Sunday, September 19, 2010

The free parking shuffle

We are at the TA truck stop in Ashland, Virginia (map), only a couple miles from Bass Pro across the freeway where we started our day yesterday. In the interim, we spent a few hours in the parking lot of a shopping center one exit south, where there is a Home Depot and a Gander Mountain.

What I neglected to mention in yesterday's post is that when we arrived at Bass Pro Friday night and found a relatively dark parking spot, we discovered the left front leveling actuator to be inoperative. A quick look under the wheel well while Louise operated the switch revealed the motor to be turning, but the actuator rod was not moving in or out. It was more or less stuck at dead center, which, all things considered, is better than the alternatives. Today's photo shows the original actuator when it was new, easy to see in this shot because the wheel has been removed. Click here to see a larger image.

We ended up moving to another part of the lot, where I could get level without having to adjust that particular wheel. I knew I'd need to spend half an hour or so huddled inside the wheel well to get the actuator out even to figure out what was wrong with the thing. Being able to move the bus once the actuator is out requires even more work to substitute a fixed-length arm, and I figured we'd best do the work within walking distance to a hardware store. Plus, we did not want to abuse Bass Pro's hospitality by working on the bus in their lot.

As it turned out, the jack screw itself was stripped out somehow. I can't get that part of the sealed actuator open to find out why, but I had everything I needed to repair the problem buried in the back of the parts bay. A mere five months after we hit the road, one of the wires to the rear actuator broke off right at the motor housing, as I wrote in this post. With the motor being staked rather than bolted together, there was no way to repair the wire, and we had to replace the entire actuator. I put the old one aside for some future emergency.

It was a straightforward, if tedious, matter to move the working motor and its position-sensing potentiometer from the now stripped actuator to the defunct unit from the spares bay. There are lots of tiny, fiddly little screws and gears that needed to be moved around, but the end result was a working actuator with a much "newer" jack-screw and housing, and better lubrication as well. After a few functional tests I crawled back into the wheel well to install it. The whole job took a little over two hours, and we never even needed the Home Depot.

Just as I was washing up, Louise's cousin and aunt arrived to take us to dinner, and her cousin's partner met us at the O'Banks pub across the freeway. We had a nice meal with them, but it was dark by the time we returned to the bus, and rather than hunting around for better parking we just came here where we knew they had several dedicated RV spaces. My guide reports a dump station here, too, but I could not find it in a walk around the enormous property.

Today we will find a grocery store to replenish our supplies, and we are due at the cousin's house this evening for a home-cooked meal. We'll try to find a parking spot a little closer to there for tonight, and roll over on the scooters. In the morning we will head back to the Red Cross warehouse for a few days to wrap up our project there.


  1. Interesting repair story! Out of curiosity: If you didn't have the spare actuator, how difficult is it to find a replacement?

    Any concerns that the actuator on the other side of the bus is ready to fail?

  2. @Phil: When we were converting Odyssey, I purchased a lot of industrial surplus items on eBay, and that's where I got the actuators. They are Thomson Electrac-1 models, which are common in industry, but these specific ones were custom ordered for whatever application they came from -- they were very slightly used when I got them. I only bought three, because that's what I needed.

    When the first one broke way back in '05, I called Thomson to price out a replacement and it was well north of $600 and would be a bit of a wait as it was a custom item. I immediately contacted the original eBay seller and got lucky -- he still had two left and I bought them both. I think I paid $50 each for the five of them.

    So, yes, I could get them, but probably I would re-engineer the levelers to use whatever actuators are cheap on eBay whenever that situation arises. As it stands today, I have one complete unused one in the bay, so I am covered for any single failure. I've also saved all the parts from the now twice-broken one, in case the next thing to break is a part that is not yet broken on this one.

    I am, indeed, concerned that after six+ years, 120,000 miles, and probably 1,000+ operating cycles, all three actuators may be coming to end-of-life. The right front is now the oldest of the three. However, with one new spare plus the old parts, I suspect I can keep these going for another few years yet, possibly the rest of the time we own the bus.

  3. Sean -

    Thanks for the in-depth info!

    I did some quick eBay actuator research - there are a number of solutions to the problem out there. I like the elegance of the approach as used on Odyssey - but I'll admit the rarity of the parts would concern me. It sounds like your can-do DIY approach - and a bin of parts - handle the job pretty well.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise!


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