I closed my last post saying we were waiting for Coach-Net Roadside Assistance to send a tow truck Wednesday morning. They were on top of it – they called me to first say they had found a qualified shop for the repair. Later they called and told me a tow truck was dispatched and should arrive in about 90 minutes. Actually two trucks were coming – one for the coach and one for the trailer.
The tow truck driver phoned and said he was delayed slightly and would be about 30 minutes late. They showed up and set to work. First I had to unhook the trailer, then I needed to get the coach turned around. The road had curves coming from both directions, so they stationed their trucks with emergency lights flashing in the road, blocking traffic from either direction while I turned us around.
The tow truck for the coach was a big heavy-duty Peterbilt. Once they had the front wheels secured in the cradles and lifted to the coach, they had to get underneath to disconnect the drive shaft. You can’t tow with the rear wheels down with the shaft connected. If you do, the transmission output shaft will spin but it won’t be lubricated because the pump works off of the input shaft which only turns when the engine is running.
On the tow truck – the guys are disconnecting the drive shaft
It was a long, slow ride to Binghamton. We retraced our route for several miles, then got on I-81. Traveling on highway 206, we came down some of the grades we climbed the day before. I rode with the driver in the big tow truck while Donna rode in the pickup truck towing our trailer. Ozark the cat stayed in the coach in her crate. Later, I told Donna she was lucky to ride in the comfort of the pickup truck. The Peterbilt tow truck rode rough and the big Caterpillar engine was so noisy, it was hard to carry on any conversation. The jake brake on that thing rattled my eardrums.
The nice thing about roadside assistance is they find the provider and pay for the tow. This was a very expensive tow since we were so far out in the countryside. I won’t complain about paying the annual Coach-Net membership fee – they covered the bill to the tune of $1900. It was $1300 for the coach and $600 for the trailer!
Coach-Net determines who the nearest qualified shop is and that’s where they take you. If you want to go somewhere else, get your wallet out. They took us to Stadium International in Binghamton. I went inside and met Dave, our service guy. It didn’t go too well. Right off the bat, he said he couldn’t look at our coach until Friday, possibly Thursday. He advised me to rent a car and find a hotel. Not what I wanted to hear. The bad thing about roadside assistance is they choose the nearest qualified shop!
After a while I talked to another guy, Richard. He runs the night shift – they’re open until midnight. He agreed to order the hydraulic oil filters – I asked if they could change those first as it may solve the problem and it’s not a difficult or time-consuming task.
Donna found us a room at the Red Roof Inn. One of the go-fers from the shop drove her there with Ozark the cat and all of the stuff we thought we would need for the next few days. I followed on the Spyder. At the hotel, we met an interesting bunch of guys that had been staying there Monday through Friday for the last five years! They’re part of a construction crew working on the interstate bridge project and have a couple more years to go before completion.
The shop got the filters and they set about changing them Thursday morning. The mechanic was unfamiliar with the system and I had to tell him where the filters are located – they’re in the bottom of the fluid reservoir.
After filter change, I was out of luck. The fan still didn’t operate correctly. The service guy, Dave, said they could diagnose further, but he wouldn’t be able to get to it until next Tuesday! I explained to him that if we needed parts, such as a hydraulic motor for the fan, they were difficult to find. I found a place in England called White House Products, LTD that had seven units in stock. For a fee, they could have them here in three business days. That meant that if we had to wait until Tuesday to see if that’s what I needed, it would be a full week before we had our hands on the part. He said I could take it up with Jim. I asked who Jim was and he said he was the manager.
I had a short meeting with Jim. He was non-committal, but said he would see what he could work out. I left before noon. Later I rode the Spyder back to the shop – I had forgotten my blood pressure meds. Jim told me they found the problem. He said the thermostat for the fan located in the radiator was bad and he didn’t think he could find one. I knew what he was talking about – I told him it was called a wax valve and I thought I might be able to find one online.
The wax valve in this system controls the fan speed without the use of electronic controls. It’s strictly a mechanical system and usually very reliable. The hydraulic fluid flows through an orifice in the wax valve. There’s a tapered rod with a piston on the end inside the valve – shaped somewhat like a nail with a thick head. The piston resides in a cylinder filled with wax in a closed chamber. A spring on the opposite side forces the piston against the wax. In this position, the orifice is open and fluid bypasses the fan motor through the wax valve.
When the wax valve is heated by the coolant, the wax begins to melt and expand. It pushes the piston forcing the tapered needle into the orifice. As the orifice becomes restricted, it bypasses less and more fluid flows through the fan motor and it speeds up. When the orifice is completely closed, the fan is running at high speed.
Around 2005 or 2006, most motorhome manufacturers went away from this simple and usually reliable system and went to an electrical/mechanical valve with an electronic controller. These have proven to be troublesome.
Back to my story. I searched online and found the wax valve was back ordered at White House Products, LTD. They had 55 units coming, but couldn’t say for sure when they would have them. I contacted another place in Oregon called Source Engineering. They sell a kit for Monaco coaches to retrofit the newer electronic system back to the wax valve system when it inevitably fails. He had kits and told me he could probably supply a valve in a week or two. His recommendation was to disconnect the hydraulic lines from the valve and cap them, stopping all bypass flow and the fan would run on high speed continuously.
I knew this would work, but I wondered if we would run too cool on level roads when the load wasn’t very high. Of course the coolant thermostat wouldn’t open until the coolant hit 180 degrees, so theoretically we should run at least 180 degrees which is acceptable.
I relayed this information to Jim at Stadium International. He agreed that capping the lines would work. He said that was how they determined for sure the wax valve was bad – they capped the lines temporarily and the fan ran at high speed. He used brass fittings for this and said if he was going to send me down the road with a makeshift repair, he had to find stainless steel fittings because he didn’t think the brass would hold up. I asked him to go ahead and he said he would have it done by noon.
Meanwhile, Donna’s sister had to go to Albany for a meeting on Thursday. She offered to drive down to Binghamton and take her to Bennington, Vermont to their parents’ house. We were thinking at that time that we were looking at a full week or more in the hotel room. I figured there was no need for us both to share that misery. But then, it looked like I could be on the road Friday afternoon. This left me with a logistical problem. I had more stuff in the hotel room than I could transport on the Spyder.
I talked to the hotel owner and settled on a late checkout time of 2pm. I figured I would take what I could on the Spyder and once the coach was ready, drive it back to the hotel to load Ozark the cat and her litter box along with my suitcase.
It turned out the coach wasn’t done at noon. They had trouble finding the fittings needed, but they had them around 12:30pm and were working on it. Dave helped me solve the hotel dilemma. He had their go-fer drive me to the hotel in their parts van and I loaded everything from the room right at 2pm and he drove me back.
They had finished the work by then. I had already loaded the Spyder in the trailer and transferred the stuff from the van. Dave told me I should take the coach for a test drive while he finished the paperwork. I knew it would be fine – the fan kicked in at high speed as soon as I started it up. I drove it and the coolant temperature hit 182 degrees and held. There were no leaks. I was good to go.
I headed out around 3pm. The traffic wasn’t bad but the road surface on I-88 in New York is atrocious. When I hit Albany, the traffic thickened. Going through Troy was bumper-to-bumper misery. The coolant temperature stayed cool the whole way. On a long grade near Central Bridge, it only went up to 184 degrees. It was a cool day, but I think even on a hot day, I won’t see over 190 degrees. As soon as I can, I’ll get a new wax valve and complete the repair myself.
I pulled into the yard at Donna’s parents house around 7pm. I was exhausted. Her parents, Duke and Lorraine, have three acres just outside of Old Bennington, Vermont. We’ll moochdock in their yard. I have to change out our house batteries here, but that’s a story for another time.