Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Guest appearance: The Pilot

            I thought it about time to do a guest appearance in this chronicle of our adventure. I might have a different perspective.  My lovely and talented spouse is the brains behind this thing.  I play the role of engineer/problem solver and so far…sole pilot.  

            A few observations in no specific order.  This machine, though old and a little tired is still performing as originally intended.  Originally intended means 55mph.  The venerable Chevy heavy duty 350 coupled with the Turbo Hydramatic 350 transmission has been a mainstay in muscle cars for decades. That combination will move a 4000 lb car off the line right quick.  In a 12000 lb motorhome however, nothing happens quickly and we often find ourselves 10 to 20 mph under the speed limit.  It also means I have to watch the temperature gauge closely on a hot day.  Which brings me to my next observation:

            Being the pilot of an old motorhome like this is a much more participatory and sensory experience than driving a normal car.  Sharon’s cousin likened it to starting up an old piston driven airplane.  Pump, pump, pump, pull out the manual choke, pump a couple of times while cranking it over, after it starts, listen for when everything evens out, push choke in, tap the gas pedal to get it into low idle. You have to take a little time, coax it back to life, talk nice and give a little pat on the dash. Every time it moves there are creaks and groans (the rv as well as me), pans clanking, empty bottles clink together.  There is a pattern to the sounds that becomes familiar and a little comforting.  Every time there is an unfamiliar smell that comes into the cab I have to process it; is the smell coming from the RV Or some other vehicle? If it’s from the RV, is it bad or not? There specific smells associated with antifreeze boiling, brakes overheating, belts slipping.  Filling up the tank requires estimating the amount that needs to go in and listening for the slightly higher pitch when it’s about full.  If I wait until the automatic shutoff on the pump trips, I get a squirt of gas on my toes.  The steering works just fine but is a little loose so the crosswinds in the mountains require a bit of anticipation and correction or I end up all over the road. 

Most of the time in a modern car you check the speedometer and maybe pay attention if there is a trouble light.  Driving this machine requires constant checks of the temperature, oil pressure, voltage.  The temperature tells me how hard the engine is working. If the air temperature is less than 90F the engine temp goes up when climbing a hill, stabilizes and goes back to normal on the down side.  In Oklahoma when the air temp was in the 105F range we came dangerously close to overheating so I watch it very carefully now.  I find I need to add a quart of oil about every 750 to 1000 miles.  The oil pressure gauge tells me to check when the running pressure drops just a little.  The voltage pretty much stays right where it should at 14.8 volts or so but I check it often for reassurance after all the alternator problems we had when we first got it.  I’ve also noticed that it seems to run really nicely above 6000 ft of elevation.  Maybe because the air is cooler, maybe the carburetor was adjusted for elevation and one time and never returned to their low level settings.  I don’t know, carb adjusting can be more art than science and I haven’t done it enough to be confident.

I have to say my piloting role is kind of cool.  I like the participation.  I’m not just the driver, more like a steam train engineer.  We aren’t the fastest or most powerful or best looking on the road, far from it.  I have the feeling though, that if the machine and I pay attention to each other, are willing to compromise and take care of each other, we’ll get through this adventure in fine shape.

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