Niagara Fails

border breakdown

We left Long Point Canada bright and early, headed back to the United States to check out Niagara Falls. We originally planned to see the falls from the Canadian side because the view is better, but then there was a lot of traffic and on the map it didn’t look like there was much parking for the bus. We decided to get through the border, grab a campsite, and come back to check out the falls later.

It was another pleasant drive through the Canadian farmland of Ontario for most of the morning. In an older vehicle 80 km an hour is a much nicer speed than 55 MPH. I’m not sure why, there isn’t a huge difference, but people weren’t tailgaiting me constantly — yet too timid to actually pass — and everything felt a bit more relaxed. Maybe that’s just the way people drive in Canada. Whatever the case it was a pleasant drive despite some road construction and confusing detours.

We made it to the border shortly after lunch and were waiting in line to get through to the US side when Corrinne started gesturing to me. I was mostly worried about the bus sitting there idling in the heat, the Jeep never crossed my mind, but then she got out and walked back and said the Jeep had died. Well, shit.

I jumped out and open the hood and had her crank the engine. There was no gas getting to the carburetor. I couldn’t hear anything squirting when she pumped the pedal. I figured it was either vapor locked or the fuel pump had died. I knew the previous owner had put in a new fuel pump not long before we bought it, but I also know from my own experience that fuel pumps don’t last. Whatever the case, I knew I wasn’t going to get it started again right there. I waved a couple of cars around us and was just starting to push it off to the side, to get it out of the way, when three border patrol agents came out of the building.

They asked what was wrong and I gave them a short rundown. They said okay, we’ll push it. And I said, push it where? They said, through the border. Mmmm, okay. Didn’t see that coming, but the kids hopped in the bus with me, and the border patrol pushed Corrinne through the checkpoint. She stopped and showed her passport and the whole bit, just as if the Jeep had been running. Then they pushed her on through and off to the side where the bridge maintenance crew had their workshop. I didn’t take a picture because my experience has been that cameras and national borders don’t mix well, but I did get a shot of the maintenance crew pushing the Jeep over to the parking lot.

Once I’d brought the bus through the checkpoint we pulled over into the parking lot and I went back to work on the engine. There are only three things an engine needs to run: air, fuel, and spark. As far as I could tell, fuel was the issue, but I had no clue why fuel wasn’t getting to the carburetor. I decided the fuel pump was a likely culprit and called around to see if I could get a new one. A nearby Napa said they could have one by 4 that afternoon so we decided to tow the Jeep over there and work on it in the parking lot.

The kids and I jumped in the bus and went to run a few errands in the mean time. Corrinne stayed with the Jeep and waited on the tow truck. After we’d restocked our cupboards (nothing guarantees trouble like being low on food or water. Fortunately we had plenty of water) and refrigerator we headed over to the Napa. The tow truck showed up with the Jeep right as we got there. This time around AAA came through, surprisingly.

Not long after that the fuel pump showed up and I got to work. The new fuel pump’s bolt holes were slightly narrower, so I ended up having to drill them out a bit, but otherwise there was nothing to it, I installed the fuel pump and cranked it. And cranked it, and cranked it. Still no fuel getting to the carb. I even took the line off the fuel filter and cranked it with the line just sitting there and no gas came through.

A handful of people had stopped to talk to us and offer advice by this time, but it was starting to get dark and I was stumped. I got Napa’s permission to leave the Jeep overnight and we all loaded in the bus and drove out to a strange little New York State Park up on Lake Ontario.

I’m pretty sure this was the first time we’ve ever driven the bus at night, but we made it safe and sound and found a campsite in the dark. I got a hot shower, which always helps improve your mood after you’ve been covered in oil and gasoline all day.

The next day I had to work, so I didn’t get back to the Jeep until evening again. I caught a very expensive Lyft into town and got to work. First I walked a couple of miles and filled up a gas can and brought it back. I put two gallons in the tank just to be sure there was gas, and then I squirted some down into the carb and sure enough it started right up. So, the problem was somewhere between the gas tank and fuel filter.

I was planning to disconnect the fuel lines and blow air through them to clear any debris that might possibly be clogging them. The tank had what looked like a cover that extended out to cover the place where the fuel lines attached. I figured I’d drop the cover, get access to the fuel lines and go from there. I had two bolts out and was beginning to realize that what I thought was the cover, appeared in fact to be holding the tank to the frame, which was not what I wanted. That’s when I noticed a pair of work boots appear beside the Jeep.

I crawled out from under and started talking to a man who’d pulled up in a big truck. From what he said he seemed to know everyone at Napa. We talked for a bit, and he suggested just blowing air in the fuel tank to force it down the line. This hadn’t occurred to me, but I liked it. Especially as opposed to dropping a tank that was very full of gas. That’s when he said, you know I have a little shop down the road behind my house, I could tow you over there if you want to get out of the parking lot. He offered me the use of his tools, including his air gun.

I thanked him and said let’s do it. We hooked up the tow rope and he pulled me a couple of miles while I steered and braked, making sure not to rear end his nice truck. His little shop turned out to be a full on garage that was a side gig. He was mainly a diesel mechanic working on big trucks, but he also had a side business at home.

We put the Jeep outside his shop bay and he ran out a long compressor hose and I blew it into the gas tank. Then I cranked the engine. Still nothing. Then I disconnected the fuel pump and blew again. Fuel came through the line. We talked it over for a bit and he asked if I still had the old fuel pump, which I did. We put it in a vice and worked the handle and it seemed to be fine. He said, I bet that new pump is either seated wrong or broken. This one you know is good, put it back in. So I did.

This time we blew air in, cranked the engine and sure enough, fuel made it past the pump. I hooked all the lines and hoses back up and cranked it up. It ran like a top. Well, not really, the carb is all gummed up and it has hard time idling, but once I revved it, it was fine.

I know what you’re thinking: if the old fuel pump was fine, why did it die at the border? I don’t know. Either there was something in the fuel line and we cleared it into the new fuel pump, which then, when I switched them, got rid of the problem, or… something else happened? It’s been almost a month since then and we haven’t had another problem. And we’ve sat in some traffic very similar to the border situation so my money is on the fuel line being obstructed, but to be totally honest, I don’t know what happened and I probably never well with any certainty. Such is life.

I thanked him and headed back to the bus. I almost made it before dark. We could have headed out the next day, but we didn’t. Instead we finally got to backtrack to see Niagara Falls. It was a windy, blustery afternoon, but I think this actually worked in our favor since it cleared some of the mist away from the falls.

Niagara Falls is one of those terribly touristy things that is, despite the kitch, actually pretty cool. But it’s also the sort of thing you look at for a bit and then you’re done.

The campground we’d been staying in was on the banks of Lake Ontario, but oddly had no lake access. I’d been there three nights and still hadn’t seen Lake Ontario. In fact the campground was a little strange in that it was just a campground, there was nothing else to see or do, you camped, end of story. From what I could tell it was mostly used by locals who came to sit around the campfire and talk. I thought this was actually pretty cool and marveled at the lack of cell phones. People really sat around the fire talking all day. There were some people with TVs watching the Bills game, but otherwise it was like a place people went to spend time together. Which, go upstate New York. It’s a tragedy you’re outnumbered by city people, but good on ya, as the Australians say. The world needs more places and people like this.

All that said, I wanted to see Lake Ontario. We hit the road the next morning and drove alongside the lake toward another park that was up near the eastern edge. We got there in the early afternoon and went down to the shore. The weather had turned stormy in the late morning and by the time we got to the water none of us were feeling it. Too cold, too windy. Too many ice banks. Just kidding. Not those yet. There was a lake full of swans though.

The day we decided to leave the temperature started to drop and it felt like the right time to head south, even if only by a few hundred miles.


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