Last weekend, our family traveled up to Altamont, NY for the annual Old Songs music festival. The festival lasts three days and is billed as a celebration of folk, traditional, and international (Scottish, Irish, Celtic, etc..) music and dance. With over 10 stages, multiple workshops, vendors, jam tents, and kids activities, there is plenty of music variety, entertainment, and family fun to be had by all; even for those, such as myself, with little musical skill.
For a couple of years now, Martha’s aunt and uncle, Tom and Hope, have persisted in trying to include us in this event, not just for the music but for the camping and friendly, laid-back atmosphere. While neither Martha or I play instruments, we enjoy a lot of different music genres and try to expose our children to as much as we can. They have a special fondness for folk, bluegrass, and similar styles, and we decided this would be a great opportunity to expose them to music in an up-close, more personal and enveloping manner than CD’s, massive concerts, or even some of the other festivals we’ve attended in the past. Not to mention that our daughter, who is learning violin, could spend time with her fiddle-playing Uncle Tom!
At 434 miles (nine or so hours bus driving time) and several days of camping, this road trip stands as the farthest we have gone in the bus and precisely the type of journey we envisioned when we adopted our bay window. Hopefully, this is the start of some great long distance adventures. When I say adventures, I mean as much in the journey itself as in the event – we do drive a 40-year old bus after all!
This highly anticipated trip began last Wednesday with, after getting all our gear in order, a five hour drive up to my parents, a halfway pit-stop on the way to Altamont. The depsite the heat of the day, it was great to be on the road in a bus stuffed with all the accouterments of a long trip. After all the solo journeys I ventured on as a young, single man, I was finally getting the chance to share the experience with the family.
However this particular time, the experience also included the trials and tribulations of bus ownership. After a little more than an hour on the road, I discovered a strange rattling noise coming from the engine bay during a brief dog-related pit-stop. Upon opening the engine lid, I found that the noise seemed to emanate from the generator or fan, but I really did not want to accept that this fairly new-looking device, albeit of unknown history, was about to commit suicide. Just for kicks, I poked around to see if some piece of tin or a bolt came loose during my work on the fuel system, but my concern for the health of the generator and fan grew after finding nothing amiss. Since everything looked in good order, the noise not too bad, and the engine running strong, I decided to forge ahead while the CHT, oil temperature, and oil pressure gauges monitored for any incoming headaches. After another hour or so on the road and no sign of impending doom, I checked the noise again when we stopped for fuel and lunch (could not hear it while driving). The sound had not worsened and we continued on our way, enjoying the Pennsylvania countryside, and arrived at my parents just in time for a cup of tea and a thunderstorm. Given the heat of the day, I decided to save any further examinations for the cooler morning hours on the morrow.
Thursday morning broke a very much appreciated cool and sunny. Following a quick blueberry muffin, I made myself comfortable behind the 4-cylnder “powerhouse” of our bus and checked everything I thought could rattle; muffler and pipes, cooling tin, nuts and bolts, etc…, only to come up empty handed. My thoughts returned to fan or generator issues, an idea I up till then kept trying to mentally block. Reaching in front of the engine, I checked for loose debris in the fan housing only to find the airway clear. However, the fan could be turned a fraction of inch to either side without the any movement detected in the belt pulley – uh-oh. With the fan belt off, I spun the generator by hand and could not reproduce the noise or any variation of it, but I could get the fan to clunk when I turned the generator pulley quickly back and forth – uh-oh again. This free play did not seem to stem from the fan turning on the generator shaft, but rather a looseness of the shaft within the generator; presumably from a worn bearing. It was at this time that I noticed a loose washer sitting next to cylinder #3. In my experience, finding unattached parts is never a good thing and, sure enough, I found the air cleaner top to the left carburetor missing. I finally located the top behind the left carburetor and since I REALLY did not want to take the generator/fan assembly out, put the engine back together in hopes the top was the source of the rattle. Unfortunately, the noise not only returned after starting the engine but was much louder and angrier, like a metallic screech combined with a horrendous grinding. There was no longer any way I could deny that the generator or fan was in the midst of committing hare-kiri.
Removing the fan assembly proved much easier with the dual carburetor system than a single carb setup. Without the single carburetor manifold crossing the engine, I only needed to remove the fan belt and generator wires; unbolt the backing plate, oil filler/generator stand, carb linkage; and lift the fan shroud slightly. Four hands proved more useful than two, and I had excellent assistance from Martha for both the extraction and installation. Once removed, I pulled off the fan (no signs of it rubbing on the shroud or any free play on the generator shaft) and backing plate. When spun, I could barely detect (more felt than heard) a subtle grinding in the generator, probably from a worn internal bearing. The hunt for a new unit now began.
Since Bus Depot is less than an hour from my parents, they became my starting point. Following a short discussion with a very helpful sales rep and a little online sleuthing performed by Martha, we discovered Moby had a beetle generator. The shorter bug generator is rated at 30 amps while the 38 amp bus version requires a backing plate with a indentation to accommodate its greater length. While BD could order a beetle generator, they only had a bus one in stock. In order to use this type, I would need a new backing plate and 38 amp voltage regulator. Not a huge change to make on the fly, but the backing plate was not to be found. With this information in hand, we moved on to other, more generic, auto parts stores in the hopes they might carry the more common bug version. All but one of the ten or so stores we called could get a bug generator in 24-hours, with the exception acquiring the part in three days. This was not adequate as we did not have that kind of time on our hands and in one last effort, we finally located what we needed in stock at a Pep Boys, of all places, about an hour away. We were off in a borrowed car with the old unit in the back seat and high hopes in the front.
When we arrived at the store, the man behind the parts counter quickly produced a white cardboard box while, at the same time, apologizing for the terrible condition of the box; saying “We only have one and its been here for a long time.” I replied something to the effect that the box did not need to be pretty and that it was fortuitous that someone long ago decided to stock this part. Amazingly, they also had a 30 amp voltage regulator in stock. I bought that as well because I knew that if I did not, I would certainly fry the one in Moby and need to make a return journey to the store. Finding the part at Pep Boys turned out to be rather convenient because they do some mechanical service work in addition to selling parts. Since I did not have the correct tools, I walked both old and new units over to the service desk and had them switch the pulley and fan spacer, both of which are pressed on to the generator shaft and held in place with woodruff keys. Once that task was complete, I walked over to the sales counter to pay only to find my wallet was still in my non-greasy pants pocket back at my parents – arrrggghhh!! Luckily we live in the age of credit cards, and Martha got on the phone with my mother who, after finding my wallet, relayed the credit card information we so desperately needed. A little exhausted at this point, we left the store and headed home with our new parts paid in full.
Upon returning home, I installed the backing plate (there is a little vent on the plate which allows air to cool the generator/alternator; this vent must point down towards the road when installed) and fan, torquing the fan bolt to 42 ft/lbs, and threw the assembly into the fan shroud. A quick spin of the generator demonstrated the fan rotated without rubbing on the shroud and the free play present before was there no longer. One of the backing plate bolts gave us a terrible time because it wanted to cross-thread into the fan shroud. In the middle of fighting with this bolt, we wearily retreated and called it a day as a massive thunderstorm broke around us. It was time for a beer and dinner anyway, and the kids needed some parent time.
Friday morning came in cool and beautiful and, anxious to get out and finish the bus repair, I left the kids to their breakfasts and hunkered down behind the bus once more. Somewhat ironically, the problematic bolt of the night before went right in this time and was quickly followed by the remaining backing plate bolts. After buttoning up the rest of the engine, only one task lingered – polarizing the generator. All generators, whether new, rebuilt, or coming out of long term storage, need to be polarized in order to produce sufficient current. In order to polarize a unit, the fan belt must be removed so the generator spins freely. With a spare piece of wire, I connected the DF terminal to the generator ground (earth), which I then connected to the battery ground terminal (the wiring is shown in the Bentley manual). While I maintained the ground connections, Martha took a wire lead from the positive battery terminal and connected it to the D+ terminal. The generator should act as a motor and spin, but do not let it spin for more than a few seconds (we went with three seconds) or the generator may over heat. That is all there is to the polarizing process.
After removing the wiring, I hooked up the fan belt, rewired the generator, and got ready for a test start. Once in the cab, I turned the key and the generator light came on (good!). Turning the key a little more started the engine right up and the generator light went out (also good). The engine ran strong and the hideous grinding/screeching noise was gone. I grabbed the throttle, revved the engine and was about to declare success when…cough, hack, sputter, cough… the engine died. Sitting there feeling a little dejected, mentally going over all the possible parts I probably broke during the repair process, I remembered the new fuel shut off valve was turned off. I turned that sucker back on, muttered a few words to some VW god out there somewhere, and tried again. VROOOM!!!!! A quick test drive, followed by lunch, and we were on our merry way once more; arriving at our destination a day late but safe and free of concern over the possibility of a trip-ending generator meltdown.
Now that I am back home, I will consider an alternator swap for the improved output, reliability, and the fact they are easier to find at auto parts stores.