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Old 02-20-2010, 12:36 AM   #1
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Bay Area
Posts: 41
Year: 2001
Coachwork: AmTran
Chassis: International 3800
Engine: DT466E
Portland-SF completed - good god christ...

So I'm back with the new mini-transit bus in one piece from Portland to the SFBay but it was very hairy and there were two very sphincter-tightening moments-

For your entertainment:

1) I was literally idling on the fumes left in the fuel lines to make it to the first fuel stop.
The bus runs on CNG which was why the owner was selling it- his local CNG station was closing and the nearest ones then became Seattle WA and Medford OR; both about 200mi away and not suited to his limousine business. With the range of the bus estimated at 400miles, I figured that I should be able to make it to Medford, then refuel again in the Sacramento area.
The bus was stated to be "full" of fuel, and it *was* in a way (not blaming the owner here at all)- it's a 3000psi system and there are two different kinds of filling stations. a) the expensive kind that has an on-site pump and tanks and can fill your tanks to whatever pressure you shut it off at; and b) the cheaper kind where the station just has a really big tank and every so often a big truck fills it up, and then when you connect to it to fill it simply equalizes and you are only able to pressurize your own tanks up to whatever the big tank happens to be at.
The tanks were at a little over 2000psi because the local station was too (being the cheaper kind), or 2/3 full, cutting the range accordingly but the "400" figure was just an estimate anyway so I went for it as there was no other option than having it shipped/towed part of the way. I was on very-deep-empty when I pulled off on the north end of Medford so I could plot the course to the actual station- Hooray! .8mi back on the freeway and then 2mi in town and I'm there! I get on the onramp to the freeway and the bus dies as I'm trying to accelerate. I push too hard and it dies, I let up and it comes back (this seems to be a constant-pressure system where the pedal regulates the intake only).
I could just barely get up to 30mph and went up the freeway that way- with anything above just-over-idle causing it to die, got off- then had to sit at a bunch of stoplights thinking "this is where it's going to stop idling and I'll be causing problems and a scene and it will cost me hundreds to even get the tow truck out here"- all this when I'm only a couple miles a way. Long story made only a bit less long- I made it- and filled up with over 50GGE (gas gallon equivalents) which means that I was actually running on whatever the minimal space in the lines interconnecting the tanks was. (the full tank layout is 50)
No harm no foul, but not exactly the stress I needed at 8am.

2) I was being attacked by unseen rest-stop denizens, keen to rape, pillage, kill or maybe all three in any order they choose.
So I flew in to Portland and couldn't get ahold of a friend I decided to get a jumpstart on the trip and head out that night. I travelled a couple hundred miles but it was 11:30 and I was tired so I decided to sack out at a rest stop and do the final 70mi to the first fuel stop in the morning.
I usually have a bunch of guns and knives and escrima sticks and tomahawks around but of course since I couldn't carry any of that on the plane with me I had nothing of any defense- not even a tire iron.
So I'm sleeping- and a couple time I'm awoken by something- I'm pretty sure I heard something hit my vehicle- and I kinda think I felt something hit it- but I was very suddenly awakened, and trucks and cars are rolling in and out all the time here and making all sorts of noise and stuff so who knows.
Then at about 4am I'm kinda awake naturally and *wham* something hits the side of the bus right by my head- there is no doubt now- I heard it and I felt it for certain and it seemed to be like someone coming up and smacking the side of it right below the window as hard as they could.
I kinda froze- literally naked under a comforter thinking all kinds of things in a flurry of seconds- "Did I leave the vehicle in some unwitting state that is a code-signal for truckers looking for sex and someone hitting the side is the other code-sign?"
"Are there police officers here waking people up for some inspections or something?" (I don't know how the highway patrol and truckers work)
"Is someone trying to break in or steal my batteries etc?"
"Is there some sort of crazy serial killer trucker looking for his next victim?" (common because of the transient nature)
It's not the kind of place where crazy homeless people or kids are hanging out- so anyone banging on your vehicle means something by it. Once all this gelled in my head (it seemed like minutes but I'm sure was only 10 seconds or so) I realized that I'm well-lit under some mercury-vapor bulbs and behind tinted windows so I popped my head up and looked around- a few times, and saw nothing- ever- at all.
I then recalled the owner's talk about a small air leak which drains the tanks overnight etc and makes things inoperative- and I felt confident in my assessment that what I had heard was one of the doors or something falling in to its default position and snapping shut with a bang after it finally lost enough air pressure, or some valves automatically closing etc- and went back to sleep.
Again, no harm no foul, but no exactly the kind of stress I need at 4AM...

3) HOLY MOTHERFUCKING **** WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?!?! (I'm never going to Woodland again, again)
I have to start this with the brief Woodland story: "I'm 17, drive to Woodland in a '72 Eldorado to testify in a court case->courtroom sheriff pulls his gun on me because I reach behind my back->radiator explodes while trying to leave Woodland->repair shop can't get new radiator until tomorrow->I find a motel and drink a bunch of malt liquor and call the desk clerk telling her she could come up to my room->there's a knock on the door but it's not her and instead a cop and I'm almost arrested->roll to the radiator shop and a new one is put in->head out, make it 15 miles when it explodes again right near the airport->no rental car option because I'm 17, flight is expensive for the same reason, have to call family and leave car->ride home, rent tow dolly, drive back up, grab car, miss exit almost falling asleep at the wheel and end up in Oakland->finally make it home". The point being, I've never gone back there since, and have flashbacks every time I even see the sign for it when I'm driving to Sacramento or Tahoe.
Which leads to... the second fuel stop is in... Woodland- 15 years later and I'm still scared of it for what it put me through last time. I look at the map- I have to get off, turn around, drive two blocks and I'm there- then I just drive the same two blocks the other way, go straight, and I'm right back on the freeway.
I spent all of 20minutes and 500ft in Woodland but I was still gripped, and for good reason...
This bus has a fully-electronically-controlled JD engine and has a feature where if the door isn't shut the throttle does nothing. I recall the owner mentioning to me that if the door opens while moving the emergency brakes automatically come on as well. I roll on the freeway, get up to 70mph, and move in to the left lane as I'm passing someone, decide to turn my lights on... and I suddenly hear what sounds like all of my air being released traumatically while I'm simultaneously lurched forward violently in my seat. Then quickly there's a huge *whoosh* sound and it becomes very windy. I look back, and the door has OPENED BY ITSELF. Upon this realization (5 seconds?) I have already dropped to 40mph due to the e-brakes, I look left and there's no middle to pull off on, I look back right and it's like I can't see my mirrors and can't do the mental guesstimate of how much the guy I just passed might have caught up again by the time I got down to 40- and if I don't get over I'm going to be stopped in the left lane of I-5, but my mirrors looked clean for a second in my adrenal state and I pulled over a lane and then off to the shoulder successfully- by a hair just like the fuel situation.
Still all amped I got out and started hitting switches trying to figure out exactly WTF just happened- related to the lights and over-amperage? Fuses? Switches? I try the external door switch and it doesn't work- the internal switch makes them close and then open again- i put the external switch in one position and the internal switch works right again. I'm blaming the external switch but will be investing in some chain for the doors- random e-brake stuff is something I'm good enough to mostly deal with- my dog or people falling out because the door randomly opens is not.
After I got back in the seat and had closed the door, relatively confident that it wouldn't happen again, I had to pause and calm myself down just like the last time I was electrocuted.
Good to know that fight-or-flight is as effective as it is

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Old 02-20-2010, 01:50 AM   #2
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Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Lethbridge, AB, Canada
Posts: 637
Year: 1981
Coachwork: Bluebird
Chassis: Ford B-600
Engine: Ford 370 Propane
Rated Cap: 48
Re: Portland-SF completed - good god christ...

I would like to see pics of your CNG setup if you have any. My bus runs on propane and I love it. I can let it sit for a long time and not worry about the carburetor gumming up or other issues that occure with open systems. As long as you have access to fueling stations, you will love CNG. Now you just need to get your appliances to run on NG and you are set! Put in a quick connect for a NG barbeque on the side and not worry about carrying extra tanks of fuel.
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