Archive for the ‘Arizona’ Category

On the road again…

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As we were packing up this morning a juvenile bobcat in search of its mother was crying in the back yard. I managed to snap a few pics:



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Tucson Recap…

For the record; repairs, modifications, acquisitions, and purchases in Tucson were:

  • 1 marine hatch AC unit custom installed
  • refrigerator baffles and vents
  • 1 map light fixture
  • 2 solenoids
  • 1 alternator
  • 4 battery cables
  • 1 battery
  • 1 battery box
  • 1 starter
  • 1 u-joint
  • 1 fan clutch
  • 1 thermostat
  • 1 temperature sending unit, that was then taken out in favor of
  • 1 capillary temperature gauge
  • shower rerouted
  • steps tightened
  • storage box added
  • mosquito netting for the awning
  • shade cloth for the awning, back door and underneath
  • 1 makeshift cover for the generator
  • a lot more bug spray
  • 1 Boltz Junior High School plastic mug
  • and 1 sprained ankle

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Still in Tucson

The AC unit install hasn’t gone as smoothly as we had hoped. We ended up taking the unit to Merrigan’s Arizona Road Runner RV. Its about a 20 minute drive from the house and over and hour by bike.

When I dropped off the van there was lots of figuring and measuring. More figuring and measuring and then Kevin (the lead tech) just started taking the unit apart. The AC isn’t designed for a van or even an RV. It is designed for a docked boat to sit in the hatch. It doesn’t have any mounting holes or bolts or brackets. Totally custom. It was supposed to be done yesterday morning. Then yesterday afternoon. Then this morning. Still nothing. Apparently all the snow birds are returning to Tucson to their summer-neglected RVs with all kinds of emergencies for the guys at Merrigan’s. Last I heard they were notching out the plastic in the unit so that it would sit flush within the ribs on the roof.

It is probably just as well as Natalie’s ankle is finally healing… but still flashing some pretty colors!

In the meantime we are doing lots of this:

And this:

Because, when the mountains turn pink, its time to drink. Or so we’ve been told!

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The first thing that Ron said to me this morning was “Do you think the van will start two times in a row?”

Shortly after finishing my last post with Thus I wait for a full recharge at Checker and twiddle my thumbs waiting for Fedex to deliver my AC unit to the marina, I drove up to pick up said AC unit. After loading it in the van I called “Chuck the Installer” and told him I was headed over. Turned the ignition and click, click, nada. The boat mechanics Marc and Shawn came out to give me a hand. They turned the key while I wacked away at the starter with a hammer. Still nothing. They went to work diagnosing the problem. I called Brad from Master Tek auto and he cruised up the street on his Harley to survey the damage as well. The problem was obvious. My negative ground battery cables (yes there were two of them for you grease monkeys; a block and a body ground) were frayed and shorted. Brad said he would stay but that it was a two-man job if I was willing to help. I called Chuck and told him we’d shoot for tomorrow and Shawn the boat mechanic towed me down to Brad’s shop.

Enter Arizona monsoons… I spent the next three hours feeding batter cable through the van chassis in three inches of water because the van doesn’t fit in the garage. Soaked to the bone, greasy and tired, I fired up the ignition. It chortled and sputtered but fired up. Success. I drove it home optimistic that tomorrow we’d have a AC unit and be on the road Monday morning.

We made plans with the Talbot’s neighbors David and Vicki to have breakfast at a local BBQ spot before my 9:30 appointment for AC install. I replied to Ron’s question “of course”, I was pretty confident considering my fairly lengthy auto mechanic training the day before. I strolled out to the van and turned the key, it chortled and sputtered again but fired up. We arrived at Bubb’s World Champion BBQ where the busboy promptly spilled an entire tray of ice water down my back. After a delicious meal I jumped back in the van to head off to AC install and… click, click, super-nada. Thanks for the jinx Ron.

There wasn’t much left in the electrical department to fix. I was totally convinced that it wasn’t the starter since I had just put one in three months prior. So the Talbots and Natalie jumped in with David and Vicki for a ride home and graciously left me their van for auto-parts runs. I decided that the other solenoid was the only thing left to change and that it must be bad. Off to Checker I go.

I figured that if anyone said anything about me doing auto maintenance in the BBQ parking lot I’d just bring up that whole ice water thing and I’d be good to go. A few customers inquired about what I was doing and one even offered to help but that was about it. Got the solenoid in, cables back in order and super-duper-nada. OMFG. The damn starter was the only thing left. I pulled the old one out and made my seventeenth billion trip back to the Tucson Checker on Oracle Road. By this time I know every employee in the store and the cute check-out girl doesn’t believe that I actually have a problem; pretty sure she thinks I’m making up excuses to come and flirt with her some more.

Bench test the starter and sure enough… POS. I open the box for the new one and printed in big bold letters are:

It is highly recommended that you replace the solenoid when replacing the starter.


It is highly recommended that you check all cables for possible shorts or frays. Shorted cables can cause repeating problems with starters or alternators.

Um, yeah. Fairly obvious but… shit. So I replace the starter. Turn the ignition and bam, she roars to life with about half a turn. Jan plays shuttle driver with me and wants to hear it start before she drives off. I show off the van’s new tricks, “Ooh, that does sound good.” We came to Tucson almost a week ago with the primary goal of getting an air conditioner. Maybe mañana.

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Tucson has been a significant challenge. It has challenged our patience, our determination, my automotive mechanical skill, and our tolerance for 100+ degree desert heat. Two days of visiting every RV shop in town left me discouraged and bleary eyed at the prospects of finding an air conditioning unit that would fit on the van. At one point we were contemplating cutting the front of the rack off so the RV style units would fit or putting a home window unit sticking out the back window… both fairly undesirable.

Fortunately the wonderful ladies, Mel Steele and her trusty sidekick Jackie, at Catalina Marina (yes a marina in Tucson – weird I know), found me a boat hatch unit that will fit on top in front of the rack. It isn’t designed to be permanently attached to anything so the install is going to take some serious custom MacGyver-ing; silicone caulk, duct tape, WD-40, are all anticipated. All the RV shops that would do a custom install won’t be able to look at it until next week sometime. Luckily, Mel knows a guy who used to work for one of the local RV dealers as a repairman and installer. He was looking for some side work so I am meeting up with “Chuck” later this afternoon to cut a hole in the roof of the van!!! The most ironic thing is that the unit is getting shipped from San Diego for us.

At the moment I am sitting in Krispy Kreme (free wifi!) drinking an orange juice and waiting for Checker auto parts to top off the batteries. We had solved the overheating issues by replacing the thermostat and the fan clutch. The u-joint issue was another matter all together. It turns out that the original Mexican mechanic in Ensenada had installed the u-joint out of phase with the rear one.

In addition the rear u-joint was binding a bit, which probably caused the original one to break in the first place. So now we have two new u-joints installed in phase (thanks to Brad at Master Tek) and a spare one in the glove. In the midst of all the errand running the batteries started to fail. We’d been having problems with the house battery (which runs the lights and fans and such) but not the main starter battery. There was no way that two brand new Interstate deep-cycle marine batteries were failing at the same time. Wasn’t possible. It had to be something else.

I went to Checker and used the electrical diagnostic. The house battery was low but health was good, same with the starter. The charging was bad, alternator. The 86 Ford e350 could have had about 5 different alternators depending on the configuration. The very patient Checker employee and I played “guess and check” for about 40 minutes until I had the right one.

This morning, using some borrowed tools from our amazingly gracious hosts (the aforementioned Ron and Jan Talbot) I attempted to change the alternator. I’m not much of a mechanic but I changed my first alternator at 16 so surely I could swap this baby out. I didn’t get very far, not far at all: I couldn’t even get the bolts off. So I drove her back down to the mechanic. Turns out he couldn’t get the rusted bolts off either and had to cut the bottom one off. I wouldn’t have been able to fix it anyway since it required changing the pulleys and the center bolt required a special wrench.

Thus I wait for a full recharge at Checker and twiddle my thumbs waiting for Fedex to deliver my AC unit to the marina. A few minor modifications (I figure that we’ll have to make one last trip to Home Depot and reroute the shower a bit) and with any luck we’ll be off in the morning. Cross your fingers!

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