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Saturday, July 25, 2020

Motorhome Break Down, Towing and also Tracker Died

Boy oh boy, when they say things come in threes, do they ever mean it!

I thought I would be writing a nice blog with a campground review of a beautiful week of camping while we snuck away to a national forest park in the U P last Sunday. Little did I know that instead I would be writing a blog about all of our repairs and breakdowns!

It all started on last Sunday morning. My sister texted me from a remote little National Forest campground in the U P of Michigan. She said all of the weekend warriors were leaving and they were going to be camping through Wednesday or Thursday. Why not come up and join them? It was remote and quiet and there would be nobody else around. We are trying hard to avoid any contact with people due to the increase in the Covid numbers.

Steve and I had just been looking at the weather report, and discussing that there was going to be a nice stretch of four or five days. Maybe we should load up the camper and go?

Within 17 minutes of the original text, Steve was filling the freshwater tank on the motorhome. I was tossing enough groceries into baskets that we could haul out and fill the fridge. We grabbed some extra clothes, filled up the dog food container, grabbed their leashes and our cell phones --- off we went.

We were driving along on a beautiful day, although it was somewhat windy. As we drove north it wasn't too bad, but then when we swung in a westerly direction on Highway 8 we were battling quite a head wind. It's about a 40-mile stretch across 8 before we have to turn north again.

Everything was good. 

But halfway through that stretch Steve noticed the engine temperature was climbing. Especially on the hilly areas. We must have really been working hard against that headwind, plus it was a very hot day in the 90s.

Suddenly, the engine was at 220 degrees which is not good!! We pulled over into a wayside and sat for a while to let it cool off.

Yes, here and there in Wisconsin there are still a few old waysides remaining along the state highways. You don't see them along the interstates anymore, but every now and then we have them here in Wisconsin.  We fired up the generator and started the roof air conditioners to stay cool.

As the engine slowly cooled off, we figured it was time to try to finish the rest of the journey to the campground. We only had 40 or 50 more miles to go.

We took off again, and we noticed the heat was slowly rising, even after we turned to go north and we weren't fighting the headwind anymore.

As we were watching the heat slowly slowly climb on the Silverleaf computerized read out, I had recalled reading a while back on one of my Safari groups that it's good to actually open up the vents and run the HEAT on the dash full blast to open the thermostat and drop the engine temperature. Yes, it worked! It dropped 10° as soon as we turned on the dash heat.  We left the roof air going with the generator at the same time. Battling cool and hot air both blowing at the same time, we were able to keep going.

Now we were cruising along with the engine in the 190 degree range, so we decided to get to the campground and shut it down. I looked in my maintenance records, which I keep very diligent records of dates, part numbers, mileage etc. My notes said that the last time the thermostat had been changed, it was 8 years prior. So we figured it would probably be a good time to get that done before we attempt the trip back home.

We figured this would be easy peasy. We called the local parts store up there with the part number, and had one ordered. They said no problem, it would be in by Wednesday and we could pick it up.

So that was trouble episode NUMBER ONE.


Little did we know about NUMBERS TWO and THREE to come???

Right about now in this blog, I would be writing about our wonderful campsite, our great time together with family, and our remote camping using our half-price Senior Access Pass for the first time at the National Forest Campground. But I will write more about that later in another blog with more room and time.

Wednesday afternoon, it was time to go to get the thermostat. So we hopped in the little Tracker, we made it as far as the exit of the campground. Suddenly we had a big puff of white exhaust come billowing out the back of the Tracker. Oh my! It was a huge cloud of white exhaust when we tried to accelerate up the hill. I took this pic just at idle, not even under throttle and it was quite a lot of white smoke.

Yep, you guessed it. We just blew the head gasket!  We limped it right back to the campsite and shut it down. Dangnabbit...

Since it was only a 1997, it really wasn't worth much to go through the trouble or cost to fix it.

We had just been discussing with my younger brother that if we had found another vehicle to pull behind the motorhome, the Tracker was about ready to be retired anyhow. My younger brother already has our last Tracker, the white rag top one, that we used to tow for years before we bought this one. So we called him up and told him that rather than dragging this thing all the way back to our home in Wisconsin, even for a metal scrapper, was he interested in keeping it up there for the parts for the other Tracker that is still running?

"Sure!" he said and we could tow it right up to his house, since we already had the base plate and tow bar to do so. Then he wouldn't have to use a tow strap and another person to steer while hauling it behind his truck.

Because he doesn't think we really overheated it enough to warp the head, it may very well be repairable. Otherwise, he can part it out and take off all the good stuff like the tires, the battery and any things he may want for his other Tracker. Of course, his third option is to just sell it for scrap. So we will pop the title in the mail to him and he can do with it whatever he wants.

So that was NUMBER TWO of the three things!

and now we have to 
go to the expense of 
buying another vehicle 
to tow behind the motorhome....


On to number three. Remember I said there were three things???

After a delightful wonderful five days of camping, even with the demise of the Tracker, it was time to head on back home. We hooked the Tracker on the back of the motorhome for one last time.  We brought it into town and dropped it at my brother's house. We removed the Blue Ox base plate for the tow bar.

Who knows, we may be able to use it on our next towable vehicle. Or we can sell it. We said goodbye to our little billy goat Tracker who has served us well for the last 9 years.

We were headed south out of Iron River, Michigan on Highway 189, then when you hit the border to Wisconsin and becomes Highway 139.

Steve was carefully watching the temperature to be sure that the new thermostat was working. We were about 30 miles out of town when we felt a funny surging coming from the engine. It suddenly sound like fuel was not getting to the engine??

Here comes NUMBER THREE!!!

We were right near the end of Highway 139 where it meets Highway 8. We knew there was a parking lot there at a little closed bar and grill. We pulled into the lot and the engine was really sputtering. We shut it down.

At least we were off the road 
and safe. 
That is the main thing.

As luck would have it, of course, the engine would not start again.

We could crank on it but we did not want to wear out the starter. After several attempts we decided that we would do the next practical thing and examine the fuel filters.

Steve is very particular and precise in his maintenance on the motorhome. He puts in fuel conditioner and an algaecide with every fuel fill up. That's one of the worst things in the summer months when heat and humidity makes algae grow in the diesel fuel.  This particular batch of 100 gallons was just fine for the last three excursions, so we didn't feel it was actually a bad batch of fuel or problems with the fuel itself.  More along the lines of a problem with fuel delivery.

The next thing he did was to release the little screw valve on the bottom of the larger fuel filter. This is a water separator feature that will allow you to drain any traces of water from the fuel system. What was interesting is that instead of anything dribbling out upon release of that little spigot, there was a sucking sound of air being sucked into the filter! Then a moment or so later some fuel did dribble out. Steve has a little container there to dribble the fuel into so he can examine it.  There wasn't any water in it, and it was clear diesel. There were no specks of anything either. Puzzling...

Well, our next step would be to actually change out the filters.

He carries on board the two new fuel filters necessary for our Cat 3126 diesel engine.

The only problem is, before you can put on the fuel filter, you need to fill it to the brim with clean diesel and no air bubbles. Here we are, stuck in the parking lot in the middle of the woods, in northern Wisconsin, with no way to get a gas can of clean diesel!!!

Remember, we don't have the Tracker towed behind any more. Otherwise we could have just unhooked it, buzzed over to the nearest gas station 20 miles away, and brought back fresh diesel.

Sigh.  The one time that we don't have a vehicle towed behind is the time we REALLY could use one!!!   That was just not to be.

What was our next best option? Ah ha!  Call up that little brother that we just gave the Tracker to. I knew he had just gotten home from work, after a long day at the mine. Of course, he quickly grabbed a spare can, and headed to the station and filled it with diesel.

30 miles later he was pulling up at our parking lot!
Fresh from the mine, and covered it nickle dust.

Between he and Steve, they carefully filled up and swapped out the filters. Oddly though, the diesel fluid they poured out of the old filters look just fine.

They turned the key to prime the engine, and tried to fire it up. Sadly, no go. They attempted a number of times and decided enough was enough. Better to not wear out the starter, nor the engine batteries.

There really was nothing more we could do.

It was after 5pm, but now was the time to get on the phone and contact our American Family Insurance. On our policy, we pay additional for roadside emergency service. We have heard so many horror stories of people who use Good Sam or Coach Net roadside emergency service for the motorhomes. We decided instead to pay the little bit extra on our premium every month and have American Family Emergency Roadside Assistance. It also handles low fuel, lockout, and towing for all of our vehicles.  Now it was time to actually USE it for the first time!

It was after 5 p.m. so we could not talk to our local agent directly. We called the main number, who asked us a few questions and then transferred us over to the roadside assistance team.

From there, the agent was searching their database for an available tow truck that would be sufficient to handle a 30,000 lb 40 ft long motorhome. I think that's one of the biggest complaints we read about from RVers using Coach Net or Good Sam. It seems in most cases, they inadvertently they send out the wrong size tow truck and it takes multiple attempts with various tow companies before they get a sufficient rig to pull a motorhome.

So while on the line, I stressed emphatically over and over during the call that we were 30,000 pounds and 40 ft long...

It worked. She could find a company willing to take the job, but the only problem was they could not come until the next morning. She asked are we safe enough off the road and able to spend overnight in our rig? You bet. We were in probably the best possible situation for having a breakdown because we were safely off the road in a flat level parking lot. We had plenty of access in front of the motorhome for the tow truck to hook up. We were in a quiet area of the woods, but because of the intersection of Highways 8 and 139 there happened to be a big streetlight overhead of the intersection. We even had a very good cell and internet signal. So we were in a well-lit safe area with ample room around us. The bar and grill was closed due to covid-19 restrictions, and nobody else parked in the entire lot.

Our towing policy provides for a series of tows that will get you to the nearest facility that is capable of repairing your problem. We hear horror stories where they will only tow a motorhome ONE time to the nearest RV dealer or gas station. That doesn't help when you have a diesel engine. We need to get to a diesel truck repair facility. Our policy provides additional subsequent tows if the first place can't fix you. We were quite happy with that information when we arranged to have this type of coverage. Over the years of reading about Coach-Net and Good Sam, that is not the case for them---- many times I read how people are left stranded at the first place who turn out they can't fix their problem.  Then they have to shoulder the added expense of subsequent tows.

We determined, with the help of the agent, that the best place to tow us was back to Oconto to our home which is 90 miles away. Then if we couldn't fix it we could have it towed on another day the additional 30 miles down to the Fabco Cat diesel repair place in Green Bay.

The next problem was they needed to secure payment on our credit card, which would be reimbursed to us later by the insurance company. As soon as they tried to charge our American Express card, a fraud alert protection hold jumped up and prevented them from charging our account!

(Thank you American Express for your diligence)

We were able to verify to American Express that yes, it was a legitimate charge. Then we could go ahead with the transaction. Our complete claim and arrangements were all done on the phone within 45 minutes.

The only hitch in the plan was that we would have to wait until morning for a tow truck.

Honestly, that was okay with us because even the overall charge to our credit card was very minimal. It was $390 for a 90 mile tow. We were reassured that would be reimbursed through our local agent once her office would be open in the morning and we could send her a receipt.

We also clarified with them the fact that because we did not have an additional vehicle, we would need to ride along, as well as our two small dogs. That was perfectly okay with them as long as we had masks and sufficient social distancing practices observed by their tow drivers.

We breathed a sigh of relief and settled in for a relaxing evening. We were safe. We had food, water, dogs, and even located a couple stations on the TV antenna.

It was reassuring, after a long stressful day, to take showers and curl up in bed. The occasional sound of a truck rattling its jake brake to reach the stop sign was the only thing that we heard throughout the night. Nobody bothered us. No cops or sheriff stopped. Nobody questioned us as to why we were spending the night in a bar and grill's empty parking lot.

In the morning, by 7:15 a.m., our local agent Leah Burg was on the phone contacting us! We had left her a voicemail message the night before ... which was after office hours.

She got right on it first thing in the morning. She made sure that a tow company had been contacted and that they had sufficient equipment to tow us right the first time.

We were told the truck would arrive between 8 and 9:30. They were sending someone down from Iron Mountain to pick us up and take us all the way to Oconto to our home, and then return back to Iron Mountain again. That's quite a round trip for a tow company.  (I just checked it out, he went 202 miles round trip).

In the meantime, Steve had contacted the owner of Oconto Truck Center. Nick Badendick. He also happens to be the husband of the realtor that we bought our house from a year ago.

Over the phone, Steve ran it past him about what was happening and would he be interested in giving it a go in fixing it? It just so happens that Nick has the exact same engine in his motor home too!!!

He said sure thing, just have it towed to his shop here in Oconto, and he would take a look at it next week.

So we adapted our destination, with a phone call to the emergency roadside assistance team that we would be going to Oconto Truck Center instead of our home address. It was only one mile difference, and actually closer to the highway exit. No problem!

We then verified with the tow driver on the phone, enroute, that it would be okay to make the change. We also double checked with him what type of equipment was he coming with, and was it sufficient to tow a 30,000 lb 40 ft diesel motorhome?  Oh yes, and he was able to do the job for sure.  What a relief.  He was on his way!

We then went on to their Facebook page and website to check out their rig. It's name was "MILO" and it was a new acquisition this year for their tow company.

After we enjoyed our morning coffee we stowed away a few things that may become jumbled during the tow. Steve also removed our Blue Ox tow bar off the back hitch in case that could possibly get damaged or scraped during the process. We weren't towing the Tracker anymore anyhow, so it was good to get it off and stowed away in a compartment.

Soon Tim arrived with big MILO. 

Our HERO~! 

It was quite exciting watching him go through step by step of getting it ready to put the stinger underneath the rig and line everything up.

I made a video of the process, mainly for the grandkids to watch. But here is a link to the YouTube of how they got it all ready to tow our motorhome.

You can see during this video of his very close and precise attention to detail. He had to get everything exactly right and lined up and fitted. He double-checked and triple checked everything before even raising the rig up. Then he disengaged our drive shaft and strapped it up for transport. He was very careful to take the retaining pieces for the drive shaft and gave them personally to Steve to securely put them away. They would be needed to reattach the drive shaft again.

We have read horror stories of tow drivers over the years, with other people, losing those parts...

Tim did a great job making absolutely sure everything was perfect before it was time to leave.

~And awayyyy we go~ 

After 10 miles, he pulled over to the side in a parking lot, and went back and double-checked everything to make sure every item was secure and that everything was being towed properly. He checked all the connections, straps and even the auxillary LED light bar on the back.

We have the highest regards and compliments for LR Vincent Tow and Recovery Company of Kingsford, MI with the big MILO.

Here are their links: 

An easy and trouble-free 90 miles later, he very adeptly backed it into the spot directed by Nick Bademdick, the owner of Oconto Truck and Power Center:

Tim had us all unhooked in no time flat. I am pleased to announce that we experienced absolutely no damages or problems with the tow. We tipped him a little bit to grab a lunch on his way back to Iron Mountain.

Nick and Steve went over the situation, and the steps that we had done so far to try to rectify the situation. Being a Friday afternoon, he would have no time to get to it and instead was giving attention to his professional trucking customers that needed to get back on the road before the weekend. He said next week sometime he will be able to mess around with it, and give us an idea of what's going on and what can be done.

Then, above and beyond service, Nick gave Steve a quick ride over to our house, a mile away. Steve was able to grab a cooler and a couple laundry baskets from the house.  He hopped in our car, realizing it was the only vehicle we own right now that actually RUNS!   LOL .....   he came back over to where I was waiting with the dogs at the motor home. We cleared out the food from the refrigerator and any of the perishable groceries, our dirty laundry, and a few other things and put them into the car.

Steveio, the dogs, and I got back in the car, left the keys with Nick, and headed back home.

After that debacle, there is

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Keeping Cool and (Grand)Child Labor

Most of the Midwest is suffering from an unusual heat wave this week. It's absolutely miserable because there's humidity mixed in with it. Our central air conditioner has just been chug chug chugging away, pumping that cool air back into the house. Actually, I do realize, that air conditioners don't "make cool air"... rather they remove the heat from the air and dissipate it outside of the house.

But the stuff circulating back in sure is nice!

A couple of weeks ago we decided to do a little preventive maintenance service on our exterior AC unit. It's always good to do this once a year and check it often as well. Because it always seems that these things break down on the hottest day of the year, just like everybody else's unit. Then you wait in line for your turn from an AC repairman!!!

Because we have a big huge cottonwood tree in our yard, every Spring our yard is full of floating soft fluffs of cottonwood seeds that drift through the air. It's the same kind of fluff that's on dandelions, but we have lots lots lots more of it because the tree is huge. The tree is located in the backyard but it drifts all over, even up to the AC unit on the south side of the house.

The flying fluff collects on the exterior fins of the AC unit and impedes the airflow needed to run the unit efficiently.

Just look at all that junk built up on there!

Like I said, a few weeks ago, we decided it was time to give it a good cleaning before this hot humid stuff began.  We gathered our supplies and brought around a really soft brush and the Shop-Vac to give it a good cleaning.  It's located on the south side of the house, but fortunately it's in a shady location.

Steve removed the outer protective cage so we could do a thorough job cleaning the thin fine copper fins.

I started vacuuming it from the outside, one section at a time. You must be very very careful to never bend the fins. There is a little device called a fin straightener that's kind of like a comb that can help straighten them out again if you do.

Steve worked on the inside of the unit, cleaning it from the inside out.  He removed some big leaves and other little things like tiny sticks and dead bugs and pieces of fuzz.  He also used our leaf blower to get rid of some of it by blowing from the inside to the outside.

Fortunately, the condenser coil and fins looked pretty clean when we were done. There wasn't a lot of dirt or gunk built up. They do make a specific coil cleaner to soak and rinse away any build up. It's a special stuff to make sure that it does not corrode the copper tubing. You can't use just any household cleaner, it may wreck the coils.

This time we didn't need to use any because this was in pretty good shape. But it's good to know that the product is out there in case you need it.

We put everything back together and I am happy to report that the air conditioner has been running amazingly efficiently and seems to keep the house cool without running as much. It's on an automatic controlled wifi unit, but it seems to need to run less each cycle to keep the house cool. We will see what the bill is at the end of the month, with all this hot weather, I really don't care what the bill is, because we were comfortable and dry and we could sleep well at night in the central air conditioning throughout the whole house.

One of the things that we decided to do was to flip around the slanted openings of the register grids in the house. Now it blasts the cool air upwards and into the room, instead of shooting it down across the floor.

This brings me to the GrandChild Labor part of the post:

Little grandson Clayton was over with his toolbox, so we set him to work flipping all of the registers in the house. Before this winter comes, we can have him come over and flip them all back to keep the heat blowing downwards across the floor.

Yes, we take advantage of the grand child labor laws. You can make kids work for you, as long as they are family members. You don't even really have to pay them. (But we do--- lol)

When they come over, we make up a list of jobs to do, and they can choose which things they would like to take care of.

Here is granddaughter Chelsea swiffering out the dust from underneath the couch.

Clayton, with his handy little tool box, is installing some curtain rod brackets, so I can hang a lace valance halfway up the window.

There are lots of little projects that kind of accumulate before they come over. So I wait until they get here to add them to the list. Sometimes it even involves moving furniture and rerouting the cables for my printer.  Clayton is bringing in this old fashioned folding table to put in my office.

Clayton helped me re-measure and re-align my four seasonal framed prints in the office. He loves using all of the new tools that we bought him for his birthday. He got a gift certificate to Harbor Freight and went shopping with Grandpa to fill a tool box.

He did a great job
 using his tape measure and level 
and hammer and nails.

Both of them decided to team up on me, and do some hairdressing. I was pampered and primped and styled and coiffed in a multitude of hairstyles. I think they had fun. I sure enjoyed it.

Grandpa decided it was time to remove all of the blades on the mowing deck of his lawn mower and sharpen them up. Clayton then helped him clean out the underside of the base of the deck, and reattached the blades.

Chelsea took care of gardening for me, she weeded out the flower beds and watered everything. They sure like to make things grow. Chelsea works in the little garden at the summer daycare center too.  They just harvested beans and cucumbers from their efforts and shared them with all of the kids attending the center.  They compared the tastes of home grown to store bought and commercially processed foods. What a great learning experience.

They both took care of watering the tomatoes, which are going gangbusters and growing all over the place in my new spot in the backyard. I'm glad that I moved my tomato plot over to this location. Our first summer here, they did not grow so well over along the fence line.

I think I'll have a bumper crop this year! We will eat a lot of them right from the vine and have fresh tomatoes almost every evening. But I also can them up for stewed tomatoes to use up in the winter months. There is nothing more pleasant than opening up a a jar of home canned tomatoes in the middle of winter. That smell just brings me right back to the summer harvest. 

This next project, Clayton does for me about every 6 months. We take off all of the dog tags from their collars and lay them out on tinfoil. Then he coats them with a layer of clear nail polish. This keeps the aluminum tags from discoloring and rubbing on the white ruff fur around the dogs necks. Otherwise the aluminum leaves gray marks on their white fur and looks terrible.

We put them to work watering all of the trees and shrubs around the house. These are the new birch trees we planted this spring and they need continual watering this year if they're going to take root and prosper and grow.

There was an uneven support block to the top of this pillar on the front porch. It created a little ledge. A danged little bird was always landing on it as a perch and pooping all over the porch railings! So we decided to cut it off level with the top of the pillar support. Grandpa helped Clayton use the little oscillating cutting tool. What a handy little tool.

Yes, he wore safety goggles and was extremely careful in learning how to operate a power tool.

Once Grandpa was done cutting away the extra wood, then Chelsea painted over the freshly cut surface. This will keep that danged bird from landing up there. Also, in the future, I want to box in all of the tops of the pillars with a little piece of pretty cove trim and paint it may be a contrasting gray or maybe red?

While she had the paint brush out, she touched up the ends of the additional porch railings that Steve added to our front stairs. Originally, there's only been one top rail and nothing underneath. That's not safe. So he added a few more to the sides to make it complete and look much better.

Regular doggy brushing is a task that needs to be done. It's easier for these little ones to sit on the floor to brush the dogs, than poor old Grandma and Grandpa. Binney totally enjoys it and will lay there for hours, getting groomed and relaxing at her mini doggy spa session. Finnegan, on the other hand, acts like we are killing him and hates it. Lol!

We gave the kids long brooms and let them sweep the accumulation of little bugs that cling to the front porch pillars and ceiling. Living this close to the bay as we do, we tend to get the bugs just the way people do on a boat. They need to be swept down from time to time.

Chelsea learned to use the leaf blower to take care of the bugs that were swept down onto the porch floor... fun! 

Steve has discovered that spraying our house siding and porch with some Home Defense, it cuts down on the accumulation and makes the job less "icky"!

Chelsea took care of weeding the front flower bed, and had quite a bit in her bucket to show for her efforts.

This little OCD Girl loves to take our big shop broom and smooth out the new fine gravel in the driveway. She goes row by row, section by section, until it's all smooth and neat. She gets upset as soon as Grandpa drives over it again, because he puts track marks on her nice smooth gravel!

All of our grandkids help in the kitchen with meal prep. They're becoming quite proficient at helping out with kitchen duties, and clean-up as well. 

Here they made pigs in a blanket on the left
and tacos on the right.

 ...and sometimes we work them so hard, 
they just need a break...

The littlest one, Claire, calls this her "Bear Cave". She curls up with her 2 little teddy bears and reads them stories. What a nice spot to take a break. And hide out from Grandma and Grandpa giving her too many chores?

That's okay, she's not going to be a chore girl for very long. She decided that she needs to get busy and "Do some doctor things".  It will be nice to have a doctor in the family~

Well, the coffee break is over, 
time to get back to work 
and find some more projects to do!!!