Well, I decided since Skip paid me a quarter
and since I'm going to be without computer for a couple weeks, I better get something posted regarding this road fix before ya'll send out the lynching party. So, here goes. Hope it's not too much of a disappointment. If more of you had paid up your quarters, it would have been shorter and more concise, but....
It was a hot, humid August afternoon. A Sunday. We're in the middle of Nowhere Nebraska. The bank thermometer reads 107*. The engine temp gauge reads 200*. The family was cranky and we were heading to the In-Laws place. I'd been fighting these conditions all day. I was down to my last nerve, and it showing signs of fatigue.
We had just filled the bus with fuel in York, and were heading down Highway 81 towards a wonderful little campground in Hebron. It was about 7:00 in the evening.
About 15 miles from our destination, I suddenly heard a sound that was not right. One of those sounds you hear that you just know isn't road noise. Teri heard it too, and she also recognized it was not normal. It was a very low hissing sound and I couldn't place it.
I turned off the air conditioner to hear better, and it was louder. It was definitely a hissing sound, and from the sounds of it, high pressure air was leaving somewhere it was not supposed to leave. The gauge was still pretty steady as we began trying to pinpoint the location. It wasn't coming from the dash. It seemed more likely to be coming from the step area, so I immediately suspected my recently installed leveling system, of which 3 valves are located in the small compartment next to the stairs, and under the co-pilot's feet. Teri got down into the steps to see if she could feel where the air was coming from, but was unable to locate it. It was getting louder.
By this time, I decided I better find a stopping place and properly diagnose it. It had increased in intensity, and the gauge was now visibly showing loss of large quantities of air. The compressor was still keeping up, though, and recharged the pressure just fine, only to start the cycle over again. Finally, I came to the access road to Geneva, NE, and pulled in, figuring I'd find someplace where I could park for a bit. Just before entering town, there was an old closed down gas station which was probably in it's hey day before highway 81 was rebuilt to bypass the town. The pumps were gone, but the concrete pads were still there, and clean. Perfect. I pulled in and came to a stop.
When I pulled the parking brake button to set the brakes, and released the service brakes, the loud hissing sound stopped!!! Hmm, there's a clue! I stepped on the service brakes. Hisssssss! Let off. No hiss. Pressed in the parking brake, Hissssssss! Pulled up. No hiss.
It was also obvious that the sound was coming from under the floor, from the spare tire compartment. I opened up the bumper, pulled the spare tire out, and placed a tarp
in the compartment to lay on and try to reduce the amount of grease and oil that could jump onto my clothes. Crawling into the spare tire compartment, I had Teri step on the brakes. Hissssss! In a matter of seconds, I pinpointed the source. A small silver aluminum box shaped component with some air lines coming out of it, and a large threaded port on the side. Hmmm, wonder what that is?
I began cursing myself for not having spent more time learning about all the components of the air system, and what their functions are. In all the mechanical work I've done on my bus, the air components have been the least problematic, and so have received the least attention, which therefore has not provided me with the necessary incentives to learn all about them. Luckily, I put my maintenance manual in the bus before leaving home. I started the generator and turned on the air conditioner. This could take some time.
Thumbing through the air system section of the manual, I was hoping to find a diagram of the system which might give me a hint as to what the component was. I had an idea I knw what it was, but I wasn't sure, and even if it was, I didn't know how it worked, and so didn't know how to fix it to get on down the road. Unfortunately, I didn't find the diagram I was hoping to find. I did, however, find some drawings of various parts, and one of them was labeled with the name I suspected. I looked at it closely. Sure enough, the drawing looked similar to the malfunctioning part. Parking brake quick release valve. Ok. So what does it do. I read the description.... again and again. The only thing I really picked up on was the part that said you should replace the diaphram once a year or every 50,000 miles. Well, I've put about 50K on my bus since I got it, and it's been over 8 years, and I know for a fact the diaphram has never been changed in that time period, so it's probably a bit overdue. So, what does this thing do?
Obviously my mind wasn't working well right now. Time for plan two. I pull out the cell phone. Yes, two bars.... er one bar... er, 5 bars... er, two bars. Well, this is going to be iffy. I pull out the number of my bus mechanic friend. He's one of the sharpest person's I know when it comes to buses. I'm not happy about having to call him at home on a Sunday evening. He had given me his cell number and told me it was for emergencies only, and to guard it with my life. I figured this was an emergency and dialed the number. Nobody answered. I left a message, and dialed the house number.
I knew even before it was answered that he wouldn't be available. I also knew why, and how to get past this problem. As I suspected, his wife answered the phone and said he was not available. She asked my name and when I told her, I also appologized for calling on a Sunday, and said I was stranded and needed some expert advice. She said she could get a message to him and have him call me back. I thanked her and hung up.
Within 30 seconds the phone rang.
We discussed the problem briefly. I explained the symptoms, and told him where the air was leaking from. He asked a couple questions about the component, and confirmed it was the parking brake quick release valve. I asked him what it did, and how do I fix it to get me down the road. He said that basically, the parking brake requires air pressure in one of the lines to keep it released. In the event of a catastrophic air loss, loss of pressure in this line will cause the parking brakes to set. In order for the parking brakes to set when you pull the knob, the air in that line must be released, and the function of the quick release valve is to release that air pressure quickly. Hence the name. There's a diaphram in there that obviously had burst.
I asked if it would be a problem driving with it leaking, and he said it could leak enough such that the parking brake might be partially set, causing a dragging brake. This could happen even though the dash gauge indicates full pressure. So, it wasn't a good idea to drive on with it leaking like it was. He said I could plug it with a pipe plug, and install a new diaphram when I get home. The only ramification of plugging it would be that when the parking brake valve is pulled, it would take considerably longer for it to set, as the pressure would have to bleed out through the parking brake valve rather than through the quick release valve. He said if I plug it, to be careful when I set the parking brake, and don't just pull the button and jump out of the coach, because it might not be set, and the bus might roll away without me. Good point!
About this time, the service bars on my phone went to zero.
So, how do I plug that hole to keep pressure in the line? I look through my tool box. Nothing. I check all the little storage bins on the wall behind the tool box. There was a 3/8" pipe plug. I checked it. WAY too small!! Ok, this is going to be difficult. I don't have anything large enough to fit that hole. Plus, it appears to be fine threads in there.
I remember a small container of miscellaneous "stuff" on the dash, and go to check it. Hmmm, 35 cents, a couple stones, a pine cone... no, I don't think I can stuff a pine cone in there and stop the air... a wine cork, a... wait, a wine cork? Hmmm. It looks about the right size. Could I maybe shove that cork in there and get the air leak stopped. 120 lbs of pressure? Not a snowball's chance in H#&&! Well, what do I have to lose? I don't seem to have any other options, so let's see what we can do.
With a sly grin on my face, I exited the air conditioned bus and crawled into the cramped space where to offending component hung. The wine cork was too big to fit the hole, but in my vast experiences, I've found it much easier to remove material from a wine cork than to put it on. With my trusty Leatherman, I delicately chopped away some of material from around one end of the cork till it would just fit into the exhaust port of the quick release valve. I then screwed it into the threaded hole till it was as tight as I could make it without breaking it. There was another air line that crossed directly in front of the hole, which I had to bend slightly out of the way. I pulled it back in line, and forced the cork under it. It seemed like a nice fit, but would it hold air?
I extracted myself from the spare tire compartment and climbed back into the bus. I steped on the brake pedal. There was a slight hiss, but nothing like what was leaking before. This just might work. I expected a small leak around the edges where I hacked off some of the cork but figured it shouldn't be a huge problem as long as it could retain enough pressure to keep the emergency brakes from locking up.
I put the spare tire back in the compartment, closed the bumper and headed down the road. The air compressor cycled a few times, but it maintained pressure just fine, and the brakes were not dragging. We got to our camp site a little later than we anticipated, but it was not an issue as we were the only RV in the whole park!
The next morning, I pulled the cork out of the hole, and measured the diameter. I then drove the toad up to the John Deere dealer and bought a 5/8" fine threaded bolt which fit well into the hole. With a few turns of teflon tape around it, it fit snuggley into the port, and sealed it off. Mission accomplished. Emergency repair complete. We're back on the road.
As my mechanic friend said, it takes a couple minutes for the parking brake to set once you pull the valve, so I just have to plan on holding the brake for awhile until I can be sure (or confirm) the parking brake is set. I called my friend back the next day, happy to be on the road again, and again appologized for interrupting his family life, and ordered the parts to make a permanent fix. It should be waiting for me when I get to WY, and should be relatively easy to install.
So, that's my emergency road fix tale. Hope you're not all disappointed after the suspense and delay. We didn't actually sacrifice a bottle of wine to the bus Gods, but I've since toasted them many times, and from now on, there will be a wine cork or two in my bus toolbox for emergency repair.