With U96 Safari in dry dock for a major refit before its next rampage on the high seas time to review what was on the Harbor Master’s checklist. The Caterpillar engine had been suffering from major overheating issues and during 2013 had become a cause of serious embarrassment when hill climbing as the engine went on reduced power enabling cyclists of the Lance Armstrong caliber to pass with ease!


“Why has that bloody Check Eng Light come on again?”


“It’s overheating again Captain !”


“Sorry Capt I wasn’t being insubordinate, I said the CAC isn’t SUCKING”


“Will you look at das crap unt der CAC”


Yes, it was a bit dirty

Other refit items were improvements to the crew’s sleeping quarters and an upgrade to the weapons and entertainment suite.


The crew’s quarters need an upgrade

It does seem that RV’s and Submarines suffer the same fate when they are running on diesel power as seen in  “The Hunt for Red October” when the sub was on sea trials prior to the Typhoon Class Sub’s defection to the USA.


“3 Kts max !!! Chay Blyth could have rowed us faster….”


“Get me the people who built this F…ing diesel….. RIGHT NOW!”


“So you are telling me that the F…ing dipstick is marked incorrectly ..and we need a longer F…ing slobber tube?”

U96 was laid down in 1996 with the 3126 CAT engine and I purchased same in 1998 with about 13K miles on it. She was only used on limited forays, went to a rental company for a short while, and was then duly “smudged” and re-entered service in 2005 for the Ahrma National Trials program. During my “Money NO
Object” phase a 2001 Beaver Marquis joined the fleet, served with flying colors, and was replaced eighteen months later with another 2006 model Beaver Marquis with all the bells and whistles. As you can’t drive 2 RV’s at the same time U96 was sent to the Cozy Comfort RV Park as a luxury static rental where she was parked until the great recession.


The 2001 Beaver, a truly superb coach


unreal woodwork and carpentry


Technically very clever ……but


….woodwork not up to previous Beaver standards

With the Beaver returned to the bank, as three mortgages, soon to become ONE came ever closer and depression setting in as personal possessions went out the door one by one it was time to reuse old
faithful after some intensive maintenance. A couple of seasons with the dying Ahrma Trials circuit and the start of ITSA Mtn West and while not the opulent decadence of the Beaver, U96 (Das Boot), has been doing well despite the constant over heating scenario. Finally time to address the matter before this season.


final clean up in the engine bay

Having enlisted the help of Jack, my Bus Mechanic, U96 was duly attacked and offending grease coated items were removed, cleaned, and are now being refitted. The main problem unit, the CAC has gone back in and yesterday the monster cowl was given another dousing of silicone.

Today the thermostat, the heater hose for the extended slobber tube were all collected and awaiting Jack to finish buttoning up. Just the fan to go back in and pipes various to reconnect before refilling the radiator and starting the mighty motor.

The TV was fitted and only needs some minor trim adjustments and then it will be time to dewinterize the water system and fill with fresh checking for leaks as we go.


Another bracket gets fitted for the new flat screen


…..and it all works

Jack pressed on Thursday connecting and checking pipes and hoses and changed the thermostat. The fan and boss are all now back in so seemingly all that remains are the header tank and hoses, the tube
that is known as “slobber” and the rear grille and lights. Finally it will be time to replace the 6 gallons of green coolant and test fire for leaks and any other problems.

Saturday, 29 March, and Spring Break begins ! My arms and shoulders certainly need a break from the driving of the Vintage school bus with 5 speed box. Didn’t get to see Jack last night so I’m assuming he will be here this morning for any last bits. Still plenty to do over the weekend then get the Beemer up and running for AZ and 3-4 days of something completely different.

The morning goes fairly much to plan. Last bolts tightened, slobber tube secured, and radiator filling gets the all clear. With 3 gallons down the hole green stuff starts pouring out of an old tube which has split on moving….. good find. Soon replaced with fresh rubber and the game continues until the header tank says enough. Quick check on oil and transmission fluid and time to hit the start sequence. She runs, no leaks and all looks good. Jacks retracted and wait for the old girl to warm up. All seems good so the rear grille
is secured ready for a run up Mancos Hill tomorrow to see if I hit the jackpot with all this work.

Sunday morning and clean up phase begins prior to the “sea trials”. Spanners, wrenches various, and numerous other bits and bobs are collected and sent back to the workshop. A couple of bags of trash
and a fallen branch are cleared out of the way. The new mattress is humped back over the engine room and the bedding reapplied. Pink antifreeze runs freely from the taps and the water heater is brought back into the circuit and fired up. Generator gets a test run along with the onboard heaters as its pretty chill this morning (well it is only March when all’s said and done!) Tanks replenished and the engine started  ready for the off.


Crew quarters ready for the road

With everything up and running the Captain gives the order to cast off fore and aft and with cable TV,water, and shore power disconnected U96 puts to sea. Conditions, coolish at 49F, a strong South Westerly wind 20-25 mph and overcast. Leaving Dolores the temps are showing 170 on the rad and transmission oil just coming up to 140. U96 makes nothing of the Dolores hill and with full left rudder we turn for the 18mile run to Mancos. Plain sailing here and the motor certainly seems to have much more power in reserve. Temps now 170 rad and 180 oil. Leaving Mancos the climb begins and the last time we came up here the red light came on, the engine de-rated   and we were down in second gear at 15mph with the Hazard lights on! Today she sails up the climb, downshifts only to 5th and maintains 50-55 to the top!!! No issues on the return run with max rad temp only touching 185 and oil at center gauge around 200.

With a very successful refit completed U96 embarks on a “party barge” Sunday trip to friends where much drinking will be the order of the day and we have our mobile hotel on wheels parked in their driveway. Time to bring on the other “Das Boot” a bit like a Brit Yard of Ale !



……. a refreshing version of “DAS BOOT”





With the workshop ready for action a new list of “to do’s” comes to the fore with Brenda’s wish list to pop down to AZ during Spring Break. Prior to this the old problemee of the overheating radiator on the Safari has to be addressed, she also wants a softer mattress in the machine and a new flat screen TV. 

The problem with the cooling system has got worse over the last 2 years and now, having completed tons of research its time to get the job done. I have read countless articles on the Safari issues, and the very, expensive work that has been done to achieve 4/5th of FA ! Last year I did speak with our local CAT dealers who told me they had fixed many RV’s with this problem. After much discussion I asked what the ball park price was to complete the task and was told ……”around $4000.00″ !!!!

Well of course that is unacceptable so time to get in there and do it myself with the aid of my Master School Bus mechanic, Jack, from the Cortez  bus barn.

The last article I did read, which seemed to finally make sense, was that when CAT built these engines they “mismarked” the dipstick for the oil level. The lower of the two “fill” markers is the correct FULL mark and consequently ALL owners overfill their engines by about 3/4 gallon. The engine then coughs up all this excess oil which goes out down what is called a “slobber tube” and as this stops before the radiator the fan now picks up the hot oil and blows it up the inside of the radiator fins. With the inevitable last few miles up a dusty track to a trials venue the dust from the rear wheels now gets blown onto the hot oil and forms an adobe mix a bit like the old “tarring and feathering”.

So the task is, remove the radiator, with guidance from Jack, spotlessly clean same, extend the slobber tube beyond the radiator…… refit and only fill to the lower level……. and fit 2 new thermostats…. yes, 2 !

All sounds relatively easy until you look into the compartment and realize that this will be a knife fight in a telephone box! A mini clean up in the main bus this morning, bedding off and in the washer and then out with the 18 year old firm mattress. Well at least its a start.


The way in to the CAT 3126

With all the bedding removed the hinged bed top can be lifted on its jacks and I now have access to the monster engine. First time I have really seen the CAT in all its glory in daylight and the problem does not seem quite so daunting when you can see!  It looks like I can straddle it like a horse and actually see all the fittings that need to be undone….. yippee!!    The other thing I did see and touch were the fan blades which have a nice coating of oil all over them which indicates I’m on the right path…… (thinks bubble) if there is that much oil on the fan blades then it will no doubt be all over the radiator.


Just look at the oil on that fan!!


The new mattress arrives and fits well so her ladyship should be well pleased and while I’m out driving she attacks the vintage TV system and manages to dismantle the whole thing ready for the rigging of a modern flat screen model.

IMG_2610Vintage TV anyone ?


Ready for the flat screen

The new flat screen TV arrives, and like so many things delivered today, has a crack in the corner of the housing. She gets it all working and tells me a refund is in order and it can be taped and never seen. Despite a full array of nuts and bolts the ones supplied are the wrong size so 4 shorter ones go on the shopping list.

Jack arrives and we set to and start removing clamps, pipes and hoses. Seems to be going reasonably well and by 1130 we are looking good to remove the radiator……. well not quite enough room so the fan has to be removed, which helps but the mega cowl over the radiator, oil cooler and CAC is just too big! This monster cowl/shroud has to come off and even after removing bolts etc it is still firmly secured by a very generous 1″ wide bead of silicone all the way round needing multiple Stanley knife attacks to cut through…..finally with two of us working and one solid hour of cutting we have it off.


Many pipes, hoses and a fan later


Do you think they used enough silicone ??
For those not familiar with these systems (and of course I’m not) the fan blows everything into the big shroud and with all this silicone preventing any air leaks all that’s blown in MUST pass over the CAC which is the same size as the radiator……. looking at the mess there can have been virtually zero cool air passing through it to the radiator or the transmission oil cooler!!


The CAC which needs a little cleaning

Today’s task then,  is to begin soaking and cleaning 18 years of excess oil and trials venue dust from this giant assembly before reassembly next weekend…… and yes, its pretty nasty! Other discoveries include a snapped mounting bracket on top of the engine, and the fact that this engine has a single thermostat. So more on the shopping list.


The turbo tubes air bracket…. how does that get broken ?

All Sunday’s plans get changed and it becomes “The day of the Mega Wash”. 6 hours later, wet, covered in grease, waste petrol, dawn soap and water things are looking much better. The fan and fan boss change color and the radiator cowl gets attacked with my old blunt penknife and a ton of crud gets removed which I unfortunately step in  and now transfer to the bedroom carpet on my next visit…… whoops! Well in an op this big there are bound to be a few losses.


Time for the old blunt penknife and washing petrol

The cowl is finally cleaned and is blue on the inside …. who knew and after a whole bottle of dawn dish washer soap I can see through the CAC. Waste petrol (thanks to ethanol) takes care of cowl, fan and the fan boss that turns out to be CAT yellow !


Getting there …..


A clean oil free fan


The fan boss in CAT yellow


1500ish, and a crud free CAC

Monday and an all action morning ordering goodies and collecting others. The TV screws are found, the CAT engine thermostat and gasket will be here on Thursday morning and another tube of silicone is in the basket. I gingerly venture into the engine fabricators workshop and after much praise on the fantastic work he did welding the Cub crankcase pose the question of whether he can weld something as mundane as a bracket or should I take it to a farm tractor shop ? The praise, which of course was free, worked the charm and he has it done by lunchtime …… and not only that sprayed it !  Man I love perfectionists!!!


Just time for another bottle of dish washer soap on the radiator which by comparison to the CAC will be a breeze…… hardest part of this op is climbing down in the engine room and scrubbing and then getting up in the bedroom and hosing all the goop off……. finally job done.

Report back to Jack who says he can start reassembly in the afternoons as he gets off at 1500. Good chance we can have it done by Thursday night and road test on Friday ?

Stay tuned for more on this riveting yarn in future episodes……….






Hubble, Bubble and a host of other Witch’s chants and finally the spell is broken!  Yes, a full afternoon doing
tasks that needed to be done and getting ready for the 2014 Trials season.

The Winter mess in the workshop was hoisted into the loft, trash binned, floor swept and cleaned and now
the dog can see the rabbit !  Some reorganization coming on the shelving but generally the place is up and
running and ready for use. The chainsaw burst into life but last year’s September fuel was way down on the
real power but good enough to get the log sawing complete.

Time for some serious clean up

Off to summer storage

All gone! see you again in November

“Chunkies” ready for burning

6 weeks or so to our first event at San Isidro so providing March does not revert on type and “go out like a
Lion” then there should be zero excuses for not firing up the two steeds. One more pre-season clean of
carbs, fresh fuel all round, final checks on oil and the game is on!

Both bikes are now running Rockshocks and I have never tried them before but those that use them rave
about their performance. Of course the Cub, with all it’s modifications, has not been used for a long time
and I’m eager to see if I got the bash plate issues finally sorted.

Time to test the reconfigured frame

Superglitz at the ready

Superglitz got it’s mini rebuild down the arse end last October with new tire, sprocket and chain along with
new tensioner and those Rockshocks.

The all new rear end

The clutch mod was done with the arm extension and the new moose lever and although not being an
avid user of the “thing” it is definitely a one finger operation for those that do. Maybe some practice in this
technique is the way to go.

Easy pull clutch mod

The one finger job

With winter’s curse behind me time to really enjoy this weekend which starts with the Saturday Pool
Competition where I’m already qualified and we are hoping that Brenda can come through this weekend
and get her place in the final.

Sunday, and as predicted after last weekend’s horror story up on the hill the weather looks like being near
perfect for the fair weather skiers. We will try and be on the road between 8 and 9 and make the most of it
and perhaps get a bit more done ….. or not ?  Hopefully one more day during spring Break and then all the
fun of closing day with all the wacky fancy dress……. and I get to wear my Red October hat!

Pool did not go as well as hoped for, but still a few weeks to go. Skiing started about 1 hour behind time
due to “Spring Forward” which we didn’t ! The drive up was perfect on clear roads but all last weekend’s
dump was evident and will keep the slopes alive.

Plenty of fresh stuff but clear roads

Blue skies, fresh snow and zero wind

Glorious conditions with classic blue skies, no wind, and temps around 50F. Plenty of good runs until the
knees started to feel it and then some après ski at the Ranch with fun crowds soaking up the spring sun
and we both have bright red faces this morning. Need to file a couple of high spots in the new boots for an
even more comfortable fit.

…….and its warm too!

Another perfect day





Casper being my last ride of 2013, trials riding and bikes slipped onto the back burner as the onset of winter,
Thanksgiving, Christmas and winter school bus driving began, daily chopping of wood, and the annual bout
of Cabin Fever was on me once more.

With the strange February weather and almost a snow free environment and temps up in the 50’s the Trials
Bug is back….. the need for riding and spannering is paramount. The new 2014 ITSA Mtn West schedule is
done and I’m ready to get out to the workshop and get my nails greased up ready for the first event.

Last weekend’s ebay run cleared out some old ski stuff and some other poor choices of ski pants so this
morning will be packing and shipping.

Tuesday and a pick up is in the drive with two Yams ? A couple of guys from Pagosa Springs on their way
to Moab for a spot of riding and just dropped in to see and talk bikes …… all good! ……and they will be riding
with us this year. Almost as soon as I’m thinking workshop and rear axle chariot greasing we now have
another winter storm warning with rain and snow for the next week with dumps over a foot in the higher
elevations. True to form I’m on this week’s ski trip to Telluride so the usual pre-trip consultation with the
weather gurus. Yikes!! this one looks like insanity and I need to persuade all and sundry that some common
sense is applied. Our 80 mile run from Cortez to Telluride is one of my favorite drives and obviously in dead
winter can be quite challenging, a bit like a “graded hill” in trials parlance! ……. However, the forecast for this weekend says 8-12″ Friday night, a further 7-11 on Saturday daytime followed by another 7″ Saturday night.
All this with a 15-25 mph wind gusting 40-45. Assuming you can get to the resort, will the lifts be running in
those winds? …. and are you going to release 30+ middle school kids up a mountain in semi white out
conditions ??

“Well I like it up here”

2/3 way up the pass from the Telluride side ……. lovely!

My Director shares my concerns and by 1530 a decision is made to cancel…… we can always go next
week and by then it will no doubt be clear roads, blue skies, no wind, and gorgeous fresh snow.

Meanwhile in the real world an insidious, almost daily, increase in the price of fuel has seen the price at
the pump increase by 37 cents a gallon over the last three weeks and it doesn’t even get a media mention.
A quick look at Google and some motoring pundit spokesperson claims the increase to be a result of the
warmer weather and people are driving more ? Now as I remember from basic economics when demand
is higher prices should decrease as competition gets fiercer for my dollar. Well of course there is NO
competition as ALL the fuel is coming from one source and ALL the gas stations are owned by the same company!!  Applying this same absurd logic to our “futures markets” what the hell is going happen to beer
prices when we move into summer and people are drinking more because its summer time ?  ……. Are we
looking at  the $20 pint ?

The end of beer drinking as we know it …….$20 a pint in high summer

The weather followed the forecasters crystal ball, with rain all Friday night and most of Saturday here in
Dolores. The snow plows worked non stop keeping the pass open but it was CHAINS required as Rico
and Telluride received over 2 feet and its still snowing this morning. Another month of this and I’m hoping
to get at least 3 more days up the hill myself to close out the season. This coming week its all in the 50’s
so another warming trend and maybe, just maybe time to swing a leg over a bike!

Back to ebay and both pairs of boots I thought I had sold last weekend didn’t get paid for due to the Post
Office having cancelled Parcel Post ? Yes, that’s gone and now anything either goes Priority Mail or what
has now become Standard Post ? A pair of ski boots = $25.00, I used to be able to send a motorcycle
frame anywhere for that price!….. and to Canada it doubles to $50 !!!

Great boots at a great price,….. nobody wants to pay $25 for postage but
in a few months they will see there isn’t a choice !

Also, I notice on ebay many gorgeous ski items are not selling and finishing their 5 or 7 day run with zero
bids. Prices are dropping like stones as we get close to the end of the season……. and it does strike me
that there just might be a few shillings to be made here with some smart purchases and then storing them
until November when I’m sure some would even triple their price….. we will try a few as an experiment and
maybe thrift shop some Ugly Christmas Sweaters which also sell like hot cakes come the season.

A “croft & barrow” ugly sweater ….. I like mine !

Recent purchase for next season’s sale…… he included “free shipping”
which must have surprised him

“Coup of the week”, bought for the opening bid of $0.99 cents + $9.85
shipping. However,  despite me paying the shipping the seller will pay
ebay fees of sale price + shipping @ 10% or $1.08 therefore making a
total loss on the deal of 9 cents 

Friday, a teacher training day, so we have another day off and one I can use to do a host of jobs that I’ve
been meaning to do but have not had the inclination to complete. Today will be the “acid test” if I can get
something done then the spell will be broken and the 2014 energy can flow. Plan is to get the workshop up
and running and put all the outside decorations back up in the lower loft. General clean up to follow and
then chainsaw time to saw up some of the non standard logs in my pile. I call these the “chunky monkeys”
and when I’m at the wood yard I can never resist them even if they won’t fit in the fireplace……. then  just
maybe the Superglitz will get the call ?

Further reports from last weekend on the weather front confirm just how bad it was and apart from the
challenge of the drive which is fine if its just you and your family, but quite another when you have 30+ kids
entrusted to your charge and are totally responsible for their safety. Our local reporter, Jimmy, who wrote
the pre Dolores Escalante Days Trial article, decided he “must” drive to Telluride and did, but was horrified
to be driving in white out conditions over the Lizard at walking pace. Another group of teachers went to a
log cabin off the beaten track up on the Lizard where they and their provisions had to be ferried in by snow
cat and recovered 4 days later. No doubt a fun weekend but by Sunday morning they had 37 inches of new
snow piled up on the deck and were pleased to see the snow cat when it arrived through the gloom.

The mind’s idea of the romantic getaway fun weekend cabin

Yes, I could be snowed in here if it really is like this…………….

This must have been what they were dealing with ……….so,

As my RAF Doctor told me,  “in a case like this my advice is drink heavily”

 The rain and snow has stopped, the sun is out but still cold and windy ….but the workshop awaits!