Monday, July 13, 2009

Mechanical Woes

Today was supposed to be an easy and restful day. We were planning to go at our leisure to a campground just short of Anchorage. That should give us time to enjoy our last day on the beautiful Resurrection Bay, walk Roxie, and take it easy, then make the short drive, and rest or do a bit of sightseeing. Well, things started well. The pleasant cool weather continued with no rain. Barbara found some great sweet rolls, and a spot to view eagles.

We have been searching for several weeks to get a close up of eagles, finally this morning out of the blue here were these two beauties.
This is the male, and below is the female, who kept flying back to the nest.

Things continued on track until we started the bus. Dennis went out to make the pretravel checks while the bus idled. After idleing a minute or so it ran rough briefly and stalled. This was disconcerting as it is something that does not happen. So Dennis went in to start it again, and it turned over but wouldn't start. After several more rounds of this it seemed clear that it was not going to just decide to start. After considering possibilities, Dennis decided that it must be a fuel problem. So the first guess was that the engine had somehow lost its prime. That happened once before 3 or 4 years ago. It turned out we had what we would need to reprime. We gathered our spare fuel pump with lines and fittings, a 5 gallon can with maybe a gallon of diesel fuel, wrenches, and wire and went to work. The techniques is to tap into the fuel line going to the engine and pump fuel from the fuel can, then try to start the engine. With a handful of wrenches and fittings, and running a wire from our house battery bay to run the external pump it looks more complicated than it is. While Dennis runs the extra pump Barbara starts the bus. It starts quickly and runs well. It is using the fuel from the can quickly and we don't want to run out as that could easily cause us to lose the prime again, so we shut if off. We reconnect the bus lines to run as usual from the tank, confidently put the tools and everything away and start the bus again. Dennis is explaining to onlookers how easy the old diesels are to work on. Unbeknown to him, Barbara has already explained to neighbors that thought Dennis must be a mechanic that he is in fact a retired psychologist who knows in general how a lot of things work but is actually a klutz at working on them. So Dennis is probably the only one surprised when the engine sputters and dies again.

So back to square one. The question is whether to try the same procedure again or what. Dennis is still sure that it is a fuel problem and thinks that changing fuel filters may be be the way to go. A rather well informed onlooker calls a friend who has experience working with buses and they agree that it is a fuel problem. They suggest looking for any evidence of leaks in fuel lines and especially at connections in them, then if that doesn't work try changing the fuel filters in case they are clogged. So we spent a few minutes and didn't find any fuel line problems. Dennis went to a gas station and filled the 5 gallon can with diesel fuel. He changed the 2 fuel filters ( we have carried spares for years but never changed them on the road before). We then hooked up the external fuel pump again and went through the same procedure. But we had more fuel and ran for a much longer time from the fuel can before reconnecting the lines to the bus tank. This time Dennis starts the bus and holds the accelerator at a high idle for several minutes, before letting it idle at the normal speed. It runs fine and we are able to leave. This leaves some question about whether the problems was a clogged filter or losing the prime for some reason, but at least we are on our way and all agree that the engine sounds good. So we made our hour and a half trip, and stopped for the night at a very quiet rustic campground in the Portage Valley.

Ironically this all happened the day before we plan to take the bus into a shop in Anchorage for another problem. When we got to Soldotna we found that we had a small but steady drip of diesel fuel under the bus. We put a pan under to catch it and found that it was a little less than a quart of day. Dennis spent a lot of time looking for the problem. Our worst fear was that it was a leak in one of our fuel tanks. After taking off a compartment cover for the main fuel tank and getting into the compartment with the auxiliary fuel tank we were relieved to find that neither of the tanks was leaking. We spent some time checking all lines from the tanks as well as our diesel generator and diesel heater. We studied diagrams from the bus manual, and concluded that the only thing left that could cause it was a leak in the lines from our main fuel tank to our auxiliary tank 10 feet or so away. There are two lines under the bus with hoses at each end connecting pipes to allow for removal of the tanks if needed. Dennis drove the bus us on some 2 by 10 boards that we carry for leveling and crawled under with a flashlight. Yes, the leak clearly was coming from a hose connecting to the auxiliary tank. Possibly, hopefully, just a hose clamp loose. Dennis tried to get at the clamps for the hose involved but the whole are is covered by a long shield to protect the lines. He couldn't get at it and was afraid that if he took the shield off he might be too awkward to get back on in the dark cramped space under the bus. So he reluctantly gave up but was at least relieved to know where the problem was. He went to several garages in the Soldotna area and the only one who expressed confidence that they could deal with it was backed up for over 2 weeks. So somewhat reluctantly Dennis went under the bus again a couple of days later. A neighbor made a very useful suggestion about how to keep the shield in place with a much longer bolt of the same thread while getting it out of the way. It worked great! But the problem is not just a hose clamp; it is the hose. Replacing this large fuel hose would require draining the tanks of fuel. Unfortunately we have over 100 gallons in the tanks. This is clearly not a do it yourself job that can be done in a campground. Dennis makes a crude patch for the hose involving a section of a rubber glove, duct tape, and a solid hose clamp right over the leak. Surprisingly this seems to slow the leak considerably. It goes from close to a quart a day to about half a cup a day. But we still need a real fix. So we got the name of a bus garage in Anchorage and are scheduled to go in tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Ouch. Hope all goes well with the repairs. Thinking of you.