Colorado – First Trip off the West Coast

Serving tea at the Boulder Farmers' Market

I think it’s safe to say the Edna’s first voyage off of the west coast was due to love. I fell in love with a woman 6 years ago, and re-fell in love with her over a year ago. She is beautiful, talented, and independent. Her care with the tea bus and my health and happiness has been amazing. Her work schedule has allowed her to come and live on Edna for short periods of time here and there, but I had yet to make the long journey to her home base of Colorado. After ditching original plans of alternative transport to get out there, I decided to drive Edna.

Lots of troubleshooting and repair

And wow, what a journey! The original plan put me on the road for a month. It’s been two so far and I still have a week to go. Not that I’m not always on the road, but when I get back to the shop in Eureka, that’s one of my home bases, and it will feel like an end to the journey.

Please note: italicized paragraphs are mechanical in nature. You may only want to read if you’re interested in diesel vehicles, biodiesel, waste vegetable oil, Macgyvering things, etc.

Gregory and his brother Micah were my company and we sped from Nevada City one evening. Immediately something was wrong. Thick black smoke poured from Edna’s exhaust as we climbed 4000 feet in an hour. Was it a fuel problem? Injectors? Had the truck stop that washed my engine in Alameda ruined my injection pump as they pressure washed it with the engine running? On top of all this, the bus was overheating (which it never had before) and we had to stop every now and then to cool down… I ran through scenarios: the engine is shot; I’m overweight; etc…

My new and old fan clutch

The drive was long, but we made it. We smoked and overheated along the way, but we made it. I spent a bunch of my time in CO troubleshooting my issues, even though I had hoped to finish my waste vegetable oil conversion. I replaced the injectors (3 were pissing instead of vaporizing), air filter, fuel filter, fuel pump, radiator cap, fan clutch, and some glow plugs (which were burning out one after another). I checked the fuel lines for kinks, checked fuel pressure, bought the tools to do my timing and did it, filled up with biodiesel (the problems started around when I switched to regular diesel)… All of these things helped a little, but I finally came to the conclusion that the smoke was altitude, weight, and retarded timing. As far as the overheating goes, I’m still working it out (about to change the thermostat, put in a new water pump, and do my veggie conversion which will take some heat from my engine). Even the new fan clutch doesn’t seem to work though.

EDIT: I recently (July 2012) adjusted my Fuel Injection Pump Lever (FIPL – sends info about throttle position to the transmission – similar to a Throttle Position Sensor). I had adjusted it four years ago when I put a new injection pump on. I think I may have adjusted it when the cold-timing advance was on and the RPMs were high. This made it so my tranny thought that I wasn’t putting as much punch to the accelerator pedal, which in turn made it shift into higher gears sooner (it would shift into the final OD gear at 35 MPH). Running in higher gears than normal could have been affecting how much Edna was smoking. Now that I adjusted the FIPL she seems to be shifting much better (shifting into the final OD gear at 45-55 MPH now). We’ll see if this affects higher altitude driving next time we’re in the mountains.

Elephant Revival sips tea before they go on stage at the Ogden Theater in Denver, CO. Photo: Anne Staveley

I cannot believe the reception that Edna got in Colorado. Of course, Denver, Boulder, Lyons, and most of the places I brought her were bubbles of goodness, I cannot express how stoked I was to find such great open people. I have been planning a two-year North American tea tour for years, and have been almost afraid of leaving the west coast with Edna. I’ve been afraid that things like this literally just cannot exist outside of CA, OR and WA. My fears were calmed, and the ocean of possibilities for the tea bus were opened, and I cannot wait to set sail on the two-year journey (this fall, hopefully!).

Edna and I served tea at an Elephant Revival/Chadwick Stokes show in Denver, in Boulder at an event called Communikey, and on the Pearl St Mall a couple times. I also took a side trip without Edna to a family reunion/festival (Paine-apalooza) in southern Okalahoma and had a tea party with several kids and a new friend James (of My-Tea Kind). This memorable experience of getting “tea drunk” was probably a great thing for these kids who are around so much alcohol.

New injectors

Other highlights: On the way back from OK, I had the great opportunity to stay at Sub Terra, a decommissioned nuclear missile base. Earthy Man! Meeting and traveling with musician/filmmaker/fellow bus nomad Laura Goldhamer. Love that woman! Staying in Westcliffe and checking out the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Bishop’s Castle! Hanging with Chad Stokes. AND, working on Elephant Revival‘s new songbook.

My friend Greg came with me to CO to pick up his own mobile to turn into a home. A 25 foot Freightliner step van with a Cummins 5.9L turbo. Great vehicle at a great price. We had an unofficial Wagon Circle in the farmers’ market parking lot where we rewired his whole headlight system (with brights, dims, running/parking lights). I have been envisioning Wagon Circles for some time now where nomads come together in solidarity to share in knowledge, skills, tools, resources, etc. This was a little sample of that. I can’t wait for more! Email me if you’re interested on being on my Wagon Circle email list. Gregory had his own problems driving back over the Rockies, but as

The drive back west I hoped would be smooth. As I pulled off the highway and pulled into a junkyard (my favorite), I noticed a coolant leak. Great! A leak in my upper radiator hose put me back 2 hours, some hassle, and $30.

Brokedown in Somewheresville, WY

The next day as I crossed Wyoming I smelled fuel and noticed some leakage. Where was it coming from? Ahhh, a leaking fuel injection line on cylinder 2. Man, this one leaked a couple years ago and it cost me $125 for a new one. Dang! I found online that if you don’t have these metal/rubber clamps on your injection lines they can vibrate and crack the lines. Well, someone who owned the vehicle before me took some of these off, which made this same line crack twice. After some failed Macgyvering using a ¼” compression fitting in place of the original nub on the end of the injection line, I decided to run the fuel from cylinder 2 just back into the fuel return. This is probably not something you want to do unless you are in a dire situation. This was my situation. There were no parts unless I went backwards a hundred miles, or forwards to Salt Lake City. I had no choice and drove 175 miles to SLC on 7 cylinders.

Sometimes Edna gets messy when I'm working on her.

As I was descending into Salt Lake, I pulled over to check my jury-rigged fuel situation. I hopped back in and got cruising. At 55 MPH on a steep windy downgrade my hood flew open. Luckily it did not hit the windshield, but I was basically blinded. My first reaction was calm, and I applied firm braking. I wasn’t worried. However, as I saw the white lines of the road out the side windows I could see the road was curving, and I began to panic. Luckily there were no cars in my immediate vicinity, I was able to pull over, but shutting the hood was difficult. I bent the vent piece below the window, possibly the hinges, and the hood itself. Man, danger!

I ended pulling the fuel line I needed off of a truck in a junkyard along with a piece of line I needed for my vegetable oil conversion for $5. Compare to the $107 I found the part for in SLC new. I spent the day on the side of the road re-plumbing my fuel system to suck through a new diesel filter head (which I was planning on plumbing like that for my WVO conversion), and installing my new lines. It was hot and I was a mess. Thanks to the trucker just outside SLC who gave me a free shower pass. It was one of the nicest feeling showers I had in a long time.

At some point along this drive back filled with breakdowns I reached a point where I said, “Enough! I am no longer going to be brought down by the endless breakdowns, by the piles of money spent, by the strandedness! I am free. It is all just very, very funny! I don’t have to be anywhere. I am a free man. I just need to enjoy.” And I did.

I pulled into Nevada City, CA haggard and dirty, and Edna’s brakes were stinking and she had fuel splatter stains all along her back end. It was a great relief to be back in CA and somewhere where I could relax, fix some bus issues, and be around friends.

Although the love that brought me to CO is one that exists with a lot of separateness, it is one that will continue to inspire and captivate me for a long, long time – no matter what direction it takes. Thank you, Bridget.

Earthy Man sings a song for those aboard the tea bus.

Laura Goldhamer's Bus

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