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Here I sit in the RoVerhauler in the Winnemucca RV Park, enjoying the cool, dry evening desert air. This is a delightful place… lovely pool and gardens, nice people, a beautiful setting with big sky and lovely mountains in the distance. I’m feeling great; however, the RoVerhauler is not too happy right now.

What is wrong with her? Well, for one thing, her driveshaft has been removed so that she could be towed in here by a big rig tow truck. We have a new buddy, Leland, from A-1 Towing. He dropped the drive shaft in a rest area about 20 miles out of town to tow her to the local Freightliner shop yesterday evening and to the Winnemucca RV Park this morning.

She needed to be towed primarily due to a problem with her shift linkage. The transmission seems to work just fine once she is in gear, but it has been getting harder and harder to get her into a given gear. I suspect that this is due to a mechanical problem with the linkage, and I am hoping that it is not something more serious. If this was her only problem, we might have been able to fix it ourselves.

In additon, we seem to have lost the flywheel cover somewhere along the road. Jeff noticed that oil was dripping out from under her when we stopped at a rest area on what we thought was our final stretch of road before Reno. Little did we know… We had a brief panic during which we thought that the bottom fell off the transmission, but a mechanic who happened to stop by the rest area took a peak and reassured us that the problem was not that drastic.

On top of that, we had been suffering for two days with awful, and I mean AWFUL black smoke pouring out of the exhaust. At first we thought it was just that the RoVerhauler was not tuned for altitude. The problem seemed to start on I-80 right outside of Cheyenne, WY, and it got worse over time. We also experienced a significant loss of power going up hill, especially on long climbs. I thought we’d be reduced to about 45 MPH uphill, but we were lucky to get 16 MPH on some of the steepest summits, with a long line of unfortunate vehicles trapped behind us in some of the construction zones.

Our current guesses are either that a stuck fuel injector is dumping too much fuel into the engine (Boston Freightliner had warned us that one injector was ailing, but said that we could deal with that when we returned home from our trip), or that we are having a problem with the turbocharger, which would be a real bummer because they are expensive and we have a brand new one (approximately 2 weeks old, installed by Boston Freightliner).

The black exhaust smoke was so bad that a police officer pulled us over yesterday to see what was going on. Jeff explained that the Rockies had been rough on us and that we had taken in the RV in Elko that afternoon, but the mechanic could not diagnose the problem without tearing into it, and unfortunately the problem was not something obvious. The mechanic had said that we had a decent chance of making it into Reno and having the problem worked on there.

The officer warned us of Nevada’s “no visible emissions” law and told us that there were no guarantees that we would not get stopped again, but he allowed us to continue on our way since we had a mechanical problem. He was quite polite and treated us well, even thought Jeff told him that we were on our way to Burning Man (we have both heard stories of police harassment of burners on the road, but my 4 years and Jeff’s 5 of coming out here, neither of us have experienced that).

One bit of advice: if you ever break down in one of these small towns, don’t do it on a Friday. We’re stuck here in Winnemucca at least until Monday morning. Despite our best efforts, we could not find a mechanic to look at the RoVerhauler over the weekend. We are planning to check in with Speedy, the mechanic recommended by our RV park… his shop opens at 8:30 AM on Monday… at which time, if things had gone as planned, we would already have been setting up camp on the playa at Burning Man. 😦

The Rocky Mountains really gave us a challenge. It took a vast amount of strength and endurance to get this far. Even if the RoVerhauler had been working properly, it still would have taken a lot of energy, but with the problems we were having, the drive was significantly more challenging and draining than it should have been. Even though we slept in places that might have allowed for wifi access, we did not even have the bandwidth left to write about what was happening. Please accept my apologies for the delay in posting and the flurry of posts tonight.

What can we do? We are stuck here. We must be patient. If we are lucky, the RoVerhauler will be repaired on Monday or Tuesday, and we can hit the playa on Tuesday or Wednesday. If we are less lucky and an obscure part needs to be brought in or something, the RoVerhauler may be stuck here longer. If that turns out to be the case, we may just buy a tent here in Winnemucca and throw that and our food and water into FINSUP and hit the playa without our beloved rig. We’ll see what makes sense come Monday.

BTW, I have to give huge props to Liz and John Wells, the owners of the Winnemucca RV Park. They have been great. They have given us a warm welcome and made us feel right at home. They have done wonders for our spirit with their advice and friendliness. I would gladly stay here again, although I hope that next time it is by choice!

Anyway, Jeff and I are exhausted but recovering, and the support we have received from friends back home, burners we have met on the road or here in Winnemucca, and the locals as well have given us the hope that we will get through this and make it to Burning Man.

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Michelle recovering from the ordeal

This turn of events has forced us to slow down, which those of you who know us know is not entirely a bad thing. There are many less pleasant places we could be stuck.

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The view from the pool, Winnemucca RV Park

Well, I was hoping to post more pictures tonight (I have taken TONS of them), but Jeff seems to have fallen asleep while I have written this, and I do not yet know how to post them, so once again, I’m promising photos “some time soon”. I’m off to meet the Sandman myself momentarily… I can barely keep my eyes open. Good night! [We’re back-posting photos to the blog as we can–Jeff]

Great news:

Jeff finally got our new generator to start! He had tried so many times that the battery for the generator had lost power, so we picked up a set of jumper cables at a Bosselman truck stop along our route.

When Jeff attempted to start it previously, we thought that the problem may have been air or something in the propane line. We had run the propane tanks dry (the gages do not work… yet another project), so we thought the line might need to be purged.

Well, after connecting the jumper cables and repeated priming and attempts to start it with no joy, Jeff noticed a small grey connector dangling from a wire that was not hooked up to anything. We checked the manual, but could not easily identify the connector, so he plugged it in where it looked like it should go, and about 5 attempts later, the generator began purring like a kitten. Hurrah!

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Ultra-slick generator installation by Overland Engineering. Jumper cables thanks to owner incompetence.

Morning at the RV Hall of Fame. Driving, and more driving. Another night in a Flying J parking lot. Tonight we are in a Cabela’s campground in Sidney, Nebraska, about 2 hours east of Cheyenne, WY. Cheyenne was our target, but with the high winds, the driving was very fatiguing, so Jeff and I decided that a night at a campground with electric, H2O and showers would ease our road-weary bones.

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We found the RoVerhauler in an ad in a copy of RV Trader that we bought on a lark during our Christmas visit to Chicago last year, and we purchased her from her previous owner in Higganum, CT in February. He told us that he had bought her from a buddy of his who had bought her in an estate auction. Unfortunately, we do not have any of the original documentation that came with the vehicle.

Before we officially christened her “RoVerhauler”, I often referred to her as “The FrankenTruck”, because she looks like a cross between an old school firetruck and a cab-over camper. I even considered mounting giant bolts on the cab to complete the Frankenstein look! She is definitely eye-catching, in a kind of steam-punk (or, more accurately, diesel-punk) way.

Ms. RoVerhauler has a 1972 Ford C8000 chassis. She kind of looks like an old school fire truck, but she has a dump truck bed and a cab-over. She was repowered in the recent past with a rebuild Caterpillar 3208 diesel engine. She has an Allison automatic transmission. The camper body has one name on it, ‘Jac-Kir’, centered above the windshield.

As much as she looks like an RV conversion, she was originally built as an RV. That is what the original owner told us, and we have found no clues that indicate otherwise. The story we got was that the RoVerhauler was built by a Nascar driver to pull his car transporter and provide infield support. We have been unable to verify that story, but are hoping to come across someone who has heard of ‘Jac-Kir’ or recognizes this vehicle from the 1970s. We’d love to learn about its original owner and early history, whether or not the Nascar story turns out to be true.

Google searches have turned up no information about ‘Jac-Kir’, nor did a post to RV.net. We visited the RV Hall of Fame earlier today (Day 3), with the hope of finding out about ‘Jac-Kir’ in their research library (if I recall correctly, they have 20,000 volumes!) or from the staff. We had a great time speaking with Al Hesselbart, their historian, but he had not heard of this brand or maker. He was very interested in seeing the vehicle, so we gave him an impromptu tour in the parking lot. He speculated that the RoVerhauler may have been a one-of-a-kind or one-of-a-half dozen. He said he was going to do some research on our behalf.

I must say that the RV Hall of Fame is worth the visit, and not just because we got a personal tour from Al. They were open from 9 AM to 5 PM, and I could have stayed the entire day exploring their collection, if not for our schedule and the need to get back on the road to Nevada. If you are interested in RVs, vehicles in general, American culture, history, manufacturing or design, there is something there to capture your imagination. Next visit, I will allow more time to explore. We might be able to stop there again on our way home, but our schedule from Moab back to MA is pretty tight.

As I sit here writing, I can hear the crickets chirping. The cool evening air is chilling my skin, and my hair is still slightly damp from the swimming pool and showering. Rather than spending another night in a Flying J truck stop parking lot, Jeff and I decided to treat ourselves to a night in a campground. We wanted to be able to plug in to use the microwave and to have a quiet spot to work on the generator.

Quite by chance, we found Eby’s Pines Campground here in Bristol, Indiana (near Elkhart). It is a charming place. I would stop here again in a heartbeat, especially during the summer months when the swimming pools are open.

The staff here is very friendly. The grounds are pretty, clean and well kept. There are numerous trees on the site, and it is nice and quiet. We asked for a shady pull-through spot that was off to the side, so that early morning work on the RV would not bother any neighbors, and that is exactly what we got.

We are rather road-weary, so the generator will have to wait until tomorrow…

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Michelle posting her entry to the blog the following morning

Off to an early start. Jeff was up before me, replacing the headlight that burned out last night, buying a pair of $5.99 sunshades for the cab, checking tire pressure all around, etc. He woke me around 5:30 AM so I could get dressed, hit the head, buy some coffee and go.

Buy some coffee? Didn’t we bring a coffee maker? Why, yes, we did. But the alternator does not seem to be charging the house battery bank, and the house bank is getting low (~11.3 Volts), so we did not want to run the microwave or coffee maker or anything this morning.

What to do?

Step 1: Hit the road.

Step 2: fill the propane tanks. We ran out yesterday. The gauges on the tanks do not work (on the list to fix at some future date). We’re hoping that the next Flying J will have propane. The one we spent last night in did, but I guess they can’t pump propane before daylight

Step 3: get the fridge cooling on propane.

Step 4: get the generator charging the house bank.

Step 5: check the charge coming out of the alternator.

Step 5 will hopefully take place at a campground in Elkhart, Indiana. Our original goal was to get there before 5 PM today, in time to hit the RV Hall of Fame before they close. At this point, we’ll have to hit it briefly tomorrow morning before we hit the road.

So we finally hit the road on Sunday. Wow… it took so much energy to overcome the inertia of endless preparation and actually hit the road. We had a grand plan to get up really early and get a lot of miles under our belts, but alas, it was not to be.

My mother cooked us a nice breakfast, because she wanted us to get off to a good start. We stowed a few final items, and Jeff backed out the rig (I still have not attempted to back it out of the driveway). I hopped in and drove it to our connection point, a parking lot for a business that is closed Sunday morning, which just happens to be right next to the highway onramp. Jeff followed along in FINSUP, with the tow dolly behind FINS. Our plan was a quick hookup and then off we’d go.

Jeff parked FINS behind the rig, detached the dolly, and dragged it over to offer it up to the receiver hitch. That is when we hit the wall… WHERE was the RECEIVER DROP HITCH? OMG… where could it be???? Jeff had special ordered an extra long one with a 4.25 inch drop so that the tow dolly on the lower hitch receiver would not interfere with the bike rack on the upper hitch receiver.

Jeff was pretty angry. He hopped into FINS and drove home to look for it. At that point, we thought it must be in the carriage house or something. I thought it might have been at the bottom of the load in FINS. Well, it was no where to be found.

My theory is that it was stolen off the back of the Silver Surfer on Tuesday evening when I had parked in a sketchy area. We lost a tail light out of the Surfer that evening. It might have fallen out, but based on the way the wires were dangling and how those lights attach and since we had not driven off road or even on a particularly bumpy route, Jeff thought it must have been stolen. I think that the hitch ball was in the Surfer’s hitch receiver that night too, but since it was new and not usually there, we did not notice that it was missing. Grrrr.

Well, if it ever turns up, we’ll let you know, but Jeff was able to buy a serviceable replacement at an Auto Zone that was not extra long but that luckily still seems to work under the bike rack. We finally hit the road around 10:30 AM instead of before 8 AM. Thankfully, the Auto Zone was open relatively early on a Sunday morning and had something in stock that would do. Thank you, Auto Zone…. you saved the day!

The rest of day one was pretty much a blur. After the hitch incident, we were both exhausted. We made it as far as Buffalo. I drove about 2 hours, and Jeff drove the rest of the way (I’m still getting used to driving the RoVerhauler).

We spent last night in a Flying J outside of Buffalo. We should have asked Nadira the names of the number one, two and three best Buffalo chicken wing places… she had some pretty strong ideas on that. Ah, well, we were pretty exhausted by the time we pulled in there… it is not like we actually would have had the energy to seek out even the best buffalo wings in the world!

Our Itinerary:

Week 1: on the road from New England to Reno; stops in Elkhart, Indiana (RV Hall of Fame) and Cheyenne, Wyoming; provisioning in Reno and a bit of relaxing too. We’ll be staying at the trailer park where we first set eyes on each other three years ago… how romantic!

Week 2: Burning Man! Need I say more? Burn, baby, burn!

Week 3: Back to Reno in time for the Patagonia outlet sale on Labor Day, a late lunch at the giant Rib-fest at the Nugget, a detailing at the Mission Car Wash, and a couple of days of R&R (rest and recovery) before we hit the road for Moab.

Week 4 (and the latter half of week 3): Wending our way to Moab via the Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion, etc., whatever catches our fancy. We have no set plan, other than an arrival date in Moab.

Along the way, we’ll be looking for places to drop the kayak, mountain bike, hike; seeking hot tubs, wineries, swimming pools, glass studios, etc., looking to meet new people, make connections, have fun and get away from it all.

Week 5: The 60th anniversary of Land Rover at the National Rally in Moab. Off -road driving, mountain biking, hanging with friends, relaxing.

Week 6: The marathon in reverse: Moab to Massachusetts. Possibly a brief micro-visit my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephews in Chicago or my buddy Bill and his family in Ohio. Back home just in time for the Great Glass Pumpkin Patch at MIT.

And then we rest! (Yeah, right…)

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I have to take a moment to thank my mother for the vast amount of help she has graciously and unselfishly given us while we were preparing for this trip. She cooked wonderful, tasty, nutritious meals to keep our energy up during all the hard work. She cooked dozens of extra meals for us to vacuum seal and freeze for the week of Burning Man, plus extras for sharing or use on the road. She hemmed pants and sewed buttons and did various repairs for things we wanted to bring along. And, while we are away, she is baby sitting our home and our cats. Not to mention the whole unconditional love thing… 😉

THANKS, MOM! You’re the best!

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Plans to depart yesterday were scrapped. We spent the day loading and stowing more gear, clothing, and, of course, MIchelle’s costume’s for Burning Man. When I looked at my watch and saw that it was 3pm (and we still weren’t done) I decided it would be better to take our time finishing, get a good nights rest, and depart early this morning.

This morning, after a hearty breakfast prepared by Michelle’s mom Jessie, we’ll pack the vacuum-packed meals we’ll be eating at Burning Man into the ice chest, hook up the tow dolly, and be on our way.

Stories, and pictures (we promise) from the road to follow.