Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On hold in Houlton

We are at the Wal-Mart on US-1 in Houlton, Maine (map), adjacent to the northern terminus of I-95 and just 40 miles or so from where we started the day in Presque Isle. This is an unplanned stop (well, all our stops are mostly unplanned, but we intended to be much further south this evening).

It's been raining on and off since we arrived in New England (and we are very thankful to have our leaks mostly fixed now), and today has been full-on rain since we left Presque Isle. I've been alternating the wipers between full-time low speed, and the "jog" setting which wipes once every five seconds (not adjustable, unfortunately). About five miles north of here, the wipers quit -- we could hear the motor straining against something, but no movement -- and we had to pull over. Fortunately, we knew there would be both a Wal-Mart and a Flying-J branded Irving Oil truck stop here in Houlton, and, after giving the windshield a good clearing off, we made a run for it.

The last time the wipers acted up was en route to Infinity Coach back in November of 2002, on our way to the big retrofit. That time, the motor mounting bolts had worked loose, and we discovered there is really no tool access to the place the motor was mounted. I was able to get the bolts back in finger-tight and we pressed on, but actually fixing the situation had to wait until deep in the restoration project, when we had the dashboard completely out.

This time the problem is not as simple as loose bolts. Either the actuator arm is sticking for part of its travel, or the right-angle gear box from the motor has some sort of internal problem. In either case, I will need to be able to get to the actuator pinch bolt for sure, and likely the three mounting bolts as well to remove the motor/gearbox assembly -- there's realy no way to get into the gearbox while it's buried back in the dashboard.

(Click to enlarge)

it looks as if the only way to have enough access from inside the bus will be to once again remove the entire dashboard. That would involve first disconnecting all the instruments and switches (and labeling anything not yet labeled), then removing them, then removing the instrument cluster itself, disconnecting all the heater ducts, and finally removing the dashboard which is held in with a couple dozen screws. I remember what it took to get it all put together, and I have to guess it would take me several hours to disassemble, and several more to reassemble -- maybe a dozen hours just to access the wiper motor assembly.

The reality is that the motor is just an inch inside the sheet metal of the nose of the bus, though, and we've decided it will be quicker to cut an access port to it from the outside. That will involve first removing the fiberglass trim that covers the wipers, which will also hide any ugly access covers when it is reinstalled. I will then have to make a best estimate of where the spindle is located (there's really no way to make accurate measurements from any landmarks behind the dash), and cut through the skin with my 3" hole saw.

If I get the hole in just the right place, I should be able to easily access both the spindle and its pinch bolt as well as the three mounting bolts. If all goes well, I will be able to cover the hole when I am done with a standard 3" stainless "cleanout cover" from a plumbing supply, sealed with some caulk.

We can't drive in this rain without the wipers, and neither do I want to stand outside in the pouring rain removing trim and drilling holes, not to mention the water that will come in to the cockpit while I am working. So we will just settle in here for the night; the rain is supposed to stop by 11 tomorrow, and I will get to work. Until I get in there, I can't tell if this is something I can fix myself, or if we will be ordering a gearbox or maybe a whole motor assembly from the Neoplan parts guys in England. If its the latter, we will be limited to driving in dry weather until we can get parts, which should be an interesting challenge.

Having arrived here early in the afternoon, we wandered across the street to the Maine Visitors Center, where we found Pluto, having had a nice romp through the rest of the solar system on our drive down from Presque Isle. I confess that I knew about this large-scale model, but had forgotten all about it or that it was here in this part of Maine. In fact, when we whizzed past Jupiter early in the day, I just thought it was a piece of roadside modern art, albeit in a strange place, and it was not until we passed a very distinct Saturn that I realized what it was. I'm sorry we were not paying more attention when we left Presque Isle, as we clearly raced past the four innermost planets without realizing it.

In a few minutes, we will wander across a different street to the Irving truck stop for dinner, the lone option within an easy walk.

Traffic light photo by jamelah, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Hi there again,

    Is there anything I can do here in Portland?
    Of course there are places to park, and long enough to do the repair, and Im willing to do anything I can do to help you both.

    If you do need anything just email me, I will send out my phone number. NatureDudeME at Yahoo

    Good luck,
    Portland, ME

  2. @David: Thanks for the offer! If it turns out that we need to do work or wait for parts in Portland, we'll let you know. I'm really hoping that we can get it fixed here in Houlton tomorrow when the rain lets up...

  3. No Problem, just offering. I do the same for a couple RV groups on Yahoo when in the area.
    I hope you can get them going again with ease.
    Good luck,

  4. Seems like each month you have a macgyver breakdown with that thing.

    Is the price of fame that important to you?

    I'd have traded that behemoth in on a luxury 5th wheel and a diesel superduty years ago.

  5. Sean, Enjoy reading your posts. Rain X saved the day for us one day driving through VA. But all I needed was another wiper blade.


  6. Oh, boy! Anonymous "Luxury 5th Wheel" Guy is back! We missed ya, buddy. You crack us up :-) And thanks for visiting our site and making us famous...


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