Broken Down In Lamar

Think you’re going somewhere? Think again.

From Bear’s Lodge Butte we continued south, bound eventually for Tucson though we had a few weeks to get there. Unfortunately there isn’t much between northern Wyoming and New Mexico. Or, let me rephrase that. Taking into account that the bus doesn’t climb mountains, and Colorado is ridiculously expensive and crowded, there isn’t much between northern Wyoming and New Mexico.

The first night out we spent at a random fairground in southern Wyoming. I like places like this. They’re cheap stopover spots and sometimes you meet interesting people. The next day we drove onto to Brush, CO were we camped in a city park for the night. We were having flashbacks and realized that we once camped in a city park in nearby Limon that looks nearly identical to this one.

From Brush we had originally planned to head to Trinidad to camp and then maybe take a day trip into the Rockies. As we talked about it though we realized our heart really wasn’t in it. We decided to cut east, then south down into New Mexico via Texas.

We were just outside of Lamar CO when the bus suddenly lurched and hesitated. At this point that’s happened enough that I immediately knew the fuel pump was shot. Again. I pulled over and confirmed that there was air spitting into the fuel filter. I don’t know if it’s poor manufacturing, the amount of ethanol in gasoline or what, but I’ve been through three fuel pumps in five years. These days I carry a spare. I got under the bus and half and hour later we were all good.

I’ve realized I can tell you where we are from under the bus with a high degree of accuracy. If every single car that passes stops to ask if everything is okay, we’re in the south. If most cars stop to ask if I’m okay, we’re in the midwest. If no one stops, we’re in the west.

When I was changing the fuel pump I noticed the wind was blowing much harder than I thought and we were headed straight into it. According to the local weather it was blowing 25 miles an hour. There wasn’t much we could do about that of course, so we hit the road again.

About ten minutes later I smelled smoke. It was the smell of burning oil. I lifted up the doghouse and sure enough there was smoke coming out the valve cover vent. I pulled over again. When I opened up the air filter I found a good bit of oil, along with an oil soaked air filter. I try not to jump to catastrophic conclusions, but at this point I know this engine pretty well, and this had happened once before, when we blew our head gasket.

We were about 20 miles outside of Lamar CO, but the next town was a good 60 miles away and it was already 3:30 in the afternoon. I hated to do it, but we had to turn around. We found an RV park in Lamar and pulled in for the night.

The next morning I got up and started troubleshooting. I like to be optimistic so I started by replacing the PCV valve, which vents the crankcase. It also costs about $2 and was the simplest possible fix. Unfortunately, the new PCV valve did nothing. At least I have a spare PCV valve now.

I moved on to a dry compression test. The results were… not good. Not only did I have two adjacent cylinders with compression at 65 PSI, which is a pretty good sign of a blown head gasket, not a single cylinder was actually at the compression it should be. As my uncle put it when I texted him the results, “your cylinders are rattling around in there like a bunch of old coffee cans.”

The fact of the matter is this engine is worn down and needs to either be rebuilt or replaced.

Unfortunately now is not the time, nor is this the place to do either of those things. Every mechanic I talked to was slammed busy. I couldn’t find a anyone will to even look at it for two weeks. And that mechanic was in Amarillo. I told him I’d see him in two weeks and decided it was high time I took this thing apart myself.

Unfortunately work got in the way for a week. My job is extremely flexible most of the time. However, there are about three weeks a year when I have to be in front of the computer 9-5. As luck would have it, the week after we broke down was one of those weeks. So I set aside the bus and worked. As I mentioned in my last post, some times you get to stay somewhere, other times you have to stay somewhere.

Lamar, CO does not seem to be a top of anyone’s list of destinations. The vast majority of people who pull in to the RV park where we’re staying pull out again the next morning. A handful stay for the weekend. We’ve been here for two weeks. We’ll likely be here two more. If the thought of that raises your blood pressure, long term travel is probably not for you.

The secret to these little moments, whether your bus breaks down or your plane is delayed or whatever else happens is to relax. Remember that there actually is nowhere you have to be. You’re just here on earth, hanging out really. Unless you live in a war zone, just suffered a natural disaster or have a loved one in some kind of distress then chances are whatever plans you had aren’t that important. Let go of them and relax. That’s all there is to it. Making good food helps too.

playing the ukulele photographed by luxagraf eating ribs. photographed by luxagraf
Kids reading WIRED magazines in the laundry room of the RV park photographed by luxagraf
The kids know I write for a magazine, but they’d never seen an issue of Wired until they found a few issues in the laundry room of the RV park.

Once you let go of your agenda, your plans, your vision of what the world is supposed to be, you can look around and access your situation with a clear head and open mind. You might notice simple things, like the moon is huge and beautiful, the rodeo is due in town next weekend. You might realize the most important trading post on the Santa Fe trail is just down the road. You might realize there’s the ruins of a Japanese internment camp just over the hill.

There are things to do everywhere, just because they aren’t the things you were planning to do doesn’t mean you can’t have fun doing them. So we relaxed and settled in to spend some time in Lamar Colorado.


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