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Old 08-28-2021, 10:08 PM   #1
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Brand: Thor Motor Coach
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THOR #21937
Talking Fixing both electric and fuel problems (DONE!)

This story will have more twists and turns than a goat path through the Ural Mountains. It will also be a really long story. For those who don't want to read the whole thing...

TL;DR
RV's engine broke down. I fixed it. The end.

First, a key take-away:
When I was involved with roller derby, I used to teach novice skaters that all complex moves in roller skating were really just various combinations of much simpler moves. I have found that to be true of most things in life; all complex problems are really just combinations of much simpler problems.

Now here's the much longer, more detailed version of my trip:
Thursday 8/19-Sunday 8/22
Drove from Rochester, NY to Wilmington, DE for my dad's 80th birthday. Trip was uneventful, visit was enjoyable.

One thing to know about my dad is that he buys a lot of unnecessary stuff as long as he feels like he's getting a good deal. Case in point: he had a brand-new bicycle that had never been ridden.

Me: Why do you have a bicycle?
Dad: The store was going out of business so I got a great deal on it.
Me: You're 80 years old! When are you going to ride a bike?
Dad: Do you want it?
(Guess who's now got a brand-new bike.)

He also gave me two 20-ton hydraulic jacks, a weight-distributing tow hitch, and a bunch of other stuff which won't be pertinent to this story. For those who don't know what a weight-distributing tow hitch is, it's a big, heavy, semi-complex type of tow hitch that distributes the weight of heavy trailers more evenly so they are more stable and easier to control while towing. (Some of this will become important later in the story.)

Sunday 8/22-Wednesday 8/25
Left Delaware and drove to Plymouth, MA for my daughter's graduation. Again, trip was uneventful. I fixed a few things in her RV. (My daughter is also a full-timer.) I worked during the days while I was there.

Thursday 8/26
Graduation was in Boston, which is no place for a motorhome. So at 2am on graduation day, I left Plymouth to drive up to Concord. I would park at a park-n-ride and take the train into the city. Concord would put me right near the highway to head back home to Rochester. But this is where the troubles began...

On the drive to Concord, the engine wasn't charging the battery like it should. Lights were so dim I was essentially driving by the light of the moon! I knew the most probable cause was the alternator but couldn't do anything about it in the middle of the night. I would try to make it to Concord then deal with it later.

That weight-distributing tow hitch? Well, the hitch part is particularly big and was basically just a nuisance and a trip hazard on my floor. I couldn't put it in the receiver at the back of my RV because it has a reinforcing flange that hits against the bumper. Then I got the bright idea that I could mount it upside-down, with the tow ball pointing downward. Once I got back to Rochester, I could remove the ball and flip it over so it was facing right-side up.

Once I got to the park-n-ride in Concord, there was a very slight incline to get into the parking lot; about the same as almost any driveway in America. The rear axle of my RV sits about 12' forward of the rear bumper and acts as a pivot point. So when I go up such hills, the bumper gets very close to the ground. With the tow hitch mounted upside-down, the ball dug into the roadway and tore a big gouge in the asphalt. Worse, I was stuck.

So I got out and chocked all the wheels for safety. Then I used the two 20-ton jacks to jack up the back end of the RV. I didn't want to twist the frame so I was alternating jacking each side up by a few inches before switching sides.

As might be expected when there's a giant RV blocking the road at 3am and a sketchy-looking guy crawling around underneath it, the Concord Police happened by. After asking what was going on, the cop warned me that he had a body camera and I was being both audio and video recorded. I warned him that this was going to be the most boring video ever. The cop was actually rather nice and even tried to be helpful. After checking my license, he mostly watched over the whole operation and used his flashlight to help me see.

Lifted the RV, removed the tow ball from the receiver hitch, put it back inside, and lowered the RV. Got inside, turned the key, and... nothing. The cop said they had a jump starter at the station. So he got on the radio and called to have another cop get the jump starter and bring it to us. I jump started the RV then left the jump starter connected for a few minutes to charge the battery a little. Got into the parking lot, parked, napped a few more hours, showered, caught the train into Boston, went to the graduation ceremony, got kicked out for having a backpack, went across the street to the Marriott and convinced them to keep my backpack in their baggage storage room, went back to the graduation, took pictures, returned to the Marriott, fetched my bag, left the bag man a nice tip, grabbed some lunch, took the train back to Concord, RV started, drove to the nearest auto parts store, asked if they had an alternator for my engine. They did.

Went back outside and removed the alternator from the still-hot engine. (I wore gloves.) Took it inside. Two of the new alternator's mounting bolt holes were reversed from where they should be. The guy grabbed some tools from the store shelves, took the new alternator apart, rotated half the housing 180°, put it all back together. We matched old and new. Everything looked fine so I bought it. Went back outside and installed it in the parking lot.

Got back on the road to get back home so I could go to work the next day. Things still weren't right. The engine was sputtering and misfiring and had very little power. Also still wasn't charging quite right. Limped about halfway across Massachusetts. Thought maybe I had killed the battery when the alternator died. Stopped at a Wal-mart and bought a new car battery. Installed it in the parking lot. Got back on the road. Things still not right; same symptoms as before.

Jessica's aunt lives in North Adams, MA. Since we weren't too far from there and it wasn't far off our route anyway, we decided to head there. They know a place that works on heavy trucks. We could stay with her aunt and I could work from there.

On a remote mountainside about 20 miles from North Adams, the engine died completely. No cell service. I even climbed up and stood on the roof of the RV. Nothing. We were stranded.

By sheer luck, we broke down right next to a wide, paved turn-out from the road. So we were able to get off the road and park. As it turns out, this was a scenic overlook about 60' above several waterfalls and an absolutely gorgeous river. We had a comfortable bed, a bathroom, food, and really great weather. If you're going to be broken down and stranded by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, I highly recommend this as the best way to do it.

Friday 8/27
I woke up about 4:30am. Working in the dark with a headlamp, I removed the engine battery and fabricated a wire that would let me hook it up to my solar array. Figured when the sun came up, I'd use the solar panels to recharge the battery enough to hobble the rest of the way into town.

About 6:30am Warner Bros. showed up. (I swear, I'm not making this up.) Warner Bros. is the name of a road construction company contracted by the State of Massachusetts to replace old and damaged guardrails. They were going to be working on the very stretch of road where we had broken down. A whole fleet of trucks stopped and asked if we needed help. I put the engine battery back in, they jump started us and we were back on our way... for about 10 more miles, until the engine quit again.

This time we had cell signal so we could call Jessica's aunt, who came to our rescue. She jump started us again. As luck would have it, we were only a quarter mile from the summit. From there, it was all downhill the rest of the way into town. The truck repair place wasn't open yet so we agreed to follow her to her place and regroup until they opened. What I didn't know until it was too late is that she lives near the top of a short but very Very VERY steep hill. The engine died again six doors down from her house. There was no reviving it this time. We chocked the wheels and left the RV in the middle of the road on the middle of the hill.

We walked the rest of the way up and had breakfast. As the engine cooled down, I had a couple of new ideas. I walked back down and looked over the engine again. Almost all the spark plug wires I had just replaced two weeks ago were melted. The two-week old spark plugs were fine but the wires were toast. The nearest place that had the correct wires in stock was about 35 miles away. Jessica's aunt drove us there. I got the wires and some dielectric grease to help insulate them.

Then a guy came into the store and said no one could leave. There was a bear in the parking lot. (Are you f-ing kidding me, universe?!) A black bear had wandered into town and climbed a tree right next to the building where the auto parts store was located. So we had to wait for Animal Control to lure him down out of the tree and cart him back out to the wilderness. Apparently they do this all the time because they had a system.

Got back to the RV, replaced the spark plug wires. Engine started up easily and ran pretty smoothly. Finally. Put it in low gear, pressed on the gas, and... nothing.

Apparently an engine that was made for a large SUV isn't all that great at moving 12 tons of RV up an 8%-9% grade from a standing stop.

We brainstormed all sorts of ideas. The least horrible was trying to back over the wheel chocks. Given the steep grade, we thought it was possible. My main worry was being able to stop my momentum before rolling down the hill and into a very busy street. So we had people at the bottom stop all traffic while I threw it into reverse and gunned it. Nothing. It seems that even cheap $7 wheel chocks are very good at their job.

I broke down in front of a house full of 20-something guys. I had been talking to them all day. One of the guys builds his own motorized bicycles from cheap bikes and chainsaw motors. The guys had been watching this circus all day. Finally one of the guys said, "I have a Toyota Highlander. There's no way it can pull a motorhome up this hill but maybe both engines working together can pull it up just far enough to get the wheel chocks out."

So he pulled up in front of the RV. I removed my front-mounted bike rack and got out my heavy duty tow strap. We hitched the two vehicles together. Two people at the bottom of the hill stopping traffic, two people with crowbars to shepherd's hook the wheel chocks out of the way, one person to coordinate the start and stop. With a lot of effort, we moved about 6". Just enough. Wheel chocks removed, I held the brakes while the Highlander backed up slightly. They removed the tow strap and I backed down the hill.

On the other side of the intersection, the road was pretty flat. So I stopped there, basically blocking the whole side street while we put the bike rack and bikes back on and gathered up all the other stuff that had been in the road.

Massachusetts State Police came up behind us, then drove up onto the sidewalk and barely looked in our direction and she turned the corner and went on about her business. (Seriously!)

Everything packed up, we finally got underway. We made it one block before passing through a gauntlet of eleven police cars with cops milling about everywhere. Apparently, as we were freeing the RV from its hillside prison, somebody knocked over the liquor store a block away.

Finally on our merry way, things still weren't quite right. The engine started and idled fine, but had no power when accelerating or on hills. It tended to sputter and backfire. It was already getting dark again. Our path out of town took us right by the truck repair place. So I decided that we would stop and camp out in their parking lot. In the morning, we'd hit up the mechanic first thing.

Saturday 8/28
Again I woke up around 4:30am. I had a new idea. I wondered if maybe the fuel filter was partially clogged. Maybe it was letting through enough gas to start and idle the engine but not enough to do much else. So once again I opened up the engine and began poking around. The RV has a 4-barrel carburetor. There is a small piece of plastic with wires running to it. The piece of plastic is clipped into place over the two right-side chambers. An identical piece of plastic was just dangling over the two left-side chambers. It had apparently been knocked loose.

Could it be that simple? I clipped it back into place, put everything together, and drove one lap around the parking lot. Hallelujah!

We got back on the road and about four hours later were back in Rochester.

But hey, I got a new bike!

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Old 08-30-2021, 03:58 AM   #2
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What a great trip, and story. I can't believe I missed this yesterday. A new bike, a bear, liquor store hold up and much more. Can't wait for the movie!
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Old 08-30-2021, 02:06 PM   #3
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Great read Jeff. Glad it's all fixed. Hopefully the sequel is trouble free

Jerry
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Old 09-01-2021, 01:21 PM   #4
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Good memories of a road trip, for sure, but I might have had the auto parts clerk test the alternator first before buying another on a guess!

At least you got it fixed.

BTW, what year and make of engine, most are fuel injected now a days!
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Old 09-01-2021, 02:44 PM   #5
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Glad you were able to finally get it fixed and back home.


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Old 09-01-2021, 06:54 PM   #6
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Patience is a virtue, your pic is next to that word in the dictionary.
Great story.
Terry
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Old 09-02-2021, 01:10 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 10scDust View Post
Good memories of a road trip, for sure, but I might have had the auto parts clerk test the alternator first before buying another on a guess!

At least you got it fixed.

BTW, what year and make of engine, most are fuel injected now a days!
I asked them to test it but this was a small, local auto parts place. Not a chain. They did not have the means to test it in the store. Luckily, I'm as sure now as I was then that the original problem actually was the alternator. All subsequent problems were cause by me knocking that stupid little fuel sensor loose and not noticing.
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Old 09-02-2021, 01:12 PM   #8
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For forgot to mention, my coach is a 1995. Built on a Chevy chassis with a 7.4L 454 motor.
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