Monday, March 7, 2016

Big Changes

When Jeff and I parted ways, we agreed to keep in contact and I told him that I was always interested in getting Retro back if he was unable to continue for some reason.

Jeff has worked with Retro for the last couple of months. He got the brakes working well, good tires and wheels, fixed some of the light issues, got the electric engine cooling fans working etc. He got the coach to the point where it is safely drive-able.

I had been keeping in touch with Jeff and keeping track of what I thought were reasonable costs for the work and components he was investing into Retro on my mental notepad. I had also been actively looking for another Bluebird opportunity (low-cost coach that did not need an engine overhaul or transmission rebuild - you know, something that would nickle and dime me rather than killing my bank account in one fell swoop!). I found an 80 FC with a cat that was only a little out of my price range. I spoke with my Wife about it and we were going to go for it, but she noticed that I was not very excited. The 80 was in okay shape and certainly had many more options that Retro did not have - icemaker, big fridge, awnings, air bags and brakes etc., but I was just not quite as exited as I could have been. We talked some more and I explained that I thought there was some chance that Jeff was about ready to sell Retro - although he sounded pretty excited the last time I spoke with him. Virginia brilliantly suggested that I call Jeff. What a stroke of Genius!! Why did I not think of that? When I spoke with Jeff the next day he explained that he is at a very busy point in life and did not really have time for Retro and my heart jumped! I was instantly overjoyed at the prospect of having this 49 year old dirty, partially broken, leaky money pit full of opportunity for genius and stupidity back in my life. Jeff asked for almost exactly what was on my mental notepad and we made the deal.


My son and I drove south from our S.F. Bay area home to L.A. in our towable Jeep Cherokee (full of tools - of course) and showed up at Jeff's about 9:00 AM on Friday. A couple of hours later, Zeke was driving the Jeep as I took Retro on the road for the first time. I had decided that driving independently rather than towing the Jeep would be better in the L.A. area traffic - boy was I right!! 

Traffic in L.A. sucks. Wait, thats not good enough. hmmm. SUCKS!

I was in heavy stop and go freeway traffic within 10 minutes of leaving Jeff's place. The temps were climbing and I realized I did not know the correct switch for the fan thermostat override! ( The switch is invisible. From my driving position it is exactly behind the steering wheel! ) I called Jeff and asked about the switch - I had been fooling with a different switch (unmarked of course) and it sure was not helping cool the engine. Anyway, Jeff straightened me out on the switch and things became much cooler quickly. The traffic was annoying, but not terrible, and the bus was doing well. It was forgiving my ignorance and trying to teach me how to drive it, and within the hour or so I had developed the proper throttle techniques to keep it from lurching through the gears.

Retro loves the road. I can not believe how smoothly he handles the highway. I see bumps in the road but never feel them. Oh, there are certain road conditions which give us a rattle, but he tracks straight and true and is better than I expected in nearly all respects.

Friday night found us in Santa Maria where we stopped and slept in a motel - the rig is unlivable now because of the mess left behind by some rodents that feasted on the food that had been left in it 13 years ago. All of the textiles will be replaced as well as a deep and thorough cleaning of hard surfaces before we live in Retro.

Leaving Santa Maria, we hooked up the Jeep and headed North. Retro towed the Jeep with no problem till we hit the Cuesta grade. Almost immediately the temps began climbing, even with the fans on and locking retro down into the lower ranges. I pulled into a turnout and we disconnected Indy (the Jeep) and let the bus idle with the fans on to cool.

Cooling was slow to happen. I decided to turn off the engine. It did not stop. This could be a problem, I think to myself. (I am quick that way). I figured that maybe it was some kind of circuit to keep things running to let the engine cool, though that would actually be dumb if one had a broken fanbelt for example.

It turned out that the fan-override switch being on in conjunction with the fan thermostatic control being on feeds juice back into the ignition from the override circuit through the thermostatic switch. I semi-randomly turned off the fan override and the engine quit (key off), then I turned on the override again.

Between the fans running, convective circulation and restarting the engine every few minutes, we got cooled down to an indicated 160 in perhaps 20 minutes. Note that the temps never got past an indicated ~ 210 or so, but I had been running about 170 on the highway when towing. We never blew any steam, but I am very sensitive to engines getting hot and prefer to sit on the side of the road to recasting engine components into interesting but inefficient new shapes.

I put Retro into low gear and restarted our ascent. My target speed was maybe 10 mph. Temps climbed. Within just a couple of minutes, we were back at 200 degrees. I stopped again and re-cooled and thought. My concern was not the absolute number of the temperature, but that it was always going up - I had not found the speed at which the work required of the engine was within the cooling systems ability to remove heat. It seems to me ( here is where I can embarrass myself ) that if it takes X work to move the coach 100 feet, doing X in 2 minutes gives the cooling system twice as much time to get rid of heat that if I do X in one minute by going twice as fast. Since the maximum cooling (lets call it Y) is fixed - determined by coolant flow and air flow through the radiator as well as the relative temperatures of coolant an air, there should be some speed where the heat generated is below the heat that the cooling system can get rid of and the system stabilizes at some temperature. If X > Y temps go up, If X<= Y temps stabilize or cool down. Since temps were going up, and I cant turn a magic dial to increase cooling, the only way is to slow down, right? How does 2mph sound. Seriously. I really was watching the flowers grow! 2mph up the Cuesta grade on the shoulder, watching the flowers grow.

I think the radiator may be clogged up. If the radiator is 40% clogged, but retro only needs 50% of the cooling capacity on the highway, then 50 < 60 and we are good. But on the hill, Retro need maybe 80 or 90 % and 90 > 60 and things heat up. I think the reason that slowing down did not help is that I was doing it wrong. Me locking the transmission down into low range may not have been the right thing to do. There is another decent hill between Salinas and Gilroy. On that one, I decided to let Retro do the thinking. All I did was limit to 5th gear on the uphill parts after he had already shifted into 5th. The temps stayed below 180, even though speeds got down to 40 or so (fans on via override). Of course, this hill is not Cuesta grade, Cuesta is about 4-5 miles of always up at a pretty good 6-7% grade, I think. The one north of Salinas has some up, then a little down, some level, some more up and so on till the end where there is a pretty good strech of climb. Letting the transmission do it's thing without my interference seems to help though. And I do think I am going to drain and inspect the radiator - maybe pull it and get it rodded, boiled or whatever they do to them to make them more better gooder.

We did get home about 8:30 Saturday night, and I did have a grin on my face.

One of the first things I did Sunday morning was to break out the shop vac and run the hose in through an open window. I proceeded to vacuum up all the evidence that rodents had left behind throughout the coach - I vacuumed floors and drawers, wiped counters and walls and generally cleaned up. As I vacuumed, I took a closer look at some of the damaged areas in the paneling - clear evidence of water damage in several places. I poked at the damaged wood with the shop vac and it pushed right through the paneling easily, as I expected it would. Behind the damaged wood was soggy fiberglass insulation and then the galvanized steel of the body panels and the ribs of the frame - also galvanized steel. Like a cyclone fence. Fairly rust resistant.

I have found some areas with rust, but right now do not expect it to be a major problem. You see, I was in the Navy. You know, those people who don't admit that they are fighting an unwinnable battle with nature and corrosion. Ships require constant maintenance - chipping away old paint and rust, applying new paint, lather, rinse, repeat. Forever.

Retro does not require constant cycles of rust treatment and prevention, but he does need a good stretch at the motorhome spa. The interior cabinetry and paneling will be removed in the bedroom and living room. The old insulation will be removed and the frame / body panels will be inspected and treated as required. Depending on the outcome of that work, the kitchen / bathroom (with much more complex cabinetry) may or may not be disassembled. The right thing will be done to ensure that all areas requiring work are taken care of. Retro will be pressurized with inert smoke to find leaks. Window frames, ceiling vents and other penetrations will be removed, refreshed and installed with new sealants. Roof panels will be cap-sealed at the joints, even the ones that might not be leaking now.

There are lots of ideas turning into plans for the future of Retro - with the tear-out that is planned lots of options are open.

Retro is now parked next to the garage in the special community approved "behind a fence" RV parking spot. He is covered with blue tarps because of some leaks around window frames and perhaps even in the roof panel overlaps. We have a week of El Ninio rains in the forecast, and with years of drought I am not going to begrudge the rain.

More to come on the "before" condition of Retro and some of the plans for dealing with the issues presented.

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