the bus and slid south on my creeper.  Lo and behold,  a rather large boosterish looking thingamajig.

I proceeded to remove the booster, and the brake line from the master to the booster so I could get a new line that was not stuck in the fitting for the master cylinder.   I called Jeff and discussed the booster and it's potential for rebuilding and agreed to bring both components by later in the day.

Since I had done about as much damage to the brake system as possible,  I decided to work on the engine next.  I had filled my trusty gas cans with fresh fuel, poured it into the rear tank and ran the fuel pump with an oil-change pan under the fuel filter from which I disconnected the output line.  The gas was at first amber and smelled like varnish, but after a gallon or two, started getting clearer and fresher smelling.    I pumped about 7 gallons through and then put the output line back in place.  The pumped out gas was added to the mess in the forward gas tank.  

Having been alive in the 60's  I was familiar with the hair singing technique known as "put a few thimblefuls of gas down the throat of the carb and see what happens when you turn the key".  I proceeded to pour the aforementioned fuel into the carb,  leaned back and twisted the key.   I was rewarded with a healthy rumble of Detroit's finest technology for about 4 seconds - then the sounds of silence.   This was so much fun that I did it a few more times.  (did I mention the Edelbrock manifold,  headers and glass packs?)  The carb, however was resolutely uncooperative.

So, I did what any geek would do - I USED THE GOOGLE ! !    I found a carb-rebuilding shop that was on the way (if you drove that way)  to the brake shop.   I called them and got a quote for rebuilding the Holly 4 Barrel, pulled the carb (after taking some "how the heck was this connected" photos)  and was on to the next task - cleaning. ( it was a little to late to brave LA rush hour at this point - the parts run would wait till morning )

I had a few hours before they would kick me out so I began removing all the textile and foam that looked like the varmints had been there.   Two dinette seat cushions (the backs are attached and will wait till I have the rig home for removal)  two mattresses etc.   The only fabric I believe I will keep is the snap-on privacy curtains for the front, driverside and passenger windows.   It looks relatively clean and I will get it dry cleaned and then evaluate it.   Cleaning out cabinets,  closets,  all kinds of stuff - campers accumulate stuff nearly as well as houses do, and the previous owner had moved across country and had no interest in anything in the rig.    I vacuumed.  and vacuumed.   and vacuumed.   I burned out my little 5 gallon shop vac  vacuuming so much, but I got nearly all of the obvious evidence of the varmints out of the rig.    I sprayed nearly every surface with Clorox Disinfecting bathroom cleaner.   All while wearing a dust mask  and gloves.  I may stop on the way home at a gas station with a big vacuum with a long hose and do another pass or two.

Next morning - my last day this trip - off to the carb shop.   Oh HAPPY DAY !  they have a Holley 4 Barrel on the shelf - looks like a dead-on match for mine.  A quick trip to the ATM ( Cash Only at Carb-X ) and I am the proud owner of a shiny carburetor.   On to Karps Power Brake.  ( Los Angeles area is  BIG!   At home I can drive 2 miles  and pass 2 auto parts stores, Home Depot,  Lowes, Target and Wal Mart.   From the RV  it is 8 miles to AutoZone  and about 10 to Home Depot.  How do they do it???? )   Anyway,  I get there,  show Jeff the parts,  and get the good news that the Master Cylinder is in fairly good shape for pushing 50 years and should be rebuild-able.  The booster could be problematic - there were two types that looked about like mine,  one is very rebuild-able and the other not so much.  Can't tell till they open them up.   I head back to the RV to see if the new carb works.

I install the carb. hmmm  something is wrong.  Backfire.   Backfire.   hmmmmm  oh! Throttle linkage on wrong.   Try again - much better !   a running engine!  The idle is high,  (1500 RPM) despite my plugging the vacuum line to the brake booster,  not sure what it could be.   well,  it runs,  it has oil pressure,  it is getting warm and the temp gauge works.    I am thinking I may have a vacuum leak, but it is getting late and I want to hit the road, so I will worry about the high idle next trip. 

This brings us to now.   It is 9:23 PM and I am about to hit the rack.  At about 2:00 AM I am going back south with a Hyundai full of tools,  a head full of hope and enthusiasm I have not felt in far too long.  If all goes well,  the brakes will work well enough tomorrow that I will call Pete's road service and order the $2,600 worth of tires to be installed on Friday.   I will also sign up for Coach - Net roadside service in case of trouble on the way home.    I will futz around with the lights and check the cooling system carefully.  I will inspect the belts and hoses, maybe pick up spares,  maybe change them out.  Remember that I am working in field conditions and under a bit of pressure and duress.  I need the coach to run for about 10 hours to get home and be able to park it and then give it the patient care and attention it requires and deserves, so wise old purists, realize I am trying to make a calculated assessment of the probability of getting home okay with as little field work as possible.
The plan is to tow the Hyundai on one of the cute little front-wheel-only dollies from u-haul and you better believe I am going to toe the 55mph line.   Or maybe 45 if the wind is the wrong way.  Going North via 101 so no 4500 foot Tejon pass (Grapevine)  just a couple of 1200 footers.  No hurry here,  just enjoying the ride as much as I can while going to full GQ over every new little sound I hear.

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