Wednesday, August 15, 2007

East bound and down, eight wheels rollin'

We are in Dumas, Texas, at the free Texoma city park with 50-amp hookups (map).

We pulled into Stewart & Stevenson in Albuquerque yesterday around 4ish, and met with Charlie the service manager, as well as Virgil's buddy Tom. I filled out paperwork and described as much of the problem and what I had already done about it as I could, and they told us to be ready around 8 in the morning. We settled in for the night in the lot outside the shop (map), where we had access to 20 amps of power (enough for us to run one A/C with our load-sharing power system), and were able to put some water in our tank. There was an Applebees a short walk away, and we headed that way for dinner.

This morning they pulled us in promptly at eight, and we retreated to the lounge to wait. After giving them a bit of time to get any questions answered, we wandered off to breakfast around 9 at a nearby cafe.

No sooner had we sat down then the mechanic called on my cell. He had already discovered a problem -- fuel pressure was too high at idle, and he suspected a return line restriction, and he needed guidance on how to access the back of the engine bay. I gave him some instructions and finished breakfast. We were only back at the shop around an hour before they declared the job done. What they found was a piece of debris smaller than a grain of sand. There is a small orifice in the return line, the purpose of which is to keep fuel pressure up at a certain level at the injectors. The debris was small, but still too large to fit through this orifice, and it was clogging the return line. This cause low fuel flow, but also high pressure upstream of the injectors. So the injectors got excessive fuel but also too little cooling (the fuel flowing past the injectors back to the tank is what keeps them cool).

So this turned out to be, we think, the entire source of both the low power with smoke and the overheating complaints. Pulling the grades out of Albuquerque today, we noticed marked improvement in power as well as less heating problems, so we think they nailed it. And we didn't even get a bill -- they had called PEDCO as soon as they found the trouble, and PEDCO took care of it -- Thanks, Virgil! (There's no guarantee this happened during the in-frame, but it's likely -- the debris was too large to have gotten through the fuel filters in normal operation, so it probably landed in there while the line was open in the shop.)

At our first rest stop, we did notice the Fuel Pro was, once again, empty, so we called Charlie. He seemed to feel this was normal with a fresh filter, unless we were experiencing other problems. So we will simply continue to monitor this. Things felt a little sluggish toward the end of the day, but it's been so long since things were "normal" that I no longer trust my judgment. I'm going to put some more fuel in the separator tomorrow and see if it feels any different.

I have not confirmed this yet, but I suspect the return restriction is also the reason our Kysor fuel pressure switch was cutting out the starter prematurely. I still haven't found a replacement switch, so tomorrow I will also put the original one back in and see if it's working now.

We were done by lunch time, and ready to hit the road. After yesterday's call from the Red Cross and their suggestion that we move toward Texas, I looked this morning at the NHC forecasts, and discovered that Tropical Depression 5 had already turned into Tropical Storm Erin and was heading for the Texas coast between Brownsville and Corpus Christi. Worse, it will make landfall tomorrow morning. So we decided, heat or no heat, we needed to get right on I-40 and head east.

We stopped at a rest area just west of US285 (the same place from which I called Charlie) and I called in to the Disaster Operations Center. If they had any idea at all that we might be needed in south Texas, we needed to make a right turn onto 285 and head south towards the Rio Grande valley. The DOC, of course, had their hands full with the Flossie response, as well as preparations in the USVI and Puerto Rico for Dean, but they seemed rather unconcerned about Erin, and we were advised to hold our easterly course. So we did not turn, but continued east on I-40.

Now, in the event of an actual disaster, we are more than happy to slap a Red Cross decal on our window, stay on the interstate, and crank our speed up right to the posted limit, fuel-burn rates be damned. But, absent same, we try to stay off the Interstates if we can. So once the decision was made to continue east, we bailed off I-40 at Tucumcari. We did consider stopping there for the night ("This bus will stop at Tucumcari" -- said in my best Lee van Cleef spaghetti-western impersonation), and checked out the Elks lodge. It did not call to us, so we pressed on.

Once we dropped below about 5,000' elevation, it was clear we would need the air conditioning nearly full-time, and so we focussed our stopover search on venues with at least a little electric power. Louise found this park listed in one of her many resource guides, this one on Texas public campgrounds. What a deal -- 24 spaces with electric power, plus a dump station and fresh water available. Cost: free, but limited to a 24 hour stay. We were able to walk to nearby Placita's Mexican Restaurant for dinner, but we had to bring our own wine -- it's a dry town. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised by the number of rigs here -- Dumas is a long way from anything.

Tomorrow morning we'll take care of the pressure switch and fuel filter, then stop at NAPA for some engine oil on the way out of town. We'll continue east and a bit south, and we'll end our day in Oklahoma or just a bit shy. We'll remain off the Interstate until we approach Oklahoma City, where we will stop for fuel.

1 comment:

  1. Sean, we are heading west towards Lawton, Ok, hopefully our paths will cross in the next few days.


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