A Series of Unfortunate Events
After uncountable hours since November spent working on our new-to-us 2002 Itasca Suncruiser 35U (improving wheelchair accessibility, new floors, etc.) We were finally on the road this past Tuesday morning to meet our friends at Lake McSwain on the Merced River above Merced, CA. So what if we should have left on Monday, what’s a day between friends?
The motorhome ran like a top down the highway even if I did keep turning the windshield wipers on instead of the cruise control. I could steer it with one finger and it rode much more comfortably loaded than it had unloaded. I felt much more comfortable driving it than I did towing my 25’ travel trailer.
All was well until 20 miles from our destination and on a county road, when we heard a terrible scraping noise coming from somewhere underneath and amidships. I pulled over, ran the engine in neutral and park, hearing no sound. Only in reverse and drive was there any noise and then, only after I was moving.
Fortunately I was able to reach my mechanic, Robert, via cellphone and he had me check the brakes, differential and transmission to see if any were hot; all were OK. While I was crawling around underneath, I noticed that the drive shaft was misaligned and rubbing against the metal ring bracket that keeps it from falling should something break --- not good.
The reason we bought this particular motorhome was that it had an under-vehicle wheelchair lift and, hidden above this lift, I was able to see that the bracket holding the forward carrier bearing that helps keep the drive shaft aligned had come unbolted and dropped down. Had it not been for the lift, this would have been obvious. After talking to Robert again, I decided that, with the help of my friends, we could probably fix this ourselves, so I called for a tow through my insurance company to take me to the campground.
After several hours and several phone calls from the insurance company (it’ll be there in 90 min/30 min/90 min, etc.) the tow finally arrived. In the meantime, my friends had arrived to take my wife to the campground so it was just my dog, Hamish and I. While disconnecting the drive shaft at the differential for towing, the driver noticed that the rear portion of the drive shaft was pulled a couple of inches out of the rear carrier bearing. OK, maybe that’s a problem, maybe it’s not. After about 30 minutes we were on the road, headed for the campground.
After we arrived about 10:30 pm (about five hours after I’d pulled over), I told the driver that I’d get out and direct him to our site. What I forgot was that the tow truck had about 3’ of ground clearance. The next thing I knew was that I was on the ground, looking up at the tow truck. Fortunately the judo skills I’d learned as a kid and in college had kicked in and I’d rolled, limiting the damage to my left leg, but I could still walk – kind of. My 71 year old body was not happy.
After a pretty sleepless night, I called Robert again and decided to have him send one of his guys down from Sacramento to fix things. At this point I was in no shape to crawl around underneath the rig and I was concerned about the situation at the rear bearing. Towing to a local shop would probably cost more than the travel time, wouldn’t be covered by insurance. I decided that I didn’t want to try to find someone closer to come to the campground even though I probably could save a few hundred dollars.
Based on Robert’s pronouncement of “we can fix that” after looking at my photos, we decided to have his guy come Thursday morning. Brian arrived about 11:00 am the next morning and my friends all brought their chairs and beers over for the morning’s entertainment. All were pleased that they weren’t going to get greasy.
Brian got started, crawled under to assess the damage and gave it a thumbs up, pronouncing the damage as “no problem”. He was finished in 45 minutes! All he had to do was push everything back into alignment and re-bolt the bracket. He told me that I shouldn’t have any problem with the carrier bearings on the way home although I should consider replacing one of them at my convenience (I’ll have both replaced).
With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight we could have fixed it ourselves but wouldn’t have had the knowledge to know that all was OK to drive home.
Robert surmises that, when the wheelchair lift was installed four years ago, the lift installer had unbolted the carrier bearing bracket to improve access and hadn’t used the proper locking compound when re-attaching it, causing the bolts to loosen.
Our trip home Friday was uneventful and, except for the fact that I’m still hobbling around (nothing broken), all is well. I guess this is what shakedown cruises are for.
Kudos all around to Robert and Brian of Mike and Sons Truck Repair in Sacramento.