Tuesday, June 21, 2011

General Assembly is not in the cards

Poker Face (Explored fp)

We are at the Choo-Choo Express Garage, a bus maintenance shop in Rossville, Georgia (map), a suburb of Chattanooga, Tennessee. We arrived yesterday afternoon, after an uneventful drive from Anniston, wherein we saw just a tiny fraction of the tornado damage that occasioned my arrival in Alabama in the first place.

On Sunday afternoon I wrote that we'd be discussing the oil leak over dinner, presumably with a glass of wine, and we walked just three blocks to Ruby Tuesday. While they do have a full bar, you can't actually get a glass of wine on Sunday in that county; harumph. I'm not counting on it happening in my lifetime, but I will sure be glad to see these ancient blue laws, unconstitutional as they are, overturned forever. At least we then understood why there was a huge crowd at the Elks lodge when we pulled in to park -- it's the only place in town to get a drink on Sunday evening.

In any case, after careful consideration, we decided the leak was just too bad to continue another 300 miles to Charlotte, drip oil all over some campground or church parking lot for a week, and then have to figure out where to have it looked at. Being just 120 miles from Chattanooga, and having already missed our opportunity to again be delegates for our congregation, we bit the bullet and headed north yesterday morning, knowing it would probably spell the end of our General Assembly aspirations this year. I suppose I was holding out a slim hope that this latest leakage was something else entirely, and after a few turns of a mechanic's wrench we'd be on our way, at least able to attend a few days of the assembly.

The shop backed us into a suitable position when we arrived so that they could look at the bus first thing this morning, with a cool engine. We had a nice Italian dinner just down the street, wine included, with friend, fellow bus nut, and Bus Conversions Magazine chief executive Mike Sullivan, who lives nearby and shares an office with the shop here. The shop gave us a 30-amp shore connection, so we were comfortable overnight. As promised, first thing this morning lead mechanic Joel took a look at the leak.

It took him less than a minute to confirm our worst fear: the leak is coming from the end plate gasket, which is likely split. Unlike the last shop, he did not think there would be any benefit at all to just tightening the bolts, whether or not that involved first removing the alternator. He was also certain that it would continue to get worse over time. As I wrote here when we first diagnosed this problem, the engine and transmission need to come apart to repair it properly.

Sliding the engine out of Odyssey is an enormous undertaking, and we have studiously avoided it up to this point. When we needed (twice) to have the engine rebuilt due to dirt ingestion, we had the work done "in frame," without removing it from the bus. Even Joel was not keen on doing it, and he had me pull in over the pit to see if the transmission could possibly be pulled out instead. Unfortunately, the required 8" or so of wiggle room in front of the tranny is just not there -- the only way to fix this will be to slide the engine out the back.

The good news in all of this is that the shop rate here is just $55 per hour. Joel was reluctant to provide an estimate, given the complexity of removing the engine from the extremely tight quarters of Odyssey's engine room. When pressed, however, he figured it to be in the range of $3,000-$6,000. That's painful, but we can live with it, especially compared to the figure I had in my head of twice that amount, based on most of our shop experience being in areas where the shop rates are nearly double what it is here.

After settling back in to the parking lot, we discussed the plan over our morning coffee, and decided to go ahead with the work while we are here. Joel needs to get two coaches out of the shop ahead of us, meaning he can't start until perhaps the end of the week. And he is figuring 4-5 days for the work, which will have us here until at least the end of next week. Not only will we miss General Assembly, but we will need to cancel our Red Cross availability for the rest of June.

I've got a bunch of other maintenance projects that I can work on during our downtime here, including repairing the awning that broke months ago, a leaky parking brake valve, some kind of leak in the propane compartment, and the induction hob that crapped out right after the propane was gone. And we can both use a rest, with no real commitments on the calendar, especially before this hurricane season heats up. Whenever we wrap up here, we have no concrete plans. Perhaps we'll make our way to South Dakota, for a break from the heat while we conduct some business there. Or maybe we'll head to the Space Coast for the very last shuttle launch, if it is not unbearably hot.

Photo by lawrencechua, used under a Creative Commons license. It's really quite cute: click the photo to see a larger version!


  1. Sorry to hear of your recent troubles. Here's hoping for smooth sailing (driving?!) ahead!

  2. That is a great shop rate, and it will be a relief to get that leak fixed I imagine. Still it is a breathtaking number to get your head around. Enjoy your down time and the time to get all those odd jobs out of the way. The shuttle launch will be great but I am not sure that I could bear the heat down there in mid-summer. South Dakota will be hot enough.

  3. That's a shame -- it would have been good to meet you in person -- but I hope you happy travels thereafter.

  4. Wow - while you were doing so much to help us this morning, I had no idea how much else you were juggling back home.

    Buses... I'm wondering if the secret handshake you mentioned might involve certain rude hand gestures... ;-)

  5. In light of your current mechanical issues, I have a question that is probably pretty minor.

    My question concerns your eating arrangements. In reading your great stuff for a while now it seems that you eat out in restaurants virtually every night. Do you cook while traveling and visiting the many great stops on your itinerary?


  6. Sean and Louise, First thanks for all the volunteer aid at the two locations to help those in need. We know you two are dedicated to this cause and it's peaceful to sleep at night knowing when (not if) the tornadoes pass through our area that great folks like you will be here to help.... :-)

    We enjoyed the kitten story and read it to Cleo so she's know there are other cat lovers out there, but the four doggies turned deaf ears.

    If SD is the direction and you need a stop along the way from Chattanooga you know how to reach us. At the first of June Russ began semi-retirement working two days a week and he says he can feel the pace of truck rebuilding improving - WHEW!

    Safe travels and thanks for all the great posts.

    Pat and Russ

  7. "some kind of leak in the propane compartment"

    It's not fixed already. Yikes!!! Two words you hate to see in the same sentence, leak and propane.

    I'm in the middle of reading The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and I'm surprised to learn of the history of Blue Laws and how they came about. It has history with Tammany Hall and voting.

  8. Hey I can assure you that are in good hands.
    Their shop ain't the fanciest nor most equipped with the most modern equipment, but Joel knows his stuff especially on 2 strokes!
    And Mr. Bowen knows anybody & everybody and might know a local source of batteries. (if ya still need too after discovering the bad disconnect! or I bet they have a used switch or 2 to carry as a spare.)

    Mike Hill an his son Jay live nearby too and several of those buses parked @ the Choo-Choo Garage belong to them. (just about all the Flex's and I lost count how many others)

    By the way Joel fixed the same problem on one of my older Setra's for me a couple years ago and still no problems since!
    Take care and holler if ya need anything.
    Bryce Gaston aka "BK"

  9. You are in such good hands. Joel is a queit giant under a bus. Don is a wonderful guy and with BCM right there you can get you next article from directly from Mike. We stopped in there in May for an oil change and left with new rod and main bearings plus thrust bearings. All for a good price, Tell them all howdy from LeRoy & Annein "Liberty".

  10. @rainintorainbows and @JB: Thanks for the sentiments!

    @Scott: Sorry we will not get to meet the (in)famous boyinthebands in person this year. I am sure we will run into each other one of these days, and Phoenix is definitely on our calendar. Sounds like you are having a great time hanging out with Peacebang; really sorry we are missing the whole experience.

    @Chris: No rude hand gestures. The "secret" handshake at the bus garage involves money in the palm :)

    @Al (Spokane): We do eat out a lot. However, we also do cook on board, and we've been known to spend two weeks at a stretch in very remote locations, where we cook every night. My preferred cooking appliance in the grill, which we can't use at, say, Wal-Mart. But we also have two stoves (propane and electric induction) a microwave/convection oven, and a slow-cooker. Unfortunately, the induction stove bit the dust and a leak in the propane compartment knocked out the gas stove and grill at more or less the same time, limiting us to only the microwave and crock pot for dine-in options (updates in my next post). So lately, we've been eating out even on nights we would normally eat in. That said, to us, part of the whole travel experience is sampling the local cuisine, and, other than repair parts, restaurant dining is really the only "shopping" we do.

    @Pat and Russ: Always good to hear from you and we, of course, will keep you in mind if we head west (on other than a disaster-driven schedule). Great to hear that Russ has more time at home now... I sense more electrical questions in my future!

    @mobileer: Fixed now (more in my next post), but we were never in any danger. Just couldn't cook (see above). History of blue laws is fascinating (and have you caught the new series, based on the book, "How the States Got Their Shapes"?), but, really, so is the history of slavery in America, yet both belong in the (distant) past.

    @Bryce: Thanks for the comments. Mike S. keeps trying to get Mike H. over this way for a visit; I'm sure it will happen before we leave.

    @LeRoy: Thanks for the confirmation that we made the right decision. Articles between Mike and I, though, generally go in the other direction; I write a monthly column, "Electrically Speaking," for BCM (although I am a month behind as a result of the Alabama tornadoes), and about one feature article per year. Mike has asked me to do an upcoming article on our work with the Red Cross, and I am thinking about how to present that material.


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