Sunday, August 7, 2016

Farewell, Odyssey, and thanks for an epic voyage

It is with very mixed emotions that I announce today that Odyssey, our Neoplan Spaceliner bus and the namesake of this blog, has been sold. It is in good hands; new owner Jay has had more than one bus, including a vintage Flxible, a number of Detroit-powered vehicles including his current Bluebird Wanderlodge, and a number of collector cars. He's also an avid motorcyclist and hopes to be able to fit his sidecar rig in the motorcycle bay. It's hard to imagine a more qualified person to take on the mantle of Odyssey's caretaker.

Our final view of Odyssey, parked in Richmond, Virginia awaiting its new owners.

We returned to Vector, still docked in Decatur, Alabama, late last night after an exhausting week-long trip to Lottsburg, Virginia to prepare the bus and hand over the title. We had hoped to have a relaxing return trip over perhaps a couple of days, but it was not to be; Odyssey would not leave us peacefully without a struggle. We have not had even five minutes of downtime since leaving here early Sunday morning, between all the driving, and working 13 hours a day while we were there. I must apologize to our Northern Neck friends, as we did not have the chance to visit for even a cocktail while were there. I also did not have a chance to finish the blog post I had started before leaving, covering the rest of our time here in Decatur; I hope to finish that and get it posted in the next couple of days.

If you've been following along with us, even very recently, you will know that we made the decision to list the bus on eBay in early May. We did not expect it to sell right away, and, in fact, we expected the listing to run its seven-day course and be renewed, unchanged, many times, possibly over several months, before the right buyer came along. It "sold" right away, to someone too impecunious to complete the sale, and it "sold" again on the first relisting, to a buyer who actually traveled to Lottsburg (after a few hiccups) to see it and, we hoped, complete the purchase.

Accordingly we made a pilgrimage to Lottsburg in a rental car to get the bus ready; it was the first return visit in half a year and the bus was due for its semiannual check-up anyway. As I wrote about extensively back then, the bus would not run, and we spent several extra days there while I replaced the fuel pump and tracked down a defective check valve. All was thus working, or so we thought, and we even moved the bus around the yard and into a new space in the shed, as it had sunk quite a ways into the ground in its original spot over three years. That buyer, it turned out, wanted to renegotiate the deal once he arrived on site, and we were unwilling to move below our rock-bottom minimum bid, about which we have been very clear from the start.

We've relisted the bus three times since then, with a brief hiatus for our California trip since we would not be able to complete the sale while we were away. This most recent time was the charm, and we had carefully timed the listing so that we could complete the sale while still here at the dock on our one-month pre-paid stay. If it did not sell, we might well have shoved off before the month was up. That did, however, put a bit of time pressure on us to get back here before the month ran out.

And so it is that we rented a car last Saturday morning, running down to the rental office on my scooter, which we left there behind the office. They close at noon, and we arrived just before then. We spent Saturday afternoon running errands that the car made much easier, such as offloading our copious cache of recyclables. Saturday evening we loaded the car with tools and supplies, just as we did in May. This time, with the cat freshly traumatized from a week at the vet, we opted to cat-proof the car and just take her with us. We covered every surface with quilts, and put her litter box in the pass-through trunk next to the tools.

Angel, all settled in for the long ride. We have a few extra quilts in the house :-)

Sunday we drove a full ten hours to a cat-friendly hotel in Richmond, the Hyatt Place. They did levy a $75 pet charge, but that was still less than kenneling her for a week. She complained bitterly in the carrier on the way to the car (and from the car to the hotel), but once she had the run of the quilt-covered back seat, she settled right in and slept for most of the trip. We went the whole time at the Hyatt without any maid service; the cat stayed in the room while we were gone, and the logistics of having the room cleaned around the cat are daunting. By the time we left yesterday morning we were down to the last of the soap bar and had used all the towels.

She settled right in to the hotel room, too. We call this pose "the most interesting cat in the world."

Monday morning we drove the hour and a half from the hotel to Lottsburg to again prepare the bus. I had shut everything down and disconnected all the batteries after my last visit, and it takes an hour or so to get it all back together. It took quite a few cranks to get the main engine running, enough that we had to jump it with the rental car for the last few tries. I was a bit surprised but did not think too much of it.

After getting everything going again we decided to move it out of the shed and to a "camp site" for the sale, where all the bays could be opened and the awnings extended. As long as we were pulling it around, I also decided to take it out onto the street for a real test drive. That's when the trouble started. The bus was sluggish, with almost no power, and the turbo boost never getting up above 5psi or so. Perhaps my fuel system repairs were not really complete. I only made it to the church at the end of the block, at a top speed of about 15mph, before turning around and coming back to the yard to work the problem.

Once more unto the breach; I spent the whole afternoon going back over the fuel delivery system, and also ruminating about whether it was something more sinister like the turbo or the injectors. We found nothing other than a bit more crud around the suspect check valve from the last visit. With little else to go on, I found a check valve service kit at the local Detroit dealer not far from the hotel, and had them hold it for me for the morning. Of course, the buyer flew in Monday afternoon, so I'd be installing the kit while he waited.

Tuesday we picked up the check valve kit in Richmond, and buyer Jay in Warsaw, just a half hour from Lottsburg, arriving at the bus about 10:30. By 11 I had the kit installed and, after a tour of the bus and all its systems, we went for a test drive, with Jay at the wheel. Sadly, that did not cure the problem. We came back, parked, finished the tour, and then set to work on bypassing the filter system altogether by running the bus from a jerry can of fresh fuel. Of course, I did not think to bring either of the jerry cans I had bought on the last trip with me, or even all the tools I needed, and once again the Ace Hardware in Lottsburg made a small fortune on me.

Running on a two-gallon can of fresh fuel, the engine seemed to be strong and normal. But that's not enough fuel to even get out of the parking space, let alone road test, and it did not tell us whether the problem was the fuel itself, sitting, as it had been, in the tank for three years, or the supply line from the tank to the filter. We ruminated on this over a nice lunch at the local Mexican joint, and formulated a plan of attack. With little to lose, we hacked the end off an old vinyl garden hose, connected one end to the fuel filter, and stuck the other end in the tank through the filler neck. After re-priming with fresh fuel, we went for another test spin, this time with our redneck fuel delivery system taped to the side of the bus. Things seemed better at first, but quickly deteriorated, and we had to limp back to the barn from the highway.

By this time it was the end of the day. With the bus clearly not running well enough to carry him back home, and a commitment on his calendar there on Thursday, Jay reluctantly booked a return flight and reserved an airport hotel in Richmond (he had checked out of his Warsaw hotel in the morning anticipating smooth sailing). What happened next both stunned and delighted us: Jay agreed to complete the sale anyway, with a gentlemen's agreement that we'd fix the fuel system before he returned to collect it. We celebrated over a nice meal together in Tappahannock, and signed the paperwork in the lobby of his hotel before we headed back to the Hyatt a half hour away.

Closing the deal at the airport Sheraton.

We had been scheduled to check out of the Hyatt Place Wednesday morning (for the aforementioned leisurely return trip to Decatur). Not wanting to stress the cat by moving her to another hotel or even onto the bus, we just extended our stay. The room we had booked for $100/night miraculously became $140/night when we extended, but we were ill-positioned to argue about it. We again made the trip out to Lottsburg, stopping in Warsaw for some fresh fuel filters and an even larger jerry can.

Rather than take the hour and a half route along the freeway, we instead scouted a longer route using only four-lane secondary roads, in the event we'd have to again jury-rig the garden hose and limp the bus into the Detroit shop at 20mph for more seasoned mechanics with better tools to take over. That took us past Harbor Freight, where we bought a diesel transfer pump in case we had to offload a half tank of bad fuel.

I confess to sweating the possibilities the whole trip, worrying that Jay's confidence in my abilities might be misplaced. We spent the whole day at the bus, trying everything we could to nail down the root cause, short of rerouting the fuel return line or dumping the tank. We also ran the generator from the moment we arrived, trying to burn as much fuel as possible; the fact that the generator seemed to run just fine on the same stale fuel made us doubt that this could be the root cause at all.

Late in the day, after the main engine had been running for over an hour straight, in an effort to "polish" the fuel through the 10-micron filters, we shut it down in order to connect the Diagnostic Data Reader (DDR) to the engine's diagnostic port. My plan was to run an "injector cut out" test to see if one or more injectors was bad. After connecting the DDR, the engine would not start at all.

It was the recovery from this that led us, finally, to conclude the stale fuel was the culprit. It took many minutes of cranking with a jerry can of clean fuel to get the engine to start, even after the fuel in the filter had been completely replaced. If a supply obstruction was at fault, merely replacing the supply line with the jerry can should have been sufficient. Bad fuel, however, would take many revolutions of the engine to purge from the entire injection system. Once we had cranked long enough to get the clean fuel to the injectors, the engine started.

And so it was that Thursday morning we returned to the bus, primed the system with fresh fuel, reconnected the main tank, and limped the few miles to Perkins Truck Repair in nearby Callao, whom I had called the previous day to ask whether they could dispose of our old diesel. We hooked up our spiffy new fuel transfer pump (complete with the sort of nozzle you find on gas pumps), stuck a long hose into our tank, and filled three 55-gallon drums to the brim with old diesel. That 160 gallons probably cost me well over $500 when I put it in the tank in 2013; now it cost me another $40 for disposal. We had to shut the generator down once we started to empty the tank; it had been running non-stop since early the previous day.

Perkins did not have any diesel fuel, but a gas station with diesel was just a few hundred feet down the road. With the level in the tank right at the bottom of the dip tube, I managed to drive up to the diesel pump, running out of fuel just as I was parking. We put 140 gallons of fresh diesel in the tank, and then had to spend the next 20 minutes re-priming the system and trying to get the engine to start, much to the consternation of other diesel fuel patrons. Fortunately, we were only blocking one side of a two-sided dispenser.

That did the trick, and I was able to drive the bus all the way to Richmond without any further issues. Louise drove behind me in the rental car, giving me smoke reports, and I ran through the full range of gears and throttle settings on the way, also testing the retarder and other systems such as the horn and wipers. We parked the coach at a familiar spot in Richmond with a 30-amp power outlet and plugged it in, well past our usual dinner time. We grabbed a bite and collapsed into bed.

That meant a return trip to the bus yesterday morning to pack up tools, including the fuel transfer pump and hoses that had been unceremoniously stuffed into the motorcycle bay, clean up the trash, and otherwise close down the bus while it awaits its new master. It was nearly 11am by the time we rolled out of Richmond for the ten-hour drive back to Decatur.

It was all we could do this morning to get up in time to unload the car, which we simply parked as-is when we arrived last night, clean it out, and get it back to the rental agency before they closed at noon. I had emailed Jay from the road yesterday with a final status report, including a breakdown of what we spent, and he reimbursed us for the fresh fuel, filters, and disposal fees before we even arrived in Decatur.

We wish Jay and Odyssey a long and happy union. I'm sure we will remain in touch, as I have offered to provide telephone technical support on any issues while he comes up to speed on all the systems. I am very sad to be closing this chapter -- it was a great bus and a great home, and it took us to many wonderful places. But I am also glad that it will be put to good use, and not sit forlornly in a storage yard, slowly deteriorating. If you see Odyssey on the road, give Jay a wave, for us.


  1. Please let Jay know it will be my honor to have Odyssey visit us again someday. *sniff*

  2. Please let Jay know it will be my honor to have Odyssey visit us again someday. *sniff*

  3. It was hard for you to give her up and obviously hard for her to give you up. However it must be a huge relief for you to make the break and be able to continue your cruising without the worry of Odyssey being parked and depreciating even more. Smooth sailing!

  4. Sean & Louise, We shed a tear, then gave a cheer! We have followed Odyssey since birth and are sad to see her go. Very glad she has a new owner that can appreciate her and keep her wandering the roads of our great country. It has to be a big relief to you guys to get the sale finalized and see her out of storage and alive again. If we see Jay on the road we will give him a proper salute!! We will always remember meeting her (and of course you guys) at the Grand Casino in Shawnee Oklahoma. We're still on board Vector with you so you can't shake us!! Steve & Carol

  5. A true bus nut to the end. You knew it just couldn't let you go with out one more for the road :)

  6. Well done! Please stay connected to the busnut community! Hope to cross paths again in the future!

    happy sailing!

  7. I just started searching for Neoplans a month ago; ready to go FT RVing instead of spending months at hotels (Marriott loves me). I'm sorry I didn't know Odyssey was available back then.


  8. I'm sorry that I didn't know Odyssey was available back then. I've decided to go FT RVing instead of spending months in hotels (Marriott loves me) as an IT Automation Consultant.

    I also travel with my furry friend; a Siberian cat

    Best wishes on all of your endeavors;


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