Part Three: Get your kicks on Rt 66.
Sent: Sunday, April 22, 2001
Many have written to ask questions about the Vampire itself--it seems that it's not merely of interest to long-distance truck drivers.
The Vampire is a derivative model of Land-Rovers 101 Forward Control. Forward Control, or as we'd call it in the US Cab-forward, means the driver and passenger sit ahead of the engine over the front axle. You know you've gotten too close to something in front of you when your feet touch it!
The vehicle is equipped with an aluminum block V8 engine, full-time four wheel drive w/ lockable center differential, and a four speed manual transmission--the shift lever is interesting as it's actually mounted behind the driver and angled forward. We removed the front drive shaft and locked the center diff for the trip. This gives us better fuel economy, a quieter ride and easier steering. If we decide to head "off road" we'll have to bolt the shaft back in place.
The military mission of the Vampire model is somewhat shrouded in secrecy. We know that the vehicle was originally equipped with numerous radios and antennas--including an extremely large air-driven antenna mast which mounted to the rear body. We also know that it was necessary for the "radio shack" to be light-tight at times.
The rear body is made of a composite material that it quite dense. It's well insulated, staying cool even as the sun beats down on the roof, and seems to be sound-proof as well. The same can't be said for the aluminum cab which is rather noisy and quite warm.
The most frustrating part of this trip so far is passing by so much desert terrain, so many dirt roads, so many fascinating rock formations, and not having time to put the Vampire through it's paces. Gerald has a fixed deadline and I really need to get home and dig up some work--so we just keep rolling down the interstate.
Today--Saturday--proved to be a little frustrating. The morning went well enough, we had a nice breakfast at the High Valley Cafe in Moriarity. After breakfast we met friendly trucker--and fellow HAM in the parking lot. Gerald decided we'd take our southern route to meet with friends in Dallas and Louisiana. This route also avoided repetition for me--from my recent trip to Colorado and was agreeable as I'm of the opinion that the food is generally better in the South. So of we went with a goal of stopping in Amarillo before heading off to Dallas. Along the way we worked on getting the GPS uplink working--in fact it was working save for the lack of digital repeaters to carry our transmission to an appropriate receiver.
Parked outside the High Valley Cafe.
Well we didn't make it to Dallas. In fact, we didn't even make it to Texas. We stopped for gas just shy of the border in San Jon (pronounced "San Hone) New Mexico. As we were pulling back onto I-40 we heard a strange noise and pulled over to investigate. Finding nothing we jumped back on the highway--only to pull over about 1.5 miles later when we smelled coolant and noticed steam coming out from beneath the radiator cap. This was pretty obvious as the radiator cap sits beneath a little door right near the driver's--who in this case was me--leg.
We allowed the engine to cool down and added fluid. Once we started the engine, the fluid soon overflowed. Eventually we realized that the fluid wasn't really flowing--it was just surging through the system--with the temperature gauges fluctuating along with the surges.
After some frantic phone calls and investigating we discovered that the fan belt was missing--it had shredded completely leaving little rubber strings throughout the engine compartment. We also noticed that one of the alternator drive belts had twisted around on it's pulley--basically it was now on backwards--and was badly chewed up. Finally, the remaining alternator belt seemed pretty hard--a sign that it was overdue for replacement.
Another call to Land-Rover mechanic extraordinaire Charlie Haige confirmed that so long as the water pump was turning freely by hand it probably was okay so all we'd need were belts. I cut the damaged alternator belt away and we used that to measure the length of the fan belt. Gerald dumped the contents of my backpack into my laundry bag and started his hike back to the exit for fan belts. Meanwhile, I pulled out my tools (which Gerald had been wise enough to ship to Arizona prior to our arrival) and began removing the remaining belt and preparing to install the new parts.
This procedure actually went reasonably smoothly though it did involve the requisite uncooperative fasteners, awkward reaches into tight places, scraped arms, dropped tools and curses. However by the time Gerald pulled up in a "sporty" loaner Nissan pickup truck, I was but one bolt away from being ready to install the belts. But that bolt proved to be very difficult to remove. (For those of you following along in your maintenance manual we're looking at the pinch bolt for the fan belt joiner pulley.) Eventually however (An hour? Two?) anger, pain and biceps (not to mention a little brain power) prevailed and we were able to install the new parts. Well, almost. It seems as if we needed to loosen the alternator system joiner pulley just a little more in order to get the new belts on. Only problem was that somone had previous tightened the snugging bolt to the point that it had begun to bend. As I removed this bolt--being as careful as I could--the head snapped off. Ruh-ro!
I am wrestling with an awkwardly placed bolt--&%#@!!
We tightened the alternator system as best we could and decided to head back to Terry's Truck repair--the source of the belts and owner of the Nissan pickup--to get that sorted out. The guys at Terry's were great and we were soon back on the road with the alternator properly snugged and all the work that I'd performed double checked--it seems as though I did a good job by the side of the road.
In the repair bay at Terry's
Mechanic at Terry's tightening alternator after replacing the snapped bolt.
We drove a few miles on Historic Route 66 and snapped some photos near one of the highway signs.
Thirteen miles later the oil temperature gauge began to read higher then normal. We pulled off and contacted Ben Smith--another friend and 101 owner. His advice was to be concerned and very cautious if the oil temperature was reading higher then what the normal engine temperature should read. Well, we were already at the point of concern and so we cautiously proceeded back along 66 to Terry's.
If you're ever broken down along I-40 between Moriarity and Amarillo then you need to know that Terry's Truck repair is the place you need. They're open Monday thru Saturday from 6am to 10pm--with 24 hour emergency service. Sundays it's 6 to 6. They're nice--and they don't bat an eyelash when you pull up with the only known Land-Rover 101 "Vampire" in the country.
Jeff the mechanic (not me, a real mechanic) and 101 owner Jared Silbersher had a conversation using Jeff (me) as a go between. The consensus after a mechanical inspection and use of an infrared (or laser?) temperature sensor was that most likely the gauge had gone out of adjustment and that we should proceed--keeping a careful watch on the water temperature and radiator.
By this time it was dark and the wind was blowing something fierce--there's even talk of possible tornados past Amarillo. So after a surprisingly good meal the T&T Super Stop (where we'd purchased gas many hours earlier) we're holed up in the San Jon Motel. It's clean but rather quaint. No phones in the room--not sure when I'll send this out. The wind is screaming. Despite a long shower and much scrubbing there is still grease on my arms and hands. (Note to self--orange hand cleaner tomorrow.) I'm wind burned, dust-blasted, scraped, scratched, cut and sore all over from jumping in and out of the Vampire so many times. And I'm reminded of the motto of Latitudes and Attitudes magazine: Attitude: The difference between adventure and adversity. And so the adventure continues.
Plans to head south are canceled--we'll be taking the middle-America route. We really should have the GPS working on auto-pilot tomorrow. Really, I mean it. No really. Until next time...
***Sunday Night addendum***
Today was a much better day despite the heavy storms we encountered in Oklahoma. More details next time, (it's late and, as per our usual schedule, we'll be off as the sun begins to rise. In brief, however, the 101 ran perfectly today--18 hours less stops for fuel, dinner and a brief visit with another 101 owner. The gauges that were worrying us yesterday worked perfectly today. We're still not sure if it's something we did, the fact that the truck was able to cool down completely overnight, or devine intervention--but we're glad for it regardless. Still no time to post pics--may have to wait for a Web site when we get home. Regards to all!
Jeffrey A. Berg Purple Shark Media Rowayton, CT
I'm looking for a smart woman in a real short skirt...
--Jimmy Buffett, Smart Woman ...
with her own set of SnapOn tools, and the know-how to use them!
--Jeff Berg, Broken Rover Blues
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
Photos and Text Copyright 2001, Jeffrey A. Berg