Saturday, July 9, 2011

Another week passes

We are still at the Choo-Choo Express Garage near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The good news is that the engine is back in place, and even the generator has been lifted back into position. If everything goes perfectly, we could be done by the end of the day Monday and back on the road Tuesday.

Power train being slid back in.

We ended up having the radiator done in Gadsden, Alabama, at Brice Thomas Radiator. I called Tuesday morning as soon as they opened, and they gave me an estimate of $1,800 for either an aluminum or copper re-core. While that was $100 more than what Waggoner and Sons was asking in Kentucky, it was offset by the $32 in fuel savings on top of what would have undoubtedly been at least one and maybe two hotel stays for the two Kentucky round-trips of over ten hours each.

The two Gadsden runs were less than four hours each, round trip. I had a rental Tuesday morning from Hertz for $40, and with the $20 in fuel it cost me an unbeatable $60 for same-day express delivery of a 200+ pound radiator. As long as we had the car for a day, when I got back, we drove up to Lookout Mountain and had dinner at the Cafe on the Corner, which was very nice. Hertz was very accommodating; this being a "Local Edition" office they offered free pick-up and drop-off service, as they are having to compete with Enterprise which has offered this service for years.

Brice Thomas offered me the choice of an aluminum core, made in-house, or a copper/brass core, which they would have to order from Texas and which would have almost certainly meant the radiator would not be finished until sometime next week. There are lots of opinions on the relative merits of these two radiator materials, and it is almost a religious debate between aficionados of each. In addition to an Internet search, I also asked for guidance on the bus forums. What it really came down to is that there is no clear-cut winner, each has its pros and cons. Ultimately, we chose aluminum for three reasons:
  1. It would be ready at least a day or two sooner.
  2. Modern aluminum radiators offer slightly more cooling capacity per square inch than modern copper ones.
  3. The whole assembly would be somewhat lighter.
By 1pm Central Time I was back on the road and heading back to Chattanooga.

I was really hoping the radiator would be ready by Thursday afternoon, so we could have everything back together yesterday. When I called Thursday morning to check on it, that sounded possible, but by mid-day they called back to say the core needed another pass through the braze shop and it would be mid-day Friday. Mid-day is no better than end of day, given the two hour drive back, so I told them not to rush and that I would pick it up at 4:30.

Friday is the start of weekend rates for car rentals, and I got a car for just $23 through Hotwire. No pick-up service, though -- Louise dropped me at the airport on the scooter. She decided to ride with me to Gadsden, so we could catch dinner together at a reasonable hour on our way back. We picked the car up at 3pm and arrived at the shop as scheduled at 4:30.

It was a good thing we chose to arrive a good half hour before closing. When we pulled around to have them load it, I immediately noticed two sheet metal flanges, air guides for the fan assembly, had been incorrectly attached on the front side of the radiator, rather than the back where they belonged. Not trusting my own memory, I quickly checked the photos I had snapped on my phone when I dropped it off: yes, I remembered correctly. While they were fixing that issue, I also noticed they had left out a flare fitting on one of the tanks, replacing it with a pipe plug. Catching these two mistakes in the span of five minutes did not inspire confidence in the process methodology there at Brice Thomas; I hope they are better at making radiator cores than they are at reassembling customer-provided radiators.

One of the photos I snapped at the radiator shop after unloading, clearly showing the metal guides on the hose side, and two flare fittings at the tops of the tanks.

It was well past 5 by the time we left, having spent a good 45 minutes waiting for them to fix their mistakes. I wonder if I can send them a bill for those 45 minutes at their shop rate. By the time we got to Fort Payne it was well after 6, or 7 our time, and we decided to eat. DeKalb is a dry county, but there is some exemption for a part of Fort Payne and we had a decent enough meal at the Santa Fe Cattle Company right off the freeway, complete with wine. We ate in the bar to skip the half-hour wait for a table. It was 9pm by the time we pulled back up to the shop here, and we just left the radiator in the back of the car.

Today's project was getting the generator running. After sliding the engine back into place Thursday, Joel had time on Friday to start getting the generator back into position. Fortunately I had already spent Friday morning with a roll of metal repair tape getting the soundproofing squared away where the hole had been cut to access the engine bolts. It took three of us to wrestle the beast back into place using the cherry picker, and once Joel had the mounting bolts in and the cherry picker removed, I set to work reconnecting all the wiring. I had it most of the way finished, other than gauges, when we had to leave to get the radiator, and I suggested to Joel that if he got the cooling system reconnected and coolant reinstalled, I could start testing today.

Sure enough, all the cooling bits were back in place when we returned, so this morning I reconnected the gauges, installed the air cleaner, routed the two hoses that exit the bottom of the compartment (breather and oil drain), and set about priming the fuel system. With the enclosure out of the way, this last item went a bit easier than normal as I was able to take the return line off and put it in a container. That allowed me to run the fuel pump with the prime switch until I saw good flow out the return.

Even after a good five minutes of priming, it took me another half hour to get the set started. The battery was low after all that pump running, and I had to reconnect the emergency start bridge solenoid so I could get a boost from the bus batteries. And after several failed start attempts I discovered a loose connection at the first glow plug, so it was hot but the others were not. A few more cranks and she fired up, and after five minutes of no-load running I closed the main breaker to the coach. Once the genny was fully up to temp, however, I noticed coolant pooling in the bottom of the enclosure. I think it is coming from the return hose, but there is no way to reach that when the set is hot. Tomorrow or Monday I'll try to have a look at it; we need to fix it before the rest of the enclosure goes on.

I mentioned that the main engine is also back in place, and most of the accessories are hooked up. With no radiator, however, there is no way to test it, and so Monday will be our first opportunity to try to start it up. With a brand new radiator, we will be starting with all fresh coolant, even though I just had it replaced a few months ago. One of the things I did today while we still had the car was to pick up ten gallons of distilled water at Wal-Mart, so we can use the full-strength coolant and save a few bucks. It's really a shame to have to recycle so much good coolant, but the radiator shop convinced us it was the right thing to do.

In part that was by showing me the old core. Wow -- I would guess that thing was 30%-40% obstructed. No wonder we've had cooling issues. And, while I have never, ever put anything in the cooling system besides antifreeze, distilled water, and the recommended "supplemental additives" required by diesel engines, it was clear from looking at it that some previous owner had put plenty of tap water in there, and from a pretty hard source from the looks of it. We definitely made the right decision to have this done now, while it was easy to get to.

About half of our old core. Note the extensive calcification.

Tomorrow I will try to get the rest of the re-assembly projects done, so that we can be ready to go if the engine work is done Monday. That includes rewiring the trailer connector, which melted during an episode where we bent the generator exhaust a bit too close to the bumper. I replaced three feet of the wiring and the connector itself Thursday, but there is some issue with the delivery of 12 volts to the control box and I need to track it down. (The bus is 24 volts, but trailers are 12, so we have a converter box that I designed to mate the two.)

If we do get out of here Tuesday, I have no idea where we will go. Now that we are this far east, maybe we'll head to the coast, perhaps to cool off in the Atlantic.

Opening photo, taken by Louise, of George, who is clearly blase about all this, even with a dozen "adopted" cats running around the yard. Ho hum.


  1. As much as I look forward to every entry from you these days, I also dread them for fear of hearing of more expensive problems. I admire your apparent ability to take these things in stride. I would be pulling what little hair I have left out by the roots!

  2. Dang..... sounds like you've gotta be part detective, part engineer, and part magician to track down all the problematic bits lately. Here's hoping for many many uneventful miles after this refurb!

  3. Wow! That has been quite a repair saga. Yes, people like me spend time analyzing your write-up, trying to understand all of the issues.

    And in the middle of all this, I see that you're also advising Technomadia on the beginning of their bus adventure?

    I admire your patience and persistence!


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