Thursday, March 20, 2008

Escape from Yuma

Well, we finally made it out of the greater Yuma area yesterday. We left the Cocopah Casino early in the afternoon. This morning finds us at the scant remains of an abandoned 1950's-era filling station along the abandoned grade of Old Highway 80 (map), now BLM land. There is a modern grade for the old highway as well, a couple dozen yards further north.

We are only 50 miles from Yuma, but it might as well be 500 -- we are in the middle of the desert with nothing for miles in any direction.

After leaving the casino, we stopped at the Kubota dealer in Yuma, Bingham Equipment Company. I had noticed some oil dripping from the generator enclosure, and had tracked it down to diesel fuel dripping from a small manual bypass valve on the fuel system. (The valve allows some fuel to bypass the injectors and return to the tank -- it is used mostly for priming the fuel system if it runs dry. It has a very small orifice, to ensure enough pressure is still available to the injectors when running.) This valve has been weeping slowly for some time now -- in Somerton it finally turned into an actual drip, sending perhaps a cup or two of fuel to the bottom of the enclosure in the six hours or so that we ran the genny there.

The generator is 20 years old, and I did not know how hard it would be to find the valve, so I wanted to get started on it before we left Yuma. Bingham has facilities throughout Arizona, and I reasoned that, if the valve had to be ordered, I could have them send it to Phoenix or Tucson, where we will be within a few days.

It took them a bit of looking, but they had the valve in stock for $20. I asked about installation (although it would have been a simple matter for me to just put it in, but we wanted to be sure it was the right one before we left the dealer), and the service manager decided to just come out and take the two minutes to install it, rather than charging us for an hour's labor and opening up a whole work order -- kudos to Bingham for this great customer service attitude.

It turned out ultimately that he should have opened that work order: While he was replacing the valve, he noticed that the alternator (the little 12-volt one that charges the generator start battery, not the huge one bolted to the crankshaft that generates Odyssey's electricity) was sitting at a funky angle and causing excessive belt wear, which he surmise was due to loose mounting bolts.

I asked him if they could take care of that, and he just kind of dived right in to it. The alternator is mounted in the very back of the generator enclosure, though, making it very difficult to work on. It turned out that nothing was really loose, but the design of the mount left a lot to be desired. He ended up replacing the finger guard, with its integral captive nuts, with a pair of regular nuts and washers to provide a bit more rigidity to the alternator mount.

By the time it was all over, he had spent more than an hour on it, at one point even calling one of his guys over to help. When I wanted to pay him, however, he had never opened up a work order, and, it seemed, did not want to try to recreate it from scratch. So, basically, the work was free. I did have to run "next door" to the CarQuest auto parts that is also owned and operated by Bingham to buy a new fan belt for $15, and I ended up tipping the mechanic who helped out for a bit, but that was all. Great guys, and they did an excellent job.

The side trip to Bingham meant that we weren't on the road until around four o'clock, which is how we only ended up going 50 miles. This spot (actually, many spots along the old road here) was listed as a good one in our Day's End directory. We picked this specific spot along the road because a hill separates us from I-8 here, which shielded us from headlights and noise last night.

Today we will continue east on I-8 (there are no blue-road alternatives in this part of the state) toward Gila Bend.

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