Category Archives: Maintenance and Repair

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!

One Thing Leads to Another

We made it through the weekend in our temporary quarters at the Hotel Elegante in Albuquerque. The weekend was just a waiting period until we could see what comes next in our engine repair saga. Although the square footage of our hotel room isn’t much different than that of our coach, the layout is very different. The hotel room is made for sleeping and the small desk and storage areas are afterthoughts. The coach is much more comfortable and organized – long hot showers notwithstanding.

On Saturday afternoon, we headed over to Marble Brewing to take the 2pm tour. They were having a fundraiser for the Albuquerque Mountain Rescue Council and that packed the house. The brewery tour had to be broken up into two groups and the groups were still too large. It was interesting nonetheless. The thing I found most interesting was part of their process – they boil the wort in a 30-barrel brew kettle. This isn’t unusual – what’s different is that the wort is transferred to 150-barrel fermentation vessels. It takes five batches to fill the fermenter! It must be quite a task to keep things consistent when you have to brew five batches before you begin the fermentation.

150-barrel fermenters

We also viewed a temperature-controlled storage room filled with wooden casks where beer was being barrel-aged.

A portion of their barrel-aging storage

The bottling line

We sampled a few ounces of brew, then decided to leave the crowded brew pub and head over to Rio Bravo Brewery. They have a large brew pub and it’s really laid back. They also serve food – Marble and Tractor brewing rely on food trucks.

Donna had a quinoa and arugula salad to go with her porter while I ordered a New Mexico treat. In Michigan, you’ll find cafes that specialize in what they call Coney Dogs. These are hot dogs covered in a type of beef chili (no beans) and various other condiments. In New Mexico, they serve hot dogs with cheese and diced green chilies. It was tasty.

Green chili cheese dog

On Sunday morning, Donna wanted to get out and get some exercise in the fresh air. So she rode the Spyder to the east end of Menaul Boulevard to the Menaul Trailhead to hike. I stayed at the hotel and watched a very entertaining Moto GP race from Aragon, Spain. Valentino Rossi showed his talent as well as his toughness as he held on to second place for much of the race before fading to fifth place near the end – this was just 24 days after he broke his leg! He broke his tibia and fibula in a training accident and could barely walk a few days ago.

On Sunday evening, Donna took an Uber ride to the Old Town area to meet up with her friend Hazel. They walked from Hazel’s house to the Range Cafe restaurant where they met up with more friends. I stayed home and watched the Oakland Raiders struggle against the Washington Redskins.

On Monday morning, it was time to get back to business. I was getting ready to go over to Rocky Mountain Cummins when they phoned and told me they had the turbocharger removed and I should come and look at it. The original estimate called for a turbo replacement due to oil leaking past the seals. I didn’t believe this was the case. The oil in the intake and turbo housing was coming from the auxiliary compressor on the engine. This compressor supplies air for the suspension system and air-operated parking brake.

With the turbo removed, I could see there wasn’t anything wrong with the shaft bearings or seals, however it did have a problem. The blades on the intake compressor wheel were damaged. They had small nicks in the leading edges of the blades. This is usually the result of foreign objects ingested through the intake system. That could be really bad news as any foreign material would pass through the engine and most likely damage pistons and cylinders or at least piston rings. Close inspection revealed the nicks only to be on the leading edges – dirt or other abrasives show themselves across the blade. Also, there was oil in the turbo and no sign of dust or dirt in the oil.

In talking it over with the mechanic doing the work, Josh, we came to the conclusion that the nicks in the leading edges of the blades were likely caused by droplets of oil being struck by the spinning compressor blades. The turbine wheel on the exhaust side, the shaft and the compressor wheel and blades are constructed from lightweight materials. This allows the wheels to quickly spool up to high operating RPM – over 100,000 RPM at times. The compressor is designed to operate in a clean air environment.

The integrity of the blade material is important. Anything that weakens the structure could lead to a failure such as blade separation. That would be bad, very bad. A blade failure would send pieces of the blade through the engine with catastrophic results. I decided to have the turbocharger replaced.

Turbocharger on bench

Close-up of compressor blade damage

I saw the exhaust manifold on a cart. It wasn’t just cracked – it was completely broken into two pieces! This is likely due to the leak in the charge air cooler. A pressure leak in the CAC can lead to excessively high exhaust gas temperature. One thing leads to another.

Broken exhaust manifold

Now we’re back in a waiting pattern. The CAC and engine coolant radiator are at the radiator shop to be re-cored. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they can repair the CAC. If all goes well there, the shop may have everything back together by Thursday – we’ll see. One good thing about being here in Albuquerque is the availability and concentration of qualified shops. There’s a lot of heavy-duty truck traffic due to I-25 and I-40 intersecting here without much else within a few hundred miles. The Albuquerque Rocky Mountain Cummins is one of 32 Cummins Coach Care Centers in the USA. They do a lot of RV work.

Tomorrow morning, Donna flies back to Albany, New York. She’s visiting her parents for a week in Bennington, Vermont. It’s pretty good timing for her – she can get out of this hotel. Meanwhile it presents a logistical dilemma for me. If the coach is ready to roll on Thursday, I need to figure out how to get all of our stuff and Ozark the cat from our hotel to the coach. I’ll come up with something and try to remain optimistic about having the work completed by then.

A Can of Worms

I mentioned in an earlier post an engine problem we began to experience in Colorado. We had an intermittent loss of boost pressure causing a reduction of power. When this happened, it set a fault code in the Engine Control Module (ECM) and the engine maintenance light in the instrument panel illuminated. I interrogated the ECM with our ScanGauge D and found a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) telling me that the intake manifold pressure wasn’t at the expected level. Due to the intermittent nature of the issue, I assumed it was a poor electrical connection or a problem with the pressure sensor.

While we were in Abiquiu, New Mexico I investigated the problem and found a crack in the exhaust manifold. This can cause a boost pressure problem. Our Cummins ISL diesel engine is turbocharged. A turbocharger is a device with two chambers in a steel housing – one chamber is fitted to the exhaust system while the other chamber is connected to the engine intake system. Each chamber has a wheel – think of it as a windmill although its shape is more complex than that.

The exhaust side is called the turbine. Hot exhaust is expelled from the combustion chamber and flows through the exhaust manifold and the turbine side of the turbocharger. This spins the turbine wheel. This wheel is mounted to a shaft that passes through the housing and is connected to the wheel on the intake side. This is the compressor wheel. The spinning turbine wheel turns the compressor wheel and the energy transferred compresses the air flowing into the engine through the intake system.

In order to burn fuel in an internal combustion engine, you need fuel and enough oxygen to combine with the fuel. The more oxygen you can pack into the combustion chamber, the more fuel you can efficiently burn and the more power you can extract from the fuel. The compressor side of the turbocharger packs more air into the engine. But there’s a catch. Compressing the air heats it and the turbocharger housing is also very hot. Hotter air is less dense than cooler air, thus negating some of the advantage of pressurizing the intake system. To counter this, most turbochargers use a type of radiator in the intake system – the hot pressurized air is directed through a cooler to reduce the air temperature and increase air density. These coolers are usually an air-to-air radiator called an intercooler or Charge Air Cooler (CAC).

The exhaust leak in our manifold was allowing the hot exhaust gasses to escape before they entered the turbine of the turbocharger. This imparted less energy to the turbine wheel and it couldn’t spin the compressor wheel at the proper speed.

Cracked exhaust manifold

I knew this had to be repaired immediately. In our case, immediately meant when we arrived in Albuquerque. Northern New Mexico is fairly remote and there wasn’t a shop closer than Albuquerque that I trusted. I was still bothered by the intermittent nature of the problem. The exhaust leak was a constant mechanical defect so why was I losing boost intermittently?

We left Los Suenos de Santa Fe RV Park around 11am on Wednesday and stopped for lunch across the street. Then we took US 14 south through the small towns of Madrid, Golden and Antonito avoiding I-25. It was a scenic and leisurely drive – there’s very little traffic and I could cruise without pushing the engine too hard.

We arrived at Rocky Mountain Cummins around 1:30pm and I checked in with their service department. I had an appointment for 7am Thursday morning. We talked about the repair and the time frame. Completing the exhaust manifold replacement in one day was doubtful. They told me I could park the coach and trailer on the street in front and hook up to their 50-amp electrical pedestal.

Donna packed a bag – she would spend the night in a nearby hotel with Ozark the cat. We walked with her suitcase, laptop bag and a couple of plastic bags with cat supplies to the Comfort Inn on 4th Avenue a few blocks away. We walked past a small park with many homeless people sleeping in the shade. We must have looked like upscale vagabonds carrying our stuff past the park. Ozark wasn’t comfortable in the hotel room – she spent most of the time hiding under the bed – she’s so accustomed to her home in the coach.

I stayed overnight in the coach – it wasn’t the best neighborhood and I didn’t want to leave the coach unattended. The Rocky Mountain Cummins shop is fully fenced in with standard chain-link and barbed wire fencing backed up with a 7,000-volt electric fence. On Thursday morning, I dropped the trailer in their fenced lot and checked in for my appointment at 7am – the coach and trailer would be secure in their fenced lot from that point. That’s when things started on a downhill spin.

They weren’t very organized at the service counter. I had talked to the woman there, Barbara, twice in the last week to make sure they had parts and were ready to do the work. She acted like she didn’t know who I was or why I was there. She wrote up the work order and I sat in the waiting area to see how things would progress. At 9am, our coach was still sitting where I parked it.

The service manager, Alvaro, was in a meeting. I asked for him and he left his meeting to talk to me. I explained the situation beginning with the appointment I made a week ago and the estimate they e-mailed me at that time. I also explained the need to get the work done so we weren’t stuck in a hotel. He apologized for the issue and told me the guy that scheduled the work and made the estimate was out of the office. He put someone on the job and work commenced.

I hung around until noon, then went to the hotel to take Donna out to lunch. Wouldn’t you know it, while I was at lunch, Barbara phoned and said Alvaro wanted to show me some issues they found with the engine. I went back to the shop. It was bad news. The charge air cooler had a leak. They pressurized the CAC and showed me where it was leaking. The CAC would have to be removed to see if the leak was repairable. Hopefully a radiator shop can repair it. If it needs to be replaced, it’s not a common part and might be difficult to find. Motorhomes use CACs designed to fit their layout, unlike a heavy duty truck that would use a common part.

The CAC is sandwiched between the coolant radiator and air conditioning condenser. It’s a big job to remove it. They also found oil in the turbocharger and thought it was damaged. I wasn’t convinced it needed replacement. Turbocharger oil seals aren’t like the rubber seals on a crankshaft for example. The shaft is sealed with steel rings, like a piston ring. Seal failure on a turbo is usually the result of a lubrication system problem – I didn’t have an issue there.

Further inspection revealed the source of the oil was the accessory air compressor on the engine. The compressor draws fresh air from the filtered intake air upstream from the turbocharger. The compressor was leaking and some oil was entering the intake system from it. The compressor would have to be replaced.

This was quickly turning into a can of worms. An expensive can of worms. I gathered a few things and spent the night at the hotel with Donna. On Friday, we checked out at noon and moved to the Hotel Elegante on Menaul – a better neighborhood. They had a special rate for Cummins employees and customers. Donna called Uber to transport herself and Ozark while I drove the Spyder. Ozark isn’t sure what to make of our new digs and mode of travel.

After checking in, we went back to the shop to get more clothes and necessities. We will be out of the coach for an undetermined amount of time at this point. While we were at the shop, I looked things over and had another nasty find.

This is where the coolant radiator and CAC normally reside at the left rear of the coach

AC condenser, CAC and coolant radiator behind the CAC

The coolant radiator had corrosion on about a quarter of the fins and the core was about to rust through. It needs to be re-cored. This is the part of the radiator closest to the rear wheels – it can’t be seen without crawling into the engine compartment from underneath and removing the fan shroud. Send more money!

Lower right corner of radiator core corroded

I’m hoping there aren’t any more bad surprises. As my friend and fellow motorhome owner, John Hinton, reminded me – I should be thankful to be getting the repairs made here in Albuquerque rather than being stuck on the side of the highway in some remote area.

Meanwhile, Donna and I are making the best of it, staying at a hotel and taking advantage of the amenities. We’ve also found a few breweries in the area – Rio Bravo, Marble and Tractor. They have great brews that are only found here in New Mexico.

I found a sign on 4th Avenue near downtown – Donna will set me free! I wish she could bail our coach out of the shop.

Better call Donna!

I’ll update our situation when I know more on Monday.

A Week in Santa Fe

It’s hard to believe our week in Santa Fe is coming to an end already. We pulled into Los Suenos de Santa Fe RV Park last Wednesday and we’ll head out tomorrow. As usual, we’ve really enjoyed our stay here. Santa Fe has a lot going for it.

When we leave here, we’ll go directly to the Rocky Mountain Cummins shop in Albuquerque to have the exhaust manifold replaced. They e-mailed an estimate for the work – $1,600. I’m guessing it’ll exceed the estimate by $400 to $500 once they get going and things happen – like studs breaking and so on.

On Saturday morning, Donna and I rode the Spyder down to the Farmers’ Market near the Railroad Park and Santa Fe Depot. The Saturday market is the largest of four markets in the area. We came early – we were there by 9am and had breakfast burritos from a vendor inside the building adjacent to the market midway. They were made with locally sourced ingredients and were very good – as was the coffee.

We walked through the market, then returned to the vendor tents that had items we wanted. Donna bought a couple of ears of corn, peaches, apples, green beans that were purple until cooked, cantaloupe, corn pisole stew mix and creamy goat cheese with hatch chile.

There were a number of street musicians performing – we really enjoyed a quartet called Lone Piñon. Donna persuaded me to buy a CD they recorded so we can listen to something different. The music we heard them play was a mix of some Gypsy Jazz sounding stuff to traditional old Mexican folk music. We haven’t listened to the CD yet. Donna is in the process of ripping all of our CDs to a hard drive.

Lone Piñon

We were parked near the train depot. As we walked back to the Spyder, we passed through a section of artisan vendor tents. Donna found a bracelet that she really liked made by a local woman who is a metalsmith. She only accepted cash or check, so I walked back to the ATM for more cash and bought it for Donna.

Bounty from the Farmers’ Market – look closely and you’ll see an ear of corn wearing Donna’s new bracelet

On Sunday morning, Donna took the Spyder to the Atalaya trail head. She looked up hikes online and decided to go for a challenging route up Atalaya Mountain.

Steeper or easier? Guess what route Donna took.

Donna parked at the trailhead and then walked about three-quarters of a mile to the start of the trail. She took the steeper route up and it took an hour and five minutes to reach the summit at 9,121 feet above sea level. The trailhead starts out at about 7,200 feet above sea level and it’s about a two mile climb. The air must have been mighty thin at the top! Another hiker at the summit took a photo of Donna with Santa Fe in the valley below.

Donna at the Atalaya Summit

I stayed home and watched the Formula One race from Singapore and NFL football. Donna came home just ahead of a thundershower. Thundershowers can appear suddenly – mostly in the afternoons or evenings here. This year they seem to happen more frequently than the last couple of years when we were here.

On Monday morning, we were back at the Genoveve Chavez Community Center for pickleball. They’ve raised their visitor fees – it’s now seven dollars a day for Donna to use the facility while I get the old guy rate (60 and over) of four dollars.

I’ll end this post with a discussion of western (cowboy) boots. If you have no interest in boots, now is the time to quit reading.

A little over a year ago Donna bought a pair of cowboy boots for me in Cheyenne, Wyoming. At the time, I knew nothing about cowboy boots. Since then, I’ve studied the subject and bought a few more boots. Cowboy boots and boot making have a fascinating history, but I won’t go into that here. Lots of info is available if you want to search the internet.

I’m most interested in boots that follow more traditional construction techniques and are essentially hand made. That’s not to say there’s no machinery involved – there are always mechanical aids used but these machines are hand operated for the most part opposed to computer-controlled robotic manufacturing used in mass market shoes.

If you’re looking for cowboy boots and find a boot that says “genuine leather lower – balance man-made materials,” you’re looking at a machine-made product that probably comes from China. On the other hand, if it’s constructed of 100% leather, then there is surely some degree of hand work steps in the process. I think it’s important to have hand work in the boots – particularly in certain steps such as lasting. A last is a form either made from wood or plastic in the shape of your foot. Pulling the vamp – the upper leather portion that covers the top of your foot – by hand allows the boot maker to adjust the tension used to match the properties of the particular piece of leather. A machine will pull the material the same way to the same tension time after time with no regard to material variances from piece to piece.

Finding boots that fit your feet is the key element to comfort. Proper fitting boots will break in and conform to your foot. The last is what determines the fit along with the care taken by the boot maker. A custom last designed around the actual measurements of your foot is the ultimate. For off-the-shelf boots, it’s a good idea to try on a few different brands of boot to find the best fit – they have small variations although they may be marked as the same size. For me, Lucchese boots fit well. If I could afford it, I would have a pair of bespoke boots made. There are several boot makers that offer this service. One of the best in my opinion is Lisa Sorrell – she builds the boot from start to finish doing all of the work herself. Her blog has videos that explain many of the steps in custom boot making. Speaking of steps, I’ve read a few different figures on how many steps are involved in the process. Lucchese says there are 120 to 130 individual steps depending on the number of embellishments in the finish. I’m not sure how the steps are defined.

There are many different leathers used. Most of the inner leather pieces – the linings, the insole, heel counter and so on – are generally made from cow hide. There are many variations and grades of cow hide. The outer sole is made from a thick piece of leather that’s been compressed to make it hard and wear resistant. The thickness was traditionally measured in irons – an iron is about half a millimeter or 0.020″. Today most leather thickness is described in ounces. Outer soles are 12 oz or more. The insoles are also thick but not as hard as the outer. It was surprising to me to find that the layers of leather used means that I’m standing on nearly half an inch of leather under the sole of my foot – not the heel but under my forefoot.

The vamp and the shaft (the part that is vertical around the calf) are the visible parts of the boot and set the character. The materials used come from a wide variety of sources. The most common leather is some form of cow hide. By the way, leather is a generic term for a hide that’s been processed or tanned to enhance strength, suppleness and durability for its intended use. In boots, the leather is vegetable tanned. Cow hide is just that – the skin of a cow until it’s tanned and becomes leather.

Likewise, exotic leathers are tanned from the hide of different animals. One of the best leathers in my opinion for the outer boot is ostrich. Ostrich is soft to touch, very supple yet also strong and durable. It also doesn’t scuff easily. Where do ostrich hides come from? They are taken from farm-raised ostriches – mostly in South Africa although there are some ostrich farms in the USA. In some parts of the world, farming ostrich is viewed no differently than farming turkeys here in the USA. The birds are raised, then processed for their meat and the hides are used for leather.

Alligator and crocodile are also fairly common exotic leathers used for boots and fashion accessories such as purses or handbags and belts. American alligator is the most prized. It’s supple and beautifully patterned. It’s also very pricey. Alligators are also farmed but some are sourced from controlled, legal hunting in the southeastern US. Alligator hides are a limited resource and not as common as crocodile. Crocodile can be either Nile crocodile or caiman. Caiman crocodiles are farm raised in Central and South America. Columbia has a large caiman industry and I’ve read that about 600,000 caiman hides are sourced from there annually. Caimans are farmed for meat and hides. Caiman is a food source in many parts of the world including Central and South America and Asia. Caiman hides are stiffer than alligator but can be made into fine boots.

My progression in the world of boots went like this:

August 2016 – Newby with no knowledge of boots, I received these boots as a gift and started my boot obsession.

Ariat machine-made cow hide boots

September 2016 – My first hand crafted boots – Lucchese smooth quill ostrich.

Lucchese hand-crafted smooth quill ostrich lowers, cow hide shafts

October 2016 – Lucchese with taller heels and higher quality leathers – full quill ostrich.

Lucchese full quill ostrich lowers, calfskin shafts

September 2017 – Lucchese caiman crocodile vamp, ostrich heel counter cover, calfskin shafts

I’m sure that’s more than most of you wanted to hear about boots. I love ’em and I’m certain I’ll have my Lucchese boots for the rest of my life.

We have clear skies and pleasant weather today. The high should reach the upper 70s and the forecast says 0% chance of rain today or tomorrow. We’ll pack up tomorrow morning and leave as close to the 11am check out time as possible before heading to the shop in Albuquerque. Albuquerque looks to be much warmer – highs in the upper 80s.

 

High Passes and Quiet Night

With the rest of the Hearts A’Fire team heading for home Monday, Donna and I decided to spend one more night at the Hotel Elegante in Colorado Springs. Donna was able to get some laundry done in the hotel while I walked over to the convenience store and bought some drinking water.

On my way to the store, I saw a couple of interesting coaches in the hotel parking lot. They were Prevost custom conversions. I could tell they were entertainer buses – presumably a band traveling through the area had stopped for the night at the hotel. I could tell these were entertainer tour buses by the small lettering on the side indicating they were leased from Roberts Brothers in Springfield, Tennessee – a well-known provider of entertainer buses.

Entertainer tour bus

I wondered who it was, but wasn’t curious enough to find out. At the store, the local newspaper caught my eye. On the front page was a photo from the Labor Day Lift Off balloon event featuring Hearts A’Fire taking off from the park.

Front page of the Gazette

On Tuesday morning, we packed up and headed a few miles north to the Elks Lodge. Our plan was to spend one night dry camping at the lodge so we could use their dump station to flush out our holding tanks and refill the fresh water tank before leaving town. We also used the opportunity to do some grocery shopping and pick up some items Donna had delivered to the Sierra Trading Post store.

While we were at it, we decided to visit Bristol Brewing, a local brewery with an interesting location. They’re in an old schoolhouse. One half of the schoolhouse has boutique shops and a coffee shop/bakery while the other wing houses the brewery and pub.

Shops on the left, Bristol Brewing in the right wing

Red Rocket ale

Donna and I returned to the coach to plan our next move. We enjoyed a stay at Eagle Nest Lake in northern New Mexico last year but decided we wanted to explore new territory this year. Donna wanted to go to Abiquiu (Abbi-cue). We decided to head to Alamosa, Colorado across the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, then south into New Mexico.

Our trip down I-25 started off with a bang. We were driving along and went through an underpass. Just as we went through, a high-cube rental truck passed us on the left. I heard a loud boom – almost like a gun shot. I checked my mirrors and saw gray smoke on the left side of the trailer. I pulled off on the exit ramp and stopped on the shoulder – I thought we had blown a trailer tire. I went to investigate but didn’t find anything amiss. I guess the sound and smoke came from the truck overtaking us.

The turbocharger on our engine was still giving me problems. The engine control module (ECM) was intermittently losing the signal from the manifold pressure sensor. When this would happen, the turbo no longer provided boost pressure and there was a power loss. Also, the Jake brake would quit working whenever we lost the boost. I knew the problem was in the wiring harness at the ECM. I had taped up the harness for better support while we were at the Elks lodge. I checked the harness and repositioned it while we were stopped. This issue would continue to plague us on the trip to New Mexico.

We left I-25 near Walsenburg and headed west on US160. This took us through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains over La Veta Pass at an elevation of 9,426 feet above sea level. Wouldn’t you know it – I lost boost pressure on the climb up the pass and had to gear down to third to pull the grade. There was a Newmar Dutch Star motorhome traveling the same route that must have had engine trouble too – we overtook him on the climb.

We stopped in Alamosa and had a Subway sandwich for lunch. Donna looked up a couple of boondocking opportunities on the route to Abiquiu. Apparently we hadn’t communicated clearly on the route. I intended to head south on US285 from Alamosa into New Mexico. Donna had us heading west on US17 which curves south into New Mexico.

We punched the first boondocking possibility into the GPS and I happily followed the directions. It was near Manassa, Colorado and I felt like it was a bit early to stop and wanted to continue on. The next place Donna had identified was in New Mexico – about five miles across the border near Chama. We programmed that stop and I didn’t give it another thought. When we came through Antonito, I followed SR17 instead of US285 without thinking about it.

This took us over the San Juan Mountains into New Mexico. We had to climb up to La Manga Pass – this was the steepest grade we have ever encountered. Luckily our turbocharger was cooperating and I had the power needed for the climb. La Manga Pass tops out at 10,230 feet above sea level. We wouldn’t have made it without turbo boost. After a short descent we climbed Cumbres Pass at an elevation of 10,022 feet above sea level.

From there, it was downhill into New Mexico and we found a paved pull-out that was level and stopped there. It’s a mile and half from the small town of Chama across from a paved landing strip. It’s in beautiful surroundings and there’s very little traffic on SR17. We’re at an elevation of 7,966 feet above sea level.

Donna went out for a walk. She didn’t to go far, but she heard a train whistle and saw a sign for the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad indicating it was one mile away so she kept walking. She took a few photos along the way – they’re at the bottom of this post. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad runs on narrow gauge tracks between Chama and Antonito. This historic railroad still uses coal-fired steam-powered engines. The track runs just to the west of our boondocking spot. We heard the train pass by, but it doesn’t run at night. This place is so peaceful and quiet – a welcome respite from the time recently spent in cities. I took a couple of photos before sunset – I stood on our door steps for these shots.

Door step view

I watched the US Open Tennis tournament on TV – I’ve been following it – while Donna prepared cod in parchment paper with asparagus, butter, tarragon and fresh squeezed orange juice. Just because were boondocking doesn’t mean we can’t eat well!

Cod cooked in parchment paper with asparagus, tarragon, butter and fresh squeezed orange juice

Today we’ll move on down to Abiquiu. The weather forecast looks good with highs in the 80s and cool nights in the upper 50s. We may have a stray thunder shower or two, but no big storms expected.

Here are photos from Donna’s walk…

Rio Chama River

Check out the sign!

Chama train station

Narrow gauge railroad track

Always Trouble in Threes

It seems like there’s always something that needs doing when your house is on wheels. In reality, there was always something that needed doing when we lived in a sticks-and-bricks house too. Then there’s the old adage about trouble coming in threes. It might fit here.

A few days ago Donna opened one of the overhead cabinets in our living room. The doors are rectangular with the horizontal dimension being the longest. The doors have struts on either end that are spring loaded and through clever geometry they hold the door in the closed position. But when you raise the door open, the spring-loaded strut goes over-center and now it props the door open.

Well, when Donna opened the cabinet door one of the struts popped off. The pivot on the strut arm connects to the mounting tab with a small rivet. The rivet had worn through and popped off. The door wouldn’t stay open as only one strut didn’t have enough force to keep it open. Luckily I keep pop-rivets and a rivet tool on hand. Rivets are handy in many situations such as times when you can’t get to the back side of a fastener to put a nut on a bolt or when clearance is limited, which was the case here.

I unscrewed the other end of the strut and took it off the cabinet. Then I knocked the remains of the old rivet out with a punch and screwed the strut back in place. From there, it was simple matter of inserting the correct size pop-rivet and using the tool to pull the rivet mandrel until it popped off and the rivet was swaged in place.

Proper size pop-rivet in place in the pivot

Installation complete

Every tool box should should have an assortment of pop-rivets and an installation tool. I bought my tool at Harbor Freight. It has four interchangeable heads to accommodate various size rivets. It was inexpensive – I think I paid $20 or $30 for it and it’s come in handy many times.

We pulled out of our site at the Boulder County Fairgrounds around 9:30am Thursday morning – checkout time is 10am. Driving a big rig through this RV park is interesting to say the least. The roadways are narrow with tight turns and the trees need trimming. I managed to circumnavigate the park, exit and cross the street where I made a loop through the fairgrounds arena lot and lined up with the RV park dump station. We were on our way by 10am.

Driving east on the Diagonal Highway (CO119), I noticed we had a problem. My Jacobs Engineering Engine Compression (Jake) brake wasn’t working. Then I noticed the Engine Maitenance light – equivalent to a Check Engine light on a car – was illuminated. It wasn’t flashing so I wasn’t too worried about it. Once we got on I-25, I realized I had no turbocharger boost. So, we were down on power and I had no Jake brake.

I pulled over and shut off the engine. I restarted and the light stayed on. I interrogated the system and found a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) of 102 2. I didn’t know what that meant but felt no harm was being done and we were okay to proceed – albeit down on power and relying on service brakes only. We ran the gauntlet through Denver and continued south on our way to Colorado Springs.

South of Denver, past Castle Rock, it becomes hilly. We were mostly climbing but had a few downgrades. I had to approach the downgrades like I would in our old gasoline-powered coach – watch my speed and be careful not to overheat the service brakes. On the climbs, I did my best to keep the RPMs up and managed to maintain at least 55mph. As the hills became steeper, the turbocharger suddenly started working. We had power and the Jake brake was back in business too. The failure of both components was obviously related.

It couldn’t have started working at a better time. We crossed the summit north of Monument at 7,352 feet above sea level, then descended to Colorado Springs at an elevation of about 6,000 feet above sea level. Having the turbo boost for the climb to the summit and the Jake brake coming down was a relief. We found the Hotel Elegante and parked in the same spot we occupied last year.

Our dry camp at Hotel Elegante

Donna checked us in and found the rate was more reasonable than last year. Dry camping was $15/night and included the hotel amenities – like the swimming pool, laundry room and rest rooms.

I looked up the DTC 102 2 and found it meant there was an erratic signal from the intake manifold pressure sensor. With an implausible signal, the Engine Control Module (ECM) opened the wastegate on the Holset Turbocharger to bleed off all boost and we were running without turbo boost – this also disabled the Jake brake. Apparently we have a poor electrical connection somewhere between the pressure sensor and the ECM. This will probably be very difficult to find – especially since it’s intermittent and decided to start working fine again. I’ll start digging around – we’ll need all the boost we can get and the Jake brake too as we cross mountain ranges into New Mexico next week.

Later, I was dialing the satellite TV in when I noticed our house batteries were low – below 12 volts! I try to never let them go below 12.2-volts or 50% capacity as this will shorten their service life. It was puzzling. I had the inverter on since about 9:30am, but we can usually run the inverter for 14 hours or more without having to recharge. I started the generator to recharge the batteries. I let it run for a couple of hours before we went to bed.

This morning, I was up at 6am. I found our house batteries down to 12-volts again. I started the generator and saw it was only charging the battery bank at a rate of 50 amps. I would have expected to see a full 100 amp charge for the depleted batteries. I went out to check the battery bank and found we have a couple of corroded connections that are causing excessive resistance. I’ll have to find a shop with new cable end connectors and repair it ASAP. That was strike three.

We expect our friends Brad and Jessica Rice and family to arrive later this afternoon. We’re looking forward to seeing them again and also to a weekend of hot air balloon fun at the Labor Day Lift-Off! The forecast looks great for the weekend – temperatures in the mid to upper 80s in the afternoons – the mornings will be cool with temperatures in the low 70s – perfect for ballooning with clear skies and winds under 10mph.

 

***UPDATE – I just rechecked my house battery bank. The batteries weren’t discharged excessively. A loose connector was causing a voltage drop and that was what I was reading. I tightened all connectors and it’s reading 12.5V and when I turned on the generator it hit them with a 100 amp charge. All is good.