Friday, August 24, 2007

Hotter than Hades

It's been a long and hot couple of days since I last posted here.

We got rolling Wednesday around the middle of the day, and blasted east on I-40 to the Flying-J west of Nashville, where we tanked up on $2.669 diesel, the cheapest we've seen in a while. From there, Tennessee 96 took us most of the way to our friends Russ and Pat over in Christiana (although, annoyingly, vehicles over 10,000 gross are prohibited through the town of Franklin, and so we had to detour several miles around it).

We had a really nice visit, and I enjoyed talking shop and kicking tires with Russ and looking over his post-Neoplan project (a Kenworth T2000 with which he is going to haul a 40' custom fiver). Russ had exactly the tag axle A-frame that I needed, and he also happened to have a set of bushings for it still brand new from Neopart, which he was happy to sell me. He's also got three thermostatically controlled fans identical to ours, which he gave me, and he's even storing them for us in the event we ever need them. He has quite a few Neoplan parts that are still new-in-box, such as brake shoes and drums, brake cans, and air bags, but the likelihood that we will ever need to replace these items while we still own Odyssey is slim. It may take him a while, but I think he will get good money for those parts from someone who really needs them. In the meantime, if I rip an airbag while he's still got them, I'm sure he'd be happy to FedEx me one.

Russ had a 30-amp, 240-volt outlet available, and between the two of us we cobbled together an adaptor to keep Odyssey cool during our one night stay in their enormous yard. Good thing, because it was 103° during our visit.

Russ was kind enough to call around to some shops while we were on our way in, and by the time we had arrived he had already arranged for us to be seen by Covington Detroit Diesel in Nashville. They had told him to have us bring the coach up at 5:00pm Thursday, and the night shift would be able to get us in. So we took our leave in the afternoon and trundled up to Nashville.

We had a bit of a scare when we pulled in and the night manager said he couldn't fit us -- apparently, the day guy who took the call didn't get the memo over to the night shift. Nevertheless they had us back the coach in over the pit to let things cool down while they figured out how to squeeze us in. In the meantime, the night manager found the note from the day guy in some odd place, so all was well.

The oil change was no problem, of course, although about as expensive as they come, with shop labor at $99 per hour and Detroit PowerGuard 40wt at over $15 per gallon. But beggars can't be choosers, and the last several shops we had tried either couldn't get us in, or didn't stock 40wt, and it was really time to get the break-in oil changed out.

While we were over the pit, I had them look at the power steering leak, showing them the hydraulic hose that had been replaced in Little Rock. They tightened it down (much easier over a pit than squeezing underneath like the guy in Little Rock had to do), and had me turn the wheel some. The bad news: the hose is leaking at the crimp. So, bottom line, I paid the shop in Little Rock to install a brand new hose that's bad, and will have to be replaced again anyway. And, of course, there is no way to get a hydraulic hose made up at 8pm -- one of the downsides to having work done by the night shift. If I had thought for a minute that it was something other than a loose connection, I would have held out for a day slot.

As for the fuel emptying out of the Davco, this is now the third Detroit distributor in a row who has told me to ignore it. So, perhaps, it isn't a real problem, although it continues to nag at me.

It was around 9pm when we rolled out of the shop, and we headed off to the Madison Elks lodge, the closest lodge in our guide which claimed to have power available, "more than 20 amps". When we got there, the only power outlet in sight was a 15-amp convenience receptacle that was clearly on a shared circuit. No way was it going to run two air conditioners, and maybe not even one, so we regrouped.

We started to head north to where we thought there might be a Corps of Engineers campground on Old Hickory Lake. After a few miles, though, we realized it was further than we originally thought, and we were dog tired and driving in the dark -- not a good combination. We ended up spending the night in the parking lot of a Sam's Club adjacent to a Wal-Mart that we passed a few miles north of the lodge (map). At least we could run the generator there without bothering anyone (the Elks lodge was in a residential neighborhood). And it was peaceful and quiet, if not dark.

Now, this kind of relentless and oppressive heat is hard on the air conditioning and thus even harder on the electrical system. The generator has had a hard time keeping up, and so has the inverter. For example, in the heat, with one AC running full blast, the inverter is apt to trip off on an overload condition when the air compressor kicks on, as it does for a half minute or so every 30-60 minutes. We're very careful to manage loads in this circumstance, as breakers and equipment lose 20-30% of their rated capacities in the extreme ambient temperatures.

Thus we did not really notice anything amiss at first when we started having trouble keeping all the air conditioners running. But almost universally, the generator will run everything without complaint, particularly after dark. So last night, with the generator running, we realized we had a bigger problem as first one AC, then two, then all three would trip off consistently, defying all our efforts to keep them running by resetting breakers and shedding other loads. We finally found one combination of two air conditioners on two different circuits that would run long enough to get things cool, and then we were able to sleep with one unit running on the batteries overnight, apparently without trouble.

This morning when the genny started back up, all hell broke loose. We had some arcing from our electrical panel, which, upon inspection, appeared to perhaps be internal to the AC selector switch, and no configuration of switch positions and breaker settings would allow us to keep things running. I finally found one particular setting of the switch that would allow us to run two units with the generator running, and one without, and we carefully put things back together until we could figure out our next move. By this time, we were pretty sure the generator itself was not implicated, but we knew we were going to need external power tonight and tomorrow anyway, so we packed up and got on the road, after a quick run into Wal-Mart for another half gallon of ATF, which I'm sure we'll need with that hose still leaking.

We came directly here, to the Corps of Engineers campground at Poole Knobs, on Percy Priest Lake east of Nashville (map). We have plans to visit with friends tomorrow who live just a few miles west of here, and we had already targeted this spot as a good place to overnight if we needed power. Rolling in, as we did, on a Friday, we were very lucky to get this space -- they only had maybe a dozen spaces left with power when we rolled up, and this one is one of maybe three spots in the whole park where we could get on-line, the other two already having been booked.

Now, our electrical situation was already precarious when we rolled in, so it was frustrating in the extreme when nothing I could do would persuade the 50-amp campground receptacle to give us 240 volts, or to stay un-tripped. After fiddling with our own systems for a while, I finally determined that the problem was actually a bad 50-amp, two-pole breaker in the pedestal. Well, we were already in one of the very last spaces that would fit us, and the only one with a shot to the satellite, so I wasn't going to move. And I knew that reporting the bad breaker to the camp host would elicit a repair by, perhaps, Monday (if even that soon). So I walked to the (empty but reserved) space next door and stole the 50-amp breaker. Well, more precisely, I swapped them. Voila -- working power on both legs, and at least a little relief from the 102° heat. As a footnote, I was quite relieved when the neighbors showed up with a 30-amp rig, so it will not be them, but rather some future occupant of that space who will end up dealing with the bad 50-amp breaker.

Spending half an hour in the hot sun rewiring campground pedestals (apparently a habit of mine) wiped me out, so, after cooling off a bit in the air conditioning, we put our suits on and jumped in the lake. The lakefront spaces had been sold out, so getting to the lake meant cutting through a reserved-but-unoccupied space, but the lake was wonderful. Warm enough to spend all day in the water, but still enough cooler than the air to feel refreshing. After swimming the air did not feel so oppressive, and I even managed to survive standing outside to grill some burgers for dinner.

Tonight's big after-dinner activity was removing the suspect AC selector switch. I wanted to do this in the relative cool of the evening, because it meant turning off all the AC's temporarily. Fortunately, it only took about five minutes to disconnect the air conditioners and the incoming power from the switch, and then hardwire each AC to a power source. So we had the air conditioning back on fairly quickly, but then getting the selector switch out altogether was a bit of a challenge, as one of the set-screws connecting the selector knob to the switch had corroded and was fused in place.

After a 20-minute fight I had the switch out, and the problem became clear: three years of use in all manner of conditions, including low pedestal voltage on a number of occasions, had melted and/or fried to a crisp the insulation on some of the cross-over wires. Eventually, the insulation abraded through in one spot where two wires crossed, and thus the arcing, which in turn melted the wire all the way through. And this is one reason why all my panels are dead-front (not dead-font; sorry about the typo), as required by code.

Tomorrow I hope to persuade our friends to swing me past Home Depot at some point, so I can pick up some wire, ring terminals, contact cleaner, and a new set-screw. After I replace the bad wires and screws, I'll probably disassemble the switch body itself and check the contacts and wipers for any similar signs of damage.

Photo by √oхέƒx™


  1. All I can say is, it's a darn good thing you are a mechanic and electrical wiz, Sean. I have another friend w/ a bus, old GMC, and it takes a lot of work to keep it running right, too. Not for the feint of heart (or light of bank account).
    Michel Keenan

  2. Sean, you are my mechanical/electrical hero. I think Odyssey is a fantastic RV but after reading your blogs from start to now it is apparent she has the right owner. I really enjoy your posts of travelling and technical details.


  3. Sean, what does the reference: "my panels are dead-font," mean. I'm not an electrician but know a bit about electricity but have never heard that term. Here's hoping you have some better luck from now on. Robert in Houston.


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