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Old 03-31-2017, 08:42 AM   #1
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How to get an AT545 down wolf creek pass CO...?

Hello all, I'm looking for some advice on a situation I've gotten myself into.
I converted my bus in Michigan but am now getting ready to make the first and last voyage out to my property in Pagosa Springs Colorado. What concerns me is going down the westbound side of Wolf Creek pass, into Pagosa. The signage says all heavier vehicles are limited to 25mph, it's a serious downhill but I forget the grade at the moment.
I've got the DT466E with the aforementioned Allison AT545. After some more research I learned the lack of lock up torque converter basically removes any engine braking, doh. (I've only really driven manual transmissions my entire life and never gave a second thought to the ability to engine brake with an automatic).
Bus also has a 26" roof raise. It's a 1997 with 161,000 miles and the transmission was already replaced once so it' is on a newer tranny. Just changed the tranny fluid/filter and it was a darker red but didn't smell burnt. It worked flawlessly on the relatively flat 200 recovery drive home.

The upside is that the bus only has this one major pass to tackle and will be permanently parked on my property for the rest of its life.


Here are the options I've come up with but would love other ideas:
1. Pray and Don't go over 10mph down, pulling over very frequently to let brakes cool. My problem with this is that since the 545 doesn't have "park" I can't take the brakes off to let them cool properly. Guess I could get out and put chocks in front of the tires then let off the brakes to let them cool?

2. Drive further south down I25, through Santa Fe and come up through Chromo. I test drive throw route in my truck. It has lots of smaller passes but no huge lurking downhills with sharp curves at the bottom. Just how much can an ole 545 take with the added wind resistance of the roof raise near then we of a 1500 mile journey?? This route adds half a day of driving and a couple hundred $ in extra fuel costs for my bus and truck convoy.

3. Call a towing company ahead of time to "tow" me down? Not sure if this is an actual option but I figure someone would might be willing to take my money for some braking help??


Since I only have his one trip to make I've pretty much ruled out putting in lock up torque converter, should I reconsider? I assume it'd cost $1000s...

Since I'll have another vehicle with trailer following me I'm planning on loading it up with all the removable heavy items out of the bus to get it as light as possible before the trip. Oh yeah, the roof raise adds some wind resistance, right? ;)

Thanks for any help! Cheers
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Old 03-31-2017, 10:22 AM   #2
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I'd stick with your idea for taking it slow down the hill and stop every now and again to let the brakes cool. If you keep it slow the brakes won't heat up nearly as much. Be sure to use any of those run off lanes if needed.
Seems the easiest to me


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Old 03-31-2017, 10:39 AM   #3
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If there is any room to pull over to a complete stop, the brakes can cool while they are on. But if you have to keep moving, just take it as slow as you can. No Park, but doesn't your rig have an emergency brake?
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Old 03-31-2017, 10:46 AM   #4
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Is it possible to put a lock-up torque converter on a AT545 transmission? I have a 1974 chev bluebird with a 350cid and a at545. Driving home from where I bought the bus I had at least two 9% or 10% grades. I down shifted on the hills making sure I stayed in the speed range of the gear.

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Old 03-31-2017, 10:57 AM   #5
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I have taken my AT 545 down that very same pass X3 into Pagosa Springs, using the "up to 45 mph, then stab-it-down to 25 again" method of braking. So instead of riding the brakes all the way down, you allow the bus to pick up speed, until it starts getting scary, then apply hard, stabbing braking(think a hard press for 1-3 seconds) to get your speed down. Then pull over for a few minutes at a pull out half way down. Quite a few NICE pullouts in that pass, worthy of a few stops from what I remember. Your brakes should not be the thing to cool off, rather your drums - so just set your brakes, and go for a walk. Make sure you have plenty of brake pads(inspect) left for your journey and you will be fine.....or we will see you on TV soon
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Old 03-31-2017, 10:58 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Bon Voyage View Post
I'd stick with your idea for taking it slow down the hill and stop every now and again to let the brakes cool. If you keep it slow the brakes won't heat up nearly as much. Be sure to use any of those run off lanes if needed.
Seems the easiest to me


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Glad to hear a vote of confidence for just taking it slow.

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If there is any room to pull over to a complete stop, the brakes can cool while they are on. But if you have to keep moving, just take it as slow as you can. No Park, but doesn't your rig have an emergency brake?
If it has an emergency brake, I can't find it??! Just has the push/pull parking brake on the dash. Just took a quick peak and didn't see signs of one, where would it be located?

Thanks for the replies
S
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Old 03-31-2017, 11:06 AM   #7
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Is it possible to put a lock-up torque converter on a AT545 transmission? I have a 1974 chev bluebird with a 350cid and a at545. Driving home from where I bought the bus I had at least two 9% or 10% grades. I down shifted on the hills making sure I stayed in the speed range of the gear.

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I believe some people do this but would really prefer to avoid the cost and/or effort required to put one in But a 350 on propane, that's very interesting! I've read about "driving" down the mount at a certain rpm can add some engine braking. I was considering this till reading Dredmans' post of first hand experience!

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Originally Posted by dredman View Post
I have taken my AT 545 down that very same pass X3 into Pagosa Springs, using the "up to 45 mph, then stab-it-down to 25 again" method of braking. So instead of riding the brakes all the way down, you allow the bus to pick up speed, until it starts getting scary, then apply hard, stabbing braking(think a hard press for 1-3 seconds) to get your speed down. Then pull over for a few minutes at a pull out half way down. Quite a few NICE pullouts in that pass, worthy of a few stops from what I remember. Your brakes should not be the thing to cool off, rather your drums - so just set your brakes, and go for a walk. Make sure you have plenty of brake pads(inspect) left for your journey and you will be fine.....or we will see you on TV soon
Ahh, that's exactly what I was looking for! Thanks Dredman! If you're in that area and want a place to park with spectacular views just let me know!

Now to do a good brake inspection.

Haha, funny thing you actually can catch me on TV! Season 4 Episode 12 of Tiny House Big Living. Was/is on DIY network but will be on HGTV sometime in the near future. But definitely not hoping for any follow up appearances due to a spectacular skoolie crash...
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Old 03-31-2017, 11:15 AM   #8
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its only scary when it gets away from you. don't go fast. keep it under the posted truck limit. stab your brakes at the speedlimit and slow down 10mph slower than that.

if you get going too fast, you make way too much heat on the braking. if you keep under the speed limit, i wouldn't worry about stopping and letting them cool down.

put your flashers on, relax and let people pass. don't go any faster down than you did up!

both up and down are troublesome with an AT545. if you have a dt466, it's dialed down in power if its mated to a 545. on the uphill, you can smoke your transmission, on the downhill you can smoke your brakes.

personally, i'd worry more about the trans heat on the uphill. if you bog the trans down (going way slow for your rpms), pull over and it should cool down quickly.

if the truck signs say 25, just stay inline with them. ignore the rest of the traffic.

good luck
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Old 03-31-2017, 11:30 AM   #9
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What kind of property around pagosa? are there any zoning issues? are you going to hook up to septic and water?

just curious about how much land you need to do those things.

i would guess rural and not urban, but my county has rules about RV living. so please elaborate on your land hook up.

thanks
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Old 03-31-2017, 11:52 AM   #10
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I have done many passes here in CO with an AT545 (5.9L Cummins) in my 30ft. TC2000 (no other brake assist) The engine will give you some stopping power if you downshift (do so BEFORE you start down hill!)
It's a game of balancing the engine RPMS with brief stabbing breaking to keep your speed under control. I second the 'no faster down, than you went up' mantra. I usually down shift 1 gear lower than I used on the way up.

If you have a temp gun, stop halfway down, and shoot your drums to see where they are at, and if they are all relatively close to the same temp. This will give you a good test to see if your breaks are applying evenly all the way around. I just did Denver to Grand Jct. and back twice last year, and am trying to remember what I had for temps to give you a point of reference.......

I'll follow up if the 'buffering' circle stops spinning, and my brain finds it somewhere in there.......

Here's a good mountain driving video from one of the mountain school districts you may find helpful....


Check in when you get out here!
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Old 03-31-2017, 01:04 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by turf View Post
its only scary when it gets away from you. don't go fast. keep it under the posted truck limit. stab your brakes at the speedlimit and slow down 10mph slower than that.

if you get going too fast, you make way too much heat on the braking. if you keep under the speed limit, i wouldn't worry about stopping and letting them cool down.

put your flashers on, relax and let people pass. don't go any faster down than you did up!

both up and down are troublesome with an AT545. if you have a dt466, it's dialed down in power if its mated to a 545. on the uphill, you can smoke your transmission, on the downhill you can smoke your brakes.

personally, i'd worry more about the trans heat on the uphill. if you bog the trans down (going way slow for your rpms), pull over and it should cool down quickly.

if the truck signs say 25, just stay inline with them. ignore the rest of the traffic.

good luck

Great advice, gracias! I think I read a few of your threads regarding the same topic and you might have put in a tranny cooler? I'm starting to consider this but am thinking if I take it slow using every available pull out going up I'll make it... eventually. What's the coolant temp that should signal I need to start looking for a place to pull over?
And yep, the 466 is only 190hp, one of the lowest ratings available I think.

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What kind of property around pagosa? are there any zoning issues? are you going to hook up to septic and water?

just curious about how much land you need to do those things.

i would guess rural and not urban, but my county has rules about RV living. so please elaborate on your land hook up.

thanks
I'm in the Aspen Springs Division #6. Oh yeah, its rural but still has plenty of rules. Bottom line is that I can't live on it permanently in a Bus/RV. I can legally "camp" in an RV on my own property for 120 consecutive days per year, so that's the plan. I ended up with a little over 17 acres spread over 4 lots (most lots in the division are generally 1 acre, two of my lots are sloping and not "buildable" but perfect for my personal mtn bike track!)

No utilities in the #6 "subdivision", most of my neighbors have or are building proper houses, here's how utilities are handled:

Water: Almost Everyone has water cisterns they fill themselves or use a delivery service. A couple of my neighbors have wells though, guess the water is really hard in the area. I have a 275 gallon tank under the bed. I have another 275 tote that I'll haul down to the bottom of the hill and fill for $0.75 every couple weeks.

Electricity: Everyone has solar with generator backup, I'm pre-building my system now. It's an amazing location for solar power.

Waste: The houses there have engineered septic systems. I have a composting toilet and a couple 55 gallon drums. One drum gets filled and then has to sit at least a year before it's no longer toxic and can be used to fertilize non-edible plants. During that time you start filling the second drum etc.

What County are you in?

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Originally Posted by ColoradoCummins View Post
I have done many passes here in CO with an AT545 (5.9L Cummins) in my 30ft. TC2000 (no other brake assist) The engine will give you some stopping power if you downshift (do so BEFORE you start down hill!)
It's a game of balancing the engine RPMS with brief stabbing breaking to keep your speed under control. I second the 'no faster down, than you went up' mantra. I usually down shift 1 gear lower than I used on the way up.

If you have a temp gun, stop halfway down, and shoot your drums to see where they are at, and if they are all relatively close to the same temp. This will give you a good test to see if your breaks are applying evenly all the way around. I just did Denver to Grand Jct. and back twice last year, and am trying to remember what I had for temps to give you a point of reference.......

I'll follow up if the 'buffering' circle stops spinning, and my brain finds it somewhere in there.......

Here's a good mountain driving video from one of the mountain school districts you may find helpful....


Check in when you get out here!
More great advice, thank you kindly! Learned a couple things from the video as well.

I do have a temp gun, will definitely have it handy. Any reference temps would be great.

Here's what I've got: Take it slow on the way up, pulling over often. Take a break at the top. Start going down by "driving" with a goal speed of the truck speed limit (around 25mph IIRC) and when it gets much above 25mph then stabbing the brakes back down to 5-10mph. Do this cycle a couple times from the top and then pull over to check the brake temps. After pulling over and checking a couple times I made add a cycle or two of stabbing between stops if the temps keep in check.


I'm not planning the move till early June but will update.
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Old 03-31-2017, 01:09 PM   #12
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I have taken my AT 545 down that very same pass X3 into Pagosa Springs, using the "up to 45 mph, then stab-it-down to 25 again" method of braking. So instead of riding the brakes all the way down, you allow the bus to pick up speed, until it starts getting scary, then apply hard, stabbing braking(think a hard press for 1-3 seconds) to get your speed down. Then pull over for a few minutes at a pull out half way down. Quite a few NICE pullouts in that pass, worthy of a few stops from what I remember. Your brakes should not be the thing to cool off, rather your drums - so just set your brakes, and go for a walk. Make sure you have plenty of brake pads(inspect) left for your journey and you will be fine.....or we will see you on TV soon
Follow D man's advice and enjoy your trip!
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Old 03-31-2017, 03:49 PM   #13
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I will be one of the first ones to say the AT540 series of Allison transmissions were built more to a price point than anything else.

As a consequence a lot of shortcuts were involved when designing and building it.

That doesn't mean it is a bad transmission. I have known some to go well in excess of 300K miles without anything except for regular fluid and filter changes. I have had personal experience with that transmission on some pretty steep hill routes. We never had any problems going up or down hill other than we used up more brake lining over a year's time than we had previously.

The one thing that will kill an automatic transmission quicker than anything else is to get it hot. And it will if it doesn't have enough cooling capacity.

In September of 1990 our district put into service ten TC2000 12-row buses with the Cummins 5.9L 190 HP/AT545 power package. Three things became very clear within the first week.
  • The transmission cooler was inadequate. The first afternoon I went up the hill on the route I had been on for more than five years with a Loadstar chassis bus with the MV404/AT545 I knew we had a problem. I went up the hill like I had for five years. Before I got up the first mile the transmission temperature was well out of the green and heading for the red.
  • The new power package did not hold back on the downhill as well as the old one did. I headed down the hill and geared it down to 2nd like I had been doing with the Loadstar. In the Loadstar that meant I went down the hill with virtually no application of the service brake at speeds of about 25-30 MPH. In the TC2000 that meant that even with stab braking I was doing about 45 MPH.
  • The brakes on the new buses were not adequate. Come to find out the rear brakes had 20/20 air cans when the spe'c was supposed to be 30/30 air cans. 50% more braking chamber capacity makes a HUGE difference in braking ability.
Over the next few weeks all ten of the buses went back to the dealer for extended stays as they upgraded everything.

When the buses came back with 30/30 air cans on the rear brakes, with the first application of the brakes when leaving the bus garage I knew I had a LOT more braking ability.

The new transmission cooler was large enough that it almost completely covered the front of the radiator. Even on the hottest days the transmission temp never ever went much above halfway in the green scale.

And I learned that in order to get any engine braking I needed to lock it down into 1st gear before I headed down the hill. Locked into 1st gear I could maintain an average of 25-30 MPH with stab braking while going down a 12% grade.

This long winded reply is all to say that if you are prepared properly there is no reason to think you will have any problems going up or going down any pass in the country as long as you drive smart.

On the way up the hills, when you start to see your temperatures rising slow down before you have to stop and cool down. Dropping down a gear and slowing down an addition 15-20 MPH will take less time to get up the hill than if you have to stop for half an hour cooling things down.

On the way down the hills, lock the transmission down into the lower gears before you break over the top of the hill. Even if it means locking down into 1st gear and moving very slowly down the hill with your flashers on, it is better than learning how to use the runaway ramps.


Good luck and happy trails to you!
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Old 03-31-2017, 06:39 PM   #14
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you'll be fine!!!

you are seeking out your options long ahead of time. you have a plan when you get into a situation.

being surprised and unaware of the challenges is how you get into trouble.

i like hitting passes now, you can kind of judge - better or worse than the last time.

i'm in the northeast corner, logan county, the opposite corner of the state from pagosa
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Old 03-31-2017, 07:23 PM   #15
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Follow D man's advice and enjoy your trip!
Thanks, will do!
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I will be one of the first ones to say the AT540 series of Allison transmissions were built more to a price point than anything else.

As a consequence a lot of shortcuts were involved when designing and building it.

That doesn't mean it is a bad transmission.....
This long winded reply is all to say that if you are prepared properly there is no reason to think you will have any problems going up or going down any pass in the country as long as you drive smart.

On the way up the hills, when you start to see your temperatures rising slow down before you have to stop and cool down. Dropping down a gear and slowing down an addition 15-20 MPH will take less time to get up the hill than if you have to stop for half an hour cooling things down.

On the way down the hills, lock the transmission down into the lower gears before you break over the top of the hill. Even if it means locking down into 1st gear and moving very slowly down the hill with your flashers on, it is better than learning how to use the runaway ramps.


Good luck and happy trails to you!
Thank you sir! More good info.
Is there an easy way to tell what cans I have? I will say they seemed very touchy on the drive home, I was never wanting for greater braking force. I should be well under the 31K GVWR so assuming everything is sized appropriately.

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you'll be fine!!!

you are seeking out your options long ahead of time. you have a plan when you get into a situation.

being surprised and unaware of the challenges is how you get into trouble.

i like hitting passes now, you can kind of judge - better or worse than the last time.

i'm in the northeast corner, logan county, the opposite corner of the state from pagosa
Got it! There's monument hill going down 25 and a few others to get me warmed up for Wolf creek so I'll try all the different methods/iterations mentioned on the way to Wolf Creek.

Definitely feeling more confident about it, glad I took time to post concerns and get feedback. Such a helpful community.
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Old 03-31-2017, 07:49 PM   #16
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lol, i don't think i've ever gone down that monument hill part of I25 in my bus. but my guess is that you're gonna be so freaked out by the amount of traffic and the speed everyone is going, you may not even notice monument hill.
it may be a parking lot or everyone is going 80, there isnt much in between.

good luck!
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Old 03-31-2017, 07:56 PM   #17
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lol, i don't think i've ever gone down that monument hill part of I25 in my bus. but my guess is that you're gonna be so freaked out by the amount of traffic and the speed everyone is going, you may not even notice monument hill.
it may be a parking lot or everyone is going 80, there isnt much in between.

good luck!
Ha! You're probably right. Which brings up a question, can I safely overspeed the 545? My cruising speed will be 50-55mph due to gearing, I think it governed out around 65+ @2600rpm. So how fast is safe for the transmission going down large hills like monument where there's a near infinite run out?

EDIT: just to be clear, I don't except a cruising speed of 50 -55 going up or down wolf creek pass but rather that is on relatively flat stretches.
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Old 03-31-2017, 08:19 PM   #18
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The at545 has a rated 4000 rpm max but that is the design rating.

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Old 03-31-2017, 08:25 PM   #19
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on a long down hill, or any down hill, i have rarely felt that i overspeeded the bus. maybe wind resistance gets too great, but on gentle slopes its not been an issue.

my first time coming down I70 into denver, i was out of control and way overspeeding the trans. the transmission made lots of bad noises, but its been pretty darn forgiving. i got home and made an appt for a trans shop to check it out. the appt was 2 weeks out and in that time driving the bus, i canceled the trans check up. everything worked fine.


i've abused that transmission to within an inch of its life and its still happy. they're pretty tough. i drive with my foot on the floor, at the limit of the governor, most all the time. in denver traffic that's too slow.
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Old 03-31-2017, 08:27 PM   #20
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Ha! You're probably right. Which brings up a question, can I safely overspeed the 545?
I think they call it freewheeling? I have had mine humming down some of the big hills @ 90+.....man you talk about fun.....wish my bus could do that ALL the time
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