Saturday, February 17, 2007

Winter Breeze Across My Knees

Its been a busy week, and I've neglected the blog. Sorry.

Since the first Winter, I've had breezes through the bus as I've driven. After replacing rubber seals in doors and windows (I'll post on how to do that some time), I still had wind blowing in. I worked on replacing the heat system (post on that later) and it was still freezing cold and windy. I started trying to track down where the source of the breeze was, and determined it was coming from the sliding door. I spent the $80 on a new door seal before I noticed that the breeze got stronger just after hitting bumps and that the little curtain, as stiff as it was, would ruffle. I realized that the crank-out windows (jalousie, but I call them "jealous" because I can't pronounce jalousie) were the source of the wind.

So, how to fix it?
First, I thought I'd make a plexiglass replacement for the screen. I pulled the screen out, and soon realized that fitting plexiglass between the window frame and the mechanics of the window wouldn't work. This effort did give me an idea of the dimensions for the window.
Next, I remeasured the frame with a plan of cutting a sheet of plexiglass and constructing a frame that would attach to the outside of the inner frame. The frame is 14.5" x 41", so I planned to cut the plexiglass 14"x40.5". I went to Home Depot in hopes of finding old-school plexiglass, but they had some clear resin type sheets that were supposedly stronger. Okay, fine. $20 later, and we have our glass. I cut the rectangular piece and prepared to test set it on the window.
I discovered that the cranker-handle interrupted the plan, and would require cutting out a square. As I was removing the glass from the window frame, I was distracted and dropped the plexiglass. With a resounding break, I no longer needed to cut the square to fit the cranker handle. I needed to cut a whole new sheet.
Before cutting a new sheet, I wanted to be sure this would actually work, so I did a major hack: I duct-taped the partially broken sheet to the window frame. Fortunately, the broken part of the window was only in the corner where it landed. I put that end where the cranker-handle is.

So, did it work?
Yes, it did. This past week has been pretty mild, but windy here in Portland. The windows on the drivers side pop open a little with the wind and a little air comes in, but not at all like the passenger side used to. Now, with the "storm window", there is almost no draft and I can feel the heat system working. In fact, it works so well now, I need to crack the window if I am driving for more than 40 minutes.

I don't know how safe it is for family use, but the bus is a single-person driver in the Winter at this point anyway. Once I figure out how the plexiglass would perform in a traffic accident, I'll construct the wooden frame I described. Barring that, I'll have to figure some other way of Winterizing the jalousie window.
--more next time--

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Bay City Blues

After the Timothy Lake camping trip, we felt pretty confident in our new little camper, and planned another trip right away. Three weeks after driving up Mt. Hood, we planned a trip to Cape Mears State Park. We had heard that there were interesting birds and other wildlife there, and the park wasn't as crowded as the Cape Lookout State Park just south of there. I followed the old axciom of "if it ain't broke, don't mess with it" approach to preparing Hapy for the trip. I continued to drive him to work every day, and he performed great. When the day to leave arrived, we loaded Hapy with all the usual camping stuff for a Summer weekend on the Oregon Coast (so we brought plenty of warm clothes) and hit the highway.
We took Interstate 5 to OR217 to US26 - our usual route when we drove other cars. We hadn't driven as far as Hillsboro before Hapy started some odd misfires. I verbally wrote it off as bad gas or the engine being cold to my wife, but I started obsessing about it. Thoughts of "I shoulda done a full tuneup" started crowding into my mind. Everyone else was enjoying the view out the windows while I listened to the occasional misfire and grimaced. The Coast Range passed and we could start to smell the ocean when Hapy started to really fail. I had to finally pull over on a straight stretch of road to see what was going on. Hapy died as I pulled to the shoulder, and the feelings of anger and disappointment started to really take hold. On top of that, I had to appear on top of things for my 2 very young kids who knew right away something was not quite right.
I popped the engine door and looked around. Nothing looked wrong. I checked the hoses and plug wires. Everything looked normal, but felt pretty warm. I tried the old oil dipstick test (if you can touch the oil without it hurting, you're not too hot), and it was HOT. Drat. I checked the fuel filter, even changed it, but that didn't do anything. I resolved to let the engine cool and then try to get us to our destination, but my wife was not too hip for that. The passing semi-trucks were making us both rather nervous, so we were hoping the bus would cool off fast. Luck smiled on us in the form of a passing unencumbered tow-truck heading into Tillamook - same as us.
The tow truck driver told us we were about 10 miles from Tillamook, and that he knew an old VW mechanic in the next town north: Bay City. Although I wanted to wait out the cooling engine, I knew the kids weren't safe on that narrow shoulder with the passing trucks. I knew we needed to go this route; knowing our camping trip was effectively over before it began. We all pilled into the tow truck (it had a crew cab if you can believe it), put Hapy up on the platform and drove to Bay City.
Now, if you've never been to Bay City, it doesn't have a traffic light, nor any kind of downtown, but there is a mechanic that knows air-cooled Volkswagens: Klingelhofer Auto Repair. Crazy. The name even sounded old-country. By the time we got to his shop, which was also his home, it was getting late in the afternoon, and he couldn't get to it right away. He had the tow truck driver drop the bus near the garage and then we all had a beer. Yeah, that's right. Me, the tow truck driver and the mechanic. Klingelhofer said we were more than welcome to "camp" in his driveway, and pointed out where the ocean was from his place. It turned out to be about 300 feet from his driveway, so while he fixed the bus on Saturday, we walked the Bay City beach/coast line. Because of time delays, we were unable to leave Satruday night before we lost our camping reservation, so we spent Saturday night at Klingelhofer's too. We had a big ol' barbeque with a bunch of his friends, rode around on his quad and played Frisbee.
Before we left on Sunday, we settled the bill, and he explained that the coil had gone bad. This explained the weird misfires, and really couldn't have been diagnosed until it finally died. When a coil fails, it doesn't always give you a warning, so its a good idea to carry a spare. When it starts acting funny, swapping a new coil takes 5 minutes, and you're on the road again. The alternative is getting towed to a garage and camping in their parking lot for the weekend. Considering our experience, though, that alternative wasn't really that all bad. In fact, it was kinda fun.
Until next time--

Monday, February 5, 2007

First camping trip

A large group of friends had been planned a camping weekend on Mt. Hood since March of 2003 for that Summer. Less than a month before the trip was to take place, we found and bought Hapy. He ran well, but we had no idea how any of his things worked, and we didn't even have an owners manual yet. We did have an old copy of Muir's "How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive", so we felt reasonably sure we'd be okay. Besides, we were going to meet friends, so if we had trouble, they'd probably drive by us. We didn't have any mechanical issues other than slow-going on Sunday morning through the mountain passes (the picture below was taken just before we pulled out Sunday morning). We got lots of waves (both pleasant and vulgar) throughout the trip, and we felt very lucky to have Hapy in our family.

The old 1972 Westvalia interior has a large bench seat in the back that folds flat to make a bed. Next to the bed on the passenger side is a cabinet that blocks the rear passenger window, but it fits lots of stuff. It even has a closet that fits hanging things - like you'd really bring a suit out camping. Under the bench is a pretty large cabinet as well. Behind the front passenger seat is a sink/icebox unit and behind the driver seat is a rear-facing seat. All told, you can fit 5 passengers. We were traveling with 4 including the driver, so the rear-facing seat held camping supplies.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is "what equipment do you need to bring when you camp?" Honestly, I bring the same stuff I used to camp with before I had the bus. I'll post another time with a more exhaustive answer, but, generally, if you've ever car-camped before, bring the same things you did before - even the tent.

We arrived before some of our friends did, so we popped the top, and pulled the ice chests out. My sons started asking very wise questions about where we would be sleeping, and we realized that we had the cot up top (1) and the bed down below (2), but we had 4 people. We resolved to have the youngest wedged between the parents on this trip, but we'd have to figure out a solution for other trips. After this trip, we purchased a child's cot at BusDepot for the younger son to sleep in. It also provided a place to put stuff when we weren't using it, which is very handy in any tiny cabin.

Timothy Lake was beautiful, though the water was cold, and we really enjoyed the cool Summer nights around the campfire swapping stories. We spent the day chasing frogs, and riding bikes around the campground. At night, we enjoyed not sleeping on rocks, though any time anyone had to use the restroom in the middle of the night, the sliding door woke everyone up. We used the front seats as a place to put stuff (like bags of clothes) while we were camped. This worked very well for us except one time we were closing the passenger door, the mirror glass fell out of the chrome holder :( I had my first experience with a stranger walking up to my bus wanting to know things about it. I realize now how little I knew then, but I gave the basic information. The funny thing is that over the years, the questions from people are pretty much the same, and regardless of age there's a little gleam of wonder in their eyes. The gentleman who I spoke to was driving a 30 foot RV that had satellite television and a microwave. All I had was an icebox and a folding bed, but the love of the outdoors seems to cross all lines, and we were soon talking about the view of Mt. Hood across the lake and the smell of the trees in the air.

The kids loved camping and didn't want to leave. They took to the cold early mornings, and pit toilets like they weren't anything out of the ordinary. We all knew that camping and Hapy were going to be a part of our lives for a long time after this trip concluded. At least so far, we were right--

Thursday, February 1, 2007

February failure

The winter of 2004 wasn't unusually cold, nor was it particularly snowy. It was, however, my first winter with the bus. I hadn't driven an older (20+ year old) car in a long time, so I'd forgotten that as the weather gets colder, the fragile parts start to fail.

I'd decided to take it a little easier on Hapy and I got a Tri-Met bus pass. I thought it would be a good thing if I only drove the bus as far as the commuter terminal. Since I could feel the wind blowing through the doors and windows when I drove on the Interstate, I had a little personal reason for this too. Well, my first part failure happened in November. I remember hearing a slight "pop" as I turned into the parking lot, and smelling a light scent of electrical smoke, but I didn't think too much of it. I popped the engine hatch and there was nothing interesting going on (read: no fire), so I hopped the bus and presently forgot about it.

After a typical office-workday, I returned home on the Metrobus and started Hapy in the usual way. I noticed that the ALT light stayed on after I got him running and that freaked me a bit. I remembered reading that if the light comes on like that, it could be a really bad thing for your electrical system and you should shutdown immediately. I did, and I went to look through my books. Something was wrong with the electrical system, but if the bus started and ran, I figured it couldn't be that bad. Realizing that I was taking a calculated risk, I started Hapy and drove the 2.5 miles home. Could I have fried my electrical system by doing that? Well, sure, I suppose. In retrospect, "no" because the broken part wouldn't have done that.

I got home after dark, and brought my books (Muir & Bentley) inside. I tested the internet resources for a clear direction for what was wrong, but the answers I got were not consistent. So, I started replacing parts and taking 2 Metrobuses to work - one local and one express - extending my commute by an hour each way.

First I replaced the Voltage Regulator. This is the part that most often fails in situations like this, and if it had been the bad part, my drive home would have caused lots of electrical problems. Now I carry a spare, since the original part was fine.

Next, I replaced the battery and cables. This seemed like an easy thing to try (and it was), but it didn't fix the problem. I did get a nice battery out of the deal, and the old one was probably going anyway. I figured the cold-cranking in the dead of winter would be a little better after this. It was, but Hapy still wouldn't start.

Last, I pulled the alternator to have it tested. This turned out to be the problem. Lots of water had gotten into the engine compartment from the heavy rains, and a puddle of water sloshed into the alternator, frying it. Or, at least, that's what i think happened. Now, if you've never pulled an alternator from a 72-79 VW bus, its not like pulling one from a mid 70's GM or Ford. There is a big gray thing on the back (closest to the rear bumper) of the engine called a fan shroud that holds the alternator and directs the air moved by the engine fan. There is a smaller plate in front of the fan shroud that actually holds the ALT. There is a long bolt in the upper left-hand corner that holds the smaller plate and the ALT in place. I won't go into the removal/replacement details here, but in the dark in the rain and in the street this is not an easy job. I finally pulled the old one out and had it tested at Beaverton Auto Parts. "Dis things dead an' I check'd it twice", he said. "Git you a new un in 'bout a week er so. $125". "#$%^," I said. "I'll get back to ya." BusDepot had one to me in 3 days for closer to $85.

Hapy drove well the rest of the winter very well. I had more adventures before Christmas, but that can wait for another day.