Saturday, August 18, 2012

Final day in Orlando

We are at the Elks lodge in Winter Park, Florida (map). There is but a single 15-amp power outlet here (for a suggested donation of $10 per night), and the 12 amps thus provided has been enough to keep us cool for two days, thanks to temperatures topping out in the mid-90s and being parked in a good deal of shade. Daily afternoon overcast and thundershowers have also helped.

We stopped here because it was the closest reasonable power outlet to the tire shop, in Ocoee, about 45 minutes west of here. It's also within scooter distance of the Citrus Club in Downtown Orlando, where we had a nice dinner last night. We opted to eat in the bar rather than the dining room this time, as they had a nice, low-key musical duo, half price wine for happy hour, and free hors d'ouvres. We also snagged a nice window table, likely better than we would have scored in the dining room.

After leaving Fort Wilderness just at our 1pm extended checkout, we rolled straight over to Crawford's Tire in Ocoee to finish up the tire exchange. I was very careful to avoid any need to back up in the process, except for just a few feet while jockeying in to the service bay, because I did not want to scuff our brand new steer tire that was doing temporary duty on the tag axle. We ended up waiting a half hour or so before they got to us, and the same tech who had done the road service call took care of us, obviating the need to explain to anyone else the proper jacking points for the axles, a hard-learned lesson from previous tire-shop experience.

It took them a full two hours to rotate the tags to the steers, mounting one tire and balancing two in the process. The need for and benefits of spin-balancing were made clear when they even had to un-bead one of the freshly-mounted tires and spin it nearly 180° on the wheel before applying weights -- that's a lot of imbalance. I paid $25 apiece for the mount-and-balance, and $25 a side for the rotation, so our two hours was a relative bargain at $100, on top of the $500 apiece, plus tax and disposal fees, for the two fresh Sumitomo 727 tires. We were out for under $1,200 and I counted myself lucky. The road service visit cost us nothing (well, I did tip the tech), courtesy of Coach-Net.

At least one reader has already noted that the tag tires were nearly bald when we scrapped them, and there were even a couple of spots with the belts starting to show. There's a good reason for that, and it starts with the fact that I never, ever put fresh rubber on the tag axle, having learned my lesson after the very first full set of brand new tires I put on the bus. The reason is simple: backing up takes a terrible toll on the tag tires, leaving large angular scuffs on them, and matching wear marks or even gouges in the pavement. This kind of scuffing leads to irregular and premature wear on the tags, and that axle will eat through $500 tires like they were made of Play-Doh.

Because each tag contributes at most 11-12% of the total braking force on the coach (and far less when braking from speed), I don't worry about tread condition on the tags. I pay careful attention to the carcass condition and tread adhesion, because either a blowout or a tread loss can damage other parts of the coach or other vehicles on the road, and I replace the tags before the belts can become damaged or the tread separates. After 48,000 miles on the steer axle, the tires now on the tag will probably be done and ready for the scrap heap within the next 10-15,000 miles.

The reason the tag axle eats tires this way has to do with its "steerable" feature. The independent tag axle suspension has a trailing-arm pivoting mount for the wheel, so that the tag axle steers to follow the path of the coach, like a caster on a cart. This lowers our effective wheelbase to just 18', making the coach highly maneuverable in tight turns. A pair of air cylinders actuates to hold the wheels in the straight-ahead position once the coach gets to 30mph or so, for extra stability at speed. The same air cylinders operate when in reverse, to try to keep the wheels straight while backing up.

That's all well and good when backing up in a straight line, from having just been driving forward in a straight line. Of course, parking a motor coach almost never involves this; rather, getting into a camp site or a parallel parking space usually involves fairly aggressive steering angles. The little air cylinders trying to hold the wheels straight just can't compete with 475 horsepower in low gear trying to drag the wheel a different way, and just as shopping cart casters try to spin around when you suddenly back up, our tag axle will quickly go caddywumpus, hitting the stop on one side or the other and then dragging semi-sideways for the remainder of the reverse maneuver.

If I have the room, I do my best to pull straight forward periodically during these maneuvers, to try to get the wheels straight before doing more damage. This often leads to quizzical looks from bystanders such as shop technicians, to whom it must appear that I simply do not know how to back my coach in anyplace. Another side effect of the off-angle tags is that they try to push the coach to one side or the other, leading to a hefty lean angle even on flat ground. When backing into a camp site, we always "over-reverse" so we finish the maneuver with a few feet of forward driving, to straighten the tags completely.

Now that we have fresh rubber, I feel better about driving all-out, if need be, should we end up being deployed someplace during the remainder of our on-call period for the Red Cross. I had to deal with replacing a tire in the middle of a cross-country disaster-response jaunt once, and it was nerve-wracking (and I had to spring for new rubber, to boot). All that said, there is nothing on the hurricane center's forecast maps threatening the US at the moment, and so we again find ourselves somewhat at loose ends.

Since there really isn't anyplace we can drive from here where it will be significantly cooler or otherwise more pleasant, at least not without remaining in prime hurricane-response territory, we've decided to return to Cocoa Beach for a little while, where at least we can walk each evening, get some swimming in, and bask in the air-conditioned comfort that 50 amps can provide. That still keeps us well-positioned for any disturbance on the east coast, and within striking distance of anyplace along the gulf.


  1. Thanks for explaining about your "steerable" tag. Now I understand how you maneuver into some of the places you do.

    Davy (DKO)

  2. Can't you lift the tag axle? I have got the same system, and I have got a button on the dashboard to lift it, though I must admit I never tried to..


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