Wednesday turned out to be a tough afternoon for me. My back was still jacked up, but I needed to get some things done. The right rear HWH leveling jack started acting up again while we were at Row River. It slowly retracts itself after I extend it. This shouldn’t happen. While we were at the FMCA convention in Redmond, Oregon, I had the solenoid replaced (twice) to correct the problem. All was good until we set up at Row River.
I made a big mistake when we set up there. Our site wasn’t level – the front of the coach was low. Since we were parked on dirt, I put down 12″ x 12″ wooden pads under the jacks to increase the area supporting the coach. This helps to keep the round metal foot on the bottom of the jack from sinking into the dirt. Since the front was quite low, I stacked two wooden pads under each front jack to reduce the amount of extension of the jack.
I’ve done this many times before. I’ve always leveled the coach manually when I stack the pads. Without thinking about it, this time I started the auto-level sequence. The HWH computerized auto-level system has a sensor that detects the pitch-and-roll degree of the coach. Then it commands the jack extension to correct the attitude and level the coach. It works fairly quickly. The front jacks extended automatically. When they hit the doubled-up pads, the front of the coach was lifted too high. The HWH system didn’t retract the front jacks, it extended the rear jacks to correct the pitch of the coach. When the weight was taken off the rear wheels, there wasn’t any braking effect. Due to the slope, the coach moved forward – the jacks slid off the pads and dug into the ground. Not a good thing.
After rectifying that situation, I lowered the coach and leveled it manually. Everything seemed fine. A few days later, the right rear jack started its slow retract again. I don’t know if it’s related to the sliding-off-the-pads incident. I don’t see how it could be. The only way for the hydraulic jack to retract is to bleed off the fluid pressure. When I want to retract the jacks, a solenoid is activated to allow the fluid to return to the reservoir as the springs pull the ram up. I don’t have any external leaks and all of the other jacks and room slides (which are hydraulically activated by the same system) work fine. Something is allowing the fluid from the right rear jack assembly to slowly flow back into the reservoir. The first suspect is the solenoid.
I phoned Paul Maddox, the HWH technician who replaced the solenoid in Redmond. Since he replaced the solenoid twice, he didn’t think replacing it again was the way to go. He thought I should look at the check valves. The fluid for each jack passes through two check valves. These valves allow fluid to flow in one direction, but block the fluid from reverse flow. The check valves are opened by differential pressure. If the pressure is lower on the downstream side of the valve than on the upstream side, the valve opens and fluid will flow. If the pressure is higher on the downstream side, the check valve is forced against its seat and blocks reverse flow.
Paul suggested removing the upper (sometimes referred to as outer) check valve and replacing the O-ring that seals the valve. I removed the check valve and went to Ace hardware and found the right size replacement O-ring. I reinstalled the check valve and the jack still retracted itself.
I talked to Paul again. He said there was another check valve, the inner check valve. This one is harder to access, but he said he would send me parts and instructions.
The parts arrived Wednesday afternoon. Since we would leave the following day, I thought I should try to fix the jack right away. In order to access the inner check valve, I needed to remove the solenoid. I rode the scooter to Pep Boys and bought a small-diameter strap wrench. It was a cheap Chinese-made tool, but I thought, “How can you screw up a strap wrench?” Well, the Chinese have found a way. This wrench is so poorly manufactured, it takes three hands to operate it. I futzed around for 20 minutes before I could make it turn the solenoid.
After I had the upper check valve and solenoid out, getting to the inner check valve was tricky. It sits in a machined passage directly under the upper check valve, below the solenoid. I tried to see it with a mirror, but couldn’t tell what I was looking at. I tried reaching through the upper passage with hemostats, but I couldn’t grasp it. I fished a magnet through the solenoid opening and a strange, tightly wound spring with a straight tail came out. I hadn’t seen this spring in any of the diagrams I studied and there was no mention of this spring in the manual. I fished around with the magnet again and the check valve came out.
I called Paul again. I told him about the strange looking spring. He had no idea what it was doing in there. He thought it may be the cause of the problem, as it didn’t belong in there. He thought I should reassemble everything with original parts, but without the spring. I reassembled everything. I lowered the jack and then watched it slowly retract again. Grrr.
While I was watching the jack retract, I noticed the tab that the retraction spring mounts to, was bent from the Row River incident. I decided to grab a large channel lock plier and straighten the tab. That’s when the real trouble started. As I cranked on the tab, the foot of the jack pivoted on the end of the ram and one of the springs came flying off! I’m lucky I didn’t lose a finger from the powerful spring. With no springs, the ram stopped retracting. I was in trouble now. I had to find a way to reinstall the foot and spring on the ram or we wouldn’t be going anywhere.
I used a piece of wood and a little ingenuity to force the ram into the fully retracted position. In this position, I would only have to stretch the springs a few inches to connect them to the foot. While I had the foot off, I used a hammer to ‘smith the tab straight before I attached the springs. Lying on my aching back under the coach, I pulled on the end of the spring with pliers. I used all my might and only managed to extend the spring about half an inch. Oh dear! These are powerful springs.
I tried different tactics for the next hour or so to try and lever the springs into place. I was beginning to think I needed a mobile RV tech. I saw one of our neighbors outside of his trailer. I borrowed a hydraulic bottle jack and a pry bar from him. The next half hour was spent trying to use hydraulic pressure from the bottle jack to lever the foot, with springs attached, over the end of the ram. Total frustration!
Then I just grabbed the pry bar, found a hard point to pry against and pulled the foot down, extending the springs as far as I could. The foot slipped off the pry bar, right onto the end of the ram! After two and a half hours of sweating and swearing, it was job done! By then it was beer-thirty and I was done in. You couldn’t pay me to do this type of work, but I’ll do it to avoid paying someone else.
On Thursday morning, I loaded the trailer and we made ready to travel. I usually load up the day before we leave, so it took extra time and work before we could hit the road. We still managed to depart by 10:30am. The drive to Tehachapi was a little over 40 miles. Highway CA58 has some steep climbs. We reached Tehachapi summit, a little over 4,000 feet above sea level, and exited the highway.
Currently we’re set up at the Mountain View RV Park. This is a small park with electric and water hook-ups, no sewer. There is a dump station we’ll hit when we leave. Originally we planned to dry camp in Tehachapi. The forecast calls for warm weather with highs near 90 degrees. We would have to run our generator all day for air conditioning if we dry camped, so we opted to pay for a site with 50-amp electric service. This RV park is unusual. It’s part of a private airport. The runway is in an open field 100 yards behind our coach.
We’re only a few miles from town. Donna and I rode the scooter to town yesterday and had a look around. It’s a quaint little town. The downtown area is clean and well-kept. Later, we grilled bacon-wrapped filets that Donna served with quinoa salad and green beans.
Today, I plan to replace the rear tire on Donna’s bike. Her race is tomorrow, with a 7am start time. Then I’ll pull the check valves for the right rear jack again and replace them with new ones that Paul sent me.
At noon, Donna is picking up a rental car for the weekend so we have a way to get her bike to the race start and back. We plan to take advantage of the extra set of wheels and do a little sight-seeing this afternoon.