Monday, May 9, 2005

Happy Mothers' Day, everyone.

A lot of people have been writing in regarding our current situation, to offer advice, cheer, or condolences. I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who has sent email, posted comments here, or posted responses to my bulletin-board posts asking for recommendations.

Based on some of what I have received, I need to clear a few things up.

First, let me say that we are quite familiar with many aspects of bus and engine maintenance, and what "normal" procedure is for removing engines, in-frame rebuilds, etc.. For example, some folks have read my descriptions of how our engine is squeezed in and have tried to reassure me that all bus engines are pretty much a tight fit. One shop I've spoken to thinks it's no big deal because they have worked on several Neoplans...

Let me clarify the situation for anyone who has not waded through the dozens of pages of Odyssey's history on our web site:

Our bus was not built by Neoplan USA, the US licensee of the Neoplan name and coach designs. If it had been, it would have been made to US specs, with an engine bay and cradle designed for a Detroit engine. Instead, our bus was built by the Gotlob Auwaerter Company, in Germany (the original owner of the Neoplan brand, now owned by MAN). As such, it was built with an engine room and cradle system for either an air-cooled Deutz, or a Mercedes. Both of these motors are significantly smaller than the 8V92 we have now.

Sometime early in its US life, our coach was sent to Neoplan USA in Lamar, Colorado to be re-powered with a brand new 8V92TA coupled to an Allison HTB748 transmission. To fit the new engine, parts of the floor were cut away, and a good part of the rear bodywork was removed, including several tubes. One of the cradles that Neoplan USA normally uses for Detroit motors in US-built coaches was modified to fit our frame rails. The new engine was slid into place, and then the radiators, fans, and other beefed-up components were installed. New framing was added in the rear of the coach to extend the engine room into the passenger area to accommodate the bigger engine. The rear tubes were welded back in after the motor was in place, and new bodywork was added, including a new engine bay door.

Naturally, having just done a great deal of bodywork and spent a small fortune on a paint job, we have no intention of cutting away sheet metal and frame tubes to slide the engine back out. Therefore, in order to slide the engine out at all, we first need to dissassemble most of the wardrobe, rip up part of the upholstered-in carpet, and remove the decking above the turbocharger.

Next, with the help of some very skinny technicians squeezing in from below, the exhaust wrap blankets will need to be carefully removed from the turbo assembly, and the intake plumbing disassembled. The turbocharger will need to be completely removed from the engine through the bedroom. All of this is necessary because the entirety of the turbo protrudes above the top of the rear engine bay opening. The cradle can not be slid rearward even four inches without removing the turbocharger.

Once the turbo and all the intake plumbing are off, and the blower if need be, then several items will need to be removed before the cradle can slide back. These include the power steering reservoir, the Webasto unit and various hydronic parts, the oil reservoir, and several wiring harnesses.

Access to front-side components that will need to be disconnected, including the alternator, air compressor, and the top of the tranny, is through a small access hatch under the bed -- cramped quarters to be sure.

More than one shop has looked at our coach and flatly refused to work on it.

I'm not trying to be all doom and gloom here -- it's not impossible, just more work. And we knew this about the coach when we bought it, though with only 25,000 miles on the ticker, we thought it would be a long time before we needed to pull the motor.

Thus the reason why I have been asking around for multiple shop recommendations. We are not ruling out the possibility that any given shop may turn us away once they see the magnitude of the job, and how much finished bedroom they will have to work through to access the motor. The Detroit dealer here in Phoenix, being an authorized service outlet, does not have the luxury of refusing work, but their outrageous 130-hour removal/replacement estimate speaks volumes about how eager they are to do it.

I am continuing to solicit recommendations for shops until sometime Monday afternoon. I will be spending most of the morning calling around to get time and cost estimates, and we plan to have selected a shop by the end of the day so we can be on the road to that shop by Tuesday morning.

In more mundane news, we are still parked at Casino Arizona. Ironically, neither one of us has wagered even a nickle in the casino. However, last night we availed ourselves of the prime rib buffet, and we have to say, it is one of the best buffet restaurants we have ever seen. At $16.50 it is pricey by casino standards, but the quality of the food and the selection was far above that of any casino buffet we have sampled.

After dinner, we took in the Vegas-style show in the comfortable show lounge. The casino handed out tickets for this particular show at no charge, though one needed to get them in advance as the shows were "sold out." They did require a two-drink minimum, though. We thought the show would be pretty cheesy, but we had nothing else to do. It turned out that we were quite plesantly surprised. The show was entitled Showstoppers Live and featured impersonators of various musical celebrities, including Elvis, Donna Summer, the Blues Brothers, Tina Turner, and The Temptations. There was also a comedian and four leggy show girls who appeared throughout all the acts. Musical accompaniment was provided by a four-piece band. All the performers were quite good musically, and appearance and mannerism impersonation was close enough to be amusing. The comedian was also quite good, and the band was hot. Even the showgirls did a good job, though they kept their tops on all night... All in all, not bad for a free show.

We were hoping to have breakfast in one of the restaurants this morning, but our plans were disrupted by Mothers' Day. All the sit-down places were booked to overflowing for brunch, and we thought dinner might be a zoo as well. We ended up getting a lunch-time sandwich at the little snack bar/grill and making spaghetti in Odyssey for dinner. I never thought Hallmark could have this much effect on my life.

We plan to be out of here sometime tomorrow, although our parking pass is good through Tuesday if we need it.

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