The Itinerant Mechaniker

Not long after getting Gus, I discovered a great aircooled VW website, Itinerant Air-Cooled. I was a little confused by the name. But I soon learned that one of the moderators of the site, Colin, actually travels the country in his VW bus and helps you work on/learn about your air-cooled Volkswagen. We decided that this would be money well spent, so we had Colin come out to help me figure out Gus. Here’s a write-up I did of his (first) trip, which was almost exactly two years ago. His second visit to us was after we moved to Colorado, and it didn’t end well for his bus (nicknamed the Road Warrior)…right after he left our house he was involved in a head-on collision by a Mitsubishi Eclipse that totalled his bus. Thankfully he escaped with only minor injuries, and spent a few days recovering/plotting next steps at our house. I will go over that visit later, but here’s an account of the happier visit: (I’m inserting some details in orange throughout that provide a little more insight into the story)

The final stop for the 2008 Itinerary….North Carolina – 15 miles southwest of the capital city Raleigh.
 

Mother Nature greeted us with a rainy start. The plucky blue bus pulled in a little after 9 am – bad traffic on 440. An ominous start? Perhaps….

It’s good to finally meet the man whose link at the bottom of his sig I followed on a whim nearly two years ago from the Samba. We start with Colin helping us with coffee-making. (we don’t drink coffee). Next it’s on to goals for the day at the kitchen table.

Tune-up day consists of:
A) Hydraulic valve lifter center
B) Breaker points clean/gap
C) Timing
D)Fuel injection adjustment

Then we hope to move on to clutch freeplay, brakes, lubrication, front-end, hinges…maybe some fuel hose replacement. My basic plan was to let Colin decide what issues were most pressing, and we would go from there.
A little history of the bus we were working on – the 1978 Sportsmobile camper conversion. I bought it in February 2007. Really haven’t done much to it at all, except for remove the white cow spots painted on it. I also got it running, since it wasn’t when I bought it. Near the end of 2007 I picked up a 1974 “parts” bus with no engine. More to come on this addition to the family – a deal too good to pass up at the time. (Colin and I would also like the ’74 to be saved – it’s a bit too nice to be a parts bus.) It was saved!

We spend a few hours at the table, Colin expaining with pad and pen the concepts we will be working on. Quizzes are given as we go along. For those who haven’t experienced a Colin visit, it truly is a learning teaching experience. Don’t expect an extremely experienced VW mechanic who will just work on your bus. It is so much more than that – I would liken it to a college course on the aircooled VW with hands-on experience. But Colin is an excellent teacher – he is able to adapt his teaching to match your mechanical knowledge and experience. You can read all you want in the Muir and Bentley, Ratwell, etc…but nothing matches this. A truly amazing experience well worth the money. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

We move out to the garage after some wide-ranging discussions – politics, the state of the nation. A quick lookover of the ’78 reveals some previously unknown to me discoveries. My bus has a replacement nose! Hmmmm….was it a previous crash, or rust repair? Colin doesn’t see much evidence of too much violence, so that is good. I am shown the proper way the plastic vapor barrier inside the door should go. The lure of the pretty blue bus is too much for me – I want to see it. I see the 68,000-ish hand dotted headliner dots – wow! Colin’s bus had a headliner that was missing (or were faded) the pre-printed “dots,” so he spent about two weeks on his back re-dotting the entire headliner! The blue bus is exactly what I hope my bus will end up like one day – a very nice looking working bus. I am shown the nice bodywork Colin has performed. And the engine compartment…wow. So clean. Our frequent and inquisitive companion throughout the early part of the day – my four year old daughter. Colin wants to see her artwork, and picks his favorites. Normally she is shy around new people, but doesn’t seem to be around Colin.

Back to the bus – it is time for the valve adjustment. Colin paints on some timing marks as my bus is missing the timing scale. Colin explains the adjustment procedure to me, and leaves me to the task while he investigates other potential things to work on.
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“Hey Colin, this screw isn’t moving.”
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“Are you sure?”
“Yep.”

Uh oh. Colin explains what happened with a visit with Mr. Blotto. Same thing…prognosis – time to remove the rocker arm assembly and try to unstick the screws. Maybe this would be the only one like that….or not. A good chunk of the rest of the afternoon is spend at the workbench removing every single rocker arm assembly, along with generous amounts of Gum-out, PB Blaster, heat from a torch, vise grips, sanding cloth. A nice time to talk – more politics, the state of America, consumerism, relationships, kids, etc. It’s like a live version of the Troubleshooting/Diagnosis, Type 2, General, and Free Speech forums all in one.

The distributor is pulled for the breaker points clean/gap part of the day.
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“Hey Colin, I’d like to install this condenser that was left with the bus.”
“This thing is a Beetle condenser.”
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“Oops.”

Curious car-working-on-neighbors arrive. They prove useful, providing a needed clamp. Colin discovers the alternator is not aligned properly – fix is made. I learn the fun art of installing tin. Neighbors leave for awhile, but return when we finally fire up the bus at dark. Timing is set….uh oh, another problem. Two cylinders aren’t firing. We both begin to fear this engine might be near its end. We finally manage to get 3 cylinders firing. Through a compression check and other tests, we eventually discover that our fears are unfounded – it’s looking like a clogged fuel injector on 4. Now it’s time for the fuel injection adjustment. Colin had been smelling a stale, varnishy gas smell all day – like a bus that hasn’t been run in 10 years or so. We soon discovered why as we attemped the fuel injection adjustment. “Hey Colin – we’ve got a fuel leak!” I exclaim as I see a spray of fuel on the passenger side. “Shut ‘er down!” And that (after a final lookover of sliding door abuses) ends the day. Colin likened the bus to the story of Black Beauty – someone really loved this bus in the past, but she’s been abused. Now she’s being nursed back, slowly but surely.

After a well earned meal of meatloaf, potatoes, baked apples, broccoli, brownies and ice cream (thanks so much Mrs. Quad!), we go over the day.
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“Wake up Steve! We’re not done yet!”

We think it will be a good thing to pull the engine – to change out fuel lines, pull the injectors and get them cleaned, and clean the extremely filthy engine.
Amazingly, we still have a bit of life left…and I want to see the unfinished book. We discuss art – I’m an (somewhat non-practicing nowdays!)artist – talk turns to the book and art. Colin brings out the beautifully drawn pages – wow! I see the real versions of the four vehicles on the IAC masthead. The colors are spectacular. This book will be finished, and it will be a success. Discussions of publishing, audiences…You cannot imagine the detail he has put into this manuscript….Mrs. Quad asks to hold one of the pages so she can see the intricate work. Colin, among other things, is quite an artist. He has been working on a VW bus manual for a few years now, and his drawings are fantastic.

Finally after another visit to the blue bus – I simply have to show Mrs. Quad how magically the slider door works! – Colin must be on his way to Atlanta.

It’s 11:30 pm, but we still manage to pose for a few more pics.
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“Hey Colin, remember I told you I thought Atlanta was about 4.5 hours away? I looked – it’s more like 6.5 hours.”
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And after some goodbyes, off he went.
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Even though we didn’t get to drive the bus, or get to a lot of what we wanted to do, it was an extremely worthwhile day. I will definitely have Colin back again next year. I gained so much from this day – I would say I learned as much, if not more, in one day about my bus than in the nearly two years prior. In the end the weather turned out to be quite pleasant – in the 70s with very little rain.

We encountered some problems along the way, but I got to meet a new friend and learned a lot. Thank you so much Colin!!!!

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