There are many that report of wonderful trips in their GMC where noting broke and everyone enjoyed their trip. These coaches are much more than a classic vintage vehicles, the engineering and design that went into them makes them a dream to drive when they are right. Ah, but there in lies the rub, being 25+ years old it is likely there are at least a handful of issues on any coach that could prove to be catastrophic when those parts reach the end of their useable life.
It can be scary to think of taking out onto the open road with a unit with these hidden morsels of doom. So how can we, in good conscience, rely upon such a vehicle. How can you expect to operate a GMC from point A to point B and have hope to get there? This, my friend, is the question and after a first hand experience of just such situations, I now feel totally qualified to help with this question. There is an answer and its one we all can live with, live with and feel confident that our coach will get us there.
I have had a first hand experience on the road with a coach that had issues. To be quite honest, even though we work on GMC’s every day and there is not a moment that passes that I am not thinking about them– I do not have the road miles under my belt that many of you have. I have been traveling the roads and experiencing things vicariously through your traveling, helping you from the outside. I can now speak from first hand experiences on some issues and have discovered lessons I feel important to pass on.
SO, lets start this story not at the beginning but before the beginning to set the stage for what I want to tell you. Jim W. had us rebuild his 455 motor, add direct port fuel injection as well as install the 4 air bag system , electronic cruise control and piles of suspension rework components with the end goal being to have a reliable, serviceable coach for Jim and his wife Sharon to travel in. That’s a reasonable expectation and one that most any well kept vehicle should provide them.
Unfortunately, there were problems in the engine work having to do with incorporating performance components into a motor to pull a motorhome. If you think you want to transfer a race car motor into a GMC to achieve reliability and performance— think again. A race car only needs to be relied upon for the race, it will usually be pulled out and components replace after every race or so. We need a motor that will go hidden under the floor for years, made to torque its way up steep hills pulling 12,000 + pounds in all sorts of weather– this requires a very different motor and very specific components. Do not install high compression race pistons in a motorhome, the motor will burn up just as you should not install low compression pistons in a race car– that is if you want to win! Anyway, after finding that our supplier substituted what he felt was a superior piston and our builder feeling they would perform OK, the motor would not set up well. I then brought the coach back to the shop to perform the not so simple task of swapping out pistons. This unexpected result should have not happened and I will pretty much guaranty you will not happen again but hey, we deal with it and move on. To work the logistics out to everyones satisfaction, I decided to personally drive the coach to Virginia for the fuel injection set up to prove the motors worth then drive the coach on to Jim in Wisconsin. This too is not a fun thing to do but being a seriously unusual situation, it requires extraordinary attention to get things back on track and if its needed, it will happen.
Getting the piston swap accomplished there now stood in front of us the situation of providing the coach to the fuel injection tuner, test out the motor and then it’s on to Wisconsin and the delivery. Sounds like going to great lengths to fix an issue but sometimes you just gotta do that.
Installing a new motor with a new technology fuel injection system is not the same as plopping an old Q-jet funnel on top of the motor and slapping it on the bottom, there are new components– things to understand and new components to deal with. So then you say,” why do that at all, why change? I mean it worked before why not leave good enough alone “,and in many ways I do not disagree with you. But look at any new car, can you find a carburetor among any of them? No, the technology of the day dictated fuel injection for economy and performance. In the effort of building a better motor though, we do not want to produce a motor that cannot be worked on, a fuel injection system cannot be one hodg-podged together from used parts by someone that is not available to support you in the event of troubles. The entire system must be field serviceable. This is just such a manufactured system we installed and added test points and component logic and location to make it easy to understand and service. This is one of the critical points I want to make here. DO NOT incorporate components that cannot be repaired or replaced easily– know your “go to” person in the event of troubles and have whatever test equipment (test light, wires, clips, etc.) needed to help diagnose the troubles— here in lies lesson one. Even if you do not have a fuel injection system, you need to pack away a test light, vacuum gauge (if you do not have one on your dash) and other things to give you a fighting chance in problem diagnosis.
Now, with the motor back in and running, there are many more issues that must work together if your coach is to be reliable. One one that enters into focus here is the transmission. Even though we had nothing to do with Jim’s recently rebuilt AAmco transmission but I feel we do have an obligation to assure it works properly and report if it does not. Here in lies a second lesson– You must know the operating condition of your transmission. What is its temperature under load? I really recommend a transmission temperature gauge, without this gauge and the information it gives you, how do you know when to slow down going up a steep hill? Here the coach is on flat land showing RPM at under 3000 and trans temp under 200. How do you know there is trouble with the tranny and you need to pull over? Actually the coach will pull over itself when the transmission melts down.
OK, you say the drive train is ready for rock & roll, is it really? Ed S. called us last week with a locked up front bearing, said it was pretty neat when the right front wheel locked up at 40 MPH– bet that flat spotted that tire! If he had a heat gun (inferred heat sensing tool) , he may have seen the increase in temp of that wheel when he stopped for gas. Generally speaking, wheel bearings will put off increased heat before they actually fail and if you check the wheels each time you stop for fuel, you may see this heat and know there is trouble afoot. Another good tool to keep you safe on the road.
How bout that rear suspension air ride system? Springs need no maintenance and maybe the designers should have installed springs on our coach but they opted for the soft sprung air ride system for a superior ride. If you do not want to deal with suspension maintenance, install springs– if you want to stay on the road and keep the air suspension system—- add some way to isolate the air bags from the delivery system and some way to add air to the air bags directly. There are 2 seperate ignition systems on single engine aircraft for one basic reason, if one fails— you have another. You need some way to lock off your air bags in the event of system failure to keep you off the ground and on the road. You should not ever drive a GMC with the rear suspension on the ground, that is if you want to keep your holding tank and bumper. If you have the original system with one air bag on each side, a simple air shut/fill kit costing only $50 will give you the flexibility of isolating your air bags and even pumping air in them from an outside source, say one of those cheap air pumps from Wally World. Now, if your air bags are good, you will be able to move. If you have installed one of the new 4 air bag systems, you are ready, the manifold in the kit gives you this plus even more options.
Please read on, this is background for the events of the trip, if these features had not been added to Jim’s coach, I’m not sure I would be talking to you right now. Understand though, just taking these precautions does not mean you can be fearless out there on the open road, these are examples of backup resolutions to critical systems in your coach. If you have them and something happens, you will be ready. There are other issues you probably know yourself that need a contingency plan, expect problems and have a back up, that way if something does happen, you will be ready.
Another important lesson many of you have already learned is ” you need a support group for help”. The Black list (go to Links) and us through the CMW Project. When you are on the side of the road, coach just stopped I tell you now its a good thing to be able to pick up the cell phone and have someone to help. I get an average of 2 calls a weekend with earth shaking situations all brought back into focus be offering a number to call. You can’t operate your coach by yourself, you need people to be there for you. Someone in the area you are in to be there, to bring you to reputable shops for services and if nothing more than a cup of coffee and a shoulder to cry on– it all goes a long way to help.
While driving, not only did Ed cal with a wiper motor problem but Don T. called on the side of the road somewhere in Montana, we were able to network him to people that could help and Vwa-La, the problem was solved, then he called later with a jammed up maserator– now that IS an important call!!!
OK, enough background lets get to the story. It all begins on a Thursday morning with a 5AM departure time heading non stop to Port Royal Virginia, my bags were packed and I’m ready to go (sounds like a folk song). Took off on the highway heading north, the motor was running calm & cool but the tranny temp was higher than I like to see (above 220 deg.). Now see, if I had no tranny gauge, I would have not known a thing– they say “ignorance is bliss” but in this case knowing gave me the advantage of having concerns with the transmission. As I continued in another 15 miles or so, I watched the trans temp gauge like a hawk and sure enough, the temp kept creeping up. When the temp reached 245 deg. (way too hot for driving 60 MPH on flat groung in the cool of the day) I pulled over. Pulling out my inferred heat gun, I lifted the engine cover and shot the tranny cooler lines to verify the gauge reading, sure enough we have too much heat. Being on the front side of a 1600+ mile trip with a hot tranny on flat land is no way to go, I turned around and started back to the shop when I felt the transmission slip as it shifted from 2nd to 3rd– oops, thats a bad sign, I pulled to the side and shut down the motor. If I were to drive any further, I would risk damage to the transmission, I was not going to make the entire trip so something had to be done now. Slipping creates heat and this heat is the killer of transmissions. I could have been stranded down the road another hundred miles of so if I did not know the temp of the tranny.
Back at the shop, we pulled down the transmission (no small job but its better here than at “Bubba’s small engine repair” in Possom Hollow) . We called up AAmco and gave them the chance to uphold the warranty. They weren’t used to people helping them with questionable issues so they were delighted to take the unit and go through it. We saved a big tow bill not to mention huge amounts of frustration doing this. Breaking down the tranny found no excessive wear or heat issues– so what’s the beef “chief”, why are we having high temp readings? Better to answer this question at the shop than on the road. Going back to what was last done with pulling the engine, what had been different– no wait, how was the transmission acting before is the larger question? Nelson and retrieved the coach from Virginia before and had noted the tranny was running hotter than normal. So what is the answer? Heat in a transmission, if its working well that is, must be a question of fluid flow to and from the cooler, this is a fact of life so what has caused a flow problem? Looking at the lines to the cooler, we found the lines reversed at the radiator– some say there is no difference, maybe in this case there is. We swapped the lines and added an aux cooler. We had also located the gauge sender on the side of the transmission itself so we moved it to an outboard location on a cooler line outside the unit, out of the flow path.
So, piles of work later, we’re ready to go again, better to wait than get stranded. Leaving Orlando, I again hovered the eyes on the tranny gauge, oh look, temps are staying at 200 or less– Capcom, we have resolution! The motor was running strong, readouts are green and we’re ready for throttle up. Leaving the reach of the shop, I felt good in that our preperations and precautions will give me a trouble free ride. The transmission gauge was giving me numbers in an acceptable range, the temp would spike on overpasses and drop on the flat land, this shows the heat up under loads and the action of the coolers doing their job.
Feeling good, I hammered down heading to the rest of my odyssey and whatever the future would bring. The coach is sporting our top of the line rebuild complete with our Kryptonite cam, hypereutectic pistons and all. The direct port fuel injection system is as good as it gets as far as we can tell and with the fresh transmission– we are on the high side of right! One thing about fuel injection is when you touch the gas– you go. Not as much for increasing horsepower or torque (thats a function of the motor and its components), the direct port system increases efficiency and response– it will also keep from washing out the oil with unburned gas from a rich carburetor which is the number one killer of motors. Riding along at 60 MPH with the cruise control I felt on top of the world, it was flying high. With the quick response of the fuel injection, the cruise pulled the coach up the overpasses with vigor and backed off down the other side keeping the speed steady. As I said before, when a GMC is all right, its a beautiful thing to drive. Above most of the traffic, you can sometimes see the road disappear over the rest of the guys out there. Traveling in a well equipped GMC is truly a dream, those of you that do it know what I mean. It’s really hard to describe having the feel of unlimited power, nimble steering response and a ride so smooth you swear you were on a slip-n-slide. Sure its some work to get one to this point and many get a bad taste driving coaches that can only be described as “ditch divers”. Just as with any complicated mechanical device, great care needs to be taken on every aspect of the unit to allow it to perform to its best ability. I mean would you keep the blade sharpened on your mower and not replace a bent wheel? How can you expect to rely upon that grass cutter. Would you install a new faucet to old leaking plumbing pipes? You must bring the entire coach up to spec to expect a trouble free performance ride– hey and that can run into money sometimes.
A good example: Dean K. recently purchased a pretty nice looking coach and brought it to us to bring the entire coach to spec. There was a slight miss in the motor but nothing that prevented it from running, it was just one of those things that drives a tech nuts, I mean you know its there. We attempted a compression test cause in the words of Clint Eastwoods nemesis “I just gotsta know”. Look what we found– This motor cannot fly, if it were on the shuttle, the mission would need to be scrubbed. In fact, the best way to look at this is the very same way mission engineers treat the shuttle– they work contingency plans, run simulations and scenarios as if lives depended on them. Prep and test the craft and will not launch until the entire machine is at peak efficiency– better safe than sorry. We don’t have to worry about entering the atmosphere but try stopping a coach slipping backward down a hill with the motor off– just how much “gorilla leg” do you have to throw at that brake pedal?
No, Dean is committed to a quality coach and whatever it takes to bring his coach to spec. will, I am sure, be done. Sure, it would be cheaper to just put it together and put up with the burp– but see when will that burp turn into e belch and then to more– isi ti worth the risk?
Sorry, lets get back to the story– Jim’s coach was doing me well, with a fresh motor, I did not want to push it hard afterall, we have new pistons and rings, seating the rings properly working them into place is an important part of breaking in a motor. In fact, driving at a constant speed using the cruise control is not the way to break in a motor so I broke away from cruise often and varied the speed. It became sort of a game to change speeds without using the gas pedal. The new servo controlled (no vacuum) cruise control has up/down speed control as well as resume so between those features you can actually drive with no feet on the open road.
But I can’t use the cruise exclusively, I mean what do you do when some “Jim Dandy” powers up the right lane thinking the road was his. Do you let him get away with that, not if you were in your SS 396, but wait– we’re driving the “26′ hot rod with plumbing”, we’ve got the gumption– lets take’m. So I let one of those decked out Navigators slide up to me, as he starts to pass I kick off the cruise and stoke the coals up to when his nose reaches mine I’ve matched his speed. You know that he feels this when he goes from passing things to something matching his speed. Then he looks over and has to look up to reach eye contact with you. Here you are with your eyes waiting for him as if to say :whatcha got punk”. Maybe he’s froggy and wants to jump, maybe he’s just driving fast cause he doesn’t know any better– whatever reason he’s now in your sights and you know he’s gotta learn a lesson. The direct port fuel injection system gives you instant response so by the time he hears that big set of secondary barrols open up, you are pulling him. He looks down at his speedo and can’t believe he’s getting left. He has fuel injection too and if he has a mind he mashes his pedal and comes back at you but really– you just won. He had to kick that thing to come back and depending now on how froggy you feel will dictate how impressed he will be. Do I do this on the road? Don’t ask me cause I don’t want to lie. I’m not unsafe or reckless about it but hey, its one of those reasons we went through all of this hell to put the monster together. Then there comes a point that the laws of physics or sanity kick in and you back it down but remember this important fact, the impression was made and you did it.
I also love to set sights on another motorhome ahead of me, one that has a good chance of seeing me too. I put it in the cross hairs and set a plan to conquer. You know, its those guys traveling along with maybe one of his curtains being partially sucked out a window trying to keep the interior temp to a tolerable level. As you catch him you stabilize your speed and quiet down your motor as if you were cruising at this speed and suck off his lug nuts as you pass. Hey, you’re off the porch and running with the big dogs– and that my friend is what its all about. Tell you’re wife its all for economy and reliability and thats all valid but we all know its for much more than that! I would never do this with a customers coach and chances are pretty soon I’ll twist something off but its a true thrill to spool up my 33×12″ off road tires an Larry and lay 2 impressive lengths of rubber. What a nut maybe yes, but also what a thrill! Now kids, don’t try that at home, you may drop out a drive shaft but isn’t it reassuring that you can do that?
Oh yes, back to the story– the trip to Virginia and the hands of master fuel injector Larry Sr. was a treat. Other than being drained of energy getting the coach to this point of performance I was feeling great. Could not stay up on the black top for long periods, I rand @ an hour and hit a rest area, then every other stop I added fuel and checked the oil, remember this is a fresh motor and needed to be properly potty trained. I saw no other GMC’s on my trip, usually I pulled into the rest area and parked next to one of those 3rd world countries , look I’m sure they enjoy their coach but just like when I was in high school driving with my buddy Wayne in his 340 Duster– we would pass a land yacht station wagon with wood side panels and would think “they just don’t get it”. Why be out here if you can’t have a little fun? I sat there with the Honda generator humming along, roof AC pumping out that live giving cool just like they had. I popped the door and sat at my table sucking on a soda and studying my map just like they are but when it comes time to leave, I fire up that gas burning big block and leave that rest area like I was in a 2 seater while thst monster is dropping brakes, rolling up steps and checking mirrors. I don’t need all that specs, a seat in a cool place is good enough for me. I don’t need to block daylight, just need enough space for some clothes and a tooth brush. Don’t want to pay $500 for a tire or $250 for an oil change, I want to go to Auto Zone, pick up a case of oil and a filter and change it in the parking lot– try that with a diesel pusher!
It’s dark now & the road takes on a different look, feels like you’re high in an airplane looking down at the lights of a city, the dark spots look like lakes and the road fades away to a white line to follow. It somehow seems that the road is quieter at night, if you’re not careful one of those Volvo 18 wheel tractors can sneak up on you. Then you feel the coach “woosh” to the side as the air pressure pushes you toward the edge of the road. It’s not a fight but you know the wind is there if your suspension and alignment is good. Meeting a truck like that can be traumatic if your coach has suspension troubles– get it attended too. Life is too short to white knuckle drive a ditch diver, if you know what I mean. Don’t do like some and buy the latest/greatest suspension doo-dad if you do not know for a fact that you suspension components are tight and your alignment is good, bandaids never hear a sore, go back to basics, solve the troubles found and then if you want spend more money on those “gotta have” things. After a thorough going over, Jim’s coach was aligned and the 4 air bag system was installed. Can you drive like this? One hand with 2 fingers on the wheel, the wheel straight to the level– you can drive scores of miles like this. Don’t let your coach beat you up!
Always wanted to stop at “South of the Border” but again my need to go won out over my need to stop Didn’t need gas or fireworks or whatever they have there so a pic was the extent of my experiance. Made it to Flying J which happened to be my exit north of Richmond right on time. A full tank and a full stomach at their breakfast buffet and I was ready for a big day at HP Works with the Larrys (Jr & Sr)Taking 301 to Port Royal I found what I would call “a road called paradise”, a 4 lane divided rural road with spotty traffic– a good road with smooth pavement, wide lanes and a paved shoulder– I could get used to this. Some sections broke free from the other direction and headed you off into the trees , had a good 25 miles of this– reminded me of what they say the “Autobahn” looked like. Passed Fort AP Hill (didn’t know where it was til now), I tell you if you’re looking for a great stretch of road to hit rolling hills and lightly challenging curves this is the place but Jim G. tells me to watch your speed, its patrolled and they don’t take a joke! On a farm outside of Port Royal, HP Works is the place for custom fuel injection systems. The tuner and head Guru (Larry SR) reminds me in many ways of Santa , Jr. was to big to be an elf but he did do well helping his Dad work on whatever was in front of them. Couldn’t get a shot of Jr, he ran around too fast but take it from me– I feel in good hands with their expertise. Here is a pet project of theirs So you say whats the big deal about a green Hudson– look closer in the trunk Makes ya wanna say “Hmmmm” then move to the front and you have to wonder who’s Corvette lost its LT-1? Hey and do not wave your pink slip at this Mustang
We are here to fine tune Jim’s motor sporting the proper pistons, all it took was a couple of runs down the road and we were done. Steve B. was already camped out at HP Works sorting out that Cadillac Jack 500 motor with direct injection so it was nice to see him and his wife Marjorie. Got so excited and busy getting Jim’s coach tuned up I forgot to get any pics– sorry but take it from me, the day was worth the trip.
Now it was time to figure out how to get from Port Royal to Milwaukee, a quick look at a map will tell you that you can’t get there from here! I mean to go east or west is a pain! There must be a half dozen highway changes, 2 laners and rural roads I will need to hit and hills— Larry said he would pray for me. Look, I’m a flat lander southern boy, a hill to me is an overpass on the freeway. Larry said that I will not look at a hill the same way again after I get over these mountains– gave me a real warm feeling inside. I mean, whats the big deal about a 6% grade…. now I know what 6% means. It means drop a gear and watch the tranny gauge. Your speed is dictated by the reading on the transmission gauge, “keep her below 250” was the rule. After all of the work we put into giving the transmission a fighting chance it unnerved me to stay up there in the saddle & keep that horse pulling. Even though I had not dealt with conditions like this, I did know enough to not stop on the grade so whatever I started— I finished. Going down hill was good for the transmission now the brakes gave me some worries. Don’t stand on them, pump the brakes, don’t heat’m up are just words until you’re on the top of a mountain and you see a sign telling you about gravel runaway lines– don’t have those in Florida– then you head off down the roller coaster, you wonder if the next pump on the brakes will let go. Passing a runaway lane under control gives you a feeling of thanks that you didn’t need it but also thanks that it was there if you had. The mountains are truly beautiful but you can’t sail off the side of a sand dune and end up in a tree top– I still think I like the flat land.
Sunrise over the mountains with a cloud in the valley was awesome, wish I could stop for a look but “damn good time” was more important not as much to hit the timetable rather more a factor of wanting to just get there. I had now driven, other than an hour here and an hour there’s sleep, for 2 days and even though driving a GMC is great– I must admit I was over that sort of fun for a while. Crossing one state border after another was proof I was going somewhere and events like finding tunnels told me I definitely was not in Florida . Actually where I want to be is Milwaukee and at the gate of my plane home– but that will come first the last leg of the trip has to happen.
To this point, the FI Koba motor was running like a champ, the transmission didn’t like the hills but thats understandable, I didn’t eather but one thing was constant, the motor was strong and that was a good thing. After all of the heartache and work we had put into making that crank… well, crank it was good to see the fruits of our labors.
Noticed the lights telling me the compressor was cycling was coming on more than before. That light greeted me every few hours and although I was not using the system and the compressor should not come on like this… but I find that many times it will. As I said, that does not bother me but now it seems to be running every 5 min. or so… then it comes on and stays on— not good. At the next rest area, I go back to the 4 air bag system and shut off the valves then pulled the wire from the tank regulator to shut off the compressor– needless to say it was pretty hot. This is one of those lessons you guys need to learn, have a back up or contingency plan if your air system develops troubles. The “compressor on” light helped to ID that the compressor was cycling, the shut off at the air bags allowed me to hold the air in them to make sure I stayed up — this is an important back up. With the air bags shut down with air in them, I can now shut down the compressor and find the leak or whatever is causing it to continue to run. Not interested in doing that on the road so with the air bags shut off, with a trip to the boys room I’m back out there on the super slide– now isn’t that better then finding the coach o the ground with the compressor melting down– make yourself a plan and have it ready.
What are you talking about? If I can’t drive 55, 45 is out of the question, but I guess the traffic up front might compel me to cooperate. There is probably rain even in heaven and although she wants to cruise at 75 (note 3100 RPM at 75— sweeeeet) there must be times to pay attention to the laws. The scenery was nice so I guess I just need to hang in there Man thats alote of Popcorn! Jim & Sharon had left Milwaukee headed toward me on 74, the plan is to meet up somewhere west of Indianapolis, hitch their tow car to the coach and drive the last leg together. Boy, I sure would not turn the offer down, it was a great thing to know someone was coming to bring me in. The coach has done a great job so far and all I needed was to keep her bow into the wind ….. but wait… what is this…. the coach is loosing power! The cell phone rings and its Sharon asking my location— let me get back to you I may be shot in the foot. Focus– focus— whats happening— I have no power, the motor is dieing– what can this be? The answer to that of course it could be a pile of things, the bottom line was though I’m dead in the water with Jim & Sharon less than 50 miles away—- Oh, shoot me now! This coach is just having a grand time taunting me. I’ve been in this saddle now for 2 days with not as much as a burp and now the thing has me on the side of the road– dead.
OK,ok,ok.. what to do– go to basics fuel, fire and mechanicals. These are the 3 basic needs for a motor to run. I yanked up the engine cover and the heat poured over the nice cool interior of the coach. I would gladly strap myself to a bonfire in hell than to deal with an unknown issue on the side of the road but here we are and the only one here to make it happen is ME. First things first– do we have fuel? The rails carry fuel to the injectors, there is a bleeder valve on one end– lets see if we have fuel pressure. The direct port fuel injection system runs 125 PSI of fuel to the rail so it should be a breeze to see if thats the trouble. Look at that, its spitting air at me from the rail– yes, we have no fuel! That was easy but5 now how do I get fuel? I pull out my 12 volt test light/probe (another lesson, carry a 12 volt test probe (not a cheapo test light, they may harm sophisticated electronic components) and checked the power wire going to the fuel pump— no power, then I disconnect it and see what happens— ah, we have juice. This either means the pump is shorted in which case you can shoot me in the head or the relay supplying power to the fuel pump will not pass current, only 12 volt power under no load.
Now see, without a test light, where would I have gone and you might say “I don’t know what to do with a test light” and you may be true but with the test light, you can call me & I’ll tell you what to do with it. This is where the Black List, the CMW project or other means of help — you just need this sort of help but you need to help yourself by having basic hand tools, test tools and of course those important phone numbers.
No pics at this point, the camera and taking cool pictures of stuff I’m doing is the farthest thing from my mind. OK, lets hot wire the fuel pump and see if she’ll pop off or smoke. (You need to have a roll of 12 gauge wire in your diddy box), unrolling some wire, I cut a section, hooked it to a test point I had installed in the fuel injection system tied to ignition, cut the fuel pump wire and touched it to the jumper– I got a small spark and could hear the pump come to life— well alright! The fuel pump relay must be bad, bypassing it makes the pump run—- great Bleeding the rails with the valve, got a good stream of fuel, air in the line will not let the motor run (purge the lines). Hit the key and she fired up—- certain disaster overted!
I called Sharon back and told here all was well on the eastern front and asked for the plan to meet up. They wanted to find an exit to meet at, looking up I saw there was a Cracker Barrel so I voted for me to chill out right there and have them come to me. Thank goodness they agreed because I was in no mood to drive anymore. The coach ran like a champ the 1.2 to the restaurant parking lot, I shut it down — it was over!! Or was it, we still had a 4-6 hour drive to Milwaukee but at least I had people with me. The dark part of the trip was done and now we could now move closer to the light. I had switched on the frig in Orlando and noticed that Jim (what a man who thinks ahead) had stocked that blessed vessel with — beer! I had one, well, OK I had 2 but hey, I deserved it. Before long Jim & Sharon pulled up in their Tracker and my long trip alone was over.
I jumped out and told Jim that his coach didn’t like me, it made me stress out over the last 10 minutes of the trip– but I had prevailed! We had what I would call the best hamburger I had ever tasted– not really but I could eat the south end of a north bound water buffalo at that point. Other than the breakfast at Flying J and a sandwich Marjorie had made me at HP Works, all I had eaten was a bag of chips, 2 Red Bulls and a quart of Gator Aid. What an idiot right? Anyway the meal was over and it was time to once again fire up the coach and see what happens. Jim tied his Tracker to the coach and jumped up into the seat (hey, I was not going to argue in fact I voted him captain myself!
The coach fired up in true fuel injection form, we pulled out onto the highway and he was up to ramming speed right away. After a few directions of how the cruise control worked and a breakdown of the gauges and the readings, I laid down ont the sofa for some shut eye– shut eye heck, I think I was run over by a truck, I was out — down and out.
I lay there for almost 2 hours motionless (they said)… and then it happened. Jim siad, I’m loosing power. I somehow herd him and sprung to my feet, sure enough he was starving for fuel. Oh— please shoot me again, now what!! We coasted to the side of the road, again dead in the water– no fuel was the diagnosis made after the same investigation as before. I got out of the coach Leatherman in hand and headed to lay under the coach and see this .. this… this disciple of the demon. The fuel pump was hot, fuel pumps should not get hot like that, bummer– looks like we have a bad, clogged or at a minimum not working high pressure fuel injection fuel pump. Ok, ok, ok, now what to do? I checked my pockets, no fuel pump– rats! Went back inside and had a thought, if its stuck or has a bad spot, maybe I can jolt it into working at least for a little while. What happened to the pump is anyones guess, its such a remote possibility that a new fuel pump could fail that we did not have another one with us. WE must make this son of satin get us off the road and into a town. Ok baby, talk to me– I beat on the pump with my leatherman, wiggled wires and talked very nice to it. All we needed was a little pressure, come on baby.. Going back in to the motor, I said a prayer in hopes to not to have to hire an exorcist. First I wanted to try and spark it to life– hey it worked for Frankenstein– I sparked the pump wire a couple of times and WOW, look at that, it worked. We had a spark and a spark meant current flow which meant the pump was either running or smoking and right then I would take either. Testing the bleeder valve I found glorious fuel and pressure. I purged the air out, flipped the key and the motor fired up like it had been waiting for me. Let me drive, we need to get to a safe place NOW!
The next exit was a town of some sort, so off we went in search of a fuel pump– now not just any fuel pump but a high pressure pump, round with 2 screw lugs. It was 7PM on a Saturday night in podunk USA, what are our odds. Now this is pretty hard to prepare for, if you carried every part that could fail like this, there would be no room for the dog so you must rely upon the “limp in” method– make it work a while longer and get safe. Actually, the pump gave me a fair warning but I did not hear its words. Whenever the coach talks to you with some sort of glitch, listen and do something about it. It was simply so beyond belief that the new fuel pump would fail right there after days of hard riding that hey, what can I say!
Jim’s Tracker now converted to our lifeboat, unhitching it we headed out on a quest for the holy fuel pump! Sharon had been on the cell phone with her Mom & Dad, she had enlisted their help in prayers for our safe return to Milwaukee– Hey, we can benefit from any help at this point. As is turned out, Len & Rose were already sending up messages before as I was sleeping and Jim was cruising along. Shaon had called them to report that all was well and we were under way. Rose had stood down from her duties which is when the fuel pump gave its last measure. Sharon called back and asked them to keep up the work and that without their help, we may not make it. I tell you what, this trip has been filled with divine intervention at this point & I for one am a believer. Len, being a retired transportation professional with the railroad probably understands more than most what its like to be out there in need of help. Thanks guys for your concern, its seldom when efforts such as yours are shown to be invaluable but with this one– I truly think you made it happen!
The lifeboat (formerly known as his Tracker) gave us movement and this is a great reason for maybe bringing one of them with you. Even a scooter or a bike would do in a pinch, this I would have to say is important. Jim told me that their Tracker has saved them several times. I’ve never been one to require a towd but Arch and others have also said the security of knowing you have other wheels is a good thing. I have to say I still like the convienance of being able to back up though, maybe a compromise of a scooter at least would keep you mobile in emergencies. Maybe a good pair of walking shoes will be your choice, thats OK too but just be prepared to use them is needed.
Found a local who understood our question and directed us to Discount Auto Parts not far away. Progress has improved to the point that you can usually find a parts house somewhere close– don’t bet on it cause you know “Murphy” will put you out of reach of one if you rely upon them but if you don’t let him know, you don’t need to carry every replacement part you can think of. There are still though several spares you could pack that do not take up much room and can give you confidence such as HEI modules, Dist. pickup maybe a fuel pump (wish we had one), belts, hoses, clamps and things like that. Loading yourself down with water pumps, starters, carbs and transmissions (I know a guy that has an extra one squirreled away) can stay at home for the most part.
Pulled into a sleepy little auto parts store, gave the young man my parts need request and held my breath to see what he said. He wasn’t sure what I wanted so he went for the manager. Being a small place, she said I was free to dig through their “electric fuel pump department” which was 2 shelves of various shaped boxes. It was kinda like looking for a pair of shoes, I found one that looked right but was only 95 PSI. Found a 125 PSI but could not figure out how to hook it up, then there was the one with no visible means of connection– boy why can’t they just make a 125 PSI pump with terminal connections? I settled on the first one that was the right shape & size but was a bit less pressure. A direct port system regulates the rail pressure somewhere below the working pressure of the pump– 95 PSI was what I had and hoped it would to the trick. Picked up a couple of tools, Jim had a diddy bag with stuff but I would hate to revert to my Leatherman because I didn’t have a wrench.
A caveat on the tools lesson, bring screw drivers, wrenches, a socket set, tape, wire and pliers– a basic set up. You may not need it but that poor guy at the rest area trying to perform brain surgery with rocks and sticks may trade you his first born for a tool he needs– you can’t buy good Karma!
Getting back to the coach we find we have already exceeded expectations, Sharon was sure we would not find a pump of any kind and would be sleeping in Podunk for the night– it’s always nice to be able to impress someone in a positive way but reaching this level still did not have us mobile. Just for the heck of it I pulled out the instruction sheet of the new pump and sifted through the 5 languages to one I could comprehend, hey maybe I can learn something. No, it spent great effort to tell me not to cross the positive and nagative– I got that. The hardware pack had the 2 nuts and lock washers I would need but the rest of the stuff in there must be for some sort of farm equipment, non of it looked to help our situation. I dug through the tools I would have available, no plasma cutter or torque wrench– oh well, we may still be OK!
The pump was of course located under the coach on the inside of the frame rail, its in the right place but the wrong place to get to without some way to jack up the coach. Another lesson, have a way to get the coach up at least far enough to get your head under there. I was able to turn my head to the side and sneak enough of my noggin in there to get one eye past the frame. Pretty difficult to work without depth of field! You really need some way to jack the coach up, I suggest a Wal-Mart 2 1/2 ton small floor jack and a 6 ton bottle jack. The floor jack will raise the coach up just enough to use the bottle jack. There are “jack hooks” available from Bob Rosenburg that allow you to use the bottle jack on the front or back– oh but to have one right now. You work with what you have and after testing my vision, I started to work. Not trying to make a beautiful job, I simply wanted to get that thing up in there, plumbed and wired. Tie wraps are another must for your diddy bag. I replumbed the fuel lines to the new pump and swapped the wires. The tie wraps made the physical mounting a breeze (I will not leave it in there like this but hey, I just wanna go home right now)! Double checking my clamps and connections, I gave the pump a last look and a touch for good luck.
I washed up (not wanting to bring the bottom of the coach inside where we lived) and went about rechecking the upper fuel pump connections. Trying to rig up stuff before, I wanted to be sure I did not leave anything in a non operational condition. The old adage “measure twice– cut once” can be modified to “check twice to try once”. OK, I’ve done my best, its now or a long night in the den of inequity . Turning the key to on, I heard the pump fire up, working the bleeder valve I found I had fuel and pressure. I light came on in the tunnel we were stranded in, maybe there is hope! I bleed out the air and turned off the key to prepare for the big test.
I looked and Jim & Sharon and said, “here we go” and you know that silly thing again fired up like it was waiting on us! Capcom, we have ignition and we’re ready for throttle up– unbelievable, we did it. I felt like my feet were off the ground– we had stared into the face of death and we had won! I looked at my sweat soaked clothes and grease and dirt stained hands, I was not to dirty to be standing in an operational motorhome where moments before I was right at home in a dead turd! We were ready to go.
Turning the coach out from the hole I had coasted into, Jim hooked up the good ship Tracker and we were ready to motivate. Sharon made the good suggestion to go across the street and fill the tanks, I thought for a second what a fantastic idea. With the way things had gone, we had been so worried about the pump that who knows, we would have gotten back out onto the highway and run out of gas! It’s great to have someone with you that thinks about things like that– thanks Sharon for that timely suggestion.
Pumping the gas, I thought back on all that had gotten me to where I was right then. This coach had given me its best on a long, hard trip. Sure we had troubles but the reality of it was I had ridden that horse cross country, it had gotten me to where we were. There were problems but they were not insurmountable, the efforts the guys at the shop had put into making the coach safe and perform to a reliable level had worked. We live in an imperfect world but all that happened had been dealt with and it looked like we hap popped out the other side in tact. We were less than one tank full of fuel from Milwaukee and the safety of Jim’s shop. I felt that after what I had been through I could push the beast that far or at least will it there and it would make it.
I took the wheel thinking that the coach would not dare give me any more crap, I was the victor– “All hale Caesar”. Through a series of one way roads, I swear I think that little town was trying to get us lost trying to find the highway the road finally opened out to the entrance ramp and like that we were back on the road.
The stress from this last escapade had basically drained me, Jim & Sharon had understood the issue and had made every effort to help and the cooperation had paid off. Sure, we at the Co-op had installed the fuel pump but there was no way to know it would fail. I have no idea who made the pump and it was not worth the effort to try and “warranty” the part. The task before us was to not lay blame as much as it was to get back on the road. Here in leas another good lesson, use the best parts you can. Don’t use the dist. cap from a junk yard motor, buy the best new part you can because even doing that failures occur. Don’t beat the guy up who sold you a part that fails (unless that is if you think he intentionally sold you a bad part), chances are he bought the part from someone else and with correspondence, shipping and other expenses and energy involved in trying and tag someone with the failed component understand that maybe investing in another part and continuing on with life may be the better route to take. I have had people scream at me about a part I sold them that had failed. Hey, I didn’t design and build the part myself and if my supplier holds no hope of returning the part and giving me another one, is it fair for me to get stuck with guaranteeing everything that goes through my hands will work perfectly forever? Take car of your parts supplier and he will always help you.
This commercial message was brought to you by— well– The Co-op. Jim W. and others call me all the time figuring out problems (you know whats that blue wire, why did it do this or what do I need)– thats fine in fact thats exactly what I feel GMC owners need– somebody to help. I know I can’t help everyone and part of the reason we’re so buried in work is because so many of you are working with us on stuff– thanks and we’ll keep trying our best to help but look, do me a favor– just as in the situation with Jim’s coach, we live in an imperfect world, the best you can expect is to have someone there to help. If “unexpected results” try hard to ruin your day, please understand that it ruins ours too. If we all work together mountains can be moved, why do you think I named the business “Cooperative Motor Works”.
Enough of that, so there was nothing left for me to do but hold down the sofa while Jim continued toward home. Sharon called her Mom back and told her of our successes and to not totally stop with the praying but we were out of crisis. The coach ran flawless just as it had done for me before. With all of the attention that was spent building the motor and checking into all systems, I should expect it to do well.
Didn’t realize how wasted I was until they woke me as we pulled into their place. It was 2AM (you know how it is, time flies when you’re having fun) or whatever. Everyone was happy to stick the key in the door, Jim couldn’t wait to show me how his shop was outfitted– man I wish we half of that stuff out there on the road— but we did it, we had what was needed, we had the information, the tools and a coach receptive to our work— we had it all.
Jim has an awesome house and a great view of a protected area overlooking his shop. That night sat outside on a porch (something you could never do in Florida), the moon was high over the mountain. I looked down the hill to his shop and the coach– the object of communal frustration for those many months, its sitting down there looking back up at me. I rode that trick pony cross country, no matter what that horse threw at us, it was tamed not for good but at least for today, we won. Fell asleep right there on the porch outside which in Florida would qualify as suicide. Woke up with enough energy rebuilt to find the bed and off I went to a better place.
Woke to find Jim milling around the coach. I had a 6PM flight out of Milwaukee so we had time– time enough to rip the entire fuel delivery system apart. I properly mounted the replacement fuel pump, oh sure the tie wraps were still holding but come on– are we not men? All that rigging from the night before went into the trash ands so did all the hookup wire, in talking to Larry at HP Works I found out that in bypass that 125 PSI fuel pump could require 20-30 amps of current— too much for the 12 ga. circuit I had set up for it. It was all replaced with 10ga. wiring. We replaced the fuel pump relay just because. We use a universal Bosch styled relay with can be replaced at any Radio Shack. Also investigated the air ride system, the compressor was not damaged but there seems to be a leak in the dash valve assembly now. Jim said he could take care of that. We went over some basic checkout procedures on how to isolate the problem. It’s important to me that Jim understands the circuits & systems, there may be issues that come up in the future but with a little background he can get me on the phone and together we can figure out his issues.
Well sir, my job was done here, Sharon had lunch ready and with the awesome view of the countryside with the coach just down the hill, we enjoyed the down time and each other. Time was late, my plane wouldn’t wait– it was late so I had to go. A last look at what had been my total focus for how much time I could not remember. Jim’s motor had given us fits, there were unexpected results galore. We learned much, we updated that coach trying to make it a reliable unit for Jim & Sharon and along the way a respect for what can go well and wrong driving a GMC. We live in an imperfect world, things will happen– what you must do and how difficult that repair is will determine your attitude toward the coach. In the end, major systems on Jim’s coach have all proven their worth and reliability. The one major issue, one there was no way to anticipate, happened to be a new part failure– not an initial failure but one that checked out but still failed. Stuff happens, try not to get it on ya getting the thing fixed!
Life is a struggle and so goes the GMC, its a great machine, worthy of our efforts.