Bet you figured you would be getting some bureaucratic statement of fact based on military and political doctrine– right? Sorry to mislead you but this hook will bring you to a story about a colorful character in our club (Captain Seaweed AKA John M.) and the episode he had with the governor in his transmission going to a recent Sunshine Statesmen rally. I hope it will be both informative as well as entertaining.
It was a typical Friday afternoon at the shop before a rally, getting coaches out headed to the event, packing up my coach and hoping I can get it all done, get out the door and make it to dinner. Dinner is traditionally at 5:30 at our rallies which makes it pretty hard for us to be on time. I usually show up half in to the main course but at least there is usually plenty of food and I actually can pile my plate up high in that everyone else has eaten & I’m given free grazing rights of the food table.
In the middle of spanking one coach on the butt as it cleared the gate and starting up the next for a final check out, the phone rang (not like that doesn’t happen like fifty-million times mainly when we’re the busiest). It was Captain Seaweed as John M. is known, John lives in South Florida and just arrived at the rally location in Daytona with a problem.
Blissfully flying along in his coach up I-95, he noticed that his speedometer had been slowing down a bit. The needle was pointing in the 40’s when he knew full well he was up with the traffic doing in the 60’s and 70’s. Hey, no bother, his balanced and blueprinted motor was humming along and the wind was whistling around his mirrors so life was still good even if it did not include an accurate speedometer. Then came his exit and the drop out of highway speed. After the stop at the ramp it was obvious that the transmission was not shifting into second gear. All the captain had was first gear— (capcom, we have a situation)! The one saving grace was that the captains ship was close to port, the rally park was only a mile or so further so on went the flashers and John limped into port.
After checking in and backing into his slip, the captain went out in search of some help. Pete P., another colorful character of the club, got with the Captain and after an explanation of what the issues were, made a stab at the problem and felt John had a torn up transmission governor gear.
The governor gear is one of the few components bolted onto the transmission that us mere mortals can check and do something about. It is a upside down cup shaped component stuck into the transmission on the driver side with a bail holding it in place. This component is very important, acting exactly like a speed regulator on an old steam engine, it spins with the transmission and as it speeds up it pulls a piston which directs transmission fluid to shift gears as the coach speeds up. Without it doing its job, the transmission does not know to shift. The governor uses a plastic drive gear to drive the component. You might wonder why its plastic but its important that this easily renewable wear component strip out if there is trouble to save the internal parts of the transmission. The sacrificial gear is held into place by the spring dowel pin just above it and can be easily replace when it wears out.
A sure sign of a stripped governor gear is having the speedometer stop. The speedometer also uses a plastic drive gear and it runs directly off of the governor gear drive shaft on its own gear ring . All of this means that your speedometer will help you diagnose your problem. If the speedometer stops turning (which BTW will also prevent your cruise control from working) you may have a stripped out plastic speedometer gear. If your transmission will not shift AND the speedometer will not work, its a good bet that the plastic governor gear has stripped out. Of course there may be other much more serious troubles but if you are lucky and the “fail safe” design of the governor gear does its job, your repair will be mostly painless.
So, looking through my warehouse, I found a governor gear kit complete with a new dowel pin and tossed it into my coach to be sure I did not forget to bring it to the rally. Having the part is one thing, getting it into place always proves to be another. The governor can be removed from the transmission from the inside of the coach– that is if your motor is equipped with original style cast iron exhaust manifolds. If you have Doug Thorley headers, its another issue entirely. The routing of the header pipes will not allow the governor to be pulled up and out of its mount— oh yes, you guessed it, Captain Seaweed has headers. I pulled out a set of exhaust header gaskets and tossed them next to the governor gear– this in the field repair would not be an easy one.
Doing work outside the shop is sometimes necessary but never preferred. The problem is you never know what you will run into and if something comes up you are not prepared for, making it through the repair to a positive outcome can be trouble. SOP in this case is to completely remove the header from the driver side of the motor to access the governor gear, this is a fair bit of work including removing the oil dip stick tube along with the header both from the motor and collector and maybe removing the transmission dip stick if needed just to get to the governor. Then the governor itself must be removed and a new gear installed. My expectation was to work carefully and try and keep this repair a field doable issue. The goal was to change that plastic gear without additional help.
Still hoping to have time to enjoy the rally and deprogram some of the stress I live with, the plan was set to meet with tools and parts at 4PM on Saturday just before dinner. I figured I could tell pretty quick if the captains motor was going to give me grief and if that happened I would not go farther in favor of limping his coach to my shop in Orlando. Thats not what we want to do and its certainly not good for the tranny to travel the best part of an hour in first gear but it may be the reality of the issue.
Laying out towels I knelt before the motor on the step thinking of how I can assess where this issue would lead. Step one was to remove the lower dipstick tube from the block. This tube skinnies tight past the exhaust header and basically nothing moves until the dip stick tube moves so I went for it first. John had his motor rebuild about 2 years ago and the builder and installer did a great job. The motor was clean and everything was free of rust and dirt– a real pleasure to work on.
Freeing the lower tube from the compression fitting holding it to its upper tube mate, the tube pulled right out of the block. Surprised by how easy this possible problem came out, I handed the tube the to captain and kept going. next was to loosen the 5 header bolts holding the header to the head. Now if any one of these bolts freezes up, breaks off or whatever the repair will have been shot in the foot— all 5 bolts backed out pretty as you please– wow, we’re still in the game! John knew the importance of getting these bolts out in tact so he was pleased as I handed him each bolt one at a time as they came out.
Next you would normally stick yourself up under the coach and do your best at unbolting the header collector flange (there are 3 bolts down there) but looking at trying to do that without a jack to give me room to work, I wanted another option. Knowing we are out in the field and knowing that sometimes you do things out there that you would always do at the shop—- I decided to try something different.
Unbolting and rotating over the transmission dip stick tube (that’s different from the oil dip stick tube) I was able to pop off the bail that holds the governor to the tranny. pulling up on the governor, I could only lift it up an inch or so (it needs to come up 3-4 inches to come out. With one hand firmly on the header with the other grasping the governor, I wedged my feet under the dinette table and pulled up. The header flexed, still connected at the bottom to the collector, the governor came up with the header. Propping the header on the top of the exhaust port, I found that I still needed a little to clear the governor from its mounting hole. Like I said, don’t try this at home and if you do understand that things may be damaged, being out there with few options– ya do what ya gotta do!
Taking a deep breath and a firm toegrasp on the dinette base, I heaved up and the governor cleared the mount and with a clunk of the header flexing back into position I had the governor complete raised above my head like a medieval knight showing off his sword. It was out and Capt. Seaweed was delighted. You see people love to spread doom and gloom and it seems that the consensus probably was that the job would take hours if it yielded success at all. Here I was after only a couple of cuss words and 30 minutes and had the culprit part in my hand. Of course the job is not done but we were past go at least.
Capt. Seaweed wasn’t always related to a seafaring person, John was actually a nuclear pipe fitter, which easily qualifies him to help me with this. We drove out the spring roll pin with the finish nails provided in the gear kit, hammered in the new gear, drilled a 1/8″ hole for the pin and inserted the new pin. This part of the repair was done, now came the “hump” move. We had to get the governor back in past the header. What comes out must go back and I hoped a reverse of my mondo lift procedure would do the trick.
Thinking for a minute how the pressures I exerted to get the governor out would be like in reverse, I wedged my feet again to the dinette base, grabbed the header and gave it a heave-ho. With the governor in one hand with it sitting on the edge of its hole, the header pipe flexes with the pull and the governor slipped right back into place. I could not believe it happened on the first try. The Tranny Gods were smiling on us and it seemed that we were over the hump and now were on the down hill slide.
It was about 5PM which meant I still had a window of finishing the job before dinner. Reversing my exact sequence, the tranny stick swung back into place and one at a time I reinstalled the 5 header bolts. Taking out the old gasket, I installed one of the gaskets I brought and tightened up the bolts. The oil dip stick tube slid back into place and other than a tough time with rethreading the compression fitting holding the upper & lower tubes together, the balance of the job went without a hitch.
We did it, we replaced the governor gear with headers in the field with no loss of life! I cleaned up my tools, reintalled the air cleaner, rechecked the torque on the header bolts and fired up the motor to see if the gasket sealed— the exhaust was quiet so the operation was pronounced a success. I explained to the captain that he would need to recheck the header bolts several times, the fiber gasket would compress and the bolts would need to be tightened. The only thing left was to drive the coach and see if he had a working speedometer and all 3 gears. We called it a wrap and cleaned up for dinner, the job went without a hitch. Don’t think every one of these jobs will go like this. The oil dip stick tubes are notorious for breaking off even with the block, the header bolts have been known to wrench off and the governor itself could have had more wrong than simply a shreaded plastic gear but in this case, a drive test yielded both a working speedo and a perfect shift pattern.
As I said before, you really need to do repairs like this at a shop where whatever happens could be dealt with but when that cannot happen, stay on task, do the least you have to in doing the repair and .. well… “Get er Done any way you can! The captain and the governor are again happy with each other and everyone involved gave a sigh of relief— we have again dodged a bullet.
Transmission troubles can be expensive and usually requires someone who specializes in them. Governors, modulator valves, cooler lines and linkage are about the only components you can check short of removing the transmission itself. If the tranny will not shift AND the speedometer is not working, check the governor gear. If the speedo is working but its not shifting, you have other troubles. Good luck, hope this helps and thanks for your time.