Expect the Unexpected

The Blytheville (properly pronounced “Bly-vuhl”), Arkansas. Rally, also known as, “The Ghosts of Highway 61 Dixie Tour” was a great rally. Wendy has blogged about it, posted pics and I even took some amateur videos of the antique bus and greyhound parade (to be posted soon). We had a great time and set out for home on Sunday morning.

We decided to step it up a notch and take a different route home. AR 14 across northern Arkansas looked very interesting, but a tip from Scotty at the Ozark, MO Elks lodge pointed us at a less twisty road. On a motorcycle, that one would be heaven, but not so much in a 40 ft. bus.  So I selected US 412/US 62 and set an overnight at said Elks Lodge. Sunday was a great drive and the road was plenty interesting enough!  Lots of hills and twisties that gave our little DD 6V92 and Allison 4 speed auto a real workout. The bus ran like a champ and we arrived in Ozark, Missouri, a little before 5 pm.  This had, to date, been the most relaxed and tension-free trip Wendy and I had taken yet. We were having a great time and the kitties seemed to fall into a familiar routine.

Monday morning we set off for Springfield, Missouri with plans to stop at the Colaw RV Salvage yard and look for furniture. We were getting low on fuel so Wendy scoped out a Flying J near Joplin that also had a dump station. Little did we know then how fortuitous a choice that would prove to be! Colaw’s had nothing that interested us, so we fired up the bus and headed west on I-44 for the Flying J.

Upon arrival, we pulled up to the truck pumps, shut it down and filled the tanks. We needed to dump our black/gray tank so I started it up and headed over to the dump station. We got parked next to the dump station and I shut it down again. However, when I got out to start the process, I noticed I’d stopped a little short and jumped back in to move the bus a little closer.  That’s when the unexpected (and unwelcome) happened.  I flipped the master switch, pressed the starter button and – SILENCE!  Oh, darn, I said, (or something similar) those start batteries are low again. So I enlisted the aid of my 24 volt house batteries and again – SILENCE!  Wendy picks it up immediately and wants to know what is going on? I wish I knew. I figured I must be overlooking something obvious, so I checked all the switches, settings, transmission, etc. and gave it another try. Still nothing. OK, let’s  give it a try in back – still NADA.

Now we’d just started the engine less than five minutes ago and it fired right up. So, how is it possible that it won’t start now?  We’re blocking the very popular dump station at one of the busiest Flying Js I’d ever seen and we’re dead in the water. A world of potentialities flashed through my mind and an unpleasant feeling settled into my belly – Oh no! We might not get home in time for the big game!

Oh well, I might as well dump the tank and take a moment to “SLOW DOWN.” By now, others are getting wise that we have a problem including a Flying J employee. I explained the problem and he immediately called his boss. A few minutes later he came over and suggested we walk over to the Wingfoot Service center and ask for help. Yes, there is a Wingfoot Truck Service and Tire Center at this Flying J. So Wendy heads over that direction to see if she can find a mechanic. I’m not one to sit around waiting for someone else to save my bacon so…

OK, it won’t start, where to begin? At the beginning. I pull out my multimeter and check the start batteries. They are good at nearly 25.7 volts or better. At the rear start panel, I can hear the engine stop opening and I’ve got good air pressure, but I hear nothing from the starter itself. I’ve got good voltage at the starter too. I check all the cables and they look good, clean (sort of), tight albeit a little aged. At this point I’m suspicious of the starter and when the Wingfoot mechanic arrives he immediately goes to the starter. No introductions, no questions, not a word from the guy.

Now, I know there is a simple way to short the starter/solenoid to test it, but right there and then – I just can’t remember which posts to jumper!  The Wingfoot mechanic thinks he knows and immediately welds a steel rod across the hot lug and the frame of the bus. Sparks fly and he jumps back.  Oh #$%^! He’s letting all the smoke out of my starter solenoid and soon the entire bus if I don’t do something! So I jump in front of him and kick the steel rod until it breaks loose. I’m sure the bus electrical system did not like that and I know my nervous system really didn’t need it either! Stupidly, I immediately inquire if he really is a mechanic! Yes, he assures me he is.

M and me contemplate.

M and me contemplate.

OK, time to reboot, this is not going well. I walk away, cool off, and step back to the rear of the bus. Let’s try this again. The conversation goes something like this:

JDW:   Hi, what’s your name?  (as I fail to read the name tag on his shirt)

M: Matthew.

JDW:  Hi Matthew, I’m Jim and I really appreciate you coming over here to help us. We shake hands.  So, what do you think?

M: I suspect the starter.

JDW: That was my thought too. Is there a way to jumper it just to get the bus started?  We could just head home and I could fix this tomorrow.

M: Is it a manual or automatic?

JDW: Auto.

M: No way that I know.

JDW: How about replacing the starter.

M: I’m pretty sure we don’t have a 24 volt starter. I’ll go back over to the shop and see what I can find.

Ok, I think I’ve got the rough edges smoothed over a little. He leaves and I’m not sure what to do. Wendy thinks it would be a good idea for me to eat something and, of course, she’s right. So I wolf down half a sandwich and get out the bus wiring charts to have a look at the start system schematic. I get that sinking feeling again, there are just too many possibilities and I’m have a little trouble focusing right now.

By now, Matthew has returned with his manager, Duane, and we try again to jumper the starter. This time, I suggest that we use my jumper cables rather than a steel rod or screwdriver and Duane concurs. Nothing happens – that’s good I guess considering what happened last time! That still points to the starter/solenoid as the problem. Now that I’ve got another set of hands, we check voltage at the solenoid with the start button depressed – 25.6 volts.  Conclusion: we need a starter. Duane starts making calls and I ask Wendy to call a local NAPA store to see if they can help us.

Duane strikes out and doesn’t know of a shop in town that rebuilds these things. I think that odds are good there is one, but I have no idea how to find it. That’s when Wendy comes through and saves the day. NAPA can’t help us, but she is persistent and they give her the number for American Battery in Joplin, Missouri. So Wendy is on the phone with Greg at American Battery and I’m scrambling around trying to find the serial numbers he needs from the starter and engine. Yes! He thinks he can help us, but now it’s closing time. Now, Wendy picked up a lot of her Dad’s best qualities and he could charm the skin off a snake. She is still on the phone with Greg and after a few more words he decides he’ll stay open and wait until we can get there with the old starter.

Duane and I remove the starter and he takes me to town in his truck. Greg is waiting as promised, he pulls a starter off the shelf, makes few adjustments, I pay the man, THANK HIM profusely and Duane and I are quickly on our way back to the Flying J.

The new starter goes in.

The new starter goes in.

Well, it turns out we did get home in time for the big game!  Can you believe it?  Serendipity, a positive attitude and good will seem to follow us wherever we go. We met some great folks, solved the problem and went on down the road. I guess I’d have to say we were lucky.

Now we all know that hindsight is always 20/20, so its a poor choice for strategizing when stuff happens. However, looking back I had some warnings from that starter and as our friend, Wayne Schell, said you need to pay attention because you won’t get many. Oh well, grist for the mill and another lesson learned at the SOHK.


4 comments on “Expect the Unexpected

  1. What an adventure! I have to say if I ever go on a long-ish road trip I’m taking you along!! Can’t wait to see you guys again here in very sunny and hot SW Florida. It’s looking really good. Reef

  2. i was just so sure you were going to put it in nuetral and start her right up! That was my latest no start lol. And better the dump station than the fuel island! Great to see you in Blytheville. Dori sez hi.

  3. Glad you got it going. i have filled up, emptied and slept many nights at that Flying J.

    I was cringing while reading every time you turned the engine off. i was afraid it would happen as you described. Why not just leave it running? On the advice of old diesel guys I never shut mine down if I am going to be shut down less than an hour.


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