Category Archives: Alpine Coach

A Great Find at the Mercado

We’ve settled in quickly here at Mission Bay RV Resort. We had a few San Diego favorites on our list to hit and we started in right away.

On Friday evening, Donna and I headed over to Offshore Tavern and Grill for happy hour. But our real reason for going there was to have their poke plate for dinner. Poke (poh-key) is diced sushi grade tuna over a cabbage salad served with fried won-ton chips. Donna had poke on her mind for a while and couldn’t wait to get it at Offshore where they make an excellent version of this Hawaiian dish.

Poke plate

On Saturday morning, we rode the Spyder downtown to the mercado (farmers’ market) on Cedar Street in Little Italy. This farmers’ market is a favorite of ours.

The mercado

The street market covers about four blocks and has a great selection of local produce, meats and crafts. Donna was on a mission and bought several items including a dry mole salami that wasn’t local – it came from Salumi Artisan Cured Meats – a Seattle market founded by Armandino Batali, father of famed chef Mario Batali. The mole salami is amazing. Sliced thin, it’s somewhat chewy and the flavors morph from chocolate to cinnamon to clove and other flavors that I can’t adequately describe.

After we returned from the market, I took the Spyder to Pacific Beach for a much-needed wash. There’s a self-serve car wash on Garnet Avenue that I like and the Spyder is shining once again. I also ordered air and oil filters so I can service the Spyder – it’s due. We both spent a lot of time online ordering things we’ve been wanting but haven’t had to opportunity to get. We haven’t been in one place long enough over the past few months to get deliveries – the shop in Albuquerque and the balloon fiesta don’t count – we couldn’t receive deliveries there.

Donna also spent a lot of time online searching for a strength training class to join while we’re here. Tomorrow I’ll get back on the pickleball courts – I plan to play four days a week while we’re here. Hopefully I’ll get my game back up to a level where I can play with the 3.5 group when we get to Mesa, Arizona in late December.

While I was walking through the RV park, a high-end coach caught my eye – they always do. It was a 2007 quad-slide Newell. I’ve described Newell coaches before. These are top-of-the-line motorhomes that are mostly made to order in Oklahoma. Newell builds the entire coach from the ground up. They make a few coaches on speculation every year for use at RV shows before they’re sold. Being mostly custom-made, the prices vary, but bought new you need to bring something in the neighborhood of 1.5 million dollars to get onboard.

I met the owners of this Newell. They sold a ranch in Arkansas and bought the Newell. They got on the road with the intention of spending a year or so traveling the country before deciding where to settle down and enjoy retirement. That was one and half years ago and they’re still enjoying the travel.

2007 quad-slide Newell

I saw a similar Newell online for sale listed at $550,000 – probably a third of what it cost new. That’s the reality of RVs – they depreciate.

Last night I had a seasonal special from Alesmith – a local San Diego brewery. It was a Halloween release called Evil Dead Red. It’s a malty red ale that was tasty with a creamy mouth feel. It was very easy to drink despite it’s 6.6% ABV.

Halloween ale

We had cool weather on Friday – the high was about 70 degrees and a few rain drops fell. Saturday was clear and warmer with the temperature reaching 75 degrees. The forecast calls for a hot spell beginning today. Santa Ana winds should develop. Santa Ana is a condition affecting southern California coastal areas when high pressure develops over the desert basin. This pushes hot, dry air through the coastal mountain ranges and offshore along the coast. We should see upper 80s today and into the 90s over the next couple of days. Time to hit the beach!

Fast Track Check-in

We went inside the Golden Acorn Casino for breakfast Thursday morning after a quiet night in their lot. The breakfast plates were very good – Donna had an omelette with Monterrey jack cheese, bacon, avocado and pico de gallo while I went for the eggs Benedict. The coffee was tasty and we had a leisurely start to the day. We were only traveling about 70 miles to get to Mission Bay, so there was no need to head out early.

I had completed a new check-in procedure for Mission Bay RV Resort they call fast track. Mission Bay RV Resort e-mailed me the check-in documents a few days ago. I printed them and signed where necessary, then scanned and e-mailed them back.

I fired up the Cummins ISL diesel engine around 11am and set it to high idle speed (~950rpm) while I did my usual walkaround checking basement doors, slides, tires, etc.  I wanted to allow the engine to warm up gently before we pulled out. When we accelerated onto I-8, I knew we would be immediately climbing up the grade to Crestwood Summit. I don’t like to put a high load on an engine before it’s up to operating temperature. Over Crestwood Summit we dropped down to Buckman Springs then climbed another grade to Laguna Summit. From there, it was mostly downhill and I toggled the Jake brake between the low and high settings to keep our speed in check.

While I was driving, my cell phone rang and Donna answered it. Mission Bay RV Resort was calling to confirm our arrival and payment method. They instructed us to proceed to the security hut at the entrance, receive our paperwork there and go directly to our site, bypassing the office. We stopped at the security hut and then went to the overflow lot to drop the trailer around 12:30pm. Then we were free to pull into site 112 without the usual wait at the office for the official check-in time of 2pm.

It felt good to get situated in our site knowing we would be here for the next two months. The last time we were on full hooks-ups was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a full month ago. We can relax our diligence over water usage, battery power levels and holding tanks. Donna is happy to be able to do laundry again though she has a lot of catching up to do!

Mission Bay site 112

I like this site – we only have a neighbor on one side. The passenger side has an open area next to the bathroom/shower building giving us plenty of room. It also has good satellite TV reception – some sites here have trees interfering with the reception. I had one concern though – the paperwork the security guy gave us only showed us here for one month. I unloaded the Spyder from the trailer and rode over to the office.

At the counter, Nancy recognized me. I reminded her of our conversation last April when I made the reservation. At that time, she worked to move a few reservations around so we could have site 112 for two months. She looked at her computer and confirmed we are booked in this site until December 20th. I’ll have to pay for the second month on November 19th – they only charged us for the first month at this point.

The rates here have gone up over the last couple of years.  If I remember correctly, we paid $875/month when we first came here in 2013. This was the winter “off season” rate. That worked out to about $28/day. Now we’re paying $1,085/month to stay here – about $35/day. The off season is from September 15th to May 14th and the regular daily rate is $70.

During the peak season – May 15th to September 14th – the regular daily rate is $90 and monthly rates aren’t offered. We find San Diego to be a great place to spend some of the winter months and are happy to pay the monthly rate which includes utilities. The park itself isn’t anything great. It’s basically a large paved lot with hook-ups. No amenities, but it’s secure, fairly quiet and the location can’t be beat. That’s what this park is all about – location.

On the way back from the office, I saw Thomas and we chatted. Thomas was the security supervisor when we first started coming here. Last spring, he changed positions and was working on special projects to upgrade the park. Now he’s the operations manager – the head honcho here. He’ll have plenty of projects as the De Anza Cove and Rose Creek areas of Mission Bay Park will be completely redesigned over the next few years.

The weather is cool and breezy today – the forecast calls for a high of 74 with partly cloudy skies and a slight chance of rain. The weekend will warm up with beach weather in the forecast for the coming week. Life is good!

Errands and Detours

We left the Casa Grande Elks Lodge early Wednesday morning – we pulled out around 8:30am which is an early start for us. Our first stop was at Speedco where I had the coach motor oil and filter changed and the chassis greased. They also checked the tires and coolant – I knew these were okay – I checked our tires that morning and the coolant was flushed and filled with Fleetguard ES Compleat coolant in Albuquerque. Rather than get on the interstate, I took a shortcut down Trekell Road and intended to hit Sunland Gin Road. However, I forgot that I needed to turn on Jimmy Kerr Road to get to Sunland Gin and ended up out in the desert. So much for shortcuts.

Speedco used to do the service on our coach for under $200. Last year they raised their prices considerably and it cost me nearly $300. This year they raised the price again and I paid $330 – this includes a used oil analysis report that I always pay for. By the way, the report looked good with no worries.

It was nearly 11am by the time we hooked the trailer back up and pulled out of the Speedco lot. Originally I thought we would go to Yuma and I would get fuel before we crossed into California. However, our fuel gauge is unreliable and I wasn’t sure how much fuel we’d burned crossing the mountains plus we had lots of generator run time. So, we backtracked up I-10 to the Pilot/Flying J travel center before we headed west on I-8. We ate lunch in the Flying J parking lot after fueling.

We planned a fairly short day and wanted to run a few errands in Yuma. We made a stop on the way at Dateland (exit 67) to take a break and get a date shake. The travel center at Dateland used to be a gas station and a separate small building with a gift shop and milkshakes. They’ve upgraded it considerably over the past few years and it’s a nice stopping point in I-8 for refreshments and touristy stuff. We saw several Border Patrol vehicles along this stretch of freeway and a few Border Patrol officers stopped for lunch at Dateland. They had one of their rigs with two ATVs on a trailer out front – a Polaris four-seater and a smaller ATV.

Polaris four-seat ATV with Homeland Security badges

Our next stop was at Al’s RV Service and Supply on Fortuna Road in Yuma. I wanted to stop there and buy a bottle of Tank Techs RX – the treatment I use in our holding tanks. Al’s is one of the few RV stores that I find it in and buying it at the store saves the cost of shipping when I buy online. I’d also planned to go to the RV Water Filter Store in Yuma, but I found the filter elements I wanted at Al’s. Then Donna said we should look for a new latch for my closet door. The old one broke and the mirrored door slides open and closed as we drive down the road. I was doubtful, but we found the right latch on a display rack! Then Donna found a rod for the kitchen window shade – it went missing earlier this year when were having work done at RV Renovators. Al’s has almost everything for an RV.

We drove across the overpass to the Pilot/Flying J and I topped up the tank with diesel fuel again. We’d been running the generator and roof air conditioners all afternoon and I wanted to avoid buying fuel in California. I also had our propane tank filled. The gauge showed less than 1/4 tank of propane remaining. It took 30 gallons so we had at least a quarter tank – it holds 42 gallons when filled to 80% of actual capacity.

We made one more stop in Yuma at Walmart to get a few things. It was after 4pm by the time we left Yuma. We decided to stop for the night at our usual stopping point on Ogilby Road where we dry camp on BLM land. Interstate 8 is being rebuilt along large sections between El Centro and Yuma. The exit from westbound I-8 was closed at Ogilby Road. We had to continue a few miles west to the Gray’s Well exit and come back east to get on Ogilby. As we crossed over the freeway I noticed the on-ramp to westbound I-8 from Ogilby was also closed so this would present another detour when we left.

We went to a familiar area where we’ve boondocked before. The area was empty – not an RV in sight. We set up a little closer to the road than usual and called it a day. After dark, another motorhome came past us. The driver was brave to drive deep into the desert at night!

Ogilby Road is usually quiet with few cars passing by. The road runs north where it merges with CA78 and continues all the way to Blythe. This morning, a gaggle of cars came south on Ogilby starting around 5am. I got out of bed at 5:30am and the traffic quit coming by shortly after that. I’m guessing the crew working on the interstate must be camped up the road and were heading out to start an early shift – I can’t think of any other reason for that much traffic on Ogilby Road.

Dawn in the desert

We knew the day would warm quickly and planned to hit the road before it became hot out. Tuesday was in the upper 90s and we expected the same today. To get on I-8 westbound, we had to go east to Sidewinder Road – about five miles, then cross over and head back west. Our plan was to cross the desert early and stop at the Golden Acorn Casino across the Tecate Divide. The Golden Acorn is near Campo at an elevation of about 4,100 feet above sea level and would be much cooler. Our reservation at Mission Bay RV Resort in San Diego starts tomorrow, so we needed a place to spend another night before we arrive there.

Desert sunrise on our coach

The traffic on westbound I-8 across the California desert was very light. Even with the construction zones we made good time. West of El Centro, we were at sea level. We started climbing before we reached Ocotillo, then quickly gained 3,000 feet of elevation. The coach handled the climb easily – we never went below 50mph and the coolant temperature topped out right at 200 degrees for just a short time.

We found the Golden Acorn Casino on the south side of I-8 at exit 61. The parking lot is large, but we were a little confused about where we should park the coach. We came in the truck entrance on the southeast side of the casino and saw what was clearly a truck lot. Then we saw a couple of RVs on the north end of the lot and another on the southwest side. We found a fairly level spot on the northwest end, well away from any parked cars. I think we’ll be fine here for the night. It’s always windy here by the divide. There are wind generators on the mountain tops around the casino and to the east. The temperature is over 80 degrees but the breeze makes it feel cooler.

Our spot at Golden Acorn Casino

Tomorrow we’ll have a short drive – less than 70 miles to Mission Bay. We’ll settle down there for the next two months.

Jake and the Shortcut

Donna rode the Spyder to pick up some groceries before we hit the road Sunday morning.  The traffic was terrible as everyone was exiting Balloon Fiesta Park as well as the RV park. She was trying to go east to Trader Joe’s, but police had closed Alameda and were diverting traffic down San Mateo and onto the I-25 frontage road. She didn’t want to get on I-25 and was able to make a detour back west to Jefferson and south to Paseo del Norte. She ended up at Target on Coors Boulevard. It took her about an hour and a half to get groceries and make it back to the RV lot – but she managed to do it without getting lost.

We hit the road around 11:30am. Our first stop was the Pilot/Flying J travel center. I didn’t need fuel, but I topped up the tank to estimate our generator fuel burn rate – I had topped up before we came into the park. We put about 40 hours on the generator at the balloon fiesta and took on only 18 gallons of fuel – less than half a gallon per hour. This is better than I expected. We had a lot of generator run time in the last two months – 95 hours since August 17th.

We drove I-40 westbound to exit 89 and got on NM117 south. This took us along the El Malpais National Conservation Area. We traveled through here two years ago. We were pleased to find much of the road had been repaved and was much smoother. We then followed NM36 to Quemado where we hit US60.

On US60, we found a primitive rest area about 8 miles east of the Arizona border and called it a day around 4pm. The rest area was all dirt and gravel with a few covered concrete tables and no facilities, but it was level and overnight parking is allowed. Two other RVs and a tractor/trailer rig pulled in before dark and stayed overnight. There was plenty of room and everyone had their own semi-private space.

We had a quiet evening. I watched football while Donna watched a couple of episodes of 24 on her laptop. I woke up at 5am – a hangover from eight days of rising early for the balloon fiesta. I rolled out of bed at 5:30am and went outside to look at the stars. It was very dark in this secluded area and the stars filled the sky. It was also cold – the elevation was 7,500 feet above sea level and the temperature dropped to 34 degrees overnight.

Our overnight spot just after sunup

We hit the road around 8:45am and gained an hour a few minutes later when we crossed time zones entering Arizona. When we came this way in 2015, I took AZ260 from Show Low to Payson, then down through Phoenix. This time I stayed on US60 – it’s a shorter route and I wanted to do something different. It also allowed us to bypass Phoenix.

The thing is, short cuts are never easy. If they were easy, they wouldn’t be a short cut – they would just be “the way.” This route took us down into the Salt River Canyon – a steep winding descent from about 5,000 feet above sea level to about 3,400 feet.

The south side of the canyon is equally steep with a number of switchbacks – we topped out around 6,000 feet above sea level. This was a good test of the new turbocharger, charge air cooler and engine radiator. We had good power and made the climb easily and the engine coolant temperature never exceeded 193 degrees. I should also mention that having a full functioning turbo also means the Jacobs (Jake) engine compression brake worked flawlessly and made the descents easily controllable. Donna finds peace of mind when she hears the Jake smoothly slow our coach instead of me having to stab the service brakes!

Our route on US60 took us through the mining towns of Globe, Miami and Superior before we turned off at Florence Junction. We stopped and ate lunch in the coach at a park in Florence, but moved on when we couldn’t find a suitable overnight spot. About 45 minutes later, we found ourselves in Casa Grande and set up in the Elks Lodge lot. I wanted to stop in Casa Grande to have the coach serviced – we’re due for an engine oil change and chassis lube. I didn’t have this done along with the other work at Cummins in Albuquerque due to their high rates. I’ll have it done at Speedco in Casa Grande where I usually stop for routine maintenance.

We’re well ahead of schedule to make it to San Diego on Thursday. I want to stop in Yuma to pick a few supplies – tomorrow we’ll decide where to stop next after we have service at Speedco. The temperature here in Casa Grande is 93 degrees today and we expect to see 90s for the next two days before we reach the coast. More generator run time to power the air conditioners!

The Fiesta Streak Ends

My personal streak of consecutive ballooning days at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has come to an end. In 2015, I crewed for Brad Rice and the Hearts A’Fire balloon all nine days of the fiesta. In 2016, we did the same – we went nine for nine. Today is day nine of the 2017 fiesta and we have strong, gusty winds out of the northeast. No balloons inflating this morning – so my streak ends at 26 consecutive balloon fiesta days.

If you want to enjoy the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in person, I have a couple of pieces of advice. First of all, plan to stay for several days. You never know what Mother Nature may throw at the park – balloons require certain weather conditions and they could be grounded if conditions are bad for ballooning. The weather in Albuquerque at this time of year is mostly favorable, but putting your hopes on one particular day may be disappointing.

When you come here, I also advise you to volunteer to crew for a balloon team. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the event and have a greater understanding of what’s going on and hot air balloons in general. Some facets of crewing are hard work and somewhat physical, but there are always chores to be done that don’t require a lot of muscle. Pitch in and you’ll have fun! Besides, you’ll have free admission although you’ll have to be up before the sun.

Rather than give a day-by-day account of this year’s fiesta, I’ll take the lazy way out and post some photos. If you want to read a daily account of the happenings at the fiesta, please check out the archives listed on the right panel of this page for October 2016 and 2015.

Dawn patrol before sun up

Ready for cold inflation at the break of day

Mass ascension

Balloons over the park viewed from the President’s Compound

Competition flying – pilots trying to drop a bean bag on a target at the park – check out the huge sportbike shaped balloon in the lower center

Special shape balloon

Sunset at the park before balloon glow night

Fireworks from our doorstep after the balloon glow

Light winds and lots of balloons over the diversion channel

Neil and Julie Jackson had donuts and cookies made to look like their Flying Circus balloon

Crowd arriving for the Billy Currington concert on Saturday

With the balloon flights cancelled today, we will pull out of here and get a head start on our way to San Diego. We’re paid up through Tuesday, but I have the hitch itch and I’m ready to hit the road. We’ll boondock our way west and should reach Mission Bay RV Resort by mid-day Thursday. I’m really looking forward to some travel and quiet nights away from the city.

Home Again in Albuquerque

I haven’t posted in several days due to lack of time and/or energy. You might recall from my last post, I had our turbocharger rebuilt by Central Motive Power here in Albuquerque. At that time, I said I didn’t know how Central Motive obtained genuine Holset turbo component parts. I thought maybe they had a gray market supplier. I was wrong. It turns out that Cummins Turbo Technologies has two parallel lines of distribution. For authorized Cummins dealers, such as Rocky Mountain Cummins, they only supply complete units – turbochargers, injectors, etc. – either new or remanufactured. However, authorized Holset distributors can stock replacement component parts which they buy from the factory wholesale and sell them to qualified retailers such as Central Motive Power.

My takeaway from this is to research qualified retailers with access to replacement parts before paying a Cummins dealer the high prices for remanufactured units. The savings can be substantial and Central Motive Power gave me the same warranty terms as Cummins.

Before I took our turbo to Central Motive, I asked Alvaro, the service manager at the Cummins dealer, how long it would take to complete the repair if I could have the turbo back to him by the close of business on Thursday. He said it was about three hours of work and should be easily done by mid-day Friday. I brought the rebuilt turbo back to Rocky Mountain Cummins by 2pm on Thursday and was told by Philip in the service department we should be ready to roll by noon on Friday.

We spent Thursday night at Donna’s friend, Hazel Thornton’s house – thanks, Hazel! Hazel, by the way, just had a new version of her book, Diary of a Menendez Juror, republished to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Mendendez brothers’ first murder trial. She was juror #9. The full story of the case is being featured in a special 8-part Law & Order series that is currently being aired on television. You can learn more about Hazel, her book, and the case here.

Anyway, on Thursday evening, Donna and I took an Uber ride to Rio Rancho for a pre-balloon fiesta party at Brad and Jessica Rice’s house. It was a great party with good food, good people and generous amounts of adult beverages. I had to pass on Friday’s hot air balloon exhibition so we could get our coach. By the way, Uber charged us about 50% more for the ride to Rio Rancho than they did for the ride back – presumably a surcharge for the privilege of taking an Uber ride during rush hour.

Friday morning I didn’t hear anything from Rocky Mountain Cummins – no surprise there, it was par for the course. I rode the Spyder to the shop around 11am. Philip told me it would be ready to roll between 1pm and 2pm. No explanation for the delay. At 1:30pm, Donna and I rode back to the shop – I needed to have Donna along to help me get the trailer hooked up.

We waited and waited and waited. It was 4:30pm before we were ready to roll. Again, no explanation for the delays. Before I could leave, I noticed a boost error and check engine light indicating a fault in the turbo system. The mechanic, Josh, quickly replaced the intake manifold pressure sensor and we were finally on our way. While we were waiting, I had a long conversation with Alvaro and told him areas where he and his team could improve their customer service from my point of view.

By the time we checked in at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta park, it was 6pm and I was whipped. Lucky for us – we were directed to a site along the southern fence line of the park and didn’t have to drop our trailer. Saturday morning I had the alarm set for 4:15am to get up and out the door for the first day of the nine-day fiesta.

We’ve been having a blast with flights on each of the first four days of the fiesta – I won’t go into details in this post but intend to add them later. The last two weeks in the hotel waiting for repairs have taken a toll. I enjoy the crewing and the fiesta, but I’m worn out from early mornings and the activities and still need a bit of a recharge before I can sit at my laptop to tell this year’s fiesta tales. Here are a few photos from the first four days.

Donna guarding the balloon envelope on day one.

Cold inflation at the break of dawn Sunday

Typical Albuquerque scene during fiesta – 2nd Street looking north

Food and fun tailgating before noon on Sunday

View of Fiesta Park from the President’s Compound today

The weather forecast for the next few days looks promising. Hopefully the balloons will fly every day during this year’s fiesta.

Turbo Delivered

I thought I would have one, maybe two posts about our engine repair in Albuquerque at Rocky Mountain Cummins. Well, this is the sixth installment. If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve had a number of poor communication issues with Rocky Mountain Cummins and also trouble obtaining a replacement turbocharger. After taking the old turbo to Central Motive Power for a rebuild, I saw light at the end of the tunnel.

When I dropped the old turbo off at Central Motive Wednesday, I agreed to pay for expedited shipping to have the necessary part there by Thursday morning. I called at 11am Thursday to confirm and Aaron told me they had the part and Joe was working on the turbo. At 1:30pm, Joe called me and said I was all set.

I went to their shop straight away and Joe had the turbo waiting on the counter wrapped in a heavy plastic bag.

Rebuilt turbo

He told me the Center Housing Rotating Assembly (CHRA) he acquired was a genuine Holset replacement cartridge. I’m not sure how that works – I don’t know how Central Motive Power has access to these parts. Cummins-Holset (now called Cummins Turbo Technologies) won’t sell component parts for their turbochargers in the USA, only complete replacement parts. They remanufacture turbochargers with new CHRAs at their factory and charge high prices for them.

I’m guessing there’s a gray market that imports the component parts from other, less regulated countries. This drives the price of parts up – for example, a CHRA for a Garrett turbo can be had for $400 or less. The Holset part cost me $750. At any rate, the workmanship from Central Motive looks fine and I’m confident this turbo is equal to a Cummins remanufactured part – that Cummins wanted $1,574.00 plus tax for – if they could supply it. I’m into the rebuilt turbo $1,182 including tax and shipping.

As I was leaving Central Motive, my phone rang. It was Rocky Mountain Cummins wanting to know when I would have the turbo back to them. Yeah, that’s right – they had no problem phoning me when they wanted to know when I would get something done after two weeks of silence when I wanted to know when they would get the job done. I told them I was on my way and dropped off the turbo 15 minutes later.

My timing was good – I dropped off the turbo just as they were ready to install it and I beat a thunderstorm back to Hazel’s place where we spent the night in her guest house. Rocky Mountain Cummins said they would have the coach done mid-day today.

Last night we took an Uber ride up to Rio Rancho to a pre-balloon fiesta dinner party at Brad and Jessica Rice’s house. It was fun to get together with the crew. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to help with the pre-fiesta exhibition launch this morning, but if all goes well I’ll be crewing for the official start tomorrow.

The best birthday present I could wish for is the return of our home on wheels today so we can get set up at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Park for nine days of hot air ballooning!

 

One Way or Another

Things went from bad to worse on Monday (see previous post). I went to Albuquerque Rocky Mountain Cummins Monday morning to meet with their parts manager, Hans. He didn’t have good news for me. The information I was given Friday turned out to be incorrect. The replacement turbocharger they located wasn’t in a warehouse in New Jersey. It was at the Cummins-Holset turbocharger factory in Memphis, Tennessee. But it was damaged and unusable.

I asked Hans what the next step was. He said the issue had been escalated and they were trying to find another part. I asked him why the damaged turbo couldn’t be repaired and shipped – it was at the factory, right? He said that may be one of the options they were looking at. I asked who “they” were – there had to be someone that was a decision-maker involved with this. I got nowhere.

I went back to the hotel and called Cummins Customer Care at 10am. I reached a guy named Jesse there. I went through the whole saga and asked if he could tell me who was working on finding a replacement turbo for me. He said it was in the hands of someone named Chelsea – but we couldn’t talk directly with that person. He said he would look into it and I would receive a call back or e-mail by the close of business that afternoon. That didn’t happen.

Tuesday morning I was back at the Cummins shop.  Hans told me he didn’t have any update – he was waiting to hear from Chelsea. My patience ran out. I told him someone needed to take ownership of this issue and get into action. Sitting around waiting for someone else to do something wasn’t getting us anywhere. Somewhere along the chain of command there was a decision-maker that needs to give us an answer – either they’ll repair the damaged unit they have on hand or a replacement part would be available on a certain date. I couldn’t wait on an open-ended order, I needed a date so I could make decisions of my own.

Back at the hotel, I called customer care again. After 56 minutes on hold, I spoke to Jesse again and asked why I didn’t get a phone call or e-mail. He said he had escalated the case and the second level was supposed to call me. I told him it didn’t happen and this was a clear example of what was happening on the parts side of things. Hans placed the order on September 22. When he didn’t receive the part, he decided to look into it a week later. Through e-mail, he was told that Chelsea would handle it. End of the line – was Chelsea in fact doing anything or was this like the case where Jesse assumed the second level person had called me back? Someone needs to ask Chelsea where we stand, someone has to ask for accountability – not just sit back and wait to see what happens next. I haven’t heard anything more from Cummins Customer Care.

Donna made it back from her visit with her parents in Vermont around 10pm. We caught up on news over a drink in the hotel bar.

This morning I went back to the Cummins shop. More of the same – no response on the part order. When I pressed Hans to get a timeline, he said as it stands they expect to have the part in November. I asked him if that meant November 1st or November 30th. He said he didn’t know. So, what he was really saying was that he didn’t have a clue when the part would become available.

I asked to see the old part again. I was considering having the old part put back on. I knew it was functional – I just didn’t feel good about its reliability and potential for additional damage. Looking at the nicks on the leading edges of the vanes on the compressor wheel, I was concerned about stress risers that would lead to cracks and possible separation of a blade.

I asked about rebuilding the turbocharger. Cummins-Holset will not sell the individual parts, only the entire unit, so they don’t rebuild them. I was told an outfit called Central Motive might rebuild it though.

I called Central Motive. Their guy, Joe, took the part number of the turbo and said he needed to make a few calls for parts and would get back to me in 45 minutes. My phone rang 45 minutes later. Joe said he might have a turbo in their Denver facility. If not, he located a Center Housing Rotating Assembly (CHRA) and could rebuild the turbo. The CHRA is the guts of turbo – all of the working parts including the turbine wheel, connecting shaft with bearings and seals and the compressor wheel. He could take the housing apart, bead blast it and install the new CHRA and I would be in business. He said if I was willing to pay the cost of overnight shipping for the CHRA, he could have it done by Thursday afternoon. Bingo!

I asked the Cummins service manager what the timeline would look like if I took the turbo to Central Motive and brought it back by the end of the day Thursday. They had the radiator stack and all of the other parts on hand. He said he would get the job done Friday if I had the turbo by the end of Thursday. It looks like this will solve the problem.

I loaded the turbocharger into the Spyder and rode to Central Motive a few miles away. Joe and the manager, Aaron, looked the turbo over. Joe told me he hadn’t heard back from Denver and it was still possible a new replacement could be found. He said one way or another, I would have a turbo ready to go by Thursday afternoon. I’m just as happy to have my unit rebuilt. Joe and Aaron said the housing looked great. The CHRA is a complete, balanced assembly and should be as good as a new one. Joe and Aaron seemed enthused and very confident they could deliver.

Tomorrow we have to leave the hotel – I managed to get one more night here so we’re good until Thursday morning. Donna’s friend, Hazel Thornton, offered to put us up. Jessica Rice also offered to let us stay at their place. Ozark the cat complicates the matter – but at Hazel’s we’ll be in a room in her guest house, separate from the main house and her two cats. If all goes well, we’ll only be there for one night. Friday we should be driving the coach to the Balloon Fiesta Park and setting up for the fiesta.

But Wait, There’s More

The level of communication between Albuquerque Rocky Mountain Cummins and me has been poor at best. With that in mind, I decided to pay the shop a visit on Thursday afternoon to check on progress and see if they had confirmation of shipment of the new Charge Air Cooler (CAC).

I asked the Service Coordinator, Philip, about it. He picked up the phone on his desk and called the radiator shop. Then he told me the CAC had shipped and they expected it no later than Friday. I took this as good news. We walked out to the shop so I could retrieve a couple more items from the coach.

Before I left, Philip said, “Of course, if they have the CAC tomorrow, it doesn’t mean we’ll able to have the coach ready then.” I told him I understood – the radiator shop had to assemble the radiator stack and get it back to the shop. The mechanic had to finish putting the turbo assembly on the engine and install the cooling stack. I asked him if he thought Tuesday was realistic. He said he thought it was, but then he dropped a bomb. He told me they hadn’t received the replacement turbocharger yet.

I kept my mouth shut but thought, “What?” Last Monday they told me they would have the part by the next day. This potentially complicates matters. The mechanic will want to install the exhaust manifold and turbocharger before he installs the radiator stack. If he installs the stack – engine coolant radiator, CAC, hydraulic fluid cooler and AC condenser – he will limit the accessibility to the engine and exhaust system.

Yesterday I stopped by the shop in the afternoon again. As I said, communication isn’t their strong point – I figure if I want an update, I’d better stop in and ask. Philip confirmed the CAC had been delivered but then told me they should have the replacement radiator core on Monday! What? Again I bit my tongue – this was the first time any mention was made of needing to order the core and any delay with it.

The radiator core is the center portion of the radiator. It consists of tubes running from the radiator inlet tank to the outlet tank. Coolant passes through these tubes from one tank to the other. Thin aluminum or copper fins are attached to the tubes to transfer heat from the coolant to the air passing through the fins. Our radiator core had corrosion and the radiator shop was replacing the core, reusing the original tanks and end plates.

But wait, there’s more – Philip lobbed the final bomb. There was a problem getting the turbocharger. He said one had been located by Cummins, but it was in a warehouse in New Jersey that wasn’t operational at this time. Apparently, the warehouse is unmanned but it holds the only turbocharger in the country to fit our coach. He said the Cummins Holset turbochargers used on motorhomes have unique fittings and linkages.

He went into the service manager’s office to talk to the manager, Alvaro. He came out a minute later and told me their parts manager was working on a solution with Cummins, but wasn’t present at the moment. He said I should come back Monday morning to learn the disposition of the part in the warehouse. I think we’re in real trouble here.

The hotel has already informed me that we’ll be kicked to the curb on Wednesday. All the rooms in the area are booked for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It’s the largest hot air balloon event in the world and it’s impossible to find a vacancy from a few days before the fiesta until the end two weeks later.

All I can do at this point is wait until Monday and hope for the best. Donna will return Tuesday night. I’m holding on to some hope they’ll be working on the coach by then.

We’ve had a series of thunderstorms passing through since Wednesday and that has hampered my activities. Yesterday, after I left the shop, I went to Rio Bravo Brewing. I looked for the owner, Randy, but he wasn’t in. He’d promised a brewery tour. The bar manager took me back to the brewhouse. When I mentioned I had experience with home brewing, he was relieved not to have go through the brewing 101 spiel about how beer was made and cut right to their equipment and processes. The brew master, Ty Levis, was there and he gave me a one-on-one tour and talked about some advanced techniques he uses and some experimental brews he’s working on. It was one of the best brewery tours I’ve had. I didn’t take any photos because they all start looking the same – stainless steel fermenters and mash tuns, etc.

An interesting thing I learned at Rio Bravo had to do with the canned beer they distribute. The four-packs are held together with what looks like plastic rings, just like you find on most six-packs. But they’re not. They are biodegradable, I think he said they’re made from corn starch. Don’t get the four-pack wet – it might disintegrate into loose cans!

I don’t have any big plans for the weekend – I’ll just wait and see what comes next.

Time and Money

In a previous post I gave a simplified overview of turbocharging and why it includes a charge air cooler (CAC). I want to share a few more words about CACs. A casual look may lead you to believe it’s the same as an engine coolant radiator except air flows through it. This is partially right, but there are key differences.

CACs are designed and constructed to operate under very harsh conditions. Engine coolant radiators have it fairly easy by comparison. Hot coolant – around 180 – 190 degrees – starts flowing through the coolant radiator when the thermostat opens. It’s pressurized to about 15 psi. The pressure and temperature stay fairly constant until the engine is shut down and it slowly cools.

A CAC is subject to a wide variation in pressure – anything from atmospheric to 30 or 40 psi above atmospheric. The pressure changes almost instantaneously, depending on engine load. As hot air enters the inlet side of the CAC and travels across the core, it cools and the pressure drops slightly. The inlet tank, core diameters and outlet tank are sized to try to maintain even flow and pressures throughout the CAC. The temperature of the air flowing through the CAC also varies widely during normal operation and the CAC cools very quickly when the engine is shut down.

These pressure and temperature variations in the CAC require careful design and robust construction – something much more durable than an engine coolant radiator. Where coolant radiators usually have the inlet and outlet tanks formed from sheet metal, CACs are usually made from castings. They can be die cast or sand cast. This is a much more expensive process than fabricating from sheet metal.

CACs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Engine manufacturers such as Cummins or Caterpillar don’t normally include the CAC when they supply engines to vehicle manufacturers – they supply a specification that must be met and it’s up to vehicle manufacturer to come up with the CAC. On heavy duty trucks like a Peterbilt or Kenworth they use their own standard designs whenever possible to take advantage of economy of scale.

RV manufacturers may use an off-the-shelf part or they might have a specific size and shape CAC made exclusively for a particular coach. Either way, a CAC for a motorhome is much more expensive than one for a heavy duty truck. They don’t come cheap!

Last Thursday when the guys at Albuquerque Rocky Mountain Cummins pressurized our CAC and showed me where it was leaking, I had a sinking feeling. If a seam in the core is leaking, it can usually be repaired by welding it. If the cast tanks are cracked and leaking, it’s not usually repairable. The guys at the shop seemed confident that they could get our CAC repaired. I was skeptical.

On our coach – and most coaches with side radiators – the heat exchangers are combined in a stack. The engine coolant radiator is mounted closest to the engine compartment with the CAC – which is dimensionally similar – mounted in front of it, nearest the outside of the coach. Stacked on top of that is a smaller heat exchanger to cool the hydraulic fluid that operates the fan motor. I had the entire stack sent to a radiator specialist to re-core the radiator, repair the CAC and clean (rod out) the hydraulic fluid cooler.

Yesterday the radiator shop confirmed my fears. Our CAC is toast – they cannot repair it. We’ll have to replace this very expensive component and we’ll have to wait for them to acquire the proper part. They’re saying they can have one within a week. I’m hoping so. If not, we’re in trouble – it’s not just time and money. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta begins at the end of next week. Starting Wednesday night, all of the hotels in the area are fully booked – no vacancies!

This morning Donna got on the 7am shuttle to the airport. She’ll be in Bennington, Vermont visiting her parents for the next week. With any luck, she’ll be back in time for us to take the repaired coach to the Balloon Fiesta Park!