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4:03 am EDT        79°F (26°C) in Mount Airy, NC

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This last day of July finds me in the place that inspired the fictional town of Mayberry, which featured so prominently in The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry RFD — two television classics of my parents’ era. To quote Gomer Pyle, “Shazam!” wink

My truck almost didn’t make it up here, though, save for my quick action on Thursday that prevented a truck fire. I had to stop at the (very interesting, in the roadgeek sense) Interstate 10 rest area just east of the Apalachicola River in Florida to use the facilities; upon negotiating the extensive network of ramps to leave, I noticed that my air conditioning very suddenly stopped working. This is, of course, an absolutely fucking lovely thing to have happen on a 95°F (35°C) day; I hoped it was something simple, like a blown fuse or relay, and I figured I would check all the obvious things like that when I reached my designated fuel stop some 19 miles (31 km) further.

It was something obvious, all right: the smoke that started pouring from under the hood just moments after I arrived at said fuel stop gave it away. Instantly, I shut off the truck, and with some trepidation, I opened the hood to see what the hell was going on. The smoke was coming from the A/C compressor — apparently, the compressor had seized for some reason, but with the accessory drive belt still driving the pulley, the compressor clutch wouldn’t let go. Finding a water hose, I opened the spigot and sprayed the whole thing down to cool it off and prevent a fire that probably would have been only moments away. As it was, though, the truck wasn’t drivable; hell, I couldn’t even re-start the engine unless I wanted to fry the thing even further.

After calling the company’s breakdown department to OK my plan, I cut the accessory drive belt right off — leaving me with no alternator — and limped across I-10 to the TravelCenters of America location at that same exit. Thankfully, I was able to use the Optimized Idle function to fool the truck into keeping the engine running — multiple starts would have quickly killed the batteries, and then I really would have been fucked. Apparently not wanting to take on any warranty responsibility, this TA location refused to do anything with the A/C, but they at least installed a short emergency belt to drive the alternator so that I could go elsewhere. (During the day, I could probably go a few hundred miles without the alternator, as long as I shut off every electrical device in the truck — a diesel doesn’t have spark plugs and can run with as little power as the engine computers require. Night driving, of course, would be an altogether different proposition sans alternator.)

It turned out that there was a Freightliner dealer in Dothan, AL, the next city of any size on my route. None too thrilled about having to drive 50 miles (80 km) in the stifling mid-afternoon heat and stratospheric humidity, I set out for there. I have to say, I could really feel my concentration and focus waning as I fought with all the traffic lights on Dothan’s Ross Clark Circle (bypass loop for U.S. Routes 84, 231, and 431, as well as a few Alabama state routes); I had to have been severely dehydrated and probably starting to suffer heat exhaustion at that point. I spent five hours in an air-conditioned lounge while a Freightliner mechanic installed a new A/C compressor and the correct accessory drive belt.

I thought everything was done and working until I had to go back down into Florida for some necessary business on Friday. It was damn near 100°F (38°C) that day, but I’ve driven in even hotter weather than that without experiencing what happened: my engine fan would not shut off for any more than five to 15 seconds at a time. (This is a belt-driven fan whose speed varies with engine RPM; air pressure signals actuate a clutch that engages and releases the fan as necessary.) Some more phone calls gave me a preliminary diagnosis: the refrigerant pressure in the condenser unit was running way too high and kicking the engine fan on all the time, probably because the Freightliner mechanic had over-charged the system with too much R-134a the day before. I more or less confirmed that with a simple experiment; when I shut off the A/C for several minutes, the engine fan operated as it should — only kicking on when the coolant temperature reaches 210°F (99°C), running until the coolant reaches 195°F (91°C) to 200°F (93°C), and then shutting off.

(It’s not like this situation with the fan was especially harmful to the truck or anything, at least not in hot weather like that. The main problems it caused were the loud noise the fan makes while operating, which gets annoying when it won’t stop, and a drop in fuel economy, as the engine was having to work just that much harder to drive the fan.)

Saturday afternoon, after delivering in Brundidge, AL, I took U.S. 231 up to Montgomery and another TA location there. The mechanic there put their A/C machine on my truck and set it to recover whatever refrigerant was in the system; to my surprise, exactly the correct amount of 3½ pounds (1.59 kg) came out of the system. After the customary vacuum/leak check, he simply recharged the system with another 3½ pounds of R-134a, and finding nothing wrong with the system pressures (200 psi/1,379 kPa on the high side, 35 psi/241 kPa on the low), sent me on my merry way. Although yesterday was a little bit cooler day, only in the mid-80s (just below 30°C), the fan problem hasn’t seemed to recur yet, so I’m going to keep my fingers crossed on that one.

I really don’t have time tonight, but as soon as I get the opportunity, I am going to make another entry to prove the utter moral bankruptcy — and frankly, lunacy — of so-called “fundamentalist ‘Christians’.” Ta-ta until then.