Category Archives: New Mexico

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!

 

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.

 

Sometimes I’m Crazy Like That

We pulled out of White Rock, New Mexico a little past 10am Wednesday morning. It was a surprisingly quiet night there – the Visitor Center is right on the main drag near the geographic center of the small town. However, the traffic heading out of town to the southwest past the Visitor Center is almost all going to Bandelier National Monument. There’s no real reason to head out that way after dark, so traffic falls off to next to nothing.

We made the 40-mile drive to Santa Fe and arrived in familiar surroundings by 11:30am. We pulled into the Los Suenos de Santa Fe RV park on Cerrillos Road where we’ve stayed the previous two years. We were assigned to site 93 on the south end of the small RV park. This puts us about as far from the road and traffic noise as we can get, so it’s a good site. We’ve learned through experience not to enter the pull-through sites in the “normal’ fashion – that is, entering from the rear and pulling through. The sites here are relatively narrow and the management has placed bright yellow concrete barriers shaped like barrels at the back of the sites. These barriers can be difficult to maneuver past, especially if you’re pulling a trailer or vehicle behind the coach.

We made the loop around to the front of the site and backed in. It’s much easier as the front of the sites have no barriers and plenty of room to maneuver. Then we found a new twist that affects the sites on the south end of the park. The fresh water spigot and sewer connector are located at the far back end of the site. With our trailer, our water and sewer lines had to extend about 45 feet to reach the hook-ups. This wasn’t a problem for the fresh water – I have plenty of hose. But the sewer line was a different story. In four years on the road, I’ve never needed more than 30 feet of sewer hose. I had to go to Walmart and buy hose extensions to hook up.

Meanwhile Donna was at her computer working on some proposals. She finished up and we went out around 4pm to stop in at Duel Brewery. Duel is a unique experience – they specialize in Belgian-inspired beers and a European style food experience. We haven’t eaten there, only tried a few of their brews. The Santa Fe location has a fairly small bar and is served by a small 10-barrel brewing system. They don’t distribute their beers – if you want Duel, you’ll have to visit Santa Fe or their Albuquerque location. Their beers are fairly strong for the most part and all of them have unique flavors. I’ve found all of the beers I’ve tried there to be very good. Donna and I each ordered a sampler flight and enjoyed them.

Thursday morning we rode the Spyder downtown to walk around the plaza area. This is where most tourists end up in Santa Fe. The plaza often has events and entertainment and the surrounding area is full of upscale boutique shops and a few historical buildings.

We window shopped, then I suggested we go into the Lucchese Bootmaker shop for a look around. I knew it was dangerous thing for me to do. I’ve been wanting to get a pair of crocodile western boots for about a year. And wouldn’t you know it, I found a pair black cherry boots with crocodile belly vamps (the part that covers the top of your foot) and ostrich heel counters and shafts (the part that goes up your calf). They had my size and I tried them on. I couldn’t resist and bought them. As my friend Keith Burk would say – sometimes I’m crazy like that.

Lucchese crocodile boots

I figure I’ll be 61 years old in a few weeks. I deserve a splurge every now and then. Life’s short, enjoy the ride, right?

While we were at Duel the day before, we inquired about the best green chile cheeseburger in town. We were directed to Cowgirl, a bar and grill on Guadalupe Street about a half mile from the plaza. It was overcast and few rain drops began to fall, so we decided to leave the plaza and stop for lunch at Cowgirl.

They bill themselves as serving “New Style Comfort Food.” We found an item on the menu called “The Mother of All Green Chile Cheeseburgers.” Here’s the description from their menu:

Our secret blend of all-natural beef, local buffalo and applewood smoked bacon, grilled to your liking and served in a cheddar/green chile bun with melted brie, truffled green chile, a slice of heirloom tomato and some hand cut truffle fries – Just ask for “Mother!”

It was obviously a large burger and priced at $15. Donna and I split one – it wasn’t an unusual request to split the order apparently. It was the best burger I’ve ever tasted. The blend of beef and buffalo ground with bacon made a tasty blend that wasn’t the slightest bit greasy yet wasn’t as dry as buffalo burgers can sometimes be. The brie and green chile with truffle oil was out of this world good!

The Mother of All Green Chile Cheeseburgers

We beat the rain home. Donna later walked to Sprouts and picked up a few groceries. If the market is less than two miles away, she often likes to walk and shop. I started the break-in process on my new boots after treating them with Bick’s leather conditioner. Crocodile leather isn’t as supple as ostrich and the break-in takes some time.

I watched the Thursday Night Football game then went to bed for a quiet night’s rest. This morning we headed out at 8am to the Genoveva Chavez Community Center for pickleball. We spent about three hours there. I haven’t played since we were in Coarsegold – about three months ago. It was good to be back on the court and knock some of the rust off. We’ll go back on Monday.

Tomorrow we plan to head over to the Farmers’ Market down by the Santa Fe Railroad Park. We always enjoy our visits to Santa Fe. Donna wants to get some bicycle riding in over the weekend. I don’t have any plans other than the market and of course watching the Formula One race from Singapore and some NFL action.