Friday, July 28, 2006

A Bad Day That Went Well.........

Sometimes things just go wrong. You can't expect everything to go right all the time, but you can always hope for the best case scenario rather than the worst when it happens.

A couple of weeks ago when I was in Juneau I made arrangements with Alaska Marine Lines to barge my Plymouth Mini-van down to Seattle. Juneau is completely surrounded by rugged mountains and there are no roads to or from Juneau, so everything either goes by air or by water, so driving it to Seattle wasn't a choice.

I bought the van several years ago when I was still running my fishing guide service in Juneau. It was in excellent condition, reliable, and saved me a bunch of money compared to renting a vehicle. Now that I've stopped guiding, it was time to bring it home.

I got a phone call a few days ago from AML that the rig had arrived in Seattle and was ready to pick up. Yesterday was KeeWee's day off, so we jumped in her car, caught the Washington State Ferry to the mainland, then drove to Seattle to pick it up and bring it home. AML was efficient and organized, and it only took a few minutes to complete the paperwork and get ready to go. Due to their rules, you can only ship a vehicle with a quarter tank of gas or less, so I had brought along a five gallons of gas, and I dumped that into the tank in preparation for the drive back to Whidbey.

Traffic through Seattle usually sucks, and KeeWee hates driving in traffic under any circumstances, but the drive to the ferry dock was uneventful, even if a bit stressful. We bought our tickets for the ferry back to ride back to Whidbey, then pulled into the holding area to wait for the boat. The boat arrived and unloaded, and they started loading the cars. When it was getting time for me to drive aboard, I turned the key to fire up the mini-van, and was greeted by total silence. NOTHING! I jumped out and went to the car behind me to tell him that I couldn't get started, and to pull out and around me. He rolled down his window and hollered at me that we were about to get onto the boat! (I wonder if his mother was a blonde?) I told him that I had a dead engine and I thought he might just like to know that, so he could pull around. "Uh.........oh.......". Sheeeshhhh! Mainlanders. It must be the flouride in their water, or something.

They loaded the boat, including KeeWee, and off it went without me. By luck, my friend Luke had been a few cars back of me in line, and he pulled out of line to miss the boat and give me a hand. Jumping it didn't make any difference, so we did a little trouble shooting, and narrowed it down to most likely a starter relay, the starter solenoid, or maybe the starter. Unfortunately the starter is buried way down behind the engine where you can't get to it to use a jumper cable directly to it to bypass everything else and get started.

We decided it made more sense to go rent a tow dolly and tow it the rest of the way home, then fix it where we've got a shop and tools. Luke headed off towards the U-Haul place to look for a dolly. Probably less than five minutes later he was back, and right behind him was a car hauler type tilt flatbed truck from Simmons towing from Whidbey Island! Luke saw him in line waiting to buy his ferry ticket and got him out of the line to come load up the mini-van. It only took a couple of minutes to load the van, then buy tickets for the ferry.

KeeWee was by now over on Whidbey, and she parked along the side of the road to see if we made it on the next boat. When she didn't see us on that boat, she headed home and fired up the computer, then went to the Mukilteo Ferry Cam and watched us load the van onto the truck, so she knew we'd be on the next boat. The ferries run every 30 minutes during the day, so it wasn't a long wait. I had a good time riding in the truck talking fishing and shooting with the driver, who I happened to know. 45 minutes later the van was parked next to my barn. WHEW!

Luke showed up shortly thereafter, and KeeWee, Luke and I all went over to a local cafe for a late lunch and to catch up on the latest news.

For all the various ways that this whole day could have gone wrong, it really went well, considering.......

I traced it down to the starter mounted solenoid not firing. Unfortunately, with the turbocharger and its plumbing on top of the starter, the engine block in front of the starter, the axle under the starter, and the cross member behind the starter, you can't get to it without pulling the starter, which is a pain. It turns out that at some time the solenoid had been replaced, and they had tightened two of the terminals only finger tight. It took 30 seconds to fix the problem, and half a day to get the starter in and out. Now it works fine. Glad that's done!


At Friday, July 28, 2006 1:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That sounds like it was just about the best way for things to have gone wrong. What if it had croaked while on the ferry?

At Friday, July 28, 2006 8:02:00 PM, Blogger Rivrdog said...

Ran fine then wouldn't restart. Hmmmm. You didn't say whether there was any battery juice for any of the accessories.

If there was, I'd look to the computer chip. find some dude with an OBD-1 (looks like that van is older than a '96.) and hook up to get the trouble codes. Or do the key-off-on flashing code trick. Look up the codes you get online with Google under OBD Codes.

The barge company may have also disconnected the battery enroute, and only re-connected it without tightening the cable. I'd duke a call up to AK and ask their loading supervisor what the usual procedure is.

I'm betting that you don't have any spendy repairs to do, just some reconnecting.

And, LibertyNews, the ferries are prepared for that with a little flightline goat that they can push you off the boat with.

At Saturday, July 29, 2006 8:37:00 PM, Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

That post sure brought back memories. My parents lived on Whidbey (Ledgewood Beach area, near Coupeville) from 1975-1990.

Once, leaving the island, my VW Bug would not start (battery dead for some reason that I forget), and one of the crewmen helped me push it off the ferry. Then my wife and I push-started it on one of the streets near the ferry slip--an advantage to a small, light care.

There was no Mukilteo ferry cam then!

Ah, for the good ol' days and the good ship (ferry) Rhododendron.


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