Archive | April, 2012

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley!

5 Apr


I’m sure most of you have heard this expression before. It originates from a poem by Robbie Burns, written in 1785 and basically translates in to, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Well, I have to say that Richard and I have experienced this with a vengeance.


We spent last week preparing to head back to Canada. We packed up the last of our things, fueled up the Grummy, purchased those Mexican food items that we always like to take with us, said our goodbyes around one last campfire, then on Thursday morning we hit the road!


The vehicle on the right is Grummy, our home and original transport and the vehicle on the left, the Suzuki is what we drove home in!

We’d only just got up to speed on the highway when there came  a not very nice tinkling sound.  The last time this sound was heard, it took us 6 weeks to overcome the problem.


Now, I need to give you a little background here. Grummy was a potato chip delivery truck in her previous life and as such she was a motor conversion. The original owners, Frito Lay Inc. created hundreds of these vehicles. They were designed to carry large volumes of product that weighed very little and to do deliverys in cities, so lots of starts and stops, hence the attachment of an automatic transmission to the 4 cylinder Cummins diesel, which was originally built as a standard. This conversion necessitated a part called a flex plate that sits between the engine and transmission where the flywheel would normally have been.


Our second year on the road, we broke the flex plate. At first Richard didn’t know what the problem was and it took him nearly 2 weeks of taking various bits apart to discover what was wrong. Then once he’d uncovered the broken plate we figured no problem, we’ll just order up another one, find a mechanic to fix it and we’ll be on our way! HAH! Talk about naive! First off, no mechanic on Vancouver Island was interested in having anything to do with it, which meant whatever we did, Richard was going to have to do it all himself. Secondly, the flex plate was apparently a fairly rare beast.


Eventually we found a source for this unusual part, in Illinois, through a Cummins dealer in Brentwood Bay. The number was read off the old part, an order was put through and we were told, “a week”. A week went by and sure enough a package came, but it didn’t weigh enough. When it was opened, there was the toothed gear ring but not the plate that the gear was supposed to be attached to. Off it went back to the supplier, with a description and measurements of the actual part. “It’ll take a week,” we were told again. Sure enough a week later a bigger, heavier box arrived and….oh happy day, it WAS the right part!


But wait… something wasn’t quite right, the ring gear faced the wrong way and since it was welded to the plate it was no good to us. So off Richard went again to the Cummins dealer, where they decided that the plate had been welded wrong and would be shipped back. Another new one would be shipped out in its place and it would take another week!


The next week a box arrived and it too had a new flex plate in it and it too had a gear ring welded on backwards. Back to the Cummins dealer Richard went and this time the parts manager called the parts supplier and got the manager to go out to the warehouse and look at the parts. Lo and behold, they were all welded on backwards! CRAP! Okay time to step back and rethink the problem. We had a new flex plate but the gear ring was on backwards, so eventually it occurred to us to go to a machine shop, have the ring cut off, turned around and welded back the right way round. SUCCESS!


Another couple of weeks to put everything together and we were finally on the road and headed for Baja.


…and now, back to our most recent adventures!


After our initial, “What the hell was that?” Which is a game we seem to play every time the Grummy makes a previously unheard sound, Richard realized we had heard this one before. We stopped at the Mirador and Richard took a look, knowing full well what the problem was, then we immediately drove to Reuben Montoya’s shop, just before the airport road.


Reuben knew what it was too and spent the next 8 hours disassembling the transmission, pulling the old plate out, welding it back together, then reassembling everything.

At 4PM we were on our way again with fingers well and truly crossed. We made it to the last bridge before Loreto, when we either ran over some gravel that got tossed up into the engine compartment OR the plate was coming apart again, because we heard that familiar tinkling sound once more. We continued on till just north of town when, stressed to the max, we pulled over to the side of the road, drank a couple of beer and decided to spend the night and think about it before continuing on our journey.


After a virtually sleepless night, we decided that it would be stupid to continue on in a vehicle that we didn’t trust and if we broke down on the side of the road we were well and truly screwed! So we turned around and headed back to Juncalito, where for the first time we met Manuela and arrangements were made to park the van there for the time being, while we headed home in our tow car, a 1992 Suzuki Sidekick, that Richard had just rebuilt the motor in.


The idea was that we would get home quickly, find a new part, Richard would fly down with it, replace the unreliable one, then drive the Grummy back home since it really is our home. We grabbed as much stuff as we figured we’d need for the next couple of weeks, cleaned out all the perishable food and drove away.


Sounds great, what could possible go wrong?


It seems that when Richard, who speaks no Spanish, took the head in to get the rings redone, he asked them to replace the seals since one was leaking badly. And since none of them spoke any English, they didn’t understand him and put the old seals back in.


The first day was okay, till we stopped for gas and Richard checked the oil, there was none showing on the dip- stick. He put it down to the rings using up the measurable oil to seat themselves and poured in the 2 litres we had with us. Again we were off! We made Catavina, the first night! Suffice it to say that it wasn’t the nicest place to stay, the dog was totally freaked out and sleeping was a nice idea that never reached fruition.


We crossed the border the next night and by this point it was becoming clear we had a badly leaking valve and I was starting to hear tappet noise. Richard being pretty much deaf couldn’t hear it, but he would eventually! From that point on, every time we stopped for gas, we poured in at least 1 litre of oil and the tappet noise just kept getting louder.


That night was the worst because we didn’t know where we could go to spend the night. We’ve never travelled with a dog and we had never imagined a scenario that didn’t include sleeping in the Grummy. Thanks to a very nice man in a full up motel who told us about Motel 6 and a very helpful motorcycle cop who gave us detailed directions to the nearest one, we found a place to sleep,  not to mention shower and try to de-stress.


From that point on we drove hard and fast averaging 500 miles or 800 kilometres a day. We left Friday morning at 9:15 AM and arrived at our daughter’s house in Penticton at 6:30 PM on Tuesday, 4 nights and 5 days. It was sooo good to be home, safe and out of the car. The tappet noise was so loud by the time we got back that the Suzuki sounded like a diesel truck and I kept expecting the wheels to collapse and the engine to fall out as soon as we came to a full stop!


Our plans have changed as well and Grummy is going to stay in Baja for the foreseeable future. We’ll find the part,  take it with us when we return and fix Grummy but it’s starting to look like we’ll be commuting in something a little smaller and more cost effective. But just so you know, it won’t be a Suzuki Sidekick!